The plan to begin the day was to arise after 10. Then lounge on the terrace while sipping on our steamed coffees from the Delonghi Dedica, chewing on toast with one of the many choices of home-made toppings, and feed each other cherries. Well, that was my plan. Carol’s plan was to ‘get your butt out the door, because we’re going to the Villeneuve market now!’
We love flea markets and while we are faced with the impossible task of finding the perfect, low cost item that could be transported home in two already-overweight carry-ons, we are always up for the challenge.
This Saturday market was within walking distance, but required a short ferry ride across the first arm of the Rhone. We are staying a mere ten minutes from one of the gates through the medieval walls that surround the historic center, and across the road is a small dock where we will catch our free waterborne conveyance.
It’s another beautiful, warm morning and the walking is easy, although Carol is setting a brisk pace as she has visions of second-hand clothing traipsing through her head. I on the other hand am envisioning a vintage Renault hub cap or slightly tarnished brass antelope paper weight as my must-have item. Dream big I say.
We won’t be in need of Fred’s prowess with his mapping system as Carol has her trusty paper variety tucked deep in the recesses of her bag. Part of our preparation yesterday was to pick the brain of one of the young tourist information girls and get her to highlight the exact route that we would follow to get marketing as efficiently as possible. No possibility of error on this trip.
We disembark the ferry turn left and after 10 minutes I ask Carol when we should be changing direction. She digs in her bag and comes up empty. Our masterplan has been stalled as the magic map has gone AWOL, probably lost at sea. Fred is snoring away as I had forgot to charge his battery overnight so he’s operating at a meager 39% and I will need all of that for picture-taking and possibly a video or two. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way, by memory.
We pass over the first, then the second bridge and are now on the the island Villeneuve-lès-Avignon heading for the little town center, with it’s 14th century battlements posing overhead, and the famous flea market that Carol has come to succumb.
We make a right turn and are sensing that we are close to our goal but their is a fork in the road and a man carrying a sack of what looks to be merchandise from a flea market is making his way down the steep hill past us. We look at each other and decide to stop an oncoming pedestrian and ask for definitive directions. The fellow in question is the spitting image of Captain Highliner from the tuna cans that we grew up with, only he’s French and doesn’t understand a gnat’s testicle of English (that would be a very little amount).
We say ‘M-A-R-K-E-T, ou est la market’? He cocks one eye in our direction, pushes his tongue through the gap where he once had front teeth and utters ‘marché?’ Which sounds remarkably similar to ‘marcher’ which means to walk in a determined manner. I make an assumption and say ‘ Oui, marcher’ thinking he’s asking if we’re walking. He points up the hill where we saw the potential market customer coming from earlier and Carol puts 11 + 6 together and comes up with 42 and off we go marcher to the marché.
It turns out that fellow walking down the hill with the plastic bag was not coming from the market but was probably looking for a spot to fling his dog’s excrement and then go for a well-deserved beer, seeing as it was almost 32C degrees and nobody else was on the streets and the hill had a 13% incline. The other choice was a flat, shady, sidewalk that was about to expose itself to an open air market just around a bend not 50 meters away.
Carol is maintaining her torrid pace up the hill with sugarplums dancing in her head and I’m feeling the full weight of the packsack that is constantly attached to my shoulder blades. It’s particularly heavy today because we aim to picnic near the water and we have supplies to outlast a Trojan seige plus a lovely bottle of grenache, disguised again in our clear plastic orange juice container.
The road winds up and up and finally Carol is acting her age and we have to pause now and again. Beautiful vistas are opening up behind us as the Rhone valley comes into full view, but our task lays in front of us and my primary view is of my sandals and the odd piece of dog shit that the man going down the hill had sidestepped.
At last we encounter a few more locals which I would like to exchange pleasantries with but I’m almost foaming at the mouth by this time, and then a medieval square tower is upon us as we pass one more twist in the laneway; Tourist Information emblazoned across the front. Well now we’ll get some accurate data.
A lovely courtyard greets us with several people in a relaxed position mulling about taking in the views. A large arched wooden door is wedged open and we enter. The air is cool, the towering stone walls smoothed at shoulder-height by centuries of people rubbing against them and touching their hard, permanent texture . It feels like history.
Tucked into a well-lit corner is an area with shelving that holds the brochures that every distant adventurer would want to partake of. Scuba diving, duck or boar hunting, wine tours, boat cruises, para-gliding over forests, but surprisingly nothing about the famous open air market that we seek. Fortunately there is a well-appointed madame seated behind a desk who is speaking with a young French couple. She will answer all of our questions.
