We live far from our local village (ten minutes by car on a hair-raising single track road which serves as our local highway; or one hour on foot, down a mountain and up the other side.) But only twenty minutes drive from a small town (population 1924). Well, you can drive it in fifteen if you are late for the hairdressers, but you must expect to encounter a slow tractor or octogenarian local beetling about in a battered van, with very few overtaking places.
Along the way you will go to the recycling bins to get rid of the rubbish and place the recyclable objects in the four separate skips, and if you are very organized you will make a visit to the local tip (rubbish dump) which opens five mornings a week. It’s gossip central and I will write separately about one of my favourite rural locations. Sad or what?
In town the roads will be blocked off so you need to grab any space you can to park the car and grab your shopping trolley for the walk through the streets.
Vernoux has two bakers, a fantastic butcher, a supermarket, a large agricultural supply store, a builders’ merchants, two cafes you would happily eat in, a few restaurants that are passable, two hairdressers, two banks, insurance, petrol station, you get the picture. We even have two cash machines which is thrilling as one invariably runs out of cash.
But like a lot of rural people, we tend to only visit our big town once a week. And that coincides with market day. For our town it’s Thursday morning 8am until 1pm. And the day when our dear scruffy little town can look bustling.
Forget your images of Provençale markets with piles of bowls and tablecloths and chic clothes and glamorous hats. And tourists swanning about. This is a market which serves the local population from Easter to November, and with a few markets at Christmas and New Year.
You will find your local goats cheese and salamis, eggs, honey, fresh fruit and vegetables, seasonal chestnuts and freshly pressed apple juice. But it is also the place for sharpening your knives and chain saw, ordering a cooked chicken or weekly pizza, buying handmade soap or bee pollen, repairing shoes.
And the most important item of all to be found on market day. News. A chance to catch up with friends. Information to be imparted about an ailing neighbour, a drama with someone’s herd, a damaged road, a scandal about a distant village, a case of mushroom poisoning, or tales of wild boar running amok. Politics? Economics? The state of the nation? I find a lot of people here are more interested in local, except at election time when the bar is heaving with opinion. And even though we are chatting about so and so propping up the bar and disclaiming loudly on the results. What we are really doing is speculating on who actually voted for the nationalist Far Right.
This this once weekly catch up means you are never really alone. Isolated on your farm, but actually connected in a visceral way. The same stall holders will be working our Thursday market, and going to other nearby towns three or four times a week. So they bring news from all round the region. And will probably be doing thisnjob for twenty to fifty years. They know their customers and you tend to become fiercely loyal to one cheese seller, or your favourite market gardener who does great tomatoes, but is slow to serve as he gossips and chats.
In between the stalls and the running into the garage owner’s wife, and asking after her sons, you stock up on loaves of bread (one for fresh, two to freeze) and then make your way to the big supermarket to buy the rest. Change your gas bottle, fill up on petrol. It’s all done in one huge morning session of action.
You leave the town with a car full of produce and supplies (and often a random apricot or tomato rattling about the back as you wind your way round the mountain roads) full of news and interest and delights.
Nothing beats one morning a week of sensory overload before you go back to your quiet mountain farm, grateful for the quiet life.