Jean-Francois had set up a vast Brocante in an old cider factory, with its great brick vats and huge beamed rooves, easy to find on a minor road out of town. Dark haired with ruddy cheeks and a gentle smile, he stood back to let me peer and scrutinise in the first high-ceilinged room, dusty shelves crammed with yesteryear’s daily ephemera. Here and in the rooms beyond there was plenty to choose from. The sort of place I like – not too tidy, things to be discovered under tables and on top of shelves, with a fair bit of dust throughout. At the back of the old Cidrerie was a whole area of broken furniture – tables with three legs, buffets without drawers, doors with nowhere to hang. “Oui, c’est comme ca,” he shook his head, “I bought it with all intention of restoring it, but I never have the time”.
Two hours later, in the hot afternoon, we have piled Moe with benches, a lovely Breton dining table, and a vast selection of enamel ware, a box of old beeswax candles, jugs, sheets and candelabra. We’ve even rigged up a rope cradle to hold one of the benches in acrobatic suspension. I’ll be back over in July, I tell him. See you then, a bientot – et merci!
Jean-Francois had given me details of the Depot Vente at Villedieu-les-Poeles. The building there on the main road could have once been an garage. A high pitched roof, very industrial, with a large collection of vintage enamel advertising signs on one wall. A bedside table, a folding garden chair, a candlestick and a watering can were all I found. Enough now, it’s getting late and I’ve booked a room in a 15th century manor house an hour’s drive away.
Madame shows me to my room up a spiral stone staircase and invites me to an aperitif in the garden – a local Poiré de Domfront, pear cider. I’ve not eaten since the croissant on the beach at 7am (highly unusual behaviour for me) and Madame pressed her husband to prepare some bread with rillettes, a homemade pork paté, before I walked into the little town. Only the Relais des Routiers was open on the cobbled Place aux Foires. Inside, through the bar, was a dreary room with seersucker table cloths and lace curtains blocking out the late sunshine. A group of diners sat in a corner – loud voices, big bellies, cordial. The formule at 10 € 50 offered hors d’oeuvres au choix, poulet fermiere, the cheese platter which had been circulated through the evening (Madame said, there’s not much left, but there should be enough for you) and strawberries with Chantilly cream. I worked contentedly on my stock lists over supper. It was still light as I came out. A blackbird sang on top of a concrete lamp post, a cat sauntered across the road, fountains played outside the Tourist Office, but otherwise not a soul, not a car. “On est a la campagne ici,” said Madame said sagely.