Entre-deux Eaux – Week 4

It’s odd to think that we’ve been here for four weeks now, without having to pack the car, and regretfully finish the holiday. Planting the garden with things that need watering (well, not this week!), weeding, slug repelling and day to day attention makes it all seem more real! However, John might need to go back to Nottingham quite soon if his mother’s house sale goes through rapidly.

Sunday 2 June
Week 4 began, as is becoming a habit, with the Sunday flea markets / vide greniers. Our first visit was to Corcieux, which has happy memories for us as that was where we were camping that sweltering summer when we fell in love with this house! We’d also been to the flea market once before with friends (no Dave, that cake plate wasn’t there any more!). There were a lot of dealers and we didn’t see any fleas of interest. So we bought a newspaper and a birthday card and retreated home to read, have lunch and watch the England / Sweden match (we’ve got two allegiances this year, and are keeping track of both England’s and France’s progress – will there shortly be a conflict of allegiances?). After that we set out, appropriately, for the vide grenier at Ste Helene and wandered the village streets in the hot sunshine, listening to children splashing and shrieking in a pond. Enjoyable though the village was, there was nothing we wanted to purchase so we went on to a third small village, which only had about 15 stalls (it turned out it was its first attempt a vide-grenier!) Disappointed, we returned over the hills to Corcieux, which was packing up and John spotted a wooden fruit press which had been reduced from 100 euros to 80 euros (“But I’ve only got 55 euros” he lamented. “Offer him that then”, I suggested. And after getting out his calculator to convert the offer into francs, the stall holder agreed. That press must definitely have fallen off the back of a lorry, as a similar one costs around 200 euros in St Die). Think of all the apple juice we’ll be able to make!

Monday 3 June
We celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee by digging / rotavating a vegetable patch, complete with compost – “dig for jubilee” rather than “dig for victory”. John proudly planted out the tomato and courgette plants we’d bought in St Die market on Saturday, planted some potatoes and sowed pea, carrot, beetroot and lettuce seeds. The garden looks far more attractive now there is less black plastic (though it has done a great job in our absence in suppressing the weeds and their deep roots). But we also celebrated in our armchairs at night as we watch the palace concert and fireworks. Do tell us about the street parties we missed!

Tuesday 4 June
A day of two halves! We were just setting out in the morning for the International Fair at Nancy, when Nicola rang to suggest that we joined her and two English friends to look through some old things. She has been helping two French friends to clear their mother’s house after her death, and had persuaded them that many things might be valuable or a least worth selling at a flea market. I was to go as the book expert and one of the others was to advise on linen, fabrics and furniture. It was like walking out of the hot sunshine into a small shuttered town house from between the two wars. There were huge carved beds and wardrobes full of clothes (including pert forties hats and a fox fur), a very sad, bare kitchen, the only toilet was in the cellar, where the drains smelt bad and where all the baking is still done for the family patisserie. Ann was fascinated by the lace tacked along the wardrobe shelves, and enchanted by the hats. Most of the books were in the attic, and were torn and grubby, A lot of the early books were school text books and not worth a lot, but I thought that the children’s books dating mainly from the late fifties and early sixties could be worth taking to a second hand dealer, so we packed them up in round wicker baskets. We all needed to recover from the cellar, which horrified us (surely premises where food is prepared are inspected!), and went to Cora, the super modern super clean super market cafeteria for lunch. We then went our separate ways. In the late afternoon we had the most violent of storms (how glad I was that we weren’t driving back from Nancy – it would have been impossible to keep driving). Rain, wind, hail. The meadow grass was flattened, water was running off the road into the ditches, and Nicola rang from Clefcy, which is higher up another valley, to say her road was a torrent of water rushing downhill bearing chunks of tarmac.

Wednesday 5 June
A quiet day – as the ground is so damp, we plant out an apple tree in the orchard, between showers, but it gets too wet to do any more outside. So we watch some football and do some indoor clearing.

