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THE MONEY MARKET (Tour de France 8)

The Market in Lourmarin

The Market in Lourmarin

Today is ‘Market Day’ in Lourmarin! Virtually the whole town will be taken over by market stalls. You name it, and they will be selling it … everything from fruit and veg, through clothes galore, and weird and wonderful implements (that only the French know how to use) to new fangled ‘selfie sticks’! We know this because we have been to scores of French markets over the last 15 years or so and we have seen it all (although the ‘selfie sticks’ are new).

‘Today is Market Day in Lourmarin’ the German ‘Munster’ family tell us ‘you really must go!’ ‘We went last week and it is amazing!’ they tell us. They will not be going to the market today because their holiday is over and they are starting their journey home this morning. ‘Today is Market Day in Lourmarin’ the Swiss couple (on the next pitch to ours) tell us ‘you really must go!’ We have taken to calling them the ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ (readers of the book will understand). ‘We are going down as well!’ they say. They are Christians, by the way … Methodists … and what is more he is a Methodist Minister (although he is running his own taxi business at the moment). When they ‘sang grace’ again at their evening meal the other day, Julia and I both spontaneously responded ‘Amen’ at the finish (in loud voices). They were quite surprised and we had a good chat together. It turns out that they had guessed we were Christians as well (although they found it difficult to get their heads round the fact that we were both ordained Baptist Ministers, and not just me). ‘Today is Market Day in Lourmarin’ the ‘Oldies’ tell us ‘you really must go!’ The ‘Oldies’ are a British couple who have moved into one of the nearby mobile homes. They are really, really, really old … and frail with it! Julia says that it will be us (well me at least) in a few years time. ‘Today is Market Day in Lourmarin’ the Dutch ‘Professor’ and his wife tell us ‘you really must go!’ The ‘Professor’ looks every inch an academic … grey hair, goatee beard, horn rim specs, pipe, always reading a heavy tomb of a book, and he speaks several languages (including better English than I do).

Anyway, getting back to Market Day in Lourmarin … everybody seems to be telling us that ‘Today is Market Day in Lourmarin’ and that we ‘really must go!’ It seems that most of the campsite is going and so we decide to join the camp exodus to Lourmarin. We set off early to get to the market and back again before the midday heat really hits in. We dispense with breakfast … we will have a coffee and a pain au raisin at our favourite café. It is already getting really hot as we take the 15 minute walk from our campsite into the town. We need a coffee by the time we arrive. We go to the café where we were provided with such entertainment by the Mexicans on our first visit a few days ago. The same waiter is on duty. The café is packed and he seems to be the only one on duty. He is literally running between the tables in order to keep up with the various orders. We manage to find a table in the shade and wait for him to catch our eye. There is no rush on our part … perhaps we are slowly adjusting to the French laissez faire approach to life? Ten minutes later the waiter comes over to us and demands our order. We speak in French (which appears to be his only language). We tell him we would like coffee and I would like a pain au raisin please. He tells me that I can’t have a pain au raisin … if I want one I must join the queue at the Boulangerie just along the road. The queue is massive, and we hesitate about joining on the end of it. The waiter is impatient. He tells us that his café offers either a croissant, or a baguette with some jam … which do we want … hurry up and choose? His French is too quick for me … I don’t understand all that he is saying … I ask Julia to translate for me. The waiter loses patience and storms off muttering something about ‘I’ll come back when you have decided!’ Its obviously not just Mexicans he doesn’t like. Its not even the English … or the Dutch … or the Germans … or anyone ‘foreign’! He clearly doesn’t even like the French judging by his attitude! He probably doesn’t even like his wife … if he has one?

I decide that I will have a croissant and we try once again to catch the eye of the waiter. For the next 15 minutes he studiously avoids looking in our direction. We are being taught some kind of lesson. But we are ‘Brits’! We will not give in! Eventually Julia calls him over! He comes (albeit reluctantly) and takes our order. He returns 10 minutes later with our coffee and my croissant … except that it is not a croissant but a baguette with some jam? Fortunately another waiter arrives … a very nice, friendly French lady … who takes our money when it is time for us to pay and leave!

