Life In The Arts Lane - week 116 - The Winter Sun - Montpellier, Avignon, Beziers

As the year grinds to a halt a certain retrospective urge percolates. It is hard to fathom that a year could be so full of transformation and restructuring. I began the year without a connection to my alma mater, Mallett nor the fair I founded, Masterpiece. I end it back at Mallett and back involved as a shareholder with Masterpiece. A complete volte-face. It does feel strange almost unreal to consider. My erstwhile colleagues look at me as if I am a sort of Banquo - the ghost at the feast.

But first and foremost I remain a dealer and bringing those instincts to bear will be my major contribution to all the TFAAG companies and to my old friends on the Masterpiece board. To this end I flew to Carcassone to be ready for the first tranche of the thrice yearly jamboree of dealing that takes place first at Beziers then on to Avignon and then finishes at Montpellier. Some dealers cannot take all three and skip Beziers but the industrial strength, hard core dealer aka TWS does not shirk.

A ghastly interlude in the company of Ryanair is followed by the delightful Clement who ushers us to our hire car with a friendly swipe of my credit card and a loving pat on the bonnet of our Opel. With a comical French accent, a winning smile and devilish good looks he sends us on our way. Supper is grilled snails - a cargolade at a local winery and bed is as a PG of Pascal and Christian. Their house is also a brocante and their carefully appointed themed rooms are filled with furniture and objects that we could take with us for a price. We were royally attended to and our breakfast serenaded by a classical cd, the desperate whimpering of their elderly dog and bolstered with fresh croissant and their home made jams and marmalade will not quickly be forgotten.

The cargolade.

The sun shone throughout our few days and we wandered the sheds and and grounds of the exhibition zone cold but cheered by the sun. The Beziers dealers offered up delights that proved too tempting to resist. Each one carefully labelled and collected by the indefatigable team of Nadia and Stuart from Alan Franklin shippers. Somehow we never quite got our paperwork right but they eventually sorted everything out whilst being buffeted by high winds and their papers held down with local boulders.
Starting at 8am it is finished by midday so the rest of the day is for culture.

The next stop is Avignon so we headed there and ensconced ourselves in the Hotel d'Europe - a jewel of a courtyard coaching inn from yesteryear with a fabulous huge trained plain tree gracing the centre. From there all that remained is supper with Lucky Mike and the Pirate who have hot footed it from London by train. We dined at Heily Lucullus a stylish echo from the past. The restaurant is on the first floor and retains its strange Art Deco period decor in the Art Nouveau style. We dined alone but our spirits were not dampened by the lack of companionship as dish after dish flowed to the table with a flourish and a certain innovation.

Avignon passed much as Beziers with regular trips to the Alan Franklin truck. The odd thing was that at the end of the day when we were assessing our purchases and preparing our supper plans we were amused to find whilst lamely examining our smart phone health apps that Esther had walked 19,000 steps whilst I had only achieved 16,000. How she managed to sneak off and cover the extra distance I will never know.

It is terrific to meet folk around these fairs. I saw Wim and Henri from Brussels and it was great to catch up. I saw the Monluc brothers from Paris, and the Leonis from Naples. So many hearty handshakes and pleasantries exchanged. It really is a community - cut throat competition but all in good spirits.

A classic market scene.

So another epic meal at La Fourchette in Avignon is followed by too short a night and the relentless shopping grinds to a halt as usual with me running out of money and fond farewells around the champagne bar in Montpellier.
It is perhaps too ridiculous to say but when you buy something you make a friend even if it is only for a minute. Two years ago I saw a strange instrument for measuring the sugar content in wine. I had run out of money and could not persuade the owner to part with it on trust. I found it again and we joked about my passionate fruitless pleading as this time I counted out the small pile of 50 euro notes. At another we found the pair to a sofa we have at home. The first one also bought at Montpellier. The first cost 300 euros and the second 1000. We are not talking masterpieces here but we all laughed at my luck and lack of negotiating skills. These bonds make the job a delight, and the sun -though tepid made us forget the rain and cold of the impending London winter. Corporate life is vital and getting the structures and pathways in place is crucial to reviving Mallett but it begins here, with the warmth of a deal.


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