The sun shone in a bright blue sky and Michael and I were delighted to have such idyllic weather for our first full day in Aix-en-Provence. The night before, our neighbor told us about the outdoor market that happens every Saturday, but the location didn’t stick with either of us.
“We’ll just head out and find it,” Michael said. Were I on my own, I would have googled it first, then found the location on Google maps, then jotted down directions as to how to get there. But I was not alone, and if three months together in a foreign country was going to work, I needed to relax my ways a bit. So I grabbed a reusable bag from the kitchen of our furnished apartment, and off we went.
Surprisingly, Michael is a man who likes to ask for directions–in spite the fact that his French is very minimal at this point. “It’s a good way to interact with the locals,” he told me. And to practice his French. He directed his question to a young woman who responded completely in French–and we understood her (a small pleasure). “La petit rue la. Et puis le deuxieme gauche.”
Upon our arrival, the market stunned us with its size and variety. Rows of tents meandered around a large square, people perusing and purchasing all around us. Under one white tent, pyramids of spices of every shade of yellow and orange sat in bowls besides piles of herbs de Provence. Under another tent, green bins held vibrant purple eggplants and bright red peppers. Tomatoes, green beans, cherries, goat cheese–and those were just the foods we recognized.
We jostled among the throngs of people, the word “Pardon” escaping my mouth as people bumped into me and I into them. Our first purchase, a half-kilo of cherries, reminded us to look around before we buy, as later we saw them elsewhere in the market for much cheaper. After that, we started to verbally note prices to each other, only purchasing once we knew what the “going rate” was for a certain type of produce.
Wondering aloud about large pea-pod looking things, I said to Michael, “Let’s pick something each time that’s new to us.” I imagined asking the vendor how to prepare it, but the market was so busy I determined this wasn’t the time or the place for that, and made a mental note to come much earlier next time.
“Eventually, we’ll find one vendor we like, and we’ll greet him by name each time,” said Michael. I, too, longed for that relationship as “the hunt” is not my favorite part of shopping. I want to find someone I can trust–for their quality and their prices–and just head to them each time.
Atop a piles of melons chalkboards advertised “Melon sucre.” Sucre is the word for “sugar”, so I took this to mean “sweet melon”. The orbs were covered in veins similar to cantaloupes, except they were smaller and green lines divided the surface into even sections. One vendor had the melon sliced and available for tasting. The deep orange flesh was a bit softer and sweeter than that of cantaloupe.
Shortly thereafter, we came to a tent whose tables were lined with customers, many of whom held silver bowls filled with produce. As they waited for their turn to pay, others picked through the produce. Michael doesn’t much care for lines, so he wandered over to the cheese man on the other side. While he tasted cheeses, I watched two elderly French women discuss the merits of each melon they picked up. They smelled them, turned them over in their hands. I picked one up, smelled it, then tried another. Once these women decided on one, I was going to ask them what their criteria were. As I stood watching, trying to recall how to ask such a question in French, they put down the melons and walked away. So were none of these good enough to buy? I wondered.
Another woman went through the same procedure and, upon choosing a melon, I asked her how to select a good one. “First, it should be heavy,” she said as she held the melon in her hand and lifted it up and down. “Then you smell it,” she said holding her nose to its base. “Then you look at this end for cracks.” She pointed to the end opposite the stalk. “Mine doesn’t have cracks yet, but I’m not going to eat it until tomorrow so it should be good by then.” I thanked her for the advice and decided the melon in my hand was a good choice. I picked up some tomatoes, and placed a couple handfuls of green beans in a silver bowl. Michael purchased his cheese, and then captured this image of me waiting in line.
Today my melon is still not showing cracks. After reading about such things on-line, I have determined that may or may not be a deciding factor. The majority opinion seems to be in favor of weight and smell as guiding criteria. So tomorrow I shall slice open this foreign fruit. Look for the verdict in the comments section tomorrow:)