I am sitting in a deeply green, sunny garden that runs along the canal just outside Loches, a town with fortified royal chateau. Across the water, next to our stone built chambre d’hote, sits the old Moulin with its ancient water wheel.
This June trip is the first of the year – and how I have longed to return to France. I’ve missed just being here: being out on the road, finding intriguing caches of antiques, meeting the dealers I’ve come to know. And I’ve missed the land and the old, old stone houses, slate turrets, tree lined drives, the jumble of stone barns grouped outside hamlets.
Graham and I are driving down to a gite in the Limousin. This is to be a bit of a holiday as well as business. Francoise, the lovely chatelaine we met last year, has asked if I’d help clear the long vacated house of a family member. An additional journey to Clermont-Ferrand has therefore been planned. A few dealers to see and an auction at Chateauroux with friend, Nicky, who lives out here – not to mention that this is the high season for local vide-greniers.
En route we’ve had to stop at a few road-side Depot Ventes which offer up the usual mix of ceramic Alsation dogs, cheap dark wood furniture, 1980’s plastic salad spinners, and stacks of LP’s by Claude Francois, Adamo, Joe Dassin and of course Johnny Halliday. I scan the vast concrete floored hangars for anything that indicates age and good design. There might just be some pretty coffee cups or a cream ceramic soup tureen with an artichoke handle. A hard mouthed, cold eyed woman refuses to negotiate, and her dog eyes me suspiciously.
At another place I buy a deep picture frame that has been covered in red sticky plastic. The woman here assures me that the painting in the frame is by a local artist – in truth, it was clearly a page torn out of a magazine! Elsewhere, in a barn with swallows swooping in and out, I find about twenty heavy volumes from 1920’s. They were caught beneath dust and cobwebs in a soft yellow light. They looked very beautiful as they were, and it was a shame to disturb them, but I did.
I leave Graham eating cold pizza in the van while I go to visit a dealer. I ring the bell on the side gate, and after a moment the owner comes to the door. “Je suis desolé, mais je mange.” He asks me to come back in 10 minutes after he has finished eating. When I return, he apologises again and adds, “Mais je mangeais quelquechose de tres bon.” (“But I was eating something very good.” – ah, that reverence for food and the ritual of eating properly). I find a delightful rose marble-topped, double doored buffet, elegant on cabriole legs and in a gorgeous dirty yellowed grey. Also found is a pretty writing table on dainty tapering legs, in nice dusty and worn grey.