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Markets and Fetes
The day after our arrival was a market day in St. Chinian. Many of the villages in France have one or two market days a week at which the locals might find items not available in the village shops or at least perhaps a greater variety of goods. Market vendors travel from village to village in trucks and vans selling clothes, antiques, books, toys, kitchenware, tablecloths, and materials (etc.!) as well as fresh vegetables and fruit, meat, cheese, bread and pastries, olives and flowers (etc., etc).
The Market Square in St. C is about half a block from our house and even though it was only around 8:30 am we walked up the street, eager to participate in our first Market day. Many of the vendors were still setting their wares out on tables or opening up their self-contained vans (shops on wheels!). We wandered up and down the aisles enjoying the sights and sounds and colors, interested in everything we saw, buying whatever caught our eyes without a thought to putting together a 'meal' - roses, cucumbers, dried apricots, cheese, pastries. The 'buying' was the adventure; the goods were just a bonus to be enjoyed later.
A robust, dark haired, dark eyed man wearing a long white apron and a large friendly smile stood in front of his table of cheeses, offering a taste of his wares. I nodded acceptance and he cut off a corner, the size of a quarter, of a large white cheese (the name of which I never knew!). Delicious! I signed that I wanted a slice about ¾" thick. The resulting slab was huge and I wondered to myself how we were going to eat it all in two weeks (it was gone in one, it was SO good!) and how many large bills I would have to part with. He weighed it and in amazement I paid 45 francs. $5 of cheese at Whole Foods gets me a tiny chunk the size of my palm…
The basket of cucumbers had a small sign in it "10F". I pointed at one and gave the vendor 10F. Surprised he chuckled and said "Non, 10F per kilo." I looked abashed while he weighed it and asked for 2,40F (~30cents). I had thought nothing of the 10F. At the Farmer's Market in Boulder I cheerfully paid a dollar a piece for smaller cucumbers (knowing that they would taste better than the supermarket cucs). OK! This was fantastic - fresh, delicious food at a REALLY good price.
I love the Farmer's Market in Boulder. I love getting there early before the crowds and wandering slowly up and down the street in the cool morning hours. It is a feast for the eyes and a treat for the soul. The St. Chinian Market is at least 4 times larger and has wonders that were new to me. Like the van that had "Chacun son métier Le Notre C'est Rotisseur" painted on it outside and 70 or so whole chickens roasting on 10 spits inside. There were boxes upon boxes of dark brown nuts and olives of every shade of green (& black!). I was surprised at the huge cheeses, mesmerized by the golden pastries, and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a full butcher shop on wheels. Most of all, I wanted to carry away armfuls of flowers. I still sigh when I look over the paltry bunches of fresh flowers available to me here…
Cessenon-sur-Orb (Cessenon on the Orb river), a village a few miles from St. Chinian, was having its Wine Harvest Festival that day and we drove over there after lunch. The small square beside the church was filled with tables of crafts and food items. Along one side were artists demonstrating their craft (e.g. Glass-blowing, spinning). At the back of the square was a display of black and white photographs of the town as it was decades ago (I really can't say how many!). Only the clothing of the people gave any hint that they were not taken the day before as the buildings and streets in the photographs were mostly the same as before our eyes. A carrousel for small children was set up near the square and mothers stood watching as the excited children rode the 'car', 'airplane' and 'motorcycle' around in an almost minuscule circle (it was a very small carousel!).
We bought a piece of apple pie for 10F and sat on the bench in front of the church near the main street to eat it (which gave us a wonderful vantage point to people-watch as they came and went from the square (as well as a place to rest!)). Cars were parked on one side of the street going through the village, which made two-way traffic difficult on the narrow street (a street barely wide enough for two cars abreast). Still it WAS the main through street and traffic was soon almost a standstill as drivers tried to maneuver through. We went back into the square to watch the dancers in costume dance until the number of people was so great that it was difficult to see anything and we decided it was time to leave.
The next weekend we went to the Fete De Vendanges (Wine Harvest Festival) in Ouveillan. This was a much bigger affair than the one in Cessenon by at least an order of magnitude. This Fete is a weekend long celebration with parades, music and musical performances, and many, many vendors selling all manners of 'goods'. We parked outside the village and made our way to the village center past dozens (literally!) of tables (or spread out on the ground) of 'flea market' stuff. A parade of costumed villagers leading oxen or horses; or driving old cars; or playing musical instruments; or just walking (and looking very pleased with themselves I might add!) passed us and impeded our progress (which was OK because of course we wanted to stop and gawk at them anyway…).
We passed pens with barnyard animals and more tables with food and crafts and DJs playing music and a gentleman with a portable 'barrel organ'. Don bought a painting and I took his picture with the artist - a robust, middle-aged man who looked as if he had spent some of his days working in the fields (brown and hardy he was!). Oh, but what a crush! The narrow streets filled with tables and people shoulder to shoulder, block after block. Around every corner was loud music, oh SO loud music… (as to be heard over the noisy people I suppose!), Everyone celebrating the end of the harvest (or perhaps, just celebrating!).
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