The Magic of the Open Market
I love open markets! The stands of wares ranging from fresh local products to artisanal items are always a delight to experience. Beautiful visuals, aromas wafting; things to taste or try on…it’s all good.
One of my favorite things about these markets is the element of surprise. Even the vendors who return week after week will have new seasonal items. The discovery is more than half the fun.
Summer is especially wonderful with the fragrance of ripening melons and peaches––white and yellow varieties––plus the colorful array of tomatoes (so many types!!)
Our little town has marché ouvert on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Summer brings tourists and therefore more things on offer. We're in high holiday season right now, so the market is at its finest. New stands pop up, selling handmade items of every sort. Here are two that were brand new yesterday: sun prints and handmade bowls of local woods. Lovely!
Like a bee to a brightly colored flower, that's me whenever the pottery guy shows up. My new neighbor friend and I browsed and tried to find reasons to buy something, even if we didn't need it. I didn't end up purchasing anything, but looking at the photo, I wish I did!
See the little round plates below? They are "Grat'Ail," garlic scrapers, and they work pretty well. Rub a peeled clove of garlic across the raised ridges in the center and all the pungent goodness releases. Yum!
And those little things in the bottom left corner are clips to anchor your tablecloth on a windy day. These have ceramic cicadas, a motif often found throughout the south of France, for good reason. The little creatures sing their hearts out in the heat––a perfect summer soundtrack.
Across the way, we have the most amazing olive, dried fruit, and nut stands. Everyone's favorite vendor is Abdel. Somehow, he sees and greets his customers even when they are just passing by. He remembers my children and grandchildren from their visits and always asks how they're doing. When buying from him, there's a constant flow of "try this" or "help yourself to that." As a parting gift, he throws an extra handful of something delicious into your bag for free, or sends me home with olives for "monsieur." What a treasure!
Living here and going regularly to the market means developing relationships with the vendors. In France, they take their time chatting with each customer as if they're the only one. Nice when it's my turn and a bit of a challenge for this efficiency minded American when I'm waiting! But it provides me with the opportunity to slow down, breath in, and enjoy the moment––when I remember to do so.
Emmanuel, the bread guy, has become a friend. He declined having his photo taken, but was happy to let me photograph the beautiful bread display. The breads are all from organic flours; my favorite is called "Kamut," made from spelt. Emmanuel and I are both dairy-intolerant, but my husband Dudley is not and enjoys the onion and cheese focaccia. Emmanuel saves him one every week, plus an olive fougasse (a pretzel-shaped local bread) in a small bag under the table. Even when Emmanuel's away, he instructs his replacement to do the same. So kind!
Here in the Cévennes, a delicious sweet onion grows. Farmers sell them in bunches, clinging clumps of dirt at no extra cost. Nothing like ground to table!
Did you know garlic comes in different colors? I didn't! There's a pink version as well as violet which has a lot of character. No wonder it's another of my husband's favorites!
Autumn and winter bring us smaller markets, but there's always something interesting to find. Another newly learned fun fact: certain plants, such as radicchio, need frost to bring out the bright color. No wonder we find these lovelies at the end of the year (photo from December).
And that's just the fruits and veggies! We have a wonderful butcher truck, run by the jovial Thierry, with a plethora of meats for sale. The long wait in line is well worth it for his great products, plus local gossip and jokes. Once, the woman in front of me asked if he had some nice chicken thighs. He laughed and winked and announced loud and clear, "Oui, j'ai des belle cuisses!" "Yes! I have beautiful thighs."
There are also local cured sausages piled by type: duck, wild boar, pork, bull or with flavors added such as garlic, olive, basil, Herbes de Provence, walnuts, or my favorite: fig.
Out of all this beautiful bounty, the greatest treasure is the people––vendors who slowly warm up to me despite my foreign accent or the friends and acquaintances I run into in this public square. I return home with my rolling cart full of goodies, my heart warm from these encounters.
During covid lockdowns, the open market was shut down and greatly missed. Not so much for the food, our local grocery store remained open throughout. It was the freedom to roam and mix and connect with people that was the greatest loss. May we never take it for granted.
La vie est belle...