We follow the crowd to the market. It is packed. The sedate streets and pleasant quiet town square of a few days ago is heaving with people. There are hundreds of market stalls everywhere. The first stall we come to is by the food stalls … and it is selling Jack Russell puppies? ‘What!’ we both exclaim at the same time. We know that the French eat strange things – horses, snails, frogs – but have they now added puppy dogs to their diet? Fortunately, they haven’t! The stall is all about tackling the growing problem of cruelty to animals.

We wander from stall to stall buying mostly fresh fruit and veg, eggs, olives, garlic and the like. None of it is cheap as it used to be when we first started visiting French markets a number of years ago. You can still find the small, local markets selling locally grown produce … we come across them now and again … where the prices asked are reasonable. The market here in Lourmarin is not that sort of market, however. It is designed for the tourists. Lourmarin is on what is called the ‘American Trail’ and the American tourists seem prepared to pay anything? The market is still an amazing sight, however, with all the brightly coloured stalls selling an amazing variety of goods, with the tantalising smells of various things cooking, and the sounds of excited chatter mingling with the  music of the street artists. We don’t need any lunch because all the food stalls have ‘free samples’ for passers-by to taste.

Julia is in her element. There are stalls selling bags, and hats, and scarves, and dresses everywhere. She is very good, however, and resists them all. She does try on several hats, however, before finally succumbing to a beautiful blue dress for sale on one of the stalls. With lots of encouragement from me she tries it on. It will be perfect for our ‘lunch date’ at La Source Restaurant on Sunday. She looks terrific in it. Julia is not so sure? ‘You look great!’ I tell her. ‘You look great!’ the stall holder tells her. ‘You look great!’ a rather sophisticated French lady passing by tells her. ‘You look great!’ the Professor and his wife tell her (they just happen to be passing by at the time). Julia buys the dress!

We realise that, with the purchase of said dress, we have run out of cash in the process and head for the ‘hole in the wall’ in order to get some more cash out. We find one in the middle of the market. The queue to use the cash machine is huge. We abandon the idea and dive into a local supermarket to buy something for supper (it is cheaper there than the proper market). We ask them if they do ‘cash back’? They don’t but they tell us that there is a cash machine just ‘round the corner’. We tell them we know about that one but that the queue to use it is very lengthy. They tell us that there is another cash machine back across the town, past our café and the annoying waiter. We have more or less finished our shopping so we find our way across town. The café is still packed, and the annoying waiter is still annoying his customers. We get to the bank and see the cash machine on the wall opposite. It is five minutes past 12 and the bank is closed … and so is the cash machine? There is a notice on the cash machine telling potential users that the cash dispenser is ferme! It would seem that in France it is not only the shops and banks that close between 12 noon and 2 p.m. … so do the cash machines!

The affluence of the market, and the whole way it is geared up to make as much money as possible, makes me feel very sad … and nostalgic for the less materialistic and more ‘value for money’ French markets of 10 years ago. I am reminded of some words of the Apostle John that we read in our morning Bible Reading recently: ‘If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions (1 John 3:17,18).

We walk back to our campsite and collapse in the shade of the trees. The campsite seems strangely deserted. The Munsters have gone, the Oldies have gone … only ourselves and the Swiss Family Robinson are left in our corner of the campsite. We  are now the ‘only holy corner in the camping village’ (if you will excuse the pun)? Later in the evening a young lady on a bicycle rides on to the pitch next to ours and sets up for the night. She is very muscular and riding a very posh bike. Her tent is equally posh … and she has all the latest electronic equipment – phone, computer, etc..  It turns out that she is Russian … clearly an example of the new wealthy ‘Putin era’ type of Russian. We immediately nickname her ‘Svetlana Putin’ because she reminds us of the Russian President with her muscular stature. Perhaps she is his ‘love child’? She speaks several languages fluently and is on some kind of ‘mission’ (although we are not told what kind of ‘mission’ it is)? She has everything she needs she assures us when we ask if she needs any help. Five minutes later she comes over to us. ‘Have you a hammer?’ she asks ‘I have forgotten mine!’ We wonder if she has forgotten her sickle as well? We lend her one of our three hammers.

Svetlana has also hurt her knee cycling. It is swollen and bruised. I give her some of my ‘special’ ointment (I know all about dodgy knees from personal experience). I have brought several tubes with me from the UK. She rubs it into her knee … and is amazed at the instant relief she experiences. ‘Where did you get it from?’ she asks. ‘Well, not from the French market!’ I reply!

Jim Binney


Julia's new dress

Julia’s new dress


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