Today is market day. We rise early, dress and enjoy a hot espresso before wrapping ourselves, scarves, coats and hats and stepping out into the crisp blackness of the winter morning. Our street is dark and still, not another soul. Moving through the Paris streets at this time is magical. So quiet it is like time has stopped just for us to enjoy the beauty of the city alone. Within the deep calm as we walk, I feel the essence of many yesterday’s etched into the architecture around me.
The many hundreds of steps that have been taken on these cobbled roads, the skilled steady hands of craftsmen who carved the delicate and extravagant architectural details of the buildings. Slowly as the darkness begins to lift we feel the city start to wake. I feel my breath in time with the city as it starts to breath. Here and there a golden window appears on a grey facade, a lone dog walker joins us on the street, then a car, a bike. People slowly begin to emerge from below the streets, trickling out as the metro spits them up to the surface. Time is ticking again.
We round the corner to see a cluster of lights and colourful stalls popping like a carnival in the darkness. I love the morning Marche. The Poissonnier is there in the dark of the early hours, carefully cleaning each scallop and lining them up in perfectly precise rows to make a spectacular display. Baby green beans have been graded so each box for sale has every bean the same length, so when you take them home to prepare your meal your presentation will be perfect. Colourful fruit stalls look so pretty; apples in many sizes and colours, little wooden boxes of berries and fragrant clementines piled high, still with stalks and bright green leaves flashing amongst the orange.
I close my eyes for a moment to quiet the kaleidoscope of colour so I can focus on all the wonderful smells. Warm bread, vendors cooking tasty street foods, cheeses, roast chickens, fresh seafood….it’s smells wonderful.
The Marche is so full of beauty to me. I just love the care and respect that is given to the produce. The growers have lovingly grown their product, whether it is the veggie guy or the chicken guy, and brought it to market where it is now presented so beautifully. And when we ask a question, with our limited French, we are treated to an impassioned description of the product, how carefully it has been grown and how we can now prepare it in the best way. We buy a lovely chicken from the chicken guy, who tells about how these chickens may go in the field as they wish, they are not kept in the house (ahh free range).
The chickens on display are not at all like the ones we see at home all wrapped tightly in plastic. They are laying on the stall with legs stretched out behind them, still with feet and heads still there, on long necks curled round to display tufts of various coloured feathers. We point to a nice little one with white feathers. Our chook guy dangles it before us and with a tilt of his head and a squint, sums us up. “You want me to prepare?” running a finger across his throat. Thank goodness…”huit – yes please….also the feet sil vous plait!”. He asks if we want the “things” inside and looks at us like we’re nuts when we say no thank you. His large knife goes to work and while we wait we are tempted by other goodies. When our bird is ready it is gently placed into our shopping bag with generous tranches of terrine and pate.
Next Coquilles St Jacques (scallops) and Oysters. We peruse the many seafood stalls some are very large with full displays. We opt for a small stall where Madame has already sold out of some of her items. She has had steady custom all morning so we are guessing the locals love her. She is delightful and chooses for us a beautiful selection of St Jacques that she expertly prepares for us. There are so many different oysters to choose from. Large and small, flat or round. We choose the Speciale de Claire. These oysters are grown on the French Atlantic Coast and are specially selected to assure a regular shape, roundness and depth. They are then finished for up to 2 months in the Claire ponds in Marennes Oleron. Oh wow, when we feast upon them later, after my love successfully cracks open their very stubborn shells, it was pure pleasure. A salty flash as the silky tender morsel slips from its shell onto my tongue, a wonderful meaty texture and as I bite, the most exquisite surprise of sweetness bursts filling my mouth. A flavour memory that will always remind me of Paris.
The organic vegie stall is bursting with colour and we excitedly start to pop bits and pieces into a basket. Mademoiselle appears to assist us and offers us the best of this and that. Our selection complete, I think probably more than we actually need. She takes our basket and carefully, gently, wraps each item in brown paper for protection and places it strategically into our shopping bag to ensure nothing is damaged when we hump it back to our apartment. Such a stark contrast to our shopping experience at home. There is a divine respect for the time the grower has invested in making the product and for the experience that eating that food will be.
Back home I take each beautifully wrapped little treasure and reverently transfer it into the fridge. In our meal that evening we taste love, the love of the farmers, the love of the market stall people and our love, the care and attention we put into preparing the food for each other.