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New York, New York
November 7, 2008
From journal First Time in France and Avoiding Paris
November 13, 2003
Any market in Provence that sees some tourists is sure to have a nice stock of local crafts for sale. Among the most common of these are table linens, soap, and lavender products, and this market is no exception.
I’m a sucker for beautiful table linens, so I really enjoyed myself in Provence. I noticed two primary varieties: prints and jacquards. Many prints echo the regional themes of olives, olive branches, lemons, and/or cigales. (Cigales look much like bees, but I asked and they are cicadas, an insect which makes a hum similar to a cricket’s – they are considered good luck in Provence.) The typical colors for Provençal linens are vivid and always found in threes or fours: lemony or bright Ticonderoga-pencil-golden yellow, bright orange, maroon, lime or forest green, and chalky sky or intense medium blue. Consequently, there is nothing subtle about these linens. However, imagine them on a cheery breakfast table or at a backyard picnic if you think they’re just too bright for you. Expect to pay between €50 and €100 for a tablecloth and napkins to match, depending on style and size. Napkins are sold separately, so you can skip them to keep costs down.
Aromatic and colorful soap bars, often artisan-made, are also very common. As you walk past a soap stall, your nostrils will quiver with delight. There will be an assortment of little plastic baskets sitting on the soap bars for you to gather your choices in. Lavender is of course the most typical of the region, but you will also find vanilla, floral, and fruit aromas with colors to match. I particularly liked "passion." I purchased six bars of various varieties, and I’m sort of sorry I didn’t get more (except that they do add a lot of weight to your load). They sure made my suitcase smell wonderful for the remainder of the trip! The price is around €1.50-2.00 per bar.
Lavender is one of the typical products of Provence, and it turns up everywhere: lavender sachets, lavender garlands, lavender soap, lavender honey, and so forth. Prices run from next to nothing to quite a bit, depending on what you choose. Lavender sachets are wonderful wherever you keep or store clothing – at least for women!
If you find yourself hauling too many goodies around, consider a modest investment of €8 or so and buy one of the colorful collapsible straw baskets. These can hold a lot of stuff while you’re at the market and make carrying your acquisitions along on your trip easy. At one of my last stops, Arles, I stopped at a Monoprix (a discount food and sundries store) and picked up an inexpensive duffel to carry my extra stuff on the plane. My collapsible basket went right into the duffel and now does duty as a shopping, beach, and baseball-game basket at home.
From journal L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, A Provençal Market Town
Refrigerated trailers for butchers and cheese sellers also abound. The cheese selection is amazing after the six varieties available in the typical American supermarket. Merchants will give you a sliver to taste if you aren’t sure of your choice. I’m a big fan of goat cheese. If you’re new to it, try Picandou. It comes in small rounds; it is firm and not too strong. You can slice it onto bread, add a chunk to your tossed salad, or just eat it plain or drizzled with a little honey for a French-style dessert.
Further delights included saucissons (French sausages), honey, foie gras (goose liver – you don’t want to know how it’s made, but try it before you swear you don’t like liver!), local spices, and olives of every color and variety. Everything is produced locally and many merchants are clearly very small operators. Often, for instance, you will find a lean, tanned and wrinkled farmer at a table selling a dozen bottles of wine and a few jars of honey, nothing more.
While the fixin’s you can find here will make avid cooks wish they had a kitchen handy, there are also food stalls selling paella and spit-roasted chicken, the smells of which will tantalize you. Don’t feel you must resist too much, as both are trés delicieux and make a wonderful lunch!
I tried some of the chiques, a sort of French lollipop. They come in a variety of flavors and colors. They look like painted marshmallows on a stick, but they are hard as rocks! Closer to a jawbreaker on a stick. They tasted good and lasted over an hour, but don’t bite them, as I thought I might break a tooth!
About 1pm the merchants pack up, folding their canopies and tables, and by 2pm, they are completely gone. Shortly thereafter, the street sweeping machine comes along and cleans all the streets. By 3pm, the town drowses, and not a trace remains of the bustling morning market!