The Avignon fair

I stood in the growing crowd by the gates at the Avignon dealer’s fair the next morning. The tanned, worldly, elegant with hair swept suavely back, and the portly, gruff and voluble waited in palpable anticipation. At 8am the gates opened and the rush began.

In the main exhibition hall stall holders had already set out their precious wares: gilded cherubs, marble topped consoles, dark oil portraits, stuffed swans, Italian silver votive hearts, mirrors that had reflected noble faces in candlelit salons before the Revolution. I found a glorious pair of Spanish console tables in an original deep petrol blue paint. Even as I was discussing price, two other dealers wanted to buy them. You can’t always be at the back of every lorry, someone once said to me. This time I was the fortunate one.

On this bright, sunny morning the outside pitches were in full swing. I’d spotted a lorry bringing in a number of farmhouse tables and by the time I got to the stand a blue and white check table cloth with provisions of paté, bread and a bottle of rosé wine had been laid out on one of them. I accepted a plastic cup of wine – it was well after 10am after all – and bought the table. It would need work: legs re-tipping, corners reinforced and a new stretcher. Most of the old red and white check waxed cloth drawing-pinned to it years before had been torn away but remnants remained around the edges. I liked it very much. Where had it stood, who had rested their elbows on it, how many soups and stews had been served upon it? A crate full of creamy yellow earthern ware confit jars; a pair of girandolles (table top chandeliers hanging with long glass drops); an armoire with chicken wire panels – there were very good things to be found.

I recognised a handful of dealers and talked with others, noting contact details and receiving invaluable invitations to visit an atelier or warehouse whenever I might next be in the region.

Once the morning settled into a more relaxed rhythm after the initial rush, there were plenty of customers buying coffee, sizzling sausages and beer. Occasional tannoy messages warned dealers that professional pick pockets were operating on the site. “Soyez vigilants.” Men were already portering furniture on large flat trolleys towards the sea of white vans.

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