Nimes is a Roman city with narrow streets, a crumbling Arena and Foreign Legion garrison. The juxtaposition of ancient, modern and military imbibes it with an atmosphere inhabituel.
We were there for an auction, going on in the splendidly named 'Hotel des Ventes'. Immediately, one is filled with an image of some impressive former 'grande demeure', eighteenth century at the latest in creamy stone with expensively decorative masonry. Inside, the auctioneer, a formidable yet kind-looking lady was holding forth with aplomb. A huge kilim hung over some stairs above her head and a yet even more enormous tapestry provided an imposing backdrop lending a theatrical air to the whole proceedings.
A slick team presented items, took them away and brought on the next with imperceptible delay. Items as varied as cashmire Nimes shawls 150years old, 19th century artwork, old dolls, china, bibelots, and sculptures were presented to a motley audience made up mostly of dealers who looked jaded and blasé. Very little enthusiasm was manifest although most of the pieces were sold at a predictable price. These reasonable prices would be transformed into over-pricing at the hands of these guys in 'brocante' and antique dealer emporiums.
We were disappointed with the day's selling, as the pieces we had come to see being sold had been an anomoly compared to the other items on display - modern, sharp, original. The dealers could not integrate them into the rest of their '19th century' antiques yet were agog at their immediacy and vibrance.
We left, slightly abashed in search of coffee and cognac, moving almost immediately on to lunch with a most welcome crepe. The weather, as hesitant in its mood as us, drifted from sunbursts to spatterings of water droplets; hotter, colder, windier, calmer.
Back at the car, our route out of the city took us north, avoiding the hoards doing the 'chasse croise' on the autoroute, preferring a gentle meander through Sommieres and Castries.
We made it in time for tea, the Red House enfolding us cosily in its welcoming smells, purring occupants, and comfy sofa. Bliss.