What should have been a three minute hop to the Chartres deballage next morning was a choked up traffic jam. The main entrance of the Parc des Expositions was closed and only a small secondary gate was open. Impatience mounted and vans began driving along the verge and straddling a steep bank. Other people shouldered bags and hoofed along the side of the dual carriage way. Half an hour later Lesley and I were in through the gate and amongst the usual focused rush.
One of my favourite dealers there had a pair of eighteenth century cast iron urns with traces of very old red and black paint – he pointed out the difference in design between those and another nineteenth century pair. From Martine I bought ticking fabric, wooden trugs and a large clock. In one of the covered halls I gathered up a stack of smaller items from an affable woman from Clermont Ferrand. She had an excellent stock of antique kitchen wares, garden tables and oil paintings. Whilst we were having a rummage through a couple of other boxes in her van, a well-meaning woman was dismantling my pile and was re-arranging it back around Regine’s stall! We laughed and I reclaimed my items.
A large case of eighteenth and nineteenth century leather bound books was the next purchase. There were books about sorcery, about being a child, an English volume published in 1704 dedicated “To The Queen.” Each book holding secrets and perspectives on a world long disappeared, and each so captivating with a turn of phrase, an illustration, the feel of the paper and the appearance of the type face.
Lesley saw some English dealers she knew and we talked for a few minutes before returning to the fray. Inevitably there is a criss-crossing over the Channel of French and English dealers, and I bought some aged florist’s buckets from Frederic, who I’d first bought from at a market in the north of England.
Making the rounds of the deballage to collect my purchases people asked cordially “Vous etes au Mans demain?” Yes of course we would be, but I first I wanted to take Lesley to a couple of beautiful places in the Perche. On the way we stopped off to see Olivier and Laurent, the charming pair who unfailingly unearthed unusual and beautiful things. They were both out in the sun at the back of a someone’s van. Just back from Chartres he was unloading leather club chairs and a massive station clock face. Olivier leaned on the tail gate, and Laurent reclined in one of the club chairs. “Ah it is our English copine!” they exclaimed. (But don’t you think she looks like Carole Bouquet? smiled Olivier). So nice. We shook hands cordially and wandered into the hanger. A new addition to the family was popped into my arms – Julie, a silky wriggly black puppy.
I bought a magnificent eighteenth century wooden column, paint cracked and worn. We mused on the soul of objects, and how much this mattered as well as turning a profit. “Ah, there is something I must show you,” said Laurent, “and tell you a little story.” On the far wall was an oval mirror in a simple rectangular wooden frame, painted in layers of cream gloss paint, with a light set into it. “This little mirror is not so beautiful but it comes from a dressing room at the Alcazar in Marseilles – it has reflected the faces of Fernandel and Tino Rossi. Such famous people, captured in this mirror. The theatre closed but we managed to get this mirror. I don’t really want to sell it I love it so much”, he beamed.
A lovely couple, Claude and Alain, were away but they had arranged for a friend to open their shop for us in Belleme. A magnificent draper’s table, lustrous chandeliers, huge lamps on marble topped console tables, worn stone garden statuary sat so well in this handsome merchant’s house, well proportioned rooms, tiled and parquet floors and a large wooden staircase curving elegantly upwards.
We vexed local traffic in the narrow street as we loaded some fine purchases – a cabriole legged table, heavy absinthe glasses, books and watercolours, mirrors and lamps.
Then down the hill to another beautifully presented shop which was unlocked for us. I’d bought from this dealer in Montpellier earlier in the year. The shop walls, painted deep purple, were hung with empty picture frames nested one within another. In a large vitrine an evocative arrangement of engravings, a framed glass eye collection, a skull, and small oil paintings made a souful mis-en-scene.
So much creativity and the ability to shape emotional spaces – always provide me with a dose of wellbeing. I left with a wad of ornithological engravings on thick, rough paper that would later find homes in old French frames.