Brouage is my husband’s favourite venue for a brocante extravaganza.
Brouage is home to a few hundred people, who live inside fortifications built by Cardinal Richelieu in the 1630s. At the time, the village was important as a port, giving access to the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. Since the harbour silted up in the latter part of the 17th century it lost its importance and fell into ruin.
Now, it hosts the largest and most visited annual brocante in the region, cunningly arranged to coincide with my husband’s birthday.
So, yesterday, Al’s dearest wish was to strike out in our silver Peugeot and rummage for copper piping and obsolete tools. The former to construct a new and very lovely radiator of a type never seen before, and the latter just for fun.
In the past we’ve had sun, rain, cold and heat. Yesterday was perfect. Temperatures too hot for tights, a cooling breeze to ease the odd menopausal flush, and a sky so blue it had to be texted to relatives living in Manchester, the Midlands and Devon. Al took a coat and left it in the car. Almost unheard of.
We had an economical journey, following a driver who had mislaid fourth and fifth gears, but who kept things interesting with unexpected sudden braking. We were tolerant and jovial on our Sunday afternoon outing.
Upon arrival, we encountered friendly, waving car park attendants in specially created orange waistcoats who directed us around a field. Several times.
Soon, we joined hundreds of fellow brocante enthusiasts in a leisurely meander amongst stalls displaying anything from beautiful gilt-framed mirrors to a particularly well-used second hand bra and pants set. There was something for everyone.
We nearly bought a painting by a lady called Rosa Marco, who was probably aiming for Picasso, when she missed in a most interesting way. But, having set a euro limit in our heads, the stall holder blew it out of the water and made us feel guilty to boot, lavishing us with pertinent details of the artist (an eighty-five-year-old lady living on the Ile d’Oleron), her numerous exhibitions, not to mention the implicit tragedy of a talent left undiscovered. Luckily, like the odd fraudulent crook-dressed-as-a-policeman, who demands payment of instant fines in cash, having leapt from the hedgerow brandishing a fake speed gun, our benevolent art collector wouldn’t accept Visa.
I was later quite taken with various sets of non-dishwasher-safe decorative glasses, and also the idea of beginning a collection of brooches in the style of Bling. Al listened, then walked on, and my resolve to follow my instincts crumbled.
In short, I came to my senses. I was there for his birthday treat, the odd bit of human contact, and the prospect of chips. I just hadn’t immediately realised that life was so simple.