Strange that I came to France carrying a book about another place: California. One couldn’t conceive of two disparate places, but when you think about it what both have in common is the ravaging; they both bear the weight of their name and the history of it. Wearers of masks, they are pranced out in all their finery and plumage, but in the quiet, in the actinic blue of evening, they are both places filled with people who are trying so desperately define where it is from which they’ve come. I’m reading Joan Didion’s Where I Was From. Part history, part folklore, part memoir, this stark work is a siren song to the place that has been the specter in Didion’s work. As she navigates generations of her family — the duplicity and ferocity of a state that was once considered the promised land for many, Hades for others — you’re alongside her, trying to assemble the shards of glass, trying to piece this strange world, this life back together again.
You might wonder what this has to do with a farmer’s market in the center of Provence? Good question. I often think in a stream of consciousness. Often see the world in this strange prism where everything doesn’t initially make sense, but after time, it makes perfect sense. I’ve always defined myself as a New Yorker, someone who grew up poor in Brooklyn (not your gentrified Park Slope, Brooklyn, but further south), but before I left I had a strange conversation with an acquaintance. I was telling her that people often don’t connect the woman I am now to the girl I was back then, and I tell this friend that after my memoir was published I went back to the old neighborhood. Not once, twice, but multiple times, because I had a hard time confronting the fact that while the place had remained unchanged, I was demonstrably different. I no longer blended; I was an outsider. I couldn’t make sense of this because at the time I didn’t fit in in my old world, I had a tough time with my new one, so was it possible that I had been banished to the betweens?
Years later, the person who I was to become started to emerge. And one part of this person was a lifelong passion, obsession, with food. Cooking it, baking it, eating it, sharing it, writing about it, taking photos of it — I love every single thing about food and what it brings, how it shapes the conversation, how it lingers, how it brings together when nothing else can.
This morning I woke determined to find my home, my center, in a very foreign place in the south of France. A few steps from my hotel (everything in Provence, by the way, is within a 5-minute walk!) I located the famed farmer’s market in Place Richelme. Here you’ll find a charming market of green grocers who sell fruit, vegetables, spices, cheeses, meats and fish to locals and restaurants alike. The produce is remarkable in appearance and taste, and I couldn’t help sampling everything. From fresh-cut carrots and luscious, sanguine figs to plump peaches and verdant greens, I had to remind myself that I’m shopping for a lunch picnic, not groceries for the week! The produce is quite affordable (considering the quality) and proprietors are keen on doling out samples. I didn’t feel odd taking pictures (I often get dirty looks even AFTER I ask folks at the Union Square Market if I can photograph their wares, and I ALWAYS ask and I ALWAYS purchase from said merchant), and the mornings are serene. I returned at different points of the day to witness the growing frenzy, and I was pleased that I had a home away from home, albeit for a little while.
Local producers market
Daily, starting at 8AM-ish
Place Richelme, Aix en Provence, France