On a bend of the wide, languid Seine, edged by white cliffs, I came to Les Andelys. River cruise boats moored, groups of people spread out on rugs. I found a weekly market in full swing and a friendly stall holder with boxes and boxes of old linen – a crumpled jumble of freshly washed sheets, napkins, pillow cases, blouses – which made excellent rummaging. “Many antique shops have closed around here,” he told me. One of the shops in Les Andelys was now a pizzeria. “Many dealers are now just going to sell at the Salons and the Fairs instead”. But on I go, south of the Seine, with two more planned rendezvous.
From the sublime antiques of Lyons la Foret I return to hangars of cobwebs, piles of dismembered furniture and dust. I buy an eight piece enamel “Série” of kitchen ingredient containers: Sucre, Café, Farine, Chicorée, Riz, Pates, Semoule, Thé. Highly decorative and sought after, these are becoming harder to find and, of course, expensive. The shop owner wore a black shirt with rolled up sleeves and a battered black hat. We chatted and he helped me carry out four lovely old grey painted garden chairs, some ceramics, wrought iron panelling, and a table. It was 28 degrees at least, I was dusty and dirty, and as I wrapped up the breakables he brought out a plastic cup and poured me a glass of water, and started to address me as “tu” not “vous”. When I went to say goodbye and he took my face in his hands and planted a kiss on my forehead. “Au revoir, chere amie, a la prochaine!” Gosh.
The second dealer was in a half-timbered river-side village. I group of locals pointed me in the right direction and I executed a three-point turn narrowly missing the man in a straw hat, dog at his side, pulling a green metal trailer loaded with empty bottles. The offerings here were slim but nevertheless I did find a few objects to please. On down an ivy walled lane past the church to the river. It is wide here, willowed. A passing heavily laden barge in rosy light, gentle ripples, a little dock, an amorous couple.
The heat of the afternoon recedes and I travel on towards my bed for the night. Dinner is at a restaurant with a terrace alongside a small river. An excellent menu offers Chaudfroid de Saumon, Piece de Boeuf a la sauce Livarot, Salade aux Noix and Tarte Tatin. I watch the day fade and later, in deep twilight, drive up a tight cornered, stone walled lane to be welcomed by Anne, an energetic and no-nonsense woman who takes me across a gravelled courtyard and up an exterior wooden staircase to a half-timbered attic flat. She suggests I might enjoy a glass of Calvados before bed. As I’ll be up and away early the next day she has left a coffee maker all set up for the morning. The place was clean and safe. I realised how very nice it was to feel cared for, and that someone was looking out for me. What a shame I was only “de passage” she said. Next time she would introduce me to someone who sold les grandes maisons and invited people in to clear them.