It started with an ad on leboncoin.fr, a French small ads site. The table looked like just what I needed for the garden. Four people could easily eat at it, but for me it was more of a breakfast table for two, to put outside the kitchen. It was old, with a classic perforated design, S-shaped decorations on the four legs, and a few innocent spots of rust. I phoned up and arranged to drive the 39km to Noizay, north of Amboise, the following day. The address I was given was in the Chemin Francis Poulenc, in the heart of the wine-growing area beside the Loire.
When I got there, the house was splendid and a big plaque beside the entrance gate announced that the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) had lived there – with spells in Paris – from 1927 until his death. I was greeted by two of Poulenc’s nephews, and the wife of one of them. We looked at the table and talked about Poulenc, and how they remembered that when the weather was fine he liked to take his meals or drinks at this very table on the terrace. The terrace overlooks a small Italianate garden and has a breathtaking view over countryside, with no other houses in sight. This is Vouvray land, vineyard country, with many troglodytic habitations – and indeed this house had cellars that disappeared into the rock.
After much struggling, we got the table into my car with not even a millimetre to spare, I paid the 100€ they were asking, and they invited me into the house, part of which dates back to the 15th century. There was disarray everywhere because they were selling up and moving, but Poulenc’s music room was untouched. There were pictures of him with many famous people, from Max Jacob to Stravinsky, on the walls, an upright and baby grand piano, and a bookcase full of his compositions (see photos below, plus period photos of when Poulenc was alive). One of the nephews enjoyed practising his English on me, and we drank a glass of white wine from their own vineyard, just below the house. It was what they called “un vin tranquil”, a non-sparkling Vouvray, and we discussed how we would translate that very French expression into English. We also discussed how the pharmaceutical company Rhône-Poulenc was founded by the same family.
It was sad seeing the great man’s possessions being parcelled up and moved or sold off, but when I left I promised that I would not forget the history behind my new item of furniture. An hour and a half earlier, when I set off in the car, I had no idea that I’d end up the proud owner of Francis Poulenc’s garden table!