Thursday 6 June
In the morning we sort out our house insurance. The insurance people (and Mme Laine) are the only people who’ve greeted us (other than waving from a distance). Everyone except the M. Gaire senior (and perhaps he’s never recovered from the Great Millennium Tempest) comes out of their office and shakes hands. We catch up on the family news of our ex-next-door-neighbour (who works in the agency) when the house and car insurance is sorted. Then we set off for Nancy, (where we’d intended to go on Tuesday), to see what the fair is like. It sounds as if it will have be mainly Agriculture and Produce of Lorraine, with a specially invited Ivory Coast section tacked on. Well, it is huge, and has more furniture, kitchens, and billiard tables than agriculture! As it’s lunch time we start off in the thatched restaurant of the Ivory Coast, then spend the afternoon looking round. There are displays of crafts from all over the world, which are beautiful – lots of knitted white cotton garments from Peru, beautiful silver necklaces from Yemen, painted dolls and amber jewellery from the Baltic coast (I couldn’t resist some more amber ear-rings), beautiful ornaments and carpets from Tunisia and Morocco, all kinds of hats from Ecuador, bead work from South Africa and really tacky tourist stuff from Egypt. Coming out of the craft hall into the kitchen and furniture halls there is a roar of noise. Nearly every stand has plugged in a TV for today’s match between France and Uruguay, and all the salesmen are urging France to victory as the minutes tick by with no score. We look at some interesting wood-burning stoves and also some attractive book shelving. Sadly cultural frustration sets in as we try to ascertain the prices of the shelving. The two sad men won’t give us a unit price without coming out to our room and measuring up and drawing diagrams with their rulers in the traditional way. We say we don’t know if we want them to come if we don’t have a rough idea of the likely cost. Impasse. However, their eyes widen when John tells them exactly how many metres of books we have. Eventually one sad man does a lot of huffing and pencil work and comes up with a unit figure very similar to the one in his catalogue which we’re trying to read upside down. We leave in time to avoid rush hour and drive back along pretty, small, cross-country roads. The evening after dinner is spent trying to find a box of French accounts and bills. At night I dream of unpacking all the cardboard boxes.

Friday 7 June
Wake up and spend the entire morning opening every single cardboard box. Nothing. John retreats to Cora to do the weekend shopping while I re-stack all the boxes. Exhausted we sit down with our lunch to watch the England / Argentina match. It’s fortunate that it’s such a good match as we are diverted from our horror at loosing our files. As a further diversion from fruitless hunting ( we really have looked everywhere), we set out with the two baskets of books for Fontenoy-la-Joute, our equivalent of Hay-on-Wye, our second hand book village. On Sundays all the shops are open, but it is also busy then, so I think it best to reconnoitre on a quieter day. Unfortunately the children’s bookshop (Puss in Boots), which I’d intended to use, is closed for 3 weeks annual holiday. But we take the Tintin and similar books into a shop which specialises in cartoon strips. I’d picked out two which I thought might be valuable, but you can’t easily tell the edition in French books. The woman in the shop picks out the same two, but we still puzzle over dates and she gets out a useful looking catalogue. It is John who reads the small print which helps to identify that one book (“Martin et Jacko”) is a 1912 first edition rather than 1950 or 58. It is worth £100 and she will offer us £50, which is acceptable. The Tintin book would also be worth £100 if it was in good condition, but it is undeniably battered and grubby, so she offers £35 rather than £50. Elated, we try another shop with all the children’s books, including those two, but that only offers £64 for the lot. On the way home we drop into the patisserie (shop, not workshop cellar) to see if Jean-Robert is happy with the price for the two and to say I’ll go back to Puss in Boots with the rest in three weeks time. Jean-Robert seems happy, and presses two tarts upon us for our dessert. The evening’s warm enough for us to eat out on the terrace, which we haven’t done since before the storm. The honeysuckle still smells very heady and the lavender will soon be out.

Saturday 8 June
A quieter end to the week, doing washing, ironing, tidying. In the afternoon we go into St Die. Missing English queues we join the one in France Telecom, but as no-one moves in 10 minutes, we decide to try again during next week (it was just as bad last time we needed to go). The market is busy and lively and it is warm enough for people to be sitting outside the cafes drinking coffee. Unfortunately the weather forecast is poor for tomorrow’s flea markets.

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