Their conversation continues for quite some time and the couple step aside briefly to check something on their phones and I move in for my turn and enquire if she might be able to help us in anglais. She casts a dismissive sideways glance at me and in that partial second I read so much. I am far to busy to deal with you, you stupid foreigner. Sit down and I will wave my hand at you when it is your turn. Luckily Carol has taught me how to read female eye contact and I back away, almost bowing, as if I’ve insulted royalty and cower onto my 18th century, hard, wooden seat.
The backpack is almost pulling me over backwards on the backless stool, but the good news is that my sweat is coalescing into salt rivers on the back of my shirt and it becomes a pleasant distraction.
My thoughts take me back to grade eight when Mrs. Lambert also gave me that look, but then she was holding a leather strap and was threatening to call my parents after she would turn both my hands a livid red and satiate some inner desire to punish all children because she was unable to have any of her own. I also remember that her breasts were so enormous that her brassiere was barely able to contain them; that was HUGE for a boy in grade eight and was a daily topic of conversation in the lunch room. Anyways, back to our situation.
When I was summoned forward sometime later the first point she made was that she doesn’t speak anglais, or angle-As, or any other non-French effing language, and what do I want?! I deduced that from the forty-seven word greeting that she presented me with as I stood in front of her, hands folded in front of me, eyes facing the floor, waiting to get the strap. I wanted my mommy.
‘Marché, or marcher (I still wasn’t sure) was in a direction outside the door and as she stiffly waved her arm past me it resembled a salute given by the axis forces in the second world war. Heil Madeline!
I went over to speak with Carol, who had missed my entire interaction with the information ambassador, and she queried me on why it had taken so long to find out where the market was. I was ashamed and my ego bruised so I said ‘It’s just down the hill a little ways’ and I thought that she should put down the brochure on doll collecting and that we should leave immediately and go out into the scorching heat where it was more comfortable.
It only took until the next fork in the road for Carol to expose my ruse and then I received my second tongue-lashing in five minutes and she took control. I was starting to get a little ticked off. It was SHE that had fed our map to the fishes, and SHE that had turned uphill based on such skimpy reconnaissance. I am only the pack mule and it is my fate to be whipped by one and all. I have feelings too.
Six people with obscure directions later we are nearing the backside of the hill (still in France) and the center-ville of the old town is upon us; no market, but even better a bevy of eating and drinking establishments in every direction.
Thoroughly hydrated and armed with the knowledge that the market is on our doorstep ‘just follow the wide shady sidewalk at the bottom of the hill and you can’t miss it‘. Sure enough there is the market.
A few customers are shmoozing in the stalls as the vendors pack up after a thoroughly enjoyable day in the shade selling all of the best wares that they have ever had. A wonderful morning was had by all. Carol, eyes darting right and left is on the prowl.
My first stop has items from many different eras neatly separated because all of their good stuff was sold over the previous three hours. I push aside a Renault hub cap (wrong colour), and reach for a lovely four pound brass paperweight of a gazelle (what no antelope?). This is just crap. But then, three places over situated in the blazing sun, I see a kindred spirit leafing through a pile of picture cover 45 rpm records! Stand back asshole, papa’s coming to do some browsing.
I skid to a stop (on my knees), and let the vinyl spill through my fingers as I pick up a fistfull of vintage records and leaf through them as only a skilled aficionado could; letting my mind slip back through time as I recall how each song and artist touched my life at that particular period.
I’m allowing one second per flip as I scan through hundreds of records looking to make that special connection in my mind so I can add new treasures to my ‘memories wall’ in our lounge back home. That 40 square feet that has been allotted to me by her highness to sum up my entire existence. So it is only the pictures that I’m interested in, not the contents, which will be aptly disposed of at the earliest convenience. Come on people, they’re called memories for a reason, it’s not real life.
When I was first buying 45s as a kid only one out of a hundred had a picture cover, the rest were just black vinyl with a label in a paper sleave. The rest of the world was not so restrained and it wasn’t a big deal if you grew up in the States or Europe where almost all were swathed in color, with shots of the artist or the band. I truly believe that had there been picture covers when I was young that I would have been in debtor’s prison by age 14, but SO happy.
Arghh, this must be a thousand words by now and I haven’t even reached the good parts yet, sorry.
So I’ll condense the rest of the day quickly. Carol purchased some dumb girl stuff… I scored ten pictures… we went across the street to the park to have our picnic… it was fabulous… not much wine leaked into the backpack… we took selfies… drank the whole bottle of wine (it was almost two o’clock afterall)… and watched the largest man in the world practice playing boule nearby. It was freakin’ awesome!
We found home with no difficulty and settled in for quiet time on our terrace awaiting the evenings offerings. Birds flying overhead, warm sunshine all around us, watermelon to eat, a book to read for Carol, stories to type for me, and Fred on his charger.
What did you do today?