A visit to the weekly market

Photo: Michele Ch'iFrance, to me, is a place of romance and artistic freedom of expression. A place filled with architecture from art history books: Gothic, Flamboyant, Renaissance. A place associated with names such as Monet, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Apart from all its remarkable art and architecture, however, it’s the weekly markets that have shaped the essence of French life over the centuries.

Let’s start with Friday morning around 9 o’clock walking down to a local market. The aroma of the rich juicy poulets rotis basted by the Monsieur who looks so much like Robert De Niro. I reckon that his roast chicken is the best around here, and I always reserve one for lunch. Not far after ‘Robert De Niro’, a sweet perfume of strawberries and melons floats in the air. Madame will call out ‘Servez vous!’ and when I am juggling with three boxes of strawberries, bunches of bananas, and perhaps a few melons de Quercy, she will ask “Avec ça?” When I look around, of course, my eye catches her purple cabbages and aubergines, the red and green peppers, carrots and cucumbers, that make such a vibrant picture I can smell their freshness. I just can’t resist stuffing my basket with more.

Photo: Michele Ch'iOK! Time for a coffee and croissant. I really like dunking my croissant into my café au lait
“Bonjour! Ça va? ” “Hi! How are you?”
Well, if you want some peace and quiet while having your petit déjeuner, you’d better stay at home. For being here is always a social occasion to meet friends, catching up with news of other friends; who is back in France, and who’s leaving on the jet plane tomorrow. Discussions on the order of where is the best restaurant and the best wine château to try string together like a symphony.

There is always more to be discovered in the market…But look! Specialties of southern France, black and green olives, preserved in so many different styles. Monsieur will be more than happy to give you some to gouter. Sacks and sacks of herbs and spices…. Ah Choo!! I sneeze every time when I walk past; Monsieur just gives me a sympathetic smile. Monsieur Leveque and his charming wife always have time to chat with me while busily cutting chunks of cheese for their customers. I love them both dearly but I still don’t eat cheese. Tant pis.

Photo: Michele Ch'iDuring summer, there are street performers playing saxophones or violins on the corner, attracting crowds of passers-by. But this one was perhaps the most inspiring: the puppeteer. He manipulated two wooden puppets, choreographed with music to narrate the story of Genesis.

In France, culture isn’t always cut and dried even the weekly market peddles food for thought.

• With thanks to Michele Ch’i

See Michele’s photography on her website www.photomichi.com

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