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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Less guff on markets

FRANCE: OUTDOOR MARKETS Much rubbish is written by Brits about French street markets The freshness! The ripeness!The wit of country hobbledehoys! The amusing disruption!The beating heart of France! I know, I've done it myself. Pure paperasse (bumf). But I'll refrain in future.

Occasional Speeder had scheduled Gignac's market for this morning. "But let's not rush to the stalls first thing," she said. "Let's start by sitting down outside a café for a coffee." I agreed. Anything to break the iron ring of cliché.

My first job was to order paella scooped up from a flying-saucer-sized pan for tonight's dinner. But how much? A kilo always sounds too heavy. Madame suggested two kilos for four bellies and arranged the contents of a one-kilo box to show how the portions looked. It still seemed too much and I know her yardstick was the more capacious French belly. In the end I agreed.

But what I really wanted to know was what she thought about the wine on an adjacent stall: Vin de Merde (literally: Shit Wine). Wasn't that amusing? She refused to break street market omertá

Tasting the produce is all part of the game. But on one fruit stall the man ahead rootled through a pile of cherries like a truffle hound to get the fattest. Undignified.

A beggar proffered his message which I failed to read. I gave OS a 2 euro piece which she handed on. The beggar kissed her hand with his bearded mouth then took mine. Curtly I told him kisses weren't on my agenda.
The French continue to admire my coin dispenser (invaluable at the market). Only the Brits jeer. And then only my own family.

Finally it got too hot and I needed beer. Science took a rest.


  1. Again I would like to know how the dialogue sounded in French, and how you negotiated the distinction between baiser and embrasser in the kissing business. I would be wary myself in such circumstances or perhaps in any circumstances for that matter.

  2. Something in the way you wrote "...kissed her hand with his bearded mouth..." painted an exceedingly unwholesome picture of the man for me. I shivered and recoiled.

  3. Is there good beer available where you are now?

  4. Joe: Earlier on I faced a dilemma. By scattering too much French into what I wrote I found I was distancing myself from my readers. Rouchswalwe for instance who does English, German and Japanese had to use the dictionary on one occasion; this is asking an awful lot for what is essentially persiflage. Also the subject of formal vs. informal speech rarely arrises. The dialogue on my part is deliberately cut down to the essentials so as not to waste the time of working French people. The beggar got no more than Ne baisez pas! which didn't require me to make the distinction - it worked for both meanings.

    Being wary is what I'm trying to avoid. I expect to make many grievous mistakes. But from time to time I'm rewarded when a French person laughs outright at what I've said. And I know it's "with me" rather than "at me" because my jokes are built round terminal punchlines.

    Take the following. VR had just chosen a special kind of loaf and I had a note in my hand ready to pay. The woman selling cited a price smaller than I expected. I said, Attendez un moment.. I returned the note to my wallet and took out my dispenser (see the second photo above). As I handed over the exact sum in coins I said, Par la machine.. In her own mind the woman could almost see the coins in her own till. But suddenly she was brought up short by the unexpected; her transfer of coins to the till was arrested. She looked me full in the face and smiled.

    A small joke, made all the smaller by deconstruction but such moments are what I live for. I am thinking of further modifying it by saying Par l'engin.. Unless you are familiar with French road signs you may be required to consult your dictionary to get the full flavour of the ridiculousness of this one.

    French women respond well to this sort of thing but my real triumphs (impossible for anyone else to appreciate) are when they work with a frowsty guy at the tabac who's had to get up at 6 am to receive the papers and is getting a mere 1 euro from me to pay for L'Equipe. And if you think I'd be better off (as Anne Grunwald maintained) reading the flawless French of Le Monde, may I commend you to the ever evolving, slangy, compressed text of what is my second favourite newspaper.

    The Crow: He was very clean, Crow, and so was his beard. I was able to examine it from a foot away as he bowed his opportunistic head over OS's hand. I wasn't revolted (but then OS's feelings are no doubt more important) and in my head a small bell rang: one for the blog.

    RW (zS): Believe me when the temperature's well over 30 deg. C all that's needed is a mere soupcon (that's "suspicion" to save you going for the dicker) of hops and the full effects of a powerful refrigeration system

  5. I like to think I maintain a healthy wariness of British-in-France clichés. On the other hand I'm not going to cut off my nose to spite my face and avoid doing anything I enjoy lest it might be construed as one, and I do gain genuine pleasure from the market on a fine morning. I think much of the stimulus for this pleasure comes from the aroma of the paella stall.

    I've never in fact bought any paella, partly because I'm ever so slightly leery about re-heating mixed meat and seafood, partly because I've a suspicion it might not taste as good as it smelled, and finally because if I'm going to bring back cooked food it's always going to be the rôtisserie chicken, and some of the potatoes and onions they leave to cook in the juice of it at the bottom, which really does taste better than any roast fowl I can produce at home, probably because of the liberal addition of monosodium glutamate based products to which I don't have access.

    Hope you enjoyed your paella!

  6. Lucy: Of course I love French street markets. But they are the focus of so much lazy, low-grade "travel" bunkum by unengaged Brit writers that I now have to readjust myself slightly before I can enjoy their pleasures.

    The paella was a first for us possibly for the reasons you mention - and our judgment was more or less what you suspected: OK,but not in any sense memorable. My main interest was a technical one, that is, how could the stall holder ensure we got a fair share of the paella's meaty bits. Easy. A bed of rice is created in the box, after which the chicken, mussels, etc, are individually picked. I was terribly relieved about this and realised I'd been sub-consciously worrying about the answer for many years

    We have often have the roasted chickens of course, again for the reasons you give. This holiday we seem to be concentrating on made-up dishes - especially those found at the butcher. These are often under-publicised gems mainly because the locals tend to snap them up early in the morning and the lie-abed tourists don't even see the empty dishes. The range seems to be stewy type dishes which would take our two cooks - VR and OS - ages to prepare.