Thursday, September 14, 2006
To Market, To Market
It was an overcast, rainy day in the south of France.
I had been looking forward to the infamous Provence Farmers market that just happened to land on our last day in Arles, France for weeks. It rotates between a series of towns each month, and we were lucky enough to time our trip to enjoy it. Or so we thought.
My shopping list was ready to go: honey, table linens, soap, olive oil---mostly a long list of gifts to bring back with us at rock bottom prices. How exciting, to buy directly from the the farmers and bee keepers themselves! To see butchers roasting their chickens by the dozens, as the juices dripped down onto golden potatoes below! A real French market is truly a wonderful thing.
We trudged through town from our hotel into the little train station, walked inside through dirty glass doors, and stumbling, asked the nice looking lady behind the Tourist Bureau counter in broken French, "Excuse I, where The Market?" or something to that effect.
She shook her head slowly, looking at us through narrowed eyes, and responded in perfect English, "It's not here today, you've missed it."
Utter devastation. That's what I felt. Disbelief and sadness at having missed out on one of the pinnacle shopping experiences of my life. And my list! What to do with my long list of gifts and food items that I just couldn't live with out?
We left the train station and S tried to console me. "It's ok honey, you didn't really need a fifth bottle of olive oil anyways," but to no avail.
Back through town we walked, ambling on the bumpy cobblestone streets, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted some colorful tents over a series of booths.
"LOOK! It must be the market! That lady was wrong!" I began panting heavily, and pulled S by the hand over to the first line of vendors. I realized that we were late, and had only 30 minutes to weave our way through a mile and half of unsurpassed fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, honey, antiques, meat, breads, linens, furniture, sterling silver pieces, vintage pictures, books and more before it closed at 2:00pm. I was foaming at the mouth. Literally.
The first vendor was an old woman selling beautiful fruit, her face tanned and creased from long hours spent in the sun. My heart beat quickly as I stepped forward and pointed to a wooden crate full of gloriously red strawberries, glistening with ripeness.
"Cela, s'il vous plaît," I said to her, meaning that I wanted ONE of the little pints within the wood crate. She smiled up at me and said "Oui," and proceeded to pour the entire 6 KILOS of strawberries from the wooden crate into a huge plastic bag.
"15 euros s'il vous plaît, madame," she said.
Oops. That's the equivalent to $20 worth of strawberries. My husband, the banker, was quietly and steadily fuming behind me. I could feel the burning heat of his anger on my back, knowing that I had rushed into this purchase and unfortunately proven myself an unsavy buyer.
I paid the woman, and sheepishly handed the large bag of strawberries to him.
"What did you do?" "What did you do?!" he asked, looking down at the large bag of already masticating strawberries hanging from his hand.
"I don't know, I just panicked! There's just too much here, it's too overwhelming!"
"Well, I'm holding the money from now on."
Every purchase from then on out (lovely, affordable tablecloths, soap etc) had to be "Pre-Approved" from my own personal loan officer. I was embarrassed and was trying to figure out what we were going to do with 13.2 lbs of strawberries.
At the end of the afternoon we headed back to our little hotel, heavily laden with successful purchases. We walked through the front door and I wandered into the kitchen (it's a small beautiful bed and breakfast, our favorite spot of the trip http://www.hotel-particulier.com/sommaire_us.htm ), asking in broken french if I could somehow wash the berries off so we could eat them. By this time, they were oozing juice all over, furry with dust, and bruised pretty badly.
The woman who runs the hotel flung herself back into the kitchen, and feverishly started grabbing crystal bowls, a silver bucket with ice water for dunking the berries off, sugar, china plates and a tablecloth. She proceeded to walk out into the garden with her arms full of all the paraphernaliaia and set a table for us out under the trees.
We had the loveliest little picnic lunch, sitting in the shade, and I will tell you that I have never had strawberries so sweet.
It was worth every dime.