Monday, May 19, 2014

Missing You! Missing France! 2

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A week from today, we leave our apartment to go to Marseille. Our flight to Lansing is at 0 dark thirty on Tuesday morning and it is a whole lot easier to deal with the early departure from a hotel at the airport.

Given our departure, we are working on turning our apartment into a rental property for the summer/fall. The focus on work helps me not think about leaving here but I nonetheless do think about leaving and what I will miss most. (I looked back through my old blogs to the one I wrote as we prepared to leave in 2009 after our first six months here. My list of things I will miss has not changed a lot. For the sake of redundancy, I offer my 2014 edition of “Missing You! Missing France!)

·         FRIENDS! We have developed wonderful friendships here in Vaison la Romaine. The village is ‘just the right size’ for encountering friends on a regular basis. I realize that the village is also large enough that it could feel isolating without friends.
·         The “Bonjour, monsieur” greeting as I walk into almost any store (followed by: “Au revoir, monsieur. Bonne journée” as I leave a store – even if I didn’t buy anything.
·         The plethora of wineries and all of the wonderful wines of the Rhone Valley. We are fortunate to live amongst some of the best wine-producing villages of the southern Rhone Valley: Cairanne, Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas, Rasteau, Roaix, Sablet, Vacqueyras, Vinsobres, Visan. An American friend once asked if one could drink the water in France. I replied: “Of course! But wine is cheaper!”
·         The emphasis that the French put on good (and fresh!) produce, meat and fish. Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, underscored the importance of buying fresh/buying locally produced. Right now, asparagus, strawberries (from the next big town – Carpentras), spring melons make shopping more fun and cooking easier. I learned from the fish monger that the best mussels are from Brittany but the ‘moules de Bouchot’ have a season – July to March.

French grocery stores and shops as well as the Tuesday market vendors always display the country of origin of the produce, meat, fish and cheese they are selling. As I have tried to become more of a “locavore”, I have started paying careful attention to the country of origin of my foods.

·         Our world-class cheese store and the choices of cheeses. I am pleased that our market in Lansing has a very good cheese shop but in Lansing, the choice is usually binary: ‘Do you have Roquefort?’ Yes! (or no!) Here in our village, if I ask for Roquefort, I have to clarify what style of Roquefort I want. The same is true for Gruyere, goat cheese, brie, etc…
·         The varieties of meats and poultries
·         The View! from our small but viewalicious balcony on the 3ème étage (4th floor) The spectacular views as one drives/walks around the area.
·         Our daily bread (baguette)
·         Being able to clean the WHOLE apartment while standing in one spot (almost) – in about 12 minutes
·         Leaving the apartment at 5:25 for a 5:30 movie and being on time
·         Playing with the kids at the crèche.

Luckily, the sadness of leaving here is replaced by the joy of returning to Lansing and our wonderful friends there. Life is good!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Les Marchés of Vaison la Romaine

Add to Google Reader or HomepageI love to go to the markets in Vaison. We are fortunate to have two: the big, Pope-stipulated (in 1532) Tuesday market and the little market of local producers on Saturdays.

The Tuesday market is both a social and a shopping event. In addition to being able to buy everything needed for the cuisine (and the house), you run into friends and acquaintances and get to catch up on local news. Often, at the end of the shopping, you see residents and tourists sitting at the cafés having a coffee or a glass of wine and enjoying the community/social aspects of the day.

On Tuesdays, you can purchase vegetables and fruit from 20 vendors and meat from about 10 or so trucks – not including the dried sausage vendors who account for another five or six stalls. There are usually four fish mongers offering everything from albacore to sea urchins; seven or eight olives and olive oil, dried fruit and nuts vendors and an equal amount of cheese vendors. (Some cheese vendors offer the full array of French cheeses, some offer cheese from only a certain region such as the Jura and some offer only their home-made goat cheeses.) There are several honey vendors offering locally produced honeys and preserves.

Tuesday market - one of the 'Spice' trucks
If you are hungry while shopping, you can choose from pizza trucks, roast chicken trucks, paella stands, fried rice and egg roll stands, nougat stands, sugared fruit stands or a full-line bakery. Many of the vendors offer organic options. If you need a tablecloth or napkins or runners or flatware or pottery or cooking utensils or high-quality knives, you will find them at the Tuesday market. You can buy shoes, scarves, belts, socks, gloves, hats, clothing (both new and used items), thread to repair clothing, sewing machines to make clothing… If you prefer, there are live plants – pots of both ornamentals and vegetable starts including olive trees.

I needed a new gasket for my espresso maker. I found it at the market on Tuesday. Books – new or used? Tuesday market. Music – new and used? Tuesday market. Soap or perfume? Curtains? Artwork? – you guessed it: Tuesday market.

The Tuesday market offers an amazing array of – everything. We have big box stores in the States many of which would be hard pressed to offer the array of items one finds on Tuesdays in Vaison la Romaine.

(The locals like to shop at the market in the spring and fall but often avoid the market in the summer as there are so many people there that it becomes difficult to walk from one stall to another. But then, the population of Vaison does double in the summer.)

The Saturday market, by contrast, is the ‘locavore’ market. In the fall/winter/spring, there are about a dozen stalls offering locally grown vegetables and fruits, poultry and eggs, honey and jams, olive oil, olives and tapenades and, in January and February, truffles. A fish monger parks his truck at the end of the parking lot. (The market doubles in size in the summer but still offers only locally grown or produced items.)