Even though the markets officially open at , plenty is going on before that and stalls progressively get their wares out until even , so you need to do a few laps in order to be sure you see everything. And again, with this type of market where the stall holders and the punters all turn up at the same time, it’s often a matter of being in the right place at the right time in order to be the first to spot a bargain being put out.
After several laps we were loaded down with a quite elegant retro Italian electric lamp, the biggest and heaviest metal pestle and mortar you’ve ever seen, more enamel kitchenalia, really nice Art Deco cutlery – French Deco cutlery is very different from the English, and often features bakelite or horn handles which are lovely - some seriously cool giant butcher’s hooks that Doug is thinking of invoking the I-Must-Pry-From-His-Cold-Dead-Hands clause over, more good glass, some copper saucepans, lovely jewellery and a very elegant piece that is an Art Deco polished aluminium coat hooks and luggage rack with a mirror ensemble - very French Art Deco, very nice.
So after a couple of hours and a number of laps, each one slower than the last because by then we were lugging quite a lot of heavy things, we decided to head off to the Loire Valley to position ourselves for an excellent Puce (flea market) on Sunday morning held right on the Loire River. We spent the night in Saumur, which is a lovely medieval town with the most giant and apparently unassailable fortress chateau, and had the best meal of the trip so far. Then up before dawn for the Puce.
A whole bunch of fit young cyclists in very very tight lycra were staying at our hotel, and the inn-keeper told us that he hoped they wouldn’t wake us the next morning because they wanted to have quite an early breakfast. Ha! The definition of “early” was clearly lost in translation, and it’s a sad day when a couple of unfit lay-about antiques dealers are the first up and out, and the super fit cyclists were starting to emerge all bleary-eyed just as we were skipping out the door.
Okay maybe ‘skipping’ wasn’t exactly what we were doing at that point, but we were up and on our way and most of the cyclists looked like they were going to miss their scheduled early breakfast. We decided a 7.30am start at the Puce would be civilized, seeing how the dealers arrive at about 7am and we had learned from previous experience that a great deal of coffee drinking, cigarette smoking, arguing and making up, and general wandering about socialising is what goes on for the first half hour of this market.
They call it a Puce rather than the more upmarket term of Brocante, but I think this is just an affectation because there is no way this is a junky flea market. There are some serious dealers there, with serious stock that has serious prices. But if you navigate your way (carefully!) between them you can find the more realistic dealers with prices you are prepared to pay. And just as the sky started to develop its first blush of pink and the last of the mists were rising from the river, we made our first purchase.
And with that, as with our last visit here, we started a stampede of punters. Last time we attended this Puce we milled about with all the other buyers at the top of the ramp leading to the riverbank, unsure of whether we were allowed to go down and mix it with the dealers while they were setting up (and drinking coffee, smoking fags, arguing, mwah-mwah kissing to make up, dashing off to buy forgotten baguettes, etc, etc). On that occasion I spotted something I wanted to get my hands on before anyone else - a fabulous big red enamelled bread bin - so I decided to risk breaching protocol to pop down to see the dealer to buy it before anyone else could.
Emboldened by my move, some of the other punters decided that they too would come down the ramp, but most of them (American tourists) continued to mill at the top, unsure what to do. This is what comes from only travelling with tour guides, I reckon – you lose all sense of independence and the ability to make your own decisions, however dodgy. But anyway it was fine by me – gave me room to browse unimpeded and buy before my rivals got their act together. I almost said until my rivals grew some balls, but that would have been mean and I’m a nice gel.
And after chatting with the seller of the bread bin in my pidgin French I learned that indeed punters can come down to the riverbank at any time – the stall holders will take your money whatever the time it is and however chaotic the whole scene appears to be. So this time, armed that knowledge, I weaved my way through the waiting throng of buyers at the top of the ramp and went to inspect the first of the day’s offerings.
Immediately I found a really good bottle carrier at a very reasonable price, so that was the first buy of the day. And not counting the dealers trading between themselves it literally was the first buy of the day because all the other punters, watching from the top of the ramp, saw me hand over my money and realised Hey! She’s shopping! And we’re standing here like Dills! and this set off a great rush of people, some trotting, some walking briskly, down into the Puce to mix it with the dealers. I didn’t point and laugh, though, because it was only my determination to get my hands on that bread bin before anyone else that stopped me being a Dill myself last time.
Yet again we had to do quite a few laps of the Puce before we were satisfied that everything that was going to come out had come out. And fortunately, this time the van was nearby so we were able to make several trips to unload my trolley and Doug’s bag and then start again. When I say “we” I mean mostly Doug, but I did get to lug stuff myself from time to time. So now we have heaps of good copper, some more Deco electric lamps, a bit more linen (although the price of linen has tripled over the last year in most places so now it’s a real challenge to get at a good price), more cutlery and yet more beautiful jewellery.
But the things we were most pleased about were three large wooden platters with legs. We’ve been looking for these for about two years, because the last time we had them Doug decided we had to keep one and I had given dibs to someone for the others, thinking she would buy one, but when she saw them she bought both. And mid-purchase someone tried to gazump her and make off with one himself, but she very smartly told him to be on his way (without her platters). He came back later and asked for first option if we ever found another, and it’s taken two years but at last I’ve got what he wants.
After the Puce we started the trek north, at a leisurely pace because I had discovered that the Chateau de Pierrefonds (the Camelot castle in the TV show Merlin) isn’t open on Mondays at this time of year and that was the only day we could venture into Picardy on this trip. Bugger! So I shall work it into the schedule for next trip, and we shall see the chateau in the Springtime rather than Autumn. We consoled ourselves by visiting a small street Fete we unexpectedly found in a tiny village, and came away with some really beautiful kero lamps.
On Monday we visited Serge, who occasionally has cross-roads crosses in stock, and hurrah he had one! And yes, it is accounted for already because I have a Wait List of 11 people for one of these beauties. Serge told me (and so had another dealer) that these crosses are getting really hard to source because dealers from South Africa and Brazil have been coming to France to get them because the market for large cross-roads crosses in those countries is very strong. So now French dealers are having a hard time getting hold of them, let alone poor Australian dealers. But anyway, we got one and were very grateful.
Continuing to head north, we stopped for a quick picnic lunch of cheese and pate and baguettes at a charming old village called La Bouille, which is on the
Seine but quite close to the sea. We ate our lunch at the quay, watching a dinky little car ferry struggle against very strong currents, but it made good progress and was continually dashing back and forth across the river with lots of customers. Then we decided to stop nearby for the evening and headed for Honfleur, another charming town, this time on the sea. It’s one of our favourite towns, and you have to stay right in the middle of the old part of town so you can wander about and enjoy its ambiance.
Honfleur has a lovely small harbour which is lined by incredibly narrow and incredibly tall old buildings, and has boats moored all around it. You know you’re very very rich if you’ve got your yacht moored in Honfleur’s harbour. And so does everyone else. So the important thing is that you sit on your yacht for as long as possible, so everyone else can see you sitting on it and know that you’re very very rich. I want to be effluent! I want to ponce about on a yacht on Honfleur harbour, going nowhere but being seen to be very very rich. Ah Lotto, wherefore art thou?
Okay yet again it’s a mega-missive, and I still haven’t gotten around to trying to download photos so it’s a lot of text and no pictures. Suck it up and learn to concentrate, I say!
is good for you! I shall make it pretty with pictures when I next have the time to experiment. So far that’s not been happening. But soon. Reading