Laurence Phillips’ guidebook to Marseillan has a list of village markets in this region. Each village or small town has its day for its market. The markets are full of life from early morning until I pm when they are dismantled and melt into white vans to go on to the next market tomorrow.
My co-travellers D. and S, who are great marketers, love to make use of the ingredients from these cornucopian markets to cook the outstanding meals that appear on our holiday table.
These two also love the flea-markets and brocantes– all the more exotic because we encounter fragments of other lives lived in another culture. Here are wineglasses that toasted the Liberation in 1945; here is linen from 60 year old bottom drawers and kitchenalia emerging from grand chateaux and rural farmhouses.
For me the ubiquitous shopping basket symbolises the market ethos at the core of this culture. D. has bought two (more!) large baskets to add to her large collection at home. She loves the things. ‘Never been knowingly under-basketted,’ she says.One of these whopping new baskets, she declares, will be ideal as storing current writing projects in her study.
Greetings in the market seem always to be enthusiastic and mannerly. There are the two elderly women who kiss each other on the cheeks three times, smiling and nodding: old friends.
Then there is the man who greets his friends around their café table. He shakes hands, greeting each one in turn, including a small boy of about eight who eagerly proffers his hand when it comes to his turn.
And there is the elderly woman in a short skirt and wearing a pork-pie straw hat. She greets two men at one table, kissing both of them once on each cheek. Then she pulls her purchase from her basket: a new hat: the exact facsimile of the one already on her head.
There is the long queue at the horse butcher; the clothes stalls with pretty linen dresses and tops in bright colours; the stalls of colourful bags and shoes all tempting you to buy,
These markets are a celebration of appetite, life, pretty things and beautiful objects. They reflect the villages which they dominate and delight for one day a week and are as much about the population of the surrounding landscape, as the travellers like us who pass through. We delight in them as much for the ways in which they reflect the unique region and the broader areas of France, as for the consumer's temptation and delight in the goods on display.
All this makes for good memories as I take my French basket home to trundle around Asda or Sainsbury and bewail the diminution of the ancient market in my own small Northern town, its uniqueness swallowed up by the supermarkets sitting at its edge.