Pezenas and other buying

Green metal gates opened into a courtyard full of rusting garden furniture and stone fountains. In the large old hangar beyond I picked through a pile of large linen monogrammed napkins. Madame came over, smiling. “They are from une belle maison,” she said, “I have just brought them in.” They were already gorgeous, and with a good soak and wash they would be pristine.

From the same beautiful house had come a hand-embroidered smock of crisp white linen, with a red cross on the front, and a matching cap. Madame unfolded it to show me. The owner had insisted on telling her about it as it had belonged in the early 1900’s to the area’s only midwife. “It may be just a piece of fabric,” said Madame, “but it has a history worth sharing, and so now I am telling you.”

Further along, after I had bought an 18th century mirror and some ceramic pots in the shop of a good natured dealer I noticed a framed black and white photograph hanging by the door. A Parisian brocanteur, goods spread on the ground, sat huddled in a heavy coat, probably just after the war. Jean-Paul said, “I always think he has a look of profound despair. And, vous voyez, he is also doing shoe heeling using just a stone. Times were very hard.”

I continued down the avenue. Whole slivers of plane tree bark had sloughed off the trunks and crunched under foot. After lunch on a welcome shady terrace, work resumed. From a dealer with a warehouse set in a garden filled with lush green potted plants, I bought an 18th century buffet, painted a pale, faded mustard. You see, he said pointing out the decoration on the

doors, how the style of Languedoc is not the same as Provence. This is has a little less floral carving. Once we had agreed a price and were sorting out paperwork he offered me something to drink, and turned to his daughter, “S’il te plait, va chercher un Perrier pour la dame.” The cold bubbles were very welcome.

In another shop I found a sack full of crumpled pink check fabric – a certain deep faded pink that sings “Provence” – and no matter that I had piles of fabric already at home waiting to be stitched, I had to buy more.

I made my way from shop to shop, mostly large spaces with high, beamed ceilings that lead into workshops with gravel floors and cobwebby windows, picking up a rich blue ceramic olive pot here, folding garden chairs, mirrors, portraits there. My list of purchases was growing steadily, and Barry would collect everything tomorrow.

The regular weekend Puces market near the coast is a favourite call, and next morning I was there just after 6h. But Jean-Paul had got there before me and, very pleased, opened his carrier bag to show me the pair of stunning giltwood carved frames he had just snaffled.  

I headed over to my favourite dealer, Pierre, with his old van emptied and everything laid out on the ground. I bought an array of small 18th and 19th century items that looked wonderful together – a painted statue of the Virgin Mary, faded and inky school books, a broken 18th century mirror, metal flowers, blue check fabric (very crumpled and faded), a tole vigneron’s trug, large metal letters from a shop front. Pierre said, “My predilection is the 18th century, and that will never go out of fashion.” As he helped me carry things to the car, he told me he was restoring an 18th century house out in the garrigue – the Provencal scrub fragrant with herbs – and often found that he couldn’t bring himself to sell things he had bought. A universal problem in this business.

He’d recently been to an auction in Arles, at an hotel particulier, a mansion, belonging to an antiques dealer in her eighties who had been widowed. He regaled me with descriptions of what he had seen. Oh such sumptuous things! She had been very keen on chandeliers, and many of her unfinished projects, broken and in pieces in boxes, had gone home with Pierre.


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You paint a wonderful picture of a buyer’s life! I only have a little taste of this whilst visiting my holiday home in Aveyron, but could spend every day out treasure hunting given the chance!

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