France has not been immune to the transformation of the retail scene: big box stores and supermarkets ushered the sad decline of old-fashioned, family-owned specialty shops. But one tradition is holding steady: the weekly open-air markets. I simply love them, especially those in the countryside where just about everything offered is farmed or raised locally.
When my sister and her family moved to Grenade-sur-Garonne, our Saturday morning routine included a long visit to la halle, the medieval covered structure in the center of town. Farmers and vendors display their bounty under the tile roof and along the adjacent streets: mounds of tasty saucissons (made from a dozen different meats), regiments of disks and pyramids of chèvres perfectly lined up in their refrigerated cases, baskets of brown eggs with an occasional feather stuck to their shell, colorful bunches of cut flowers soaking in tall galvanized buckets, and produce galore. As a little game, I would ask my toddler nephews to identify and name every single légume we saw while filling our cabas. Afterwards, we’d grab an outdoor table at one of the cafés lining up the square and order un Ricard or un demi for the adults, une orangeade avec une paille for the younger set.
La halle de Grenade is quite remarkable: with its thirty-six octagonal brick pillars and massive oak carpentry, it was specifically built in the 13th century to hold a weekly market. Weights and measures were kept in one of the upstairs loges; another one was used as a workplace for the judge, the mayor, or the notaire. Pigeons still roost there.
In addition to the market, la halle is also the site of special events such as the famous “Sausage Fair” organized by the Confrèrie Gourmande et Joviale de la Saucisse de Grenade. Pageantry is served, along with endless arguments about the merits of the local sausage versus the one made in Toulouse, a mere 15 miles away…
La halle: covered market
Le saucisson: dry cured sausage (like salami)
Le chèvre: goat cheese
Le légume: vegetable
Le cabas: old-fashioned grocery bag
Le Ricard: brand of a pastis drink
Le demi: draft beer
L’orangeade: water with orange syrup
Avec une paille: with a straw
Le notaire: a public officer who records contracts, property inheritance, wills and other documents in every area of law