Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, Mon Amour

The Saturday morning market along the Dordogne River in western France inspires me. It’s Pentecost weekend, lots of festivals nearby.

In this ancient town enthusiastic crowds around the square in front of city hall meander, buy, eat, visit, hug, and kiss their friends. Booths spread into the narrow streets. Cathy and I have little trouble making our way. Everyone relaxed and friendly. 

Strawberries glistening in warm sun inspires smiles. When we first came to visit friends in mid-May at nearby Saint-Avit-de-Soulège, we had to have a fire that evening in the rental.

 “Can you get the stove going,” Bill tested me. The tiny firebox out foxed me, the flames jumped to life then sputtered out no matter how much I’d blow, adjust the draft or feed in kindling. 

What instigates this gift of days in paradise? For years our little book club has been talking about coming to France. Karen found a perfect cottage for we three couples.

Now we are in rural France, relaxing under a spell of ancient history beginning with the Lascaux Caves, various religious wars, and now recent politics polluting most discourse. Will millions of acres of French grapes help bring world peace?

The village market seems a perfect place to see what’s possible. So many different sellers. Only once is Cathy scolded: “I touched a tomato,” she explains. “The man smiled but said, ‘No, no, no’. They chose for the buyer, take it or leave it.”

The scene brings me back to Vietnam, where I went to the 5 a.m. market at Dalat. My unit was assuring delivery of vegetables. Karen is reminded of the West Side Market in Cleveland. We’ve been there too. Everything tidy.

An old guy with a flowing white beard reminds me of Father Time. He’s selling canelés, a treat developed in Bordeaux long ago. He takes all my change for three little pastries. I trust his counting because I need an excuse to sit under the arcades longer.

Late in the morning, all the little tables fill with folks having snacks. What a great design. We can sit here watching the crowds and enjoy tiny cups of coffee creme. Karen and Mike head back to the rental with our purchases including a giant rotisserie chicken. Cath and I walk up river quay where big ships used to bring or carry away products via stone ramps which now provide nooks for singing frogs intent on mating.

Giant sycamore trees provide a few walkers shade in the cool breeze. It ends at a park near the old city where children can play.

By 1 p.m. most of the sellers are packing up. We stop at a booth where three young women are passing a petition to save the local trees.

“The government wants to cut down a bunch of our hundred-year-old sycamores to build a school,” a woman who speaks excellent English explains. “The politicians have done this without consulting anyone. They make deals like this. They’re supposed to be socialists. But people can see how we have proposed a school to be built among the trees. This will save all of what they want to cut.”

We sign the petition. It’s okay if we’re Americans, she says. The more signatures the better.

Is there an organic place for lunch? It’s too far to walk, so we try a place they mention on the other side of the river just to the right of the bridge.

We find a shady table. A simple lunch is all we need, but it comes out as tiny culinary monuments. 

Across the Dordogne River a couple enjoys a picnic with their dog. The man throws a stick in the water and the dog usually brings it back. Sometimes he has to wade out and to retrieve it himself. The dog, the two people and the river love this game. The frogs keep singing all the time. 

When we walk back to a bench to wait for our ride, the old man in a black hat who was at the spice booth finishes helping his friends load up their van. Pulling a cart with his day’s purchases, he pauses in hot sun only to pick up a cellphone cord. It must have fallen out of someone’s pocket, a blessing to save. 

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