Very early on Monday mornings the noises start, lorries and vans arriving and stall holders banging and shouting as they set up their stalls. The sounds do not bother me because I am on holiday and do not have to get out of bed but also mainly because by the time we are up and ready to go, the Monday market in Castelnaudary will be in full swing.
Our house in Castelnaudary faces on to the Place de Verdun, the main square where most of the food stalls of the market are sited. My favourite task, when vertical on a Monday morning, is to open the shutters of our first floor sitting room and watch the scene below. The Castelnaudary market is not an arty-farty, self-conscious, look-at-us-we-are-shopping-in-a-market type market. It is a proper, thriving market where people come to do their shopping for real. Despite the presence of 3 large supermarkets close by in the area, those shoppers still come. They line up at the fruit and veg stalls checking the produce, squeezing the melons, bantering with the stallholders; queue patiently at the excellent butcher’s van; buy their fresh bread from any number of stalls ; inspect what else is on offer and then possibly have a quick coffee at the coffee van.
Maybe the coffee van is my favourite because in the summer if I open the sitting-room windows, the smell of roasting coffee beans drifts up and I cannot wait to get down there to buy my coffee for the week. The lady who runs the coffee van makes me up a mixture of coffee beans and grinds it, all the while asking me about our house in the square, how long are we here for this time and don’t we find it noisy on Monday mornings ? No, we love being part of all this.
There are all the other stalls you would expect to see in a large market : cake and pastry stalls; stalls selling cheeses of every variety; a stall selling only plaits of garlic; others selling only honey or figs or olives and of course a stall selling incredibly reasonably priced wine. Another stall I love is the yoghurt stall where the stall holder sells glass pots of her home-made yoghurt of various flavours. Every empty pot returned gives a 30 cent discount on the next pot purchased.
The market stretches away down the cours de la Republique where the non-food items are for sale. Here straw baskets, jewellery, clothes, shoes, kitchen items, bed linen, CDs and second hand books are all available.
Among all these items are the reminders that this is La France Profonde. The van with ’La Chevaline Boucherie’ painted on the side sells horse meat. It probably is irrational to eat some animals and not others but I would have to be very, very hungry to eat horse meat. My husband, a horse-lover, swears that he would starve first (hopefully we will never have to put that one to the test).
The stall selling old-fashioned ladies underwear is a puzzle. It is there every week with the underwear displayed on hangers, mostly girdles with suspenders attached. Presumably someone is still buying them.
By about 1 pm the food shoppers have gone, at home having lunch with the fresh produce they have just bought and the stall holders in the Place de Verdun are packing up. Those in the cours de la Republique linger for a couple more hours and it is good to browse among their stalls and enjoy the market for a bit longer. This really is the best way to spend a Monday.