At Les Halles, the famous in-door market in Toulouse, you can buy some of the best cheese in the world, whole foie gras from both ducks and geese, various fowl with their heads still attached, and stinky fish that I would not touch – but there it is. I am spoiled about the fish. We prefer to buy our flowers from the stall on the corner, and our vegetables from the street market at Blvd. des Arcoles, and of course bread can only come from the baker around the corner from home, but it is all beautiful, and the food tastes better when it is sold in fresh air – but the cheese – the cheese must come from M. le Frommagier.
The first time I came to Les Halles it was in early December 2001, and in that instant I knew I had to find a way to live in Toulouse. So much so that I arrived back to Edmonton with a panier (market basket). The city has been good to us, and one of its delights is the vendors.
The ritual goes something like this. When you are first getting your tongue working, the baker’s assistant just follows your gestures and takes your money in the morning. After several weeks of persisting in saying “Bonjour M’sieur, Bonjour Madame”, a bit of conversation begins and the joyful rituals of daily life are established. Both of the girls had to learn their French with the baker and his assistant – first thing in the morning – at 14. Since the rewards were pastries for breakfast, they persisted bravely through the first weeks – and arrived home flushed with pride and delight when “Le Boulanger m’a PARLE Maman!” (The baker TALKED to me Mom!). This time, I caught Jessica speaking French in her sleep…
We also had a lovely victory with Le Frommagier in les Halles. Since we were living on bread, cheese, vegetables, and cafes, the cheese had to be replenished regularly. On the way to lunch with our friends in Pechabou, I stopped to get cheese and Monsieur refused to let his wife look after me – because selecting a cheese for friends is important business. I told him how lovely the cherry jelly was that he recommended to go with the mixed-sheep-and-goats-cheese (brebis-chevre) from the day before and we discussed the merits of a very runny blue cheese or a fresh chevre. Once he assured me that the blue would survive the bicycle ride (which it did), we completed the business of the day. As I left, he asked hopefully if we would come back before leaving town, and I assured him happily that we certainly would. 🙂 The declaration of a convivial acceptance after only a few days was such a lovely gift.
I contrast this with the woman in the street market who stopped Rebecca on her first day in Toulouse – aggressively certain that she would have her money stolen. Rebecca was jet lagged and confused. She gasped and looked to me for help as if she was 15 again. I looked both girls in the eye and firmly reminded us all that, “There are lots of people in the world pushing fear. We do not buy fear. You are safe here and you always have been. It is a beautiful sunny Saturday and that poor frightened woman cannot see it. Vas doucement avec le sac – mais t’inquiete pas – OK?”…and we all heaved a sigh of relief and came back to ourselves.
We ran into other peoples’ fear two other times on this trip. Airport (in)security confiscated Jessica’s toothpaste in Dublin because her bathroom bag was striped clear plastic (??) – and then threw out the remnants of the lovely cherry jelly in Toulouse this morning. Really? A half-eaten cherry bomb? What are we (collectively) thinking? These just are not good rules.
More and more often, we seem to be afraid of the monsters under the bed – imaginary threats that make us lose our common sense. The fortresses we build might protect us, but they also prevent us from finding lovely moments of friendship – with M. le Frommagier – and with so many other people and adventures and joyful sunny Saturdays in the market!
The greatest treasure of our Touloussain friends remains their ability to “aller doucement” – go softly – to dissolve the fear that keeps people apart, and turn it into friendship. A great gift to all of us.
We are on the flight home now – our last photo is from the pub at the corner – our path from Toulouse to the airport bus and our friends at home!
I think I will be back with more adventures in mid-August…on the way to Brazil this time for an extended working trip…and perhaps a few other moments in between.
See you all soon back in our regular lives…