French Flea Markets

The work at the house continues. But my husband, back in L.A., is not happy. He’s still not sure about owning a chateau (a ruin) in the French countryside. A man who is wedded to CNN, what is he supposed to do here all day, stuck "in the middle of nowhere!"

View from the lane

View from the lane

And another thing, he says, why is the restoration taking so long? There’s no logical answer. Because we’re in France. Because the workmen leave every day for a two-and-a-half hour lunch break. Because, afterward, they often show up drunk, or not at all. Particularly on Saints days (of which there are many) or on Friday afternoons when there might be a boule tournament nearby… “We work to live," M Bruni tells me, repeatedly “We don’t live to WORK!”  As if I hadn’t noticed.



But he’s got a point. I’m finally learning to slow down here, especially on the weekend. After all, I can do anything I like—or do nothing. Eat, or not eat. There is no Male Meal, no dinner arrangements to be determined a minute after breakfast. "What’s the plan, sweetheart?" No wifely obligations, no dread of permanence.  I pamper myself instead. I take long baths. I sleep, or I don’t. I read all night. And on Sunday morning, I drive to flea markets - the local brocantes.   

close to  CAUSSADE

close to CAUSSADE



Caussade is a  small town twenty minutes north of Montauban. At 8 o’clock, the sun is just breaking through the clouds, the trucks are lined up and the dealers are unloading their wares: the big mirrors and gilt candelabra, the Louis XV armchairs, the bunches of silver forks tied with pink string and stacks of old patterned plates. The cafes are already full, the bakery is open. I buy myself a warm slice of bacon quiche, wrapped in wax paper, then walk around. The thrill of the bargain...

Fiona Lewis - Fiona's French Chateau - France Ruin
Fiona Lewis - Fiona's French Chateau - France Ruin
ME snapping A MIRROR

ME snapping A MIRROR

Right away, I see an old armoire.  It is magnificent, over two and a half meters high ( almost eight feet)  —large even by French standards, the front panels cut from great polished planks of walnut (noyer massif)—and deep enough to hide a few dauphins.

Fiona Lewis - Fiona's French Chateau - France Ruin

There is a piece missing from one of the legs, but it’s barely noticeable. A fact that is immediately confirmed by the dealer, a typical southerner, with wild black hair.  “Mais on ne le voit presque pas!” he says, hands waving.

I say nothing,  feigning disinterest, trying to pass as the seasoned bargainer. But from his expression I can tell he sees the excited novice, the tourist who has fallen in love. “How much?” “Well, it’s Louis Philippe,” he says. “But the real one.”  Le Vrai! he adds, raising a finger for emphasis. I have no idea what he means. Was there a fake one? And if so, what period for furniture was that? I remind myself to look up the kings of France. The wardrobe, he assures me, comes apart easily and for a little more money he'll deliver it to my house. “Okay,” I say, quickly. “Bien! Merci!”

I am elated, and not only because the wardrobe is so beautiful.  This is the first piece of furniture I’ve bought for the house.


Fiona Lewis - Fiona's French Chateau - France Ruin

After that, I spend twenty minutes bent over a table of linen sheets. More than a hundred years old, they are piled up, freshly washed and pressed, part of a bride’s trousseau, the initials in big swirling letters, embroidered across the top. Who could have parted with such beautiful things? But I’ve already spent too much. At another stall, I buy silver spoons and forks, ten of each for forty euros, then two chairs with rush seats for thirty-five.


There is some termite damage to the back legs, but then the seller assures me they're Louis Philippe. 

The real one or not, I have no idea...