As would be expected, the food on offer in the markets is diverse – much more so than in the UK – and shopping in the market in Parthenay is great fun. The first time A and I ventured forth, we were very disappointed at the range of products available and ended up in Lidl. What we hadn’t expected was that the market is to be found on a number of streets and in a number of buildings that are not connected or even in sight of each other! D and J took us on an outing to show us around the town and we followed them through the narrow streets to the indoor food market. Therein lay a wonderful and eclectic mixture of stalls selling wine, cheeses - individual small affairs, white and coated in a wrinkly skin fuzzed with pale grey, tripe, tongues, horse meat and intestines, as well as more recognisable poultry, meat and vegetables.
The pig snouts, strangely bereft of the heads pointed rather forlornly at the customers. The local puddings rose in a spectacularly domed fashion, a dish I learned was best eaten cold, but cooked at 220 degrees, as explained by the baker. A local speciality, in which the round dome has a burned and blackened appearance, it is a kind of custard tart, with a burned top, tasting as if the rich custard had flour added to it. For three euros we bought one to try at home, where it was well received, though I think the addition of nutmeg would have improved the taste. Oysters, welks, horsemeat, all were available as well as fresh sardines. We were already having fish for supper, but sardines are definitely on the menu for the next barbeque on market day!
Parthenay is a town dying on its feet. Street after street has row after row of closed shops. All the cars are at the supermarkets on the edge of town, where the car parks are full and the sheds full of people. In the meantime, the lovely town , surrounding the stunningly high church steeple which at the moment is cloaked in scaffolding, is empty and bereft of life. The church steeple, as we approached it, revealed itself to have an appendage on one side of the scaffolding, a large lift that seemed to cling mysteriously to a single vertical structure that rose from the ground to the top of the spire. The thought of ascending in the lift filled me with complete dread. It appeared like a small insect climbing high up the side of the spire and was something none of us had ever seen before.
The old town, inside the city walls, is stunning. A mini York, the mediaeval weavers houses with their remarkable wooden shutters that open up and down from the centre of the window are stunning. The towers in the double walls can be climbed and the river, which flows in a great ox bow, can be viewed from high up on the city ramparts. Some serious restoration has taken part and the town should be teaming with tourists , but, in true French style, it being after 12 noon, the tourist information was closed until two for lunch and Madame was not going to move from her desk, even if there were four people trying to enter. Many of the quirky, pretty houses with their overhanging upper floors are for sale. With their steep back gardens, perhaps they are not attractive to your average French person, who wants modern ease. I almost felt the desire to take up selling the houses to northern Europeans who would lovingly restore them and bring life back to the place. There was only one pretty, empty restaurant, where there should have been lots, teeming with people.
Moving on, we hit Noz and I was able to buy lots of English apple juice from a specialist grower at less than half the normal price, which has been carefully stashed away for the visit of the young in summer, when ten of A’s friends are coming out after their exams to have a week of sun and relaxation when the long and arduous slog to their A level exams has finally finished.
And then the highlight, a quick visit to Emmaus, where I have reserved a massive antique wardrobe with beautiful metalwork around the keyholes and long hinges that would look ridiculous on a smaller piece, but suit the grandeur of this piece. At over two metres thirty high, it won’t fit in many rooms, but will be perfect in the main bedroom at The Priory. The people of Pressigny in the fourteenth century knew how to build a high ceiling!
The key to the wardrobe was missing and Monsieur behind the counter disappeared beneath the counter before emerging with a plastic box full of assorted bits of metalwork. It looked a futile job, there were so many odd bits of this and that in the box, and who ever finds the key they are looking for in a mixed, random box? But we started rooting through it and the fourth one to come out fit the lock and it turned perfectly. A little miracle! I paid a deposit and have to go back Friday to arrange delivery. There will be a small amount of woodwork treatment when it arrives at The Priory, but that can be done in the sunshine and in the meantime, I am one wardrobe closer to a full complement! I now only need two more and all six bedrooms in the main house will be catered for.
The rooms, with their simple, honey coloured stone walls and high ceilings have a grandure that needs only a simple but statuesque treatment. Many years ago I stayed in a house in Italy, of a similar persuasion to the Priory. In each large room, with its wonderful wooden , beamed ceilings and wide, richly patinated floor planks, there were only a couple of statuesque pieces of furniture. To my mind it was bare, being used to English clutter, but I now love the simplicity of the style and am looking forward to achieving that in the Priory, where the elegant, grand furniture will be a perfect complement to the large, beautiful rooms. They have beauty enough in the floors and walls without needing to be filled with itty bitty pieces of furniture.