Open Market Marvels
La vie est belle, n'est-ce pas?
Life is beautiful, isn't it?
Nowhere is the above sentence more true than at our weekly open market, especially in the summertime. Twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, vendors pull up well before 8 am, their vans and trucks packed to the gills with their wares. Efficiently, they create appealing displays, and in the heat of summer, raise massive parasols for shade.
Speaking of gills, our market hosts a weekly "trout truck." Here you have the pleasure of watching the proprietor catch your live fish out of the "pond" in the back of his truck, whack its head, resulting in a quick (painless?) death. Next, he cleans the fish with a long quick slice down its belly, followed by aspirating all the unpleasant stuff inside with his handy little vacuum cleaner device.
"Would you like that whole or filleted, Madame?" (Actually, the whole fish is the only option- I just wish he'd remove the head and bones for me!)
Summer brings a riot of colors: flowers of fuchsia, brilliant oranges, and golden yellows. Delicate garden-grown blooms to stock-tall sunflowers, their frilly faces causing mine to break out in a smile and want to greet them. And I have been known to say "hi! you make me happy!"
The varieties of sunflowers astonish me: wilder-petaled ones, some pure sunshine yellow-gold while others are burnished with tinges of bronze and copper. Their centers alone are a small world into themselves, and indeed there is latent life in the seeds proliferating there.
One of the best parts of July and August are the tomatoes- especially the "anciennes"- unbelievably sweet, not a trace of acid, and the colors incredible. So many varieties, with exotic locale names: Cornue des Andes, Noire de Crimée, Ananas (pineapple tomato!), Rose de Bern, Green Zebra. We love to buy several colors and types, slice, and eat them with fresh olive oil from our property and a little salt and pepper. Or, of course, with fresh basil and mozzarella.
And the melons! Oh…the melons! This year they have been sweeter and more perfectly juicy and refreshing than ever. Apparently, our chalky limestone soil and constant sunshine produce this addictive, mouth-watering fruit with a taste like no other. They are smaller than the California cantaloupe I'm familiar with, and the flesh is a brighter, juicier shade of orange.
The best are the melons de Cavaillon - and only those grown in that area may bear that designation. In the same way that white sparkling wine from any region other than Champagne must go by another name.
Although they're not the high-status melons de Cavaillon, those grown in my region of Languedoc-Roussillon (now called Occitanie), are definitely délicieux!
We eat them almost daily during this season, our favorite way a generous wedge with a thin slice of parma ham or chiffonade. French friends recently served us a chilled half-melon filled with Porto (sweet red wine) as a perfect summer first course.
I don't seem ever to grow tired of them.
The pungent scent of sausage wafts by as the vendor styles her table with a surprising variety: sanglier (wild boar), taureau (bull), or flavored with garlic, wild mushrooms, olives, or goat cheese. My favorite is fig; my husband prefers the one made with beaufort (amazing alpine French cheese.) At three for 10€ ($12), they are a great buy.
Under the blazing summer sun, the open market expands to include brightly-colored local pottery, handmade Savon de marseille, a table dedicated to wild truffles, and their accessories. Plus, fresh ginger syrup to put in drinks or on fruit salads, straw hats, purses, clothes, and other handmade items. Tourists throng, and as a "local" (foreign-born but living here now for years!), I find myself irritated that "they" are in "my" market! Ha! But our town can use any bit of economic infusion, so I go earlier and enjoy short chats with my favorite vendors.
Why is the open market a highlight of my week? Is it the convergence of aesthetically pleasing sights and aromatic scents? Or is it the comfortable familiarity of conversing with "my" vendors week after week? I do love the feeling it gives me that I'm a part of this town, that I belong. Yesterday, my neighbor and I had a cathartic chat about the discomfort of wearing masks in the heat and the fact that this may be the new normal. I left with my ripe white peaches and a smile on my face (under my mask.)
I love the open market for all the above and so much more. The general festive atmosphere - often, a young man sits off to the side, playing old French songs on the accordion, providing just the soundtrack I'd expect. And, even in this strange summer of 2020, multiple accents drift by. Families sun-kissed (or sunburnt, depending on their country of origin and the level of sun-deprivation the rest of the year), meander through the stalls, calling after children, scooping up treats to take home. "Will the fresh goat cheese survive the drive back to Paris?" I overheard yesterday. "No, Madame, not unless you keep it in a cooler." "Or- even better, eat it all on the way!" she replied.
Then there's the feeling of satisfaction in coming home with an array of fresh produce, organic focaccia, goat's cheese, dried fruits, fresh olives, and tapenade, plus a bouquet of flowers and handmade pâté de campagne from Thierry, the friendly butcher's food truck. I'm so grateful my loving heavenly Father has led me to this place, this life.
Oui! La vie est belle!