Any trip to Paris will obviously include visits to all the major sites. This is a must as they are more spectacular in person than any photo or travel tv show could possibly convey. With that said, I would like to strongly encourage anyone planning a trip to the City of Light to add to your ‘to see’ list a French Open Air Market. Not to be confused with a Paris Street Markets which can be found throughout the city as well and certainly warrant a visit. The French Open Air Market, as I like to call them, are complete markets that are set up and taken down for each market.
There are no permanent stalls or stores, they simply appear and then disappear. Well perhaps not simply, but they do in fact appear and disappear. Since they are not part of a physical store or market, each week, in specific locations and on specific days, the markets come and go like life blood flowing through the city providing its inhabitants with everything they need to sustain life. The one closest to us is literally just down the street on Ave de Saxe. It is considered one of the largest and nicest in the city and is here twice weekly – Thursday and Saturday from about 7am to 2pm. The day before the market a small team of workers arrive with a truck and they begin to assemble all the vertical and horizontal poles along with roll up roofs in case of rain – the market is on come rain or snow, people do have to eat. Within a very short time, they have put together almost 200 stalls for vendors who will be offering everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to breads and meats to antiques and furniture repairs. The next morning, very early I might add, small and large vans begin to arrive and the vendors start to set up for the day. Bringing roasters and refrigerators, massive electric pans and just about anything else they could need to provide the days customers with the absolute best products in the world.
Each merchant specializes in a specific area. One butcher may only work with pork while another poultry. Bakers with everything from croissants to baguettes will have your mouth watering in no time at all. One vendor only deals in apples and pears – nothing else. Another in cheese while another in fish and yet another in oysters and clams. NOTE: It is important to understand that visiting the market on an empty stomach is very dangerous – do so at your own risk. And don’t try to touch the produce, you will receive a polite yet forceful ‘ne pas touche se il
vous plait’. It is their job to make sure you get exactly what you want so be sure to tell them. If you want to eat a piece of fruit now, they will select a piece of fruit that is perfect for eating now. If it is for later, then something that will be perfectly ripe when you wish to eat it will be selected. They are experts in their chosen profession. This is what they do for a living and they take it very seriously. If you ask for an orange you will be asked if it is for eating or juicing. If it is for eating, when, today, tomorrow? All important questions so you can have the right fruit for the occasion.
If you are going to just look, be sure to approach each merchant with respect and remember this is their work place. Snapping a bunch of photos and getting in the way might not be appreciated. I always ask if I can take a picture. It is also much easier to do so when you are making a purchase or are a regular customer. It is also important to note that the market is not just a work place, but a place for the community to come together. Vendors and customers alike greet each other with a warm ‘Bonjour’ and catch up on the goings on since the last market. We see our neighbors all the time and it is a wonderful feeling of community. Merchants will even take the time to let us know that they will be gone the next week for vacation or holidays so we can prepare. There is nothing worse than craving a specific something only to arrive and find your favorite sausage dealer is gone for the week.
The market is an amazing way to get a real sense of ‘life’ in Paris. Huge crowds of people moving in and with their roller carts in tow as they stock up on what they will need until the next market day. They partaking in a tradition that has been going on for centuries and still has a feeling of being ancient and almost sacred – yet it is part of daily life here. And, on top of all of that, our market is situated with the Eiffel Tower looking over our every move. It is a magnificent sight to behold.
After the market closes, all the vendors pack up and move out leaving mounds of empty cartons and crates in their wake. It is time for the second team of workers to arrive. They move in with trash trucks and brooms and sweeper cars and begin the process of taking down the stalls and cleaning everything up. Within a couple of hours, the street is cleaner than it was to start and you would never know that an amazing market had just taken place in that very spot. Now it is filled with parents watching their children ride their bikes and razors and playing tag
and soccer. All under the silent, yet watchful eye of the exquisite gift from Monsieur Eiffel.
For a list of Open Air Markets in Paris, I found a wonderful site, please click here to check it out.