Sunday, 11 April 2010

After the Market

One hundred years ago the Paris market was a permanent explosion of odour and colour. It had its own structure, Les Halles - 'the belly of Paris'. "Ce qui montait à la face était un souffle frais, un vent de mer...amer et salé" wrote Zola, describing the huge banks of fresh fish. Today, the unsold fish are packed back into polystyrene containers and the piles of ice and streams of salty water are washed quickly away into the gutters. The odour of fresh fish is an ephemeral sensation, never allowed to stay hanging in the air.

Unsold scraps and rejected offcuts are also thrown into the gutter. Empty boxes are piled up ready to be thrown into the backs of beeping and flashing street cleaning machines. This is when the desperate and the hungry appear, looking for castoffs that can be saved and put to good use. The saddest pieces remain; wilting leaves of lettuce, orange skins, broken eggs, fish heads, blackened and bruised bananas, the flesh bursting through split jackets. None will survive.

Less than an hour after the traders have packed up and gone home, the only evidence that there was a market at all are the skeletons of their stands. Soon these too will be taken away, the awnings rolled up like carpets around them. The street, hosed and scrubbed, sparkles in the low afternoon sun. It's so clean you could almost eat your dinner off it.

10 comments:

ArtSparker said...

Have you seen the Agnes Varda film "Les Glaneurs"? A favorite of mine.

Owen said...

So is this still near les Halles ? Or somewhere else in Paris ? The tradition of markets around France on various days of the week is enjoyable, love to get to them when I have the time. Out in Brittany it's every Thursday in the town where we visit often... love the seafood stands and the chickens roasting... and often the products are so much better that what comes mass produced in the supermarkets... which are not always so "super"...

Adam said...

Artsparker: No, I haven't seen the film, but I just looked it up and I see why you have mentioned it. The end of the market is definitely a moment for a 'glaneur'!

Owen: This one is near Bastille, but it could have been anywhere in Paris. Sure, a 'market' is more enjoyable than a supermarket, but what I wanted to point out here was how sanitised even they have become today. There is only one moment when you can really see and smell the grit, mud, scales and rotten produce, but it only lasts a few minutes before it is swept away.

Peter said...

The organisation of these open markets is quite amazing. All the work which is needed, before and after! But, it's very nice that we have them (although unfortunately often the marchandise is the same as in the supermarkets)!

Cergie said...

Ma tante disait que les toilettes d'une maison bien tenue devaient être propre assez pour pouvoir manger dedans.
Ma mère disait qu'une jeune fille devait aller au marché de bonne heure pour trouver un mari (qui chercherait une bonne épouse) et faire de bonnes affaires.
Moi, je dis que chaque marché a ses horaires, à Conflans Ste Honorine, que tu connais, il y a trois marchés et je vais souvent au bord de Seine le vendredi matin. Il commence et finit tôt. Je suis arrivée un peu tard vendredi dernier, vers 11H30, aussi le maraîcher m'a fait très "bon poids" pour les poireaux et les pissenlits. Il ne voulait pas "remballer".
J'aime bien ces photos luisantes où on imagine plus qu'on ne voit... Les villes mettent les étals à disposition des commerçants et ceux ci paient une petite taxe d'occupation à une personne chargée de la recouvrer.
(Je n'ai pas non plus vu "les glaneurs" juste des extraits. On a beaucoup parlé de ce film. Je suis une glaneuse pas possible, notamment dans les bois, les anciens jardins ou vergers...)

Cergie said...

Dans un autre ordre d'idée : tu sais l'origine de la bouillabaisse ? Cette soupe était cuite directement sur la plage et on y mettait tous les restes de poissons en les rajoutant au fur et à mesure. Un noël, ma belle-soeur nous a fait une vraie bouillabaisse qu'elle a fait cuire dehors dans une grande gamelle sur un feu à même le sol.

Thérèse said...

Le temps de réflexion nécessaire à la vue de ces photos. Les non-dit qui font la réalité de la vie, de plus en plus aseptisée.

Tim said...

Yay, my adopted hometown Conflans gets a mention in the comments! The riverside market there is indeed lovely, very quaint and a nice atmosphere... although I prefer the covered Marché de la Fonderie, up by the station, which is a touch rootsier. Wednesday and Saturday mornings, fact-fans.

parisimperfect said...

Wow, this was a beautifully written post. Evocative, sad. I'm fascinated with the end of the market, too - something even more interesting about the packing up and the scraps that are left behind - and the people who go in search of those scraps to survive.

Starman said...

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly all this accomplished.

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