Call me a kill-joy, but I cannot see why people make such a fuss about visiting Provençal markets. What possible enjoyment is there to be had in pushing and shoving your way through thousands of hot, sweaty bodies in narrow, congested streets, getting your eyebrows singed by the blasting heat from chickens roasting on mobile rotisseries and nearly going flat on your face every time some clumsy oaf walking behind you treads on the back of your flip-flop?
Having long ago reached the conclusion that one Provençal market pretty much resembles another (indeed, many of the same stall holders can be seen in different markets on different days of the week, selling the same things), I usually drive my wife into town and then head for the nearest bar, leaving her to sniff melons and do battle with the wasps around the olive stalls to her heart’s content.
Last week, however, we had visitors and I had to make a bit of an effort. While the gals headed for the fruit and veg stalls, us guys were given the task of finding some artisanal souvenirs and knick knacks for our guests to take back home. I have nothing but respect for the artisans of our region. They are hard-working, talented individuals who have passed their skills and knowledge from father to son and take pride in the quality of their workmanship. As I looked at some of the mediocre rubbish being palmed-off as “fabrications artisanaux” to the unsuspecting tourists in the market, however, I felt my hackles rising.
Who, in their right mind, could possibly want a pair of bright yellow men’s leather shoes that look like a cross between a gondola and a banana? Would anyone other than Fred Flintstone really wear a fake fur jock-strap? Who would want that offensive-looking, brick-red, foot-long ceramic lobster with plastic antennae hanging on their living room wall, or give house space to that garishly-painted resin clock with the cheap, plastic mechanism?
The hand-made Provençal table cloths were mere lengths of gaudily-printed cotton with tape sewn around the edges. Whether they would have survived the first round with a washing machine is doubtful.
I lost count of the number of times I got my foot trodden on and my companion and I struggled to find anything that we honestly felt was worth buying. Sweating and dispirited, we shouldered our way through the crowds and headed for the nearest bar to await the return of our womenfolk. As we were about to sit down, a woman stood up at the next table and, swinging round, accidentally caught my companion in the privates with her shopping basket (maybe one of those fur jock straps would have come in handy after all).
Provençal markets? Actually, I think from now on, I’ll pass...
Article from "Reader's Viewpoint" of The Riviera Reporter Var Supplement, issue October/November 2007.
N.B. Views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by the editors who reserve the right not to publish every article received.