I’ve already confessed my love of outdoor markets. One of the bright sides of living in the Central Valley is local availability of bountiful produce. Nevertheless, a stroll through a French market yields many pleasant surprises. Not just because of the different varieties of fruits and vegetables: cultural preferences in regards to size also play a part. I always know that I’m in France when the stalls brim with slender poireaux, tiny fraises des bois, diminutive aubergines… or huge balls of céleri rave without knobs. In Paris, I’m particularly fond of Marché Bastille: the aisles are not too narrow and the selection of ingredients and prepared dishes is quite extensive. If you wish, you can even purchase a plate of chucked oysters and a glass of Muscadet to enjoy sur place.
In July 2011, I met a vendor whose offering was not of the edible kind but turned out to be the highlight of my day. He was selling leather-bound notebooks. They all looked different and varied in size, thickness, and color. Some covers were smooth, some were a bit rugged, others were stamped but they all showed an unmistakable antique patina. Each one was hand-made and tied with two or three feet of black string. He explained that he had bought a pallet of accounting ledgers from India. He unfolded one of these ancient leather books and unveiled yellowed pages filled with Sanskrit. He would cut pieces from their long covers, wrap them around a folio of white paper, and saddle stitch the whole thing together to create new books. They were beautiful. I purchased four of them, intending to keep one for myself and give the others to friends who would use them to sketch or journal. As I was relishing their smooth buttery texture between my fingers, I wondered whose hands had stroked that same leather a long time ago, in a land far, far away.
Le poireau: leek
La fraise des bois: wild strawberry
Sur place: on the premises