It’s a hot day in France, the sun is blazing down and the temperatures are soaring. I have the driver’s side window open on my borrowed French farm car letting in a bit of a breeze as I circle the long rectangular lot. I park and follow the old ladies, wheeled shopping bags in tow. Like geese migrating south for winter these women of France always know their way to the nearest market.
The first thing I see of the market is bright, floral, synthetic dresses hanging overhead. It’s Tuesday morning in Valence D’Agen, France where the weekly market covers most of the city center. Not just along a single street it wraps around corners and fills squares, it stops traffic and covers the sidewalks. I can buy mattresses, next to fidget spinners, across from lace bras all the way up to size 46F. I can sign up to get my roof power washed or watch a demonstration for an automatic vegetable peeler. So much of it is very local, an everyday market for the French working class, one that has probably never stopped existing in France for many, many years.
The market stalls weave a maze through the little city, shading its streets and filling the air with the strong smells of meat and seafood. I push my way past the pleather shoes, and slowly uncover the good stuff. There are tents covering baskets upon baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables from farms nearby in France. There’s a rustic wooden stall with sausages and cured hams spilling across fake hay. There’s fish and meat. Snails and chicken. There’s hot paella, coated in bright red prawns, prepared in the biggest frying pans you’ll ever see. There’re crunchy, warm baguettes and flaky chocolate croissants. Plates of pies and bags of nuts. An old French man, singing and strumming his guitar beneath the church steeple. Someone promoting her goods, yelling across the crowds. The market is busy and buzzing.
Locals freshening up their panty drawer and a few tourists, cameras slung cross their shoulders. At the café on the corner, just across from the market, I drag a table into the shade, sip an iced tea and watch the final hour of this week’s market come to a close. The crowds thin out as they collect their final bounties. Leftovers are packed away to be sold at another market on another day. Melting ice is slung across the pavement. Pots and pans are scraped clean. Tents come down. Vans pull away. Slowly the town empties into its midday silence. The vendors, the shoppers, the children and their dogs head home for the ritual lunchtime break. Leaving the town deserted and other than the faint smell of fish lingering in the air, the market disappears. Until next week.