I’d arranged to meet Lili, a dealer in another fortified house south of the Loire. Along a still, green, tree lined river, and up to her electric gates which opened as I approached. Bon, let’s get to work, we agreed. We began in her new “Tivoli” tent which harboured the overflow of brocante, and I could feel the tent breathing around me, inhaling and exhaling in the light breeze. On into the cool, dark white stone rooms where I found a lovely pair of rush seated, fruit wood armchairs with plump feather pads, chandelier “pampilles“, trugs, a large blue and white enamel advertising panel, a pile of linen and long white tablecloths.
Out in the courtyard were stacks of wooden crates of vintage Orange Crush bottles – two crates were put to one side for me. (“We bought 5,000 bottles from an old lemonade factory!”) Lili also told me that most of her stock came from farm clearances, that she was well known in the area, but that a colleague of hers specialised in “Chateau clearance” – altogether a higher level of goods, she said. “He goes hunting and that’s where he meets people who might have the contents of a chateau to sell – or who want to furnish a manor house.” (There are many small chateaux in the Loire built near to the royal chateaux of Amboise, Blois, Chambord.)
Lili’s aimiable husband helped me load my purchases into the van. He said he too was planning to go “a la chasse” – for sanglier, wild boar. “I was a producer of saucisson for thirty years, and had my own restaurant,” he told me, “and now hunting is mon metier de retraite – my retirement job.” Lili offered me coffee in her conservatory, and I then made my way to a small town near the Loire – many troglodyte caves and remains in the vicinity. I was staying at the Hotel de France that night, on the wide, empty Place du Champ de Foire. Once installed I went in search of Thierry, a dealer whose details I had been given.
Thierry described the eclectic mix in his shop as “the lower end of the antiques market”. He carried on an animated conversation with a couple the entire time I wandered up and down the rows. There were boxes on boxes of 18th century parchment notary papers with faded brown ink and official stamps, and 19th century notices of sales and auctions printed on orange, blue, green and yellow sheets of flimsy paper. Oh, how I would have loved to slip back in time to be at an auction to buy a small chateau, with its land, its barns and woods……. “I bought eight square metres of these documents last year. It is no longer a legal requirement to keep documents over a hundred years old – everything is now microfiched”. I bought an armful of the documents, finials, linen sheets, a nice café table, glasses, an engraving. We agreed that I would also visit his house and large barn the next day. But he warned me, c’est le bordel! (loosely translated, it is in a state!) He drew a little plan of how to get to the house – it is in deep countryside, turn off the main road, go past the old abbey, keep going until you run out of tarmac, and there I am.
I asked him where was the best place to eat. He nodded across to my hotel, “You won’t find better.” There were three lone diners in the smart blue and white dining room at the Hotel de France that night, and an elderly English couple – he rather hard of hearing and she with a deliberate, loud voice. From my window last thing, I looked down on the chill, misty atmosphere of the Place du Champ de Foire, Sylvie parked below. I watched an arresting documentary about Marechal Pétain, seen by so many as the protector of the French during World War II, when in fact French police collaborated with the Nazis and thousands of French were deported. “He was a man of the nineteenth century who thought one could discuss matters politely with the Germans,” concluded one commentator. Pétain was tried and imprisoned, and apparently as he entered the courtroom, by reflex, everyone rose to their feet.