Early that July morning I drove to a vide-grenier on the other side of Nogent. Parking outside the Boulangerie was fortunate and, croissant in hand, I walked past the Route Barrée sign towards the market where villagers were steadily laying out their stalls.
I feel a quiet delight in village vide-greniers. Things that have indeed come straight out of an attic or a barn. A chestnut roasting pan, a small Louis Philippe mirror, a grey painted shelf and an urn promptly found their way into my bag within a few paces. As I opened out a length of blue and white ticking, saying to myself I really didn’t need any more fabric, Madame on the stand said, “this belonged to my grandmother, she kept everything. Buying fabric is like an illness n’est ce pas, there is no cure.” We both smiled and I bought the ticking, of course.
A tender old couple had displayed a few items of brocante amongst plants, potatoes and jam. A mound of apricots on one end of the table bore no price ticket. “But I cannot sell them”, said Monsieur, “they belong to my neighbour and he has gone for his coffee….“
In the still morning a rowing boat sat amongst lily pads on a small fishing lake – cloudy and calm. A fair few of the market pitches remained empty and I overheard someone comment that le bal du village, the village dance, had gone on very late indeed last night…… But there was enough to look at and people to talk to. Later on I bought some apricots and also a bag of just baked Madeleine sponges to have with my coffee. I was very content.
A couple of hours drive further on I arrived in Verneuil. I couldn’t pass by without going to see the lovely owners of the exquisite chambre d’hote there. The French windows were open and I stepped inside. “Gilli, we were speaking of you two days ago!” said Domi. They were in their element in their house, and very happy that it was going to be featured in Maisons Normandes magazine. They showed me around the changes they had made in their garden, immaculate as ever. “Ah voila que mon agapanthe commence a fleurir,” exclaimed Gabrielle. I spotted a small weed on the gravel path – a weed here? no, it is not possible! I teased, plucking it out dramatically. From their pretty brocante shop that they kept for their guests I bought a handful of items before heading off to a large brocante warehouse. Some time later with glasses wrapped and boxes packed I talked with a couple of the dealers I knew there about war, fundamentalism, the scarring of so many lives.
At Chartres next day the dealer’s market was quiet, winding down for the summer, and I bought only a few things. But I collected the now folded garden table from Stephanie. A heap of nightgowns, chemises and large bloomers lay on the ground. Stitched entirely by hand, embroidered with “Marguerite,“ they could not be left abandoned and were bundled into my bag. A selection of small pastel boxes from a sweet maker in Besancon were also bought. Some of them were printed in gold lettering with “Henri” or “Pierre” and a date of their baptism. Filaments of connection with lives lived long ago. Guests would be given these little boxes filled with sugar coated almonds.
After Chartres came the usual parade of vans along the RN23, pulling in at the many brocantes along the way to Le Mans. French, Dutch, Japanese, English dealers. It was good to exchange a few words with people I knew a little, and a lovely English couple said they followed my blog. It was a blistering hot afternoon, pushing 40 degrees. A pewter dish in one of the hangars was warm to the touch. Someone said “Je suis comme un zombie!” By the last stop of the day I was pretty much a zombie myself, but up in a barn attic found a pretty dinner service which pepped me up. I turned a large vintage jam jar on its side so a hefty spider could walk free.
My budget hotel on the outskirts of Le Mans stood by a lake. Boys splashed with gusto in the water, picnickers enjoyed the cooling temperatures, and I gratefully sat on the terrace for supper and watched the shimmering trees. Busy roads and Industrial zones couldn’t have seemed further away.