Thursdays in Les Arcs sur Argens is market day. Hot sun shine, drenching rain or chilling low temperatures doesn’t matter, it’s still market day in the village square. While it is not the biggest market in the region, it has lots of goodies and varied merchandise, good conversation and wonderful people watching opportunities.
In late September of 2012 I set up temporary housekeeping for 7 months to write my book, “A Culinary Legacy, From Escoffier to Today”. One of the first people I met in the market was the vegetable lady. Her son worked right along side of her, weighing and bagging the produce and making change. She was a hard working gal who knew when to mark down product if it was getting past its buy sell date. As her son bagged the purchases of regular customers he always had something under the counter to tuck in the bag such as a bunch of basil or parsley or thyme. I felt very honored when after just three weeks I became the recipient of his aromatic treats. As the months passed from fall into winter mother and son began to remember what my regular purchases were and always had a few choice items set aside for me. Now when I return to Les Arcs each spring I am greeted with a big smile and “Bonjour”.
Just across from the veggie lady was a very sweet older woman who sold a few potatoes, some onions, windfall apples and always big brown eggs. I quickly learned to save all my egg cartons from the HyperU* and gift them to her prior to selecting my veggies. As soon as I finished with the veggies she would have a six pack of eggs all boxed and ready to go for me. She was so cheerful and so sweet and her little table was so meager of product I always wondered how she could even afford the booth fee. But there she was every week in all kinds of weather with her welcoming smile.
This past spring I went to the market the first Thursday I was there and as usual went to the veggie booth first. After hugs and cheek kisses I turned to my sweet egg lady only to discover her little table was not there. As I turned back to my veggie lady a small tear rolled down her cheek and she came around the table to hug me and let me know our dear friend has passed during the winter. I will never forget her and yet I do not even know her full name. She welcomed me to the village and always treated me so nice. Her gentile manner was charming and I often wondered about her age and if she had spent a young childhood during the occupation of WWII gathering windfall apples and wild onions. She was one of the old souls of Provence and I only wish I could have visited for hours with her and listen to her stories of the region from days gone by. A smile, a gentle hand and a happy attitude; a great way to make someone feel welcomed.
Below is a picture from the market, but it does not show all the other types of items available. Just down from the veggie lady is the local olive oil mills’ products, and then the fellow with the goats cheese from Taradau, next town over. The table with the socks made from bamboo fibers follows and across from him is the assorted olives and dried fruits, The rotisserie chicken booth is next to the olive lady with delicious smells emanating from his booth. Sometimes in the spring there is a big booth with just asparagus begging to go home and land on my dinner table with just a drizzle of lemon juice and melted butter drizzled over the steamed stalks. Around the corner is the purse lady with many many styles and prices of purses; some leather and some vinyl. Going on down the row there are sundry booths of clothing for ladies and children. The fresh flower ladies with their big, friendly collie dog display buckets of beautiful flowers and plants. The wallet and change purse fellow is just across from the scarf and hat booth and further on is the big shoe display for all members of the family. Occasionally there is a truck with an open side door holding everything a seamstress needs for your alterations on the spot. Often the mattress display offers specials on all types of mattresses and beds, as well as bedding and duvets. A patisserie offers numerous types of fresh breads and sweets and the fish monger, at the far end, has a bounty of items from the local rivers and the nearby sea. The standard watch vendor with the 5 euro watches including two batteries, also offers assorted jewelry.
I know I have forgotten something but I am trying to give a peek at the diversity of the French weekly market that even the smallest of towns hold each week. Some of these markets have been held in the same place, same day for over a hundred years. If you travel to southern France be sure to visit the San Raphael market on Sunday. It is right along the promenade by the sea. Plan at least two or three hours to see everything, including the wonderful Provincial linen booths. If you go inland further the Lourges market on Tuesday is wonderful. Farther west in Aix en Provence the market sprawls down the Cours Maribeau and offers wonderful foods as well as fashions of the season and all other types of merchandise. Just a bit farther west is one of my favorite markets that weaves throughout the town center of San Remy. The market is held on Wednesday and Saturday. Any tourism office can give you a complete schedule of the regional markets, as well as lots of information of regional attractions, historical landmarks, nearby wineries, sporting events and activities musical and art shows as well as dining venues.
In Les Arcs, if we finish our shopping early enough we just might grab a patio chair at Cafe de la Tour or Cafe de Paris on the opposite side of the street . Great location for people watching and meeting up with friends and neighbors for coffee or maybe a Patis or glass of wine.
*HyperU…..a large super market shopping center…pronounced “eiperU”…leave off the H !