Last Tuesday was Operation Village Market, which sounds like a World War II Allied offensive. Although well stocked with food, we were running short of fresh fruit and veg. The French government cancelled open-air markets about 10 days ago but were prepared to allow some to continue by order of the Préfet, if they are necessary for local people and the local economy. Our village has two markets per week: Tuesday and Saturday. These were deemed necessary.
I feel a bit like an SOE operative about to be parachuted into enemy territory. Only with this particular enemy you don’t hear the tell-tale twig crack as they creep up behind you. ID card: check. Travel permission form: check. Camouflage (old coat, shoes and gloves): check. Repellent gel: well, sort of: home made from alcohol and disinfectant.
Not a gendarme is to be seen on the way to the village and back. Presumably, they have bigger fish to fry on the main roads and in the larger towns. I even manage to get a parking space in the main street, usually impossible on market day. It’s a bit tight, but thanks to having lived in London, I can still park on a sixpence.
I walk down into the market square, usually thronging with folk. I don’t take my camera, since I don’t have enough hands. This time, they have cordoned off the halle, and you have to queue to be admitted. Two ladies from the Mairie and a Police Municipale officer, who doesn’t look old enough to be in uniform, supervise the operation, handing out instructions to market-goers: keep your distance; no kissing or shaking hands; cough or sneeze into your elbow; don’t touch the produce; go home as soon as you’ve finished.
They have chalked out squares on the car park to indicate how far you should stand from the person in front. Friends and acquaintances surround me – at a distance. Monsieur A is in front in his carpet slippers as usual. A friend is three ahead. Another friend joins the queue at the back, having taken photos of the proceedings.
The atmosphere is muted but friendly. For French people, not being able to greet others physically is a hardship, but everyone respects the regulations. We wave greetings to one another instead. It’s chilly but sunny. The previous day it snowed.
We shuffle forward as each person is served in turn, a bit like the queue for security at the airport. Nobody is in a hurry, since we don’t have appointments to keep or anywhere else to go. Six stalls have been allowed to set up. The lady who sells quiches and cakes; the fruit seller; the large fruit and veg stall; Daniel the Wine Man; the Chicken and Egg man; and the cheese van.
Normally, you choose your own produce at the fruit and veg stall. Now, they do it for you. Laeticia and Philippe are masked and gloved, but they are smiling beneath their masks, helpful and good-humoured as always. I thank them for what they are doing for us, as I have thanked all the commerçants since this began.
The Chicken and Egg Man has been doing a steady trade, but he still has plenty of eggs left. They have been in short supply here recently. What do people do with them? I buy a dozen, six of them for friends, but they have found another source. It doesn’t matter; we can use them.
I dodge the lengthy queue for the cheese van and walk back to the car, thankfully not far away, since the bags are groaning with produce. On the SF’s orders, I have also bought two wine boxes from Daniel the Wine Man. I heft all this into the car and head for home.
On my return, I disinfect everything, including myself and my clothes. Mission accomplished. Not a Bridge Too Far this time. We can pull up the drawbridge again, until the next shopping trip beckons.
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