Photo of market day in Aix en Provence (source)
Open-air markets are colorful Saturday morning events that spring up across France every weekend. Local growers and village artisans converge as the sun rises on la place in the center of town. They erect a city of bright canvas umbrellas to shade their tables covered with succulent fruits, crisp vegetables, fragrant cheeses, dried meats, fresh-cut flowers, and artwork ranging from sculpted wood to lace curtains and everything imaginable in-between. A French market is the liveliest slice of heaven you'll find here on earth.
The photo on the left is the only picture on this post I actually took myself. This is the market in Cusset, the village where my in-laws live three kilometers outside Vichy. Like many smaller communities that can't support a weekly market, this market is every first Saturday of the month. It is a town event throughout the year, and even when the weather is very cold in winter, everyone turns out for a stroll around the market, to chat with neighbors and vendors, and to stock up la cave, or root cellar, with dried saucisson, vegetables, and wine.
The most wonderful aspect of the market is its jovial ambiance. I never get the feeling there is serious competition between vendors, but they all seem to enjoy the game of shouting humorous slogans to attract the attention of passersby, hoping to make them laugh; and, if those appreciating the vendor's humor should wind up buying a bagful of vine-ripe tomatoes in the process, so be it. And the most entertaining vendors invariably have the longest lines of customers.
The market is one of the best places to pick up souvenirs to bring back to the States. The prices are reasonable for tablecloths depicting regional patterns and images, or beautifully crafted bowls and salad utensils carved from the wood of walnut and olive trees. The quilter in me goes a bit crazy, picking up yards and yards of provincial French fabrics for a fraction of what they cost back home.
So if you're ever in France, be sure to visit a market on Saturday. And if your travels keep you in Paris, you can find neighborhood markets on any day of the week. I promise, it will be one of the highlights of your trip!
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