Today is market day in our village, as it has been every Thursday since 1256. It starts gently, early in the morning and soon about 30 stalls, with pretty coloured awnings, are set up around the square.
People mill slowly about, wicker baskets over one arm, no supermarket dash here. No loud music, no raised voices, just the steady hum of commerce, merchant and customer, producer and consumer, as it's always been.The pace is sedate, time is needed to consider the price of tomatoes, select the best of this season's peaches, examine the lettuces.
So many of the same goods will have been sold here every week for centuries; local fruit, vegetables, cheese, eggs, flowers, and bread from the local mill. Duras and Bergerac wines are there to be sampled, direct from the men who tend the vines, a missionary gleam in their eyes as they explain the complexity of their product. Above the meat counter hang huge dried hams, while on the counter, beef from the local huge Blonde d'Aquitaine cattle and then rather too many bits of the animal kingdom I haven't seen since an anatomy class at vet school.
The stall with huge steaming pans of paella, full of fruit de mer and saffron rice, is doing a roaring trade. My children are fascinated and horrified in equal measure by the glass-sided apiary brought by the lady who sells honey in 10 different flavours. She remembers us from last year and bids the boys to help themselves from her sweetie jar, honey-flavoured of course. The man with the twinkly eyes is still selling his vast range of cheeses at a stall in the shady side of the square; his broken English encourages my fractured French and we cobble a conversation together. First Husband chooses the smelliest, bluest, runniest cheese on offer; I stick to the nutty, smooth Cantal.
Neat rows of small sacks line up on the next stall, each heaped full of dry goods. Colourful piles of peppercorns red, black, green and pink. Tumeric,dried chillis, cinnamon sticks, herbes de Provence, cardamom pods, camomile flowers, pot pourri...sweet, aromatic, pungent.
But for the locals it's as much an opportunity to catch up on conversations started last week as it is a chance to shop. The same discussion that's gone on between neighbours for centuries...of travails endured and triumphs celebrated.
Finally I have learnt to shop like a Frenchwoman. I used to stock up for a week, like you do at home from the supermarket, thrilled by the variety, scents and sounds of the market. Accustomed to fruit hard as bullets,to ripen at home, I didn't forsee that fruit and vegetables from the village market would go off so quickly, as it's sold, tooth-soft and yielding, ready to eat. Now I buy just enough for a day or two. There's always another market in the next village in a few days time.
And so in my basket goes a warm spit-roasted chicken, basted in fierce quantities of garlic, from Monsieur Le Moustache in the corner arcade, a bottle or two of the Duras, a delicious tarte aux pruneaux in filo pastry from the patissier, the cheese and a few peaches. The evening meal is sorted.