Despite my best annual efforts, my somewhat shy awkwardness and male Englishness cannot be disguised at the Monday morning marché – and not just by way of my poor linguistic grasp – no matter how much I long to blend, fluent and unnoticed, into the throng. It’s a native, culture thing, I think, with the French. The absolute confidence of being at home in oneself and in one’s own country. An easy knowing one’s way around. Ready expression of preference and the opposite. The street café as extension to one’s own home. The ability to smoke a cigarette, langorously, as though it were possessed of a thousand positive health-giving properties. The exquisite minuscule goût de café that chides the waxed cardboard pails that pale in comparison. The authenticity of the faded pink (1940s?) shorts and deep-tanned legs. No socks with sandals – without discomfort.
So Monday market here is both celebration of the all-things-French that I love, and mildly painful disorientation, a yearning perhaps, like the bewilderment of my first days at primary school long ago. Everything moves so fast. I’ve just worked out how to get into the saddle of the huge rocking horse and it’s time for warm milk (ugh) again. Just made friends with pretty Jayne Matthews and a harsh voice tells me I’m not concentrating – though I’m sure I was. And someone in a hurry pushes me over. Just got the globe spinning with a satisfactory hum and I’m told it’s supposed to be stationary while I look at a bit of it called China or something or other. It’s another world. And I want time to linger, invisible, quite uninterested in being ‘top of the class’ or top of anything. Just wanting to rester ici au le marché. To hear and smell and touch and taste and see. Être. To be.