Picardie was having the same wettest April on record as we were in the UK. I took the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, then drove along the coast road towards Amiens trying to think of lyrical descriptions of being in France, but all I could see were the many shades of grey in the sky and in the spray on the road.
“Park by the Hotel de Police,” Steph had told me – an old hand at the twice yearly Amiens Rederie – “It’s near the market and it’s safe”. A few times round the block and I found a spot right alongside the police station. Perfect, I thought. It was drizzly and damp in Amiens but the weather did not detract from the overpowering facade of the Cathedral, newly cleaned. Down in the St Leu quarter before supper, I found pretty timber clad houses, narrow and all stacked in tight cobbled streets along the river and canals. There were the loveliest shades of bue, aqua, trout pink with also a bush of white lilac hanging over the water. A row of waterside restaurants and bars offered plenty of choice.
My first purchase next day was at 4.20am, from a stall directly opposite where Sylvie was parked. How marvellous to drop off items so easily I thought, not for a moment considering that Sylvie might be in anyone’s way. I bought a set of 19th century painted iron garden chairs by torchlight, not entirely sure what colour they were. Fatigue and damp were kept at bay by coffee. I gave up trying a methodical navigation of the market, as it went on and on at every junction in every direction. Stall holders were still arriving and beginning to unpack their sturdy banana boxes, but some stayed in their vans watching the rain. Linens and upholstery were kept hidden and dry. Everything one could have wanted in galvanised metal was there though – buckets, bassines, wine bottle dryers like spikey up side down Christmas trees, watering cans – all were out on display, fearless of the weather. I bought a large cobwebby crate packed with straw and 19th century votive glasses still with their old wicks in the bottom.
Walking and visually grazing. Always looking for a certain palette, a stallholder’s certain sensibility to form, age or presentation. Stalls to stop at, stalls you know you can pass by. One man had set up beneath a glass bus shelter – on display was an eclectic mix of road signs, shop signs, wonderful postcards of proud owners with their bull/horse/pig/ram/donkey, unwritten menu cards and painted boules. Just off the rue de General Leclerc I found a heavy round emerald green metal table, and a run of 18th century Burgundian balustrades that I would pick up later. But my trolley was full with smaller objects and another big bag was at maximum capacity so I trecked back to the van to offload. But there was no van. I swallowed hard, keeping dismay back. A huddled stallholder looked up at me and said, “Eh bien, you were parked on my pitch. They took it away. You’ll have to go round the corner to the police.”