The road to Provence

house with blue shuttersWe drove on hairpin bends through the Ardeche gorges and into heavy mist and rain. Tendrils of cloud fingered the mountain slopes. Graham headed off towards scenic mountain passes and I headed for a brocante outside Montelimar – nothing too inspiring, but loaded a few folding chairs and a side table in the pouring rain, and then made for the autoroute through a grim Las Vegas style strip of nougat manufacturers’ neon signs. Montelimar – sadly, a name no longer associated with sunshine and exotic trifles. Even the blue and white autoroute signs for distant destinations such as Toulon and Barcelona weren’t as seductive in the grey, driving rain.

The next morning, waking in a pretty blue shuttered house in the midst of Luberon vineyards, was more what we had in mind. I was out at 7am to a vide-grenier in Puyvert, a village 7 kilometres away. Ahhh, Provence, bright, sun dappled and serene. A little quiet marketing afforded some lovely pieces – a pretty vitrine, a galvanised child’s bath, cupboards, ceramics and linens. One woman had a box full of large books with faded cream covers. “My mother won the complete works of Victor Hugo in 1926 in a newspaper competition – I’ve got the rest at home”. She gave me her phone number in Vaugines (think Yves Montand in a memorable scene from “Manon des Sources”). Little Moe had been parked in a field and I found her covered in tiny white-shelled snails. A lovely start to the day.

Later on I visited the antiques shop in the village near our gite. The owner, who was sitting on the church steps in a small square with a stone fountain, wandered up the narrow street as I went in to his small shop. He let me browse a little and then took me into a windowless stone vaulted room opposite, behind ancient wooden doors. He was somewhat dishevelled, his mind seemingly elsewhere, a sad gentleness about him. The shop was still in the name of his late wife. “Stay as long as you like, it’s nice to have someone to talk to,” he said as I respectfully opened, touched, turned over, peered and lifted. “There are things in here that haven’t sold in 35 years. We didn’t work that much, my wife and I – we preferred to go collecting mushrooms or go fishing.” Graham popped in, stayed for a few minutes, and then wandered out again into the sunshine. “Ah,” said the antiquaire, “he doesn’t like antiques as much as you do, but he is kind and he loves you.” We returned the next day to collect my purchases: panelled doors, a pair of Napoleon III rush seated chairs, a couple of paintings, linens. Again he wandered up the street from the steps by the fountain to meet us. He’s someone I’ll always remember.

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