The Saturday Market

Saturdays are the only days I can sleep in, so I feel like I should allow myself that luxury. However, I have noticed that if I sleep in, I just drift slowly from one thing to another for the rest of the day, wrapped in a shroud of laziness that keeps me from getting my work done. But, if I make myself get up early and get right to some task, I have energy all day long. Having learned this, I spend most Saturday mornings going to the outdoor market in the center of my town. It’s a truly French experience!

Early while the morning is still cool, I walk 20 minutes to the town center, which shuts down the main road for several hours to make a pedestrian area, filled with tents and stands selling all sorts of things. Though at times it is nothing more than getting sprayed in the face by some unseen sprinkler system, I always have some new experience as I walk through my neighborhood. I live across the street from un collége (junior high) and une école primaire (elementary school), so my road has several wide ralentisseurs (speed bumps). On the weekends, the teenage boys in the neighborhood take advantage of the reduced traffic and speed by riding their bikes up and down, popping wheelies to the admiration of their friends. As I walk, they ride up right next to me and perform their gravity-defying feats, waggling their eyebrows at me in expectation that I, too, will burst into applause like all the thirteen year old girls on the sidewalk. Usually I roll my eyes, but I smile too. Teenage boys are the same everywhere.

As I reach the main street at the center of town, the whole atmosphere of the neighborhood changes. People stroll with baskets or pull caddies behind them, ready for fresh produce. Couples shop together and people constantly stop to greet their friends and neighbors, always giving the double-cheek air kiss. Children run and play between the tents. The carnival spirit is enhanced by the music and the smell of hot fried dough sold at one stand. Each week there is at least one live band, usually American Indians (supposedly) who play panpipes, selling their CDs spread out on a sheet in front of them. Sometimes however, there is a steel-drum band, from some Caribbean island, and they like to drum up business literally by walking around dancing with the crowd, forming impromptu conga lines. Everyone loves them! I admit my feet get lighter when they are playing their island rhythms, too.

The stands sell mostly fresh food: fruit and vegetables, cheeses, oysters and fish, sausages, pastries, and more. The French are such culinary masters; they are very particular about their food. There is one stand sells nothing but olives, nearly a hundred types! Most of the food vendors call out, encouraging everyone to sample certain salamis and cheeses, and that’s part of the fun of the market, too—being able to taste new things. And the vendors are treated with a certain respect. I can tell the butcher behind the counter of his stand what dish I would like to make, and he will not only give me the “right cut” of meat, but also tell me how to cook it, down to the exact spice and side dish to complement the flavor. At the vegetable stand, they will complete the meal with all the “right” vegetables, as well. I’m not an idiot in the kitchen, but I have to admit, before I lived in France, I just thought potatoes were potatoes. Now I know that certain ones boil/mash/flavor better than others. The goal at the market is to find the perfect choices for your masterpiece meal. (I still prefer, however, to cook a simple American meal).

Walking from one end to the other, I also see stands selling clothes, toys, costume jewelry, fresh flowers, and even handmade furniture. I enjoy looking at everything, just for the cultural experience of it! I wear my faithful Jansport backpack, nearly worn out from my years in Israel but still sturdy enough for a head of Batavia lettuce, carrots, zucchini, bananas, cherry tomatoes, and whatever else catches either my fancy or my price-range. I walk back another way, making a full circle and stopping last at the bakery around the corner from my apartment for a baguette so fresh, its still hot in my hand as I walk home.

Now why would I sleep in when I can have all this?
Ariel Rainey