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Saint Rémy De Provence; The beating heart of the South of France

The early-morning light cuts through the trees and crawls over the red-tiled rooftops, the shadows are long and cool, and bit-by-bit the warmth of the Provençal summer sun stirs the day. It is Wednesday, and on this day every week, vendors set up their stalls in the historic heart of the town of Saint Rémy de Provence. Their attention to detail presents all the showiness of a peacock strutting its stuff: coloured berry boxes are laid out in repeating patterns; jars of tapenade are dusted with ostrich plumes so they sparkle; large wooden bowls of olives and savoury purées create a quilt-like effect as they repeat, one after the other, down the length of an entire counter. The sun’s rays filter through yellow and red parasols, enhancing the magic. The art of the stand is part of the game here. There are well over a dozen vendors offering the best fresh fruit and vegetables of the region, half as many selling seafood, and who knows how many cheese stands. Overall, there are hundreds of vendors boasting local gourmet delectables and handcrafted products. Each vendor must create his or her own micro-environment within the culture of the market to achieve a point of difference, no matter how subtle, in order to attract passing shoppers overwhelmed by choice. The sights and fragrances are so rich and bountiful. The soul overflows as it drinks in the multitude of warm, bright colours that are so intense they are almost iridescent. The smells of briny cured olives, pungent cheeses, dried lavender and rosemary sachets, roasting chickens and steaming paella are like a psychedelic olfactory trip. Still, within this hustle and bustle of produce and craftsmanship, there is a rhythm of everyday. Among the many visitors who are the backbone of the market’s success are locals, young and old, who pile their baskets full of ingredients for menus as yet unplanned. Also, there is a clear connection to the land; the woman who makes the tapenade from her own olives sells it too; the winemaker sells the nectar of his own grapes; the butcher sells her own sausages made with a centuries-old family recipe. Of course, there are many vendors who sell local products that are not of their own making, but it is the romance of this notion that invigorates the vibrant marketplace. As the morning edges forward and the sun climbs higher in the sky, folks flock to Saint Rémy, and this typical Provençal town is at its liveliest point of the entire week. Vendors call out to the passing crowds and extol the virtues of their offerings. Buskers install themselves on the cathedral steps and any other spot unclaimed by the market, adding to the lively soundtrack with their versions of French classics: “Aux Champs Élysees, aux Champs Élysees….” The town is alive and life is grand. Saint Rémy Market is like Provence concentrated.

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