Friday, October 26, 2007

Tomatoes—the Sequel

Now I've done it. I went back to the open-air market this Sunday, and as usual, I went to the butcher. It was freezing cold and my family was waiting for me to get home and make lunch (yes, I have bowed to cultural pressure and actually fix a Sunday lunch), but I really needed to buy some meat to stock up the freezer. The butcher greeted me with a knowing smile, and waited for an opening. We chatted about this and that as he ground meat and sliced steaks, and then I mentioned that he must have a lot of work since theirs is pretty much the only butcher stand in the market. "There used to be six of us," he started, and before I could say "steack haché" he had launched into a long and involved discourse on the dwindling supply of butcher shops and how the kids these days aren't interested in working that hard, and the changing times, and lots of other stuff that frankly I couldn't understand because he took a quiet confidential tone and it was very noisy in the market. It was interesting, but I'm not sure that I want to get into a detailed discussion about the economics of the meat market and taxation of small businesses every time I want to buy some hamburger. I can't complain too loud, though, after all, I started it last week (see post below).

I have to admit I have a weakness for talking to the merchants at the open-air market. Now that my French is finally decent enough to be able to be able to catch most of what's going on, I like to get in on the running commentary that usually swirls around the stands, a combination of jokes, cooking advice, gossip, and simple math as your bill is totaled up. It's not all selfless camaraderie—the sellers know that the stronger the connection they make with the client, the more likely he or she is to become a regular, which is important when there are 6 other stands all selling the same green beans. Still, I really admire the people who work in the market. They have a killer of a job—they wake up before dawn, lug dozens of cases of produce or other foodstuffs into a truck, drive dozens (sometimes hundreds) of kilometers to get to work, then unload the truck, set up their stand, and then spend 5 or 6 hours selling their product at breakneck speed to hundreds of customers who are all impatient and need to get home. Some of the people I've spoken to never have a weekend (they work several different markets) and rarely take vacations. And yet, many of them truly seem to enjoy their work. If you ask them, they'll say, with a mixture of pride and resignation, that it's not an easy life, but it suits them. They throw themselves into their demanding lives with a verve that makes me almost jealous. They shout, they laugh, they curse, but most of all they seem incredibly alive. When I think of my own tepid forays into the job market, I feel pretty wimpy in comparison...

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