It’s Sunday, market day in L’Isle sur la Sorgue, and today was my third visit. What a glorious riot of colour, produce, people, sights and sounds. I had read that you need to get there early to be able to park as the town fills up rapidly, and by ten it was one long stream of traffic looking for a space. Market stalls line the banks of the river and thread through the little streets into the ancient centre. There are so many I haven’t made it round them all yet and it will take time to absorb the whole picture. Wonderful, this is all just five minutes away from my home.
First on the list for me, being vegetarian, was fruit and vegetables, and what a feast for the senses. There are local growers who may have just one or two things fresh from the ground, strawberries and asparagus are wonderful right now, ranging up to much bigger stalls that cover the board. On my first visit it was grey with mist, raining and only 6 degrees so it took a bit of effort to think past freezing cold hands and dripping awnings, but one stall caught my eye. A small, olive skinned man with short, curly black hair and a ready smile was at the forefront, cutting open little avocados and offering a taste to anyone passing. They were really good, I was drawn in.
You take a plastic bowl and load it with whatever you want, then hand it over to be weighed. Once he knew he had me the lively front man went back to attracting others with samples, calling out just as market stall holders do the world over. Another man, they look like brothers, quieter but equally friendly, kept an eye on me as I chose, prompting me here and there – do you want asparagus from Provence? Then these, madame. Are the oranges for the table or to cook? Then not those, look, here, these have the best flavour. As he loaded my shopper he carefully weeded out anything that wasn’t quite as good as the rest and replaced it, and finally dropped in a handful of radishes as a gift. I wonder if they have learned to spot vegetarians? As I was gathering my things together to leave I glanced up just as he was discreetly slipping a five euro note into the hand of an old man shambling past who clearly had very little, and following it with a small bunch of grapes, a kind gesture gracefully made.
So of course I have been back and today was a joy, they recognised me and beaming at the size of my shopping bag the front man handed over a wonderfully fragrant strawberry. It was delicious, and I was reaching for a punnet when he said wait – now try these – handing me a different variety and watching my face. It ran through my mind that probably I wouldn’t know the difference but immediately the sweet, fresh burst of flavour had me staring at him in amazement. Laughing, he gave me another, and as I wandered round appeared at my side with a little slice of pale yellow melon, then water melon, then a fresh date… So today I have brought home the amazing strawberries, white peaches, rosy cheeked apricots, a melon and russet pears. I have baby avocados, chicory, cherry tomatoes, golden yellow tomatoes, peas, broad beans, chives and fresh garlic. It’s hard to choose what to eat first.
Wandering round the rest of the market, very slowly as the crowds gather, the scent of what is nearby is as powerful as the sight. Over twenty varieties of olives shine up from huge bowls, along with tapenades and oil. There are all kinds of honey, big blocks of nougat studded with almonds and cherries, and macaroons in many pastel shades. Here and there a huge pan of paella is cooking and chickens are roasting on spits over a bed of potatoes. And lavender of course, all kinds of lavender. Brightly coloured provencal fabric, every kind of linen, beautiful quilted bedspreads, pretty, chic clothes, hats, belts, bags, scarves, jewellery… the stuff of nightmares for some husbands, oh God, she’ll be hours…
And everywhere you walk eventually you meet the river again, broad and fast flowing, slipping a few feet over a weir like one smooth sheet of silk sparkling in the sun, or narrowing to a small stream where between the willows ducks are teaching their young how to deal with a gentle current. Large, old water wheels covered in moss, simply decorative now, stand by the river bank here and there and little foot bridges are full of people gazing down into the water. It is no surprise that it is so busy, even as early as May. There are only around 18,000 residents but over 70 restaurants which says it all, many on the edge of the river with balconies hanging out over the water. Pleasures to come.
So sundays have been a highlight to anticipate through the bumbling confusion of the rest of the week. I had forgotten quite what an assault on all the faculties a move to another country can be. I have a new bank account, credit card, phones, wifi and all the attendant passwords and PIN numbers to go with them, and am nowhere near memorising any. There are new kitchen appliances to grapple with, French TV to prompt me to try and remember what I learned at school fifty years ago, rather unnerving plumbing, and electric gates that stopped working on day three. But that last was a little triumph as the landlord asked an electrician to call me and make an appointment and I understood what he said!
The house is still bare and I am a nesting person, in a hotel I unpack and hide the suitcase as soon as I can so that I feel at home. Unfortunately Rene has been ill so the kitchen had to be put on hold and now someone else has quoted but I have no idea yet when the work will happen. There isn’t a light fitting up yet, nor a curtain pole, shelf, or picture, the walls are all plaster board so I will need assistance and everyone I have contacted is busy until June, probably getting gites and holiday lets ready for the season. The Ikea heap sits mocking me, I had a go but need three hands. So these wonderfully spacious rooms are echoing emptily around me.
I reached a low about a week ago on a rather cold, blustery day. As I pegged out the last towel the clothes line broke, there was mud, it all needed doing again. I couldn’t find rubber gloves anywhere in the Supermarket, they are probably there but in an unfamiliar place. The DIY store had closed for lunch so I went back in the afternoon and spent a full half hour looking for clothes lines – I hadn’t the wit to look up the word before I went. I utterly confused myself in the light bulb department, what has happened to light bulbs in the last few years? I don’t understand them at all, and gave up. Feeling tremulous I thought – come on, don’t give in, get a new dvd, cook something lovely and enjoy the evening. I let my supper burn whilst trying to get the dvd to play. It wouldn’t. No phone or wifi connection so hug a dog and a cat or three and early bed. Tomorrow is a new beginning, and it can only get better.
And it has, one step forward and two back some days, but each one brings a little more familiarity with something. The cats are more comfortable and are exploring the garden at night, I know from the body parts I encounter in the morning, and Rupert and I venture further each day for walks. Fields are scarlet with poppies, cherries are ripening in the orchards, and every day two magpies swoop gracefully across the garden. Two for joy.