NICOLE PONÇON epitomizes the excellence, friendliness and comfortable familiarity of the weekly market at St Cécile-les-Vignes, a small town a handful of kilometers across the Plan-de-Dieu from our place in Sablet. Nicole makes superb sheep's milk yogurts and cheeses, tends those sheep; and when she is not doing that Nicole is bee keeping. Which is what first brought Mary to Nicole's pitch on the edge of the market where she found a small but distinctive range of honeys from just up the road, and whenever possible, buys her honey from Nicole. Sadly I have never had a chat with Nicole (I blame my school) but right from the very first time we patronised her stall I noticed that she has the most amazing hands: really strong, brown capable working hands. The sort of hands that get on with things.
There are lots of other examples of your local entrepreneurs on this market (as on most rural markets, it's just the same in Malaucene, Buis-Les-Baronnies, Bedoin etc): families running their market garden stalls, the chatty bloke who cooks and brings two ready-to-eat main courses (paëlla, and chilli con-carne, or petit-sallé-aux-lentilles or chicken tagine with preserved lemons — so good that he is gaining fixture status for us)— selling out from his huge steaming pans long before the market closes up. Fish stalls, two of them usually, are spectacular, the butcher's mobile shops selling both ready-to-eat and all the cuts, as well as sausages, terrines and the rest . . . our favourite has long queues by mid morning. Vegetables and fruit are arranged with infinite care, there are mounds of fresh salads, banks of local strawberries, regiments of asparagus and this time the first appearance of new season garlic. Local wine, local olive oil, cheeses and walnuts, lots of healthy plants for pricking out, flowers, clothes, hats, and even mattresses. St Cécile market runs on saturday until one o'clock, about, (we are long gone) and its not a monster like Vaison is in season. It does grow quite a lot as the visitor numbers increase but the same regular traders make up the core: we notice when someone's missing now.
So we take our seats outside the Bar de Union at the fountain end of the market with our croissants and grande crème and watch it all tick over. They've just been doing up the street so there's still things to finish. Lots more stone blocks and bollards to impede the pavement parkers. There may be better coffee to be had across the road but we think not: we did try them once but none got near this establishment. I could quite happily take my breakfast here every saturday as do many folk on the green and orange chairs outside the Bar de Union.
Well there you go. I had to do a piece on a Fr. market didn't I, sooner or later? Predictable or what? Was it lyrical? Well I did try. Hope Nicole doesn't mind featuring . . .