Chris went to England for work last week. Knowing he’d be gone, we bought less at the market, but still, all the shopping must be done on Saturday. At this point, roughly 60% of what we eat comes from the market or from one of Chris’ family members’ gardens. The market only runs on Saturdays, when the winding cobblestone streets of the vieille ville – the old town – fill up with vendors. If it’s a sunny day, the tarpauline is nowhere to be seen, so to one’s left and one’s right, the rainbow colors of so many fruits and vegetables line the streets. Saucisson hangs, eggs are plopped into customers’ re-used cartons, cheese is cut from enormous blocks and wrapped in white butcher paper, the kind I used in school for drawings, and always used to wonder at its peculiar name. Some of the vendors call out to passers-by; most do not, for this is provincial France – not East London – and things work their own way here.
On Sunday, though, it is as though the town has gone to sleep, which is the other reason the shopping must be done on Saturday. In Le Puy, as in most French cities, virtually every business, small or large – from restaurants to clothing shops to butchers and bakers – have closed for business. And, as with many other small cities, shops are also closed on Mondays. While a few cars drive past – moreso on Monday than Sunday, this is a welcome respite. It may be a small town, but we still live on one of the busiest streets around. Today, the second day that temperatures have for the first time this summer soared into the 90s, it is nice to know that windows can be opened without the rush of cars on the road below.
Wednesday marked the Fête d’Ascension, or Assumption as it’s known in English. This is the day on which Catholics celebrate Christ’s mother Mary’s delivery – body and soul – into heaven. As France remains a Catholic country, at least in name and paid holidays, Wednesday welcomed not only a procession of the Black Virgin, but also a day off of work. I’d forgotten it was a holiday. That morning, on my run, it was also warmer and drier than it had ever been: the hot wind and empty streets were an eerie and delightful addition to the rising sun. And while I was frustrated that I couldn’t go to the bank to sort out an issue I’d be dealing with, it rolled off my shoulders as I walked across the street to the park to work, and saw parents spending the warm day in the sunshine with their kids.
Where does one person’s quality of life usurp another’s? How does it benefit us to have everything open, all of the time? There’s no doubt that it can be inconvenient. Every week there are new little things we couldn’t take care of as quickly as we would have in England or California, but when those shops are closed it means everyone who works there is off for the day, at least in some capacity. It means that consuming isn’t the focus of people’s outings. Consequently, Sundays here are marked by trips to go walking, or swimming in the lake, or family gatherings after mass. Is that so bad?
Chris got back a day late from London (because a tree fell on the tracks and they couldn’t get it removed in time for him to make his flight…ask me if I miss London). As the family was getting together for lunch owing to his sister’s family being in town, I didn’t have time to do the shopping at the local store where we buy the other 40% or so of our weekly stock. On the off-chance they might be open tomorrow (we’re out of tofu…yikes!), I checked their website.
I was almost disappointed to find out they would be.