Market Day in Provence
The renewal and celebration of the outdoor market culture in recent years, argues de La Pradelle, artfully masks a fierce commitment to modern-day free-market economics. Responding to consumer desire for an experience that recalls a time before impersonal supermarket chains and mass-produced products, buyers and sellers alike create an atmosphere built on various fictions. Vendors at the market at Carpentras, for example, oblige patrons by acting like lifelong acquaintances of those whom they’ve only just met as they dispense free samples and lively, witty banter. Likewise, going to the market to look for “freshness” becomes a way for the consumer to signify the product’s relation to nature—a denial of the workaday reality of growing melons under plastic sheets, then machine-sorting, crating, and transporting them.
Offering captivating descriptions of goods and the friendly and occasionally piquant exchanges between buyers and sellers, Market Day in Provence will be devoured by any reader with an interest in areas as diverse as food, ethnography, globalization, modernity, and French culture.
"In Market Day in Provence, the essence of the market-day experience is a jovial back-and-forth between buyer and seller in which class boundaries are suspended and the normal rules of etiquette do not apply. The man offering his farmhouse cheeses is entitled to chaff and tease. The customer is free to poke and squeeze and fondle the merchandise, unthinkable behavior in a shop. It's all deliciously rural and traditional, and, Ms. de La Pradelle takes great pains to demonstrate, as phony as it can possibly be. . . . She goes about her demolition work, with great good humor.”--William Grimes, New York Times
“In this vivid and highly perceptive ethnographical study, which was first published in French as Les Vendredis de Carpentras in 1996, the late Michèle de La Pradelle analyses the traditional marché forain, a traveling stallholder market, using Carpentras, one of France’s oldest and most celebrated markets, as a model. . . . While de la Pradelle’s observations uncover illusions of the street market, one suspects that she too has fallen under its spell. In her Carpentras, the sun always shines, the locals are unremittingly friendly, and the latent religious and racial tensions that have characterized this city in recent years are only hinted at. Yet the brilliance of Market Day in Provence lies precisely in the fact that, however much Michèle de La Pradelle demystifies the object of her study, she remains loyal to its magic. Her evocative descriptions of this colourful theatre of fantasy will delight anyone who has ever wondered why the lettuces look crispier, the tomatoes redder and the oranges more juicy at the market.”