Market Day

It’s market day in my French town.  And that makes the day special, even if it is a weekly occurrence.

While somewhat similar to farmers’ markets found in many US and Canadian towns, the regular street markets in French towns and Paris arrondissements (administrative districts) are more like public services provided and supervised by local town councils for the benefit of a town’s or district’s residents.  They are integral to local social life, and necessary for many who do not have cars (whether by choice, or not).  Markets are also perfect for single folk and the elderly who might want to buy only one or two carrots, one or two apples, a slice of cheese, an onion, and a single steak hache (fresh ground-beef patty)–small portions that are difficult to find in the grocery stores.

In my town, about 20 minutes west of Paris, the market days are Friday and Sunday.  The Friday market is quiet and business-like.  The Sunday market is boisterous and sociable, with the sidewalk cafes over-filled in good weather and lots of neighbors chatting as they stand patiently in line for fresh fish and vegetables, oysters, small-producer cheeses, roast chicken, Greek and Middle-Eastern delicacies, seasonal fruits, bunches of herbs, shoes and socks, bed and table linens, house-ware gadgets, bouquets of flowers, and more.  Conviviality reigns and everyone fills their baskets and totes with lunch and dinner provisions.

Strollers, foot-powered scooters, wheelchairs, and dogs on leashes are all welcome along the town’s main street, where the collapse-and-store market stalls go up and down twice per week.  No one is in a hurry.  There is a surge to the crowd after mass ends at the Catholic church around the corner.  At 1:00 pm, the vendors repack their vans with the unsold goods, and a few “gleaners” pick bruised fruit from the refuse piles.  The town cleaning crew arrives to take down and store the rather ingenious market stall frames and roofs, then removes the trash and sweeps and washes the sidewalks where the bustling market stood just an hour earlier.  The hosing prevents anything from rotting and smelling on the streets.  By 4:00 pm you can walk down the street and not realize it had been market day at all–rarely even detecting the tiniest telltale odor at the spot where the fishmonger had stood.

We walk to market almost every week, whether or not we need food or intend to buy anything–just for the pleasure of it and the exercise.  I miss the days when the kids were at home and we all walked together; now it’s just me and the hubby on our strolls.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of life in France, and one that our sons remember with fondness, too.  And, the haiku to mark the day:


cold Sunday morning–

market baskets all swinging

to ringing church bells

 (P.S. There are websites that list the markets in every region of the country, giving their addresses and hours, and specialties, if any.  Here’s a good one for Paris: )


Wine and Summertime

Ah, wine.  I thought I knew a bit about wine before I moved to France fourteen years ago.  Little did I suspect how much more I had to learn.  I’d participated in a dozen wine-tasting events in the US.  I knew about grape varieties and ordered Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs and Merlots.  But that was not how my new French neighbors spoke of wine.  No, sir.  They spoke not of the cépage (grape varietals), but of the terroir (the region where the wine is produced).

They ordered Burgundies and Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhônes, using the names of the major wine-producing regions.

And to speak of the region, or terroir, was to summon all they knew of the “flavor” of the land:  the qualities of the soil; the usual amount of rain; the average number of sunny days and thunderstorms; the range of temperatures and typical humidity during the growing season; the knowledge and care and skill and years of experience of the region’s main wine producers; the timing of the harvest and whether the grapes were harvested in bunches all at once or were selected grape berry by grape berry, one by one, later in the season; even the wind–and how all these factors influenced the flavor and quality of the wines.  I have learned so much, and this new-found knowledge increased my appreciation of wine immensely.

Today’s post is not meant to be a wine lesson, though.  I capture here, below, my first 17-syllable impression of the passion for wine I found among most of my French acquaintances and friends … my “ah-ha” moment when I first appreciated all that had gone into the making of a very fine wine.

When I savor wine now, I often think of one of my fourteen summers in France–where we ventured and what we discovered–and the bottles we brought back from every region, now lining the walls of the cellar, or la cave.  Only our photos top these dusty-musty bottles as our favorite souvenirs.

I would love to see your 17-syllable impressions of good wine!  Will you accept the challenge?  

Wine at cafe

April 7, 2014

Coffee, please!

You’re in Paris!  And you want to sit in a corner café and people-watch all day, so you order “un café, s’il vous plaît.”  A few minutes later an espresso arrives at your table.  H-m-m.  You were expecting something larger, weren’t you?  Something more substantial around which to wrap all ten of your cold fingers, so you could sip, and sip, and sip … and maybe channel your inner Hemingway.  You politely inform the waiter that you wanted “a coffee” and not “an espresso,” and the inevitable confusion ensues.

I remember my first time. It was a bit of a surprise.  How could someone sit at a table “all day” with just an ounce or two of espresso?  Ordering un café(or any drink) at a table in France means that you have sort of purchased the right to sit at that table until you are ready to leave, even if your beverage takes only a minute or two to consume.  There are no free refills, no bottomless pots.

If you want a bigger beverage, you will have to choose one of these other options:  un café Americano or un café allongé (two names for the same beverage, made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso to fill a larger cup); un café au lait  or un café crème (hot milk or cream added to an espresso shot); un cappuccino (typically a breakfast beverage, but now enjoyed more and more in the afternoons, too, with lots of steamed milk foam on top); un café filtré (rare; made in a drip-style machine with a large pot); or perhaps un café double (two espresso shots in the same cup).

Paradoxically, you will rarely see a “French press” coffee pot (un cafetière à piston), although they are used at home and sometimes presented to groups dining in hotels.  Waiters familiar with “intercultural coffee confusion” sometimes inquire about the size of the coffee you are expecting.  When I want un vrai café français, I’ll often reply to the thoughtful waiter (mistaking me for a café novice) that, yes, un espresso or un café normal would be perfect, merci.

Now, to distill this “haiku moment” into its 17-syllable essence:


Haiku Café Cups, rev