It would be easy for me to commit to writing a series of short posts on the people I have met around here in these last months. Many characters … many stories. Maybe I will park the idea until we have left. For now, I am busy practicing the art of running a B&B, cooking for crowds, planning itineraries around local festivals and trawling brocante shops (think half way between bric-a-brac and antiques). It’s been fun!
But I can’t resist pausing in and among all this clamor, to tell you about Bruno, whom I met properly this afternoon. I first came across him briefly over the weekend when our party of seven decided to pull over on the way home to have a peek in his brocante store just ten minutes from our villa. I’ve been meaning to stop there ever since we moved here in January. I wasn’t expecting much – many older people in the area have average bric-a-brac shops to keep them going in retirement. So you can imagine my elation when I stepped inside Bruno’s artfully renovated house, the ground level of which showcased beautifully his passion for brocante. My excitement was very short lived, however, as twin #2 decided she desperately needed the toilet … at home. Don’t you love it when that happens? My well-trained eye had already spied a cake stand that I could imagine using back home, so I asked Monsieur to put it aside for me, promising to return the next day he was open.
So today’s experience was much calmer. I went alone and I had no deadline. Bruno remembered me and in sing-songy French, he fetched the cake stand and matching plates and complimented me on my choice – such a charmer. The store was empty so I took the opportunity to chat to him. It turned out his English was very good so the following half hour flowed in polite and animated “Frenglish”. He bought and renovated his house twenty years ago and he travels quite regularly, visiting the other houses he owns in Toulouse, Nice and Perpignan … as you do. He has lived in New Caledonia before and therefore worked with Australians. My curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask him what he thought of “us”. I think he was pretty accurate. He used many adjectives – the French always do – but summarized his monologue with “direct, but authentic”. I think that’s a pretty good wrap, don’t you?
What I hadn’t seen on my previous fleeting visit was his display of floristry and aromatic herbs. In the middle of all the crockery, glassware, silverware and linen from bygone eras, the freshness and recency of this greenery worked perfectly to create an ambiance I didn’t want to leave. I’d have been in trouble if I had a house of my own to take the plants back to. Dommage for Bruno, I ended up with the cake stand, six matching plates (pictured below) and a couple of gorgeous old books. One is the Michelin Guide from 1951 (the only other one I own is from 2012 – will be fun to compare!) and the other is a recipe book called “La Cuisine Familiale” written by Paul Bouillard in 1932, five years before he died at the age of 63. Included in his 1500+ recipes, I found one for “flour soup”. The ingredients list is short. I imagine this kept many families going during WWII and throughout many long, cold winters.
The bonus Bruno gave me was a little tip on posting French books home to Australia. There is such a law in France that falls under what’s called “Francophonie”. It effectively means that postage is cheaper when sending French books out of the country because “it is good for France”. Good for tourism? Good for national morale? Who knows. It will be good for my bank account. Thankyou Bruno!
I will leave you with the photos he let me take of his quaint little store … it really was a treat to step back in time in Bruno’s well laid-out, clean and thoughtfully categorised store. I’ll be checking back in before I leave! Should I take orders?
With grace and gusto,