When we were living back in the UK for a few years, I often used to reminisce on how much I missed French markets. Whenever we came back to France for holidays or business, I would always be quick to identify where the nearest market would be and would do everything I could to ensure I was able to go. Hubby would often then be quick to point out that when we were living in France I’d never go to the market, except on the rare occasions my parents came to visit. Yet, I had the option to go if I wanted.
Where we based in the UK that option didn’t exist, the only markets we had were once a month when we were lucky enough to have a farmers market – but you cannot compare the measly show of produce at the farmers market with the fabulous 5 sense experience of an authentic French market.
So, yesterday, I had a ‘I’m going to live the French life’ moment. I hauled my sorry backside off the sofa at the very unheavenly (for me) time of 9am and got dressed up for market day! Getting dressed up didn’t mean heels and lippy for me as it would for many French women, but I lost the Crocs and put on a trench instead of a fleece. After dusting off my bright orange shopping trolley (always known to me as a Granny bag), off I set, avoiding the cumbersome dog poop on the way, to visit my local Villeurbanne market in Les Grattes Ciel.
The sun was shining and as I advanced on my walk the streets got busier and busier. So much for the super chic French women I was expecting to encounter though, this was more the polyester and viscose parade. Obese women dressed in brightly colored bags hanging over their bodies and looking like they’d gone out in their slippers. So much for loosing the Crocs! Okay, so Villeurbanne isn’t exactly the 6th Arrondisement its Lyons poor neighbor or sometimes falsely called Lyon’s 10th Arrondisement. Les Grattes Ciel is the quartier where I live; it’s a perfectly acceptable working class neighborhood traditionally inhabited by Italian immigrants and built during the Art Deco era.
I’m slumming it here market wise though, my Beaux Parents (doesn’t Beautiful Parents in French sound better than the In Laws in English?) live in Provence and we’ve always been spoilt for choice on deciding which market to go to whenever we visit them. As they’re surrounded by beautiful villages and markets they’ve become a bit blasé about the whole thing, but they still humor me 11 years on whenever we go to visit even. It has to be said the markets in Provence are absolutely fantastic.
Summer Market in Provence, photo taken in 2009
Provencal Market - The must had Olive Stand. Photo taken in 2009
Back to my market. Approaching the market I stop to get cash and avoid my first two beggars (mendiants) next to the cash machine. Cash in purse, I continue, dodging the Polyester Brigade and continuing with purpose. Next I’m asked to vote for someone about our pensions and I politely explain to the bewildered man that I don’t have any right to vote so it’s useless him talking to me, then I avoid no less than two more beggars before finally arriving in the market.
This market doesn’t take place in a fancy market square, but in large car park flanked by scrubby buildings on one side and the back of the Art Deco buildings on the other. My first sight of the market was not, unfortunately for my eyes, wonderful displays of fruit and veg, but polyester tops costing no less than 5 Euros. I had arrived in the clothing section. Fighting my way through bustle of the clothes section and mildly interested in the cheap socks for sale (until I remembered they’d probably be made from polyester instead of cotton) I battled my way into the food section.
Relief. This is what I’d come to savor. Fresh produce all around me, the beautiful reds of the tomatoes, greens of the peppers, and hold on what is this? Yellows of bananas? All the way from Colombia! It was surprising how much stuff was imported, so much for buying local, seasonal produce for tuppence.
I was in luck though and I continued on my mission filling up my trolley as I went along. A whole pan of green chilies for just 1 Euro, even a free lemon on when stand when I said to the lady that she could keep the 4 cents change she was due to give me.
A mental note was made of the delicious smelling spice stand I saw as well as the fishmongers and butchers. I didn’t need any of this yesterday and didn’t buy as I’d already planned my meals but it’s good to know if it is needed. I did manage to spend over 20 Euros though and I have a Granny bag full of stuff that I’m not yet sure what I’ll do with, but it was good fun and I felt healthy.
I was embarrassed to take pictures as this certainly wasn’t your traditional tourist market. People were not lingering here, no-one was having a gentle traipse around the market for something to be done, everyone had a sense of purpose and I didn’t dare take too many photos for fear of being branded a fool. Why I was worried what people thought I don’t really know, but I did manage to whip out the photo whilst paying at one stand so I could share here. Not the best photo you’ll see of a French market though!
Les Grattes Ciel Market - A rather nice stall.
Seriously lacking for me were the delights of the Provencal market; the fresh olives and tapenade stands, wine, saucisson even cheese. But I’m happy with my market, whilst the clothing is not to my taste from what I immediately saw, it merits to be explored but maybe on another occasion. As for the food, well functional and exactly what I needed and who knows, as we advance into the summer maybe the produce will become more seasonal as I’m not sure much is even grown in April anyway.
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