The Avignon market offered even more to tempt the avid purchaser. In the large open-air spaces chandeliers sparkled in the sun, piled white porcelaine glinted and metal garden chairs curved elegantly. A stunning gilt wood bed side table on such delicate cabriole legs glowed. I had to buy it. “Have a cherry liqueur chocolate,” offered the dealer, who I had met before. The cavernous halls were crowded with majestic armoires and luscious portraits of heavy eyed women in taffetas and satins.
I had found a good parking space not far from the ranks of international transporters, all organised with crates and bubble wrap, sticky labels and forms in triplicate. Last time I’d had been at Avignon I’d had the help of my own transporter. Today I was on my own – Graham was taking time out in the garden at the chambre d’hotes – so I got a lot of exercise ferrying back and forth under the hot sun.
In a pile of ceramics I came across two early 19th century Creil plates printed in pictorial riddles. I’d already walked a few stalls further on when another plate was waved in front of me. “J’ai trouvé une autre”, the dealer said triumphantly. The riddles proved difficult to decipher. The obscure images were not only beyond me but they also had a French friend stumped. The strands of meaning we did manage to decode related to love, happiness, hope and friendship……..
On a tiny stall in one of the main halls I found a roll of 1950’s paper, imaginatively hand painted with mice, rabbits and ladybirds on all sorts of adventures – shipwrecks, cannibals and weddings. An absolute one off purchase. The petite, dark haired woman with large brown eyes packaged it up for me. “Sniff,” she said regretfully, “I really wanted to keep this for myself.” I commented on her appreciation of beautiful things and, as she held the parcel out to me, she replied, “But I am happy that this goes to good hands …..” The mice, bunnies and all the family would be safe with me. I had a project in mind.
Just outside the hall three strapping young men had set out their pitch. One of them was dealing with a foreign customer who was looking through a few large mirrors and who began most sentences with a drawl: “In my shop, I usually price these at……” The other two were in an irreverant mood. “Oh they all say that. They think we’ll lower the price even more for them!” Nevertheless they were kind enough to negotiate with me over a framed, wool-work tapestry of Mary in gentle blue. Her face and hands were of cotton fabric held with minute stitches, face and fingers painted on. A pleasure do business on a sunny morning with three such “charmant” young men, I said with a smile. “Oh c’est moi le plus beau!“, “Non, non, c’est moi!”, “Non, c’est MOI,” they jostled amongst themselves, grinning broadly back.
Later that afternoon Graham and I drove to Isle sur la Sorgue. Dealers there usually opened up on the Wednesday of the Avignon fair. I saw a few familiar faces as we looked around. The dimly lit, sparse industrial space of the old railway depot was exquisitely arranged. Artistically balanced stacks of chairs, processional mannequins, peeling shutters, distressed buffets were pin-pointed in spots of light. For beauty and inspiration Isle sur la Sorgue would never disappoint, even if the ticket price could make your eyes water.
Just outside the town however we visited another dealer, whose father had been an antiquaire before him. Here it was more about down to earth house clearances, dust and cobwebs. The courtyard was scattered with leaves and piles of branches as we walked through the gates. Today I have been cutting my plane trees, it is perhaps for this that so few customers have come to see me…… he said with a shrug. I snaffled up picture frames, some kitchen ware and some 19th century painted metal garden chairs. Don’t forget, he said, there are many things inside all the cupboards. Glasses and cheese strainers were added to my pile. He kindly helped us carry the boxes out to the van, shook hands cordially and wished us “Bonne continuation.”