The remains of the morning
WHEN in Provence, I make a point of going to a market most days. If it’s Monday it must be Cadenet (where the stalls share space with the bronze statue of the drummer of Arcole); La Tour-d’Aigues (with its dramatic background of the substantial ruins of a chateau) on Tuesdays; and Fridays at Lourmarin, or maybe Bonnieux.
These are the main markets in my part of the Luberon, and on Wednesdays or Thursdays I usually go to Aix-enProvence. I’ve given up driving there and trying to park; a bus from Pertuis railway station delivers me to the centre of Aix-en-Provence in about 90 minutes.
Most days I go home for lunch taking market purchases (chickens roasted on spits served with vegetables cooked in the juices are hard to resist) but not so when it’s Aix-en-Provence because to do so would mean missing the spectacle of the closing of the market. There are many marketside restaurants but my favourite is Cafe de Palais, though on market days it can hardly be seen for the stalls divided into three sections, all linked like a string of sau- sages, and selling fish, fruit and vegetables, and antiques, clothing, kitchen paraphernalia and suchlike.
I find space at a cafe table on the footpath after midday, order a pastis and enjoy watching the market close. It is pure theatre as the stallholders shout at one another, presumably exchanging views of the day’s business, while they pack up and load their goods and makeshift stalls on to trailers and into vans, demonstrating pure genius in manoeuvring the loads. As they start clearing away, people arrive to poke around in the piles of discarded vegetables and fruit. “Looking for lettuce for their rabbits,” a waiter once observed to me.
Then truckloads of council workers arrive with brushes to sweep the piles for other trucks to take on board. And then men arrive with large and powerful hoses to wash what’s left. Naturally an unsuspecting pedestrian or cyclist occasionally comes around a corner and gets something of a drenching, otherwise we cafe patrons would feel somewhat deprived.
While this is going on, waiters rush into the space left by stalls and plant tables and chairs until there are about 20, all soon occupied by diners who, like me, are spectators at what must be the greatest such show anywhere. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists receive a Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Travel Bag featuring FRID blocking technology, metal mesh lining, detachable cut-proof shoulder strap and lockable zippers. $115. More: 1800 331 690; strandbags.com.au.