or as long as I can remember, the Thursday morning farmer’s market has been a weekly institution, a hive that brings vitality to an otherwise gray day (and there are many) in the town of Condé-sur-Noireau. The strategic Allied bombing of occupied France in 1944 destroyed much of prewar Condé-sur-Noireau, as it did many other nearby towns. The architecture, the occasional strikingly nice-looking house aside, is mundane and nondescript. On a bad day, this town can look downright miserable.
But today I’m catching the marché on a day of sunshine. This is my first time browsing the market since the confinement ended in France. School is out, and I am basking in the idle feeling that that brings. There is a clichéd comfort in seeing the terrace of the nearby café alive and peopled again. Although much coronavirus-induced uncertainty is still present, restrictive measures are being loosened.
Looking back on it, it was wonderful to again see people feeling at home in a community setting.
That day the market seemed more luminous than I’d ever seen it before, as if recharged by sun and citizenry.
Customers have always felt an obligation to vendors at the market – indeed, many people (who have the money to spend) do their shopping only there. There’s a duty in supporting the producteurs locaux, the independent, local salespeople, as opposed, say, to the big, mindless supermarkets that countryside towns such as Condé are scattered with. Most are located in areas we call the grandes surfaces – outlying areas where the “uglier” structures are built.
With the local markets a bond is formed, which the virus measures strengthened. Vendors and market-goers alike are rethinking what this bustling Thursday event means for them. My sense is that many are now coming to realize just how grateful they are for this bond. Never more will a Condé market-goer’s devotion to his or her stand be a mindless one, not with what they’ve all weathered.
In his same spot I see the Moroccan vendor with his innumerable varieties of olives and countless other delicacies. He’s seen me mature – each time I turn up at his stand he seems to get a little glimpse into the latest stage of my growing up. I get in line, which is long as always – nothing new there. I stray briefly from my privileged spot in line only to hear my mother instruct me to stay the course. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to lose my position. I watch a middle-aged woman ordering huge fish at the neighboring stand. Dead fish have such personality.
One of the vendors holds it up.
Comme ça madame, c’est bon? “Is it good like this, ma’am?”
Oui, oui. Parfait.
Avec ceci? Ah. The two sacred words for market vendors. “Anything else with that?”
Finally, I am close enough to greet the Moroccan vendor. While I order olives and dried blueberries, we chat, each asking the other how he fared during the confinement (which sounds gentler than “lockdown”). I mention in passing that I passed my brevet des collèges – the standard end-of-middle-school exam – with flying colors.
Félicitations, he grins.
He takes a scoopful of olives with zests of ginger – one of my personal favorites – puts it in a bag and into my hand.
Tiens, he says. C’est pour ton brevet (“for your diploma”).
I took it as a gift.