My Saturday morning ritual regardless of the weather is to forsake the weekend lie-in, jump out of bed, shower and drive across the bridge, into the city. My destination is Britomart, once a grubby looking bus station and car park, now a stylish quarter of Auckland, which holds a small City Farmers market each Saturday morning. I buy fresh free-range eggs (the best) from Mr Shimi at the Chili Factor stall, tomatoes, capsicums and aubergines from Kevin, fresh salmon from Craig and lament the absence of Robyn, Clevedon Herbs and Produce. Their crisp lettuces, freshly picked spinach, French pumpkin, potted herbs and Robyn’s friendly banter were for me and many other regulars the heart of the market. As the market is an excuse to allow my inner Francophile self to emerge no trip is complete without a baguette from The Store or freshly cut flowers from the Dutchman.
You will, therefore, appreciate my dismay when my host and friend Rand on Saturday morning announced we were going food shopping at the supermarché. Thankfully words of protest were cut off mid-air as Rand continued to explain a late patient meant he’d missed the Friday market.
We drove to the supermarché along narrow country lanes, which cut through verdant green valleys. The rolling hills are punctuated by solid two-storey stone houses with muted coloured wooden shutters and adjoining large barns; I pinch myself. After nearly fifteen years I’m back in France.
The supermarché E Leclerc turns out to be a “supermarché et hypermarché”; that is an average Warehouse store stretched sideways. Shelving height has been minimised to allow light to penetrate the store and ensure the merchandise of clothing, stationery, DVDs, camping gear and kitchenware shines.
At the rear of the store, there is a produce and fish market. There were curved sloping counters covered in crushed iced and topped artfully with whole fish, shellfish, paddle crabs and scallops. I was immediately transported back to the Sydney fish market and my son smiling face; he would spend an hour deciding what to buy.
My special memories of France include picnics with freshly baked baguettes, heirloom tomatoes, which are sweet and juicy, armpit smelly soft runny cheeses and nutty-tasting goats cheeses. The lady behind the cheese counter offers us samples of the three locally produced cheeses; a clean sharp goats cheese, another more goats cheese, that has been blended with a cows cheese, then lastly a rich almost cloying buttery cows cheese.
Next door in the vegetable aisle I find the tomatoes packed in balsa trays and sitting on straw however, it is the vibrant colours of the freshly picked radishes and artichokes that captivate my attention. As a result of trying to be inconspicuous while taking photos with my cellphone I preserve the moment, but blur the picture.