Saturday, 24 March 2018

To Market! To market!

I greatly enjoyed visiting local French markets when I lived in France but to my surprise New Zealand has made more of a move into this than it had 8 years ago and there are many farmers' markets scattered about as well as major 'city' ones. The advantage of being back in NZ is my new-found tendancy to strike up conversations with the merchants. Well, it's so much easier in English.

But back, for a moment, to the last market I went to in France and the first one I ever went to as a French resident; the one at Rambouillet. It's spread out along the main street on a Saturday and there's a smaller one outside the Mairie on Wednesday mornings.

My last Saturday in France was spent here, on my own, enjoying the smells and sights and sounds and saying goodbye to my favourite country: the man carving a huge block of chocolate into a sculpture; the couple who repair chair backs and seats, especially those in willow and rattan; the olives and cheap imported clothing. It's a somewhat dying skill repairing old seats though many's the home with such old chairs still in existence in some garage or attic, needing tender loving care in order to give another 50 years good service.
I moved on to one of the clothing merchants, rummaged a bit and then tried to point out to the guy minding it that his sweat tops were pretty useless as the message had a very silly spelling mistake in it. Can you spot it? I loved the markets in France because they were culturally interesting to me. There was always something new, something so very 'French'.

It can be interesting to attend NZ markets and sometimes you can find something worthwhile but the cultural aspects don't interest me at all. The merchants, on the other hand are worth stopping and speaking with and giving them some encouragement.

On Saturdays there is the Lyttelton farmers' market in the centre of this port town on the other side of the tunnel from Christchurch. The first thing I noticed was the bread. Artisan bread seems to be having a resurgence in NZ whereas it's a dying art in France. I can't comment on or compare the quality but certainly an effort is being made to provide something other than supermarket pap here. Specialist foods and condiments are sprouting up everywhere adding interest and a dash of sophistication to kiwi palates. The takeways were rather kiwi such as the deer meat and the bacon butties. Other products are innovations on European products such as the salts, olive oils (NZ produces good olive oil), goat cheeses and dried sausages. 
There are great choices in garlic, beer and even lavender. I was disappointed in the lavender seller's attitude. I went up to him and started chatting with the man on deck who wasn't all that affable. I explained I'd just come back from France. " Oh, France have you? France, I hate it". Have you been there?" I asked. "No"," he snapped. Taken-aback I asked why he hated France? " I hate the French. They're all the same, you can't trust them, dishonest pack," he said. " Well, I'm French and I'm not dishonest so maybe you should rethink your opinion," I said, moving sadly away. He was unapologetic. Canterbury seems to be increasing its Lavender production but I won't be keen to buy the brand he was badly representing.

There was a poet selling his handmade covered poems and a wine producer who, when I asked what made her wines special, said "Well we grow them and produce them all ourselves." When pressed for details she had no answer. Good grief! Why would I bother to spend money on her product? Clearly, she doesn't know or care.
 Other products I found interesting and of good quality were cereals, seasonings and goat cheese. "Ah, you'd know a thing or two about these cheeses," the producer said to me after learning I was back from  France. I tried a morsel. The initial taste was pleasing but rapidly disappeared on my palate. It lacked staying power. He welcomed my feedback and I moved on to the succulents seller, the boutique beers, the garlic specialist and a garden ornaments manufacturer. Creative, commerical. Hat's off to most of the marketers. I wish you a prosperous result for your efforts.