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The Magic of the Markets

I love how spices are sold in Aix. They sit side by side in giant white sacks, exhibited in a rainbow of yellows and browns and greens and reds. They remind me more of the dyed powders thrown in Holi celebrations than herbs thrown in bouillabaisse. The spices could sit just as proudly in any souk in North Africa. Cardamom, saffron and even “Tex-Mex" mingle with the traditional Provencal herbs of lavender, garlic, rosemary.
 A spice market in Marseille

Of course, spices aren’t the only goods sold in Aix-en-Provence’s markets. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the parking lot in front of the Palais de Justice is transformed into a labyrinth of stalls, canopies and stands. Open space is converted to winding alleys that offer anything and everything your heart could ever desire. Gypsy women skirt the edges, begging for centimes in their babushkas. The accordion player sets down a tin can and starts his performance. Teenagers eat chunks of baguettes and slices of pizza on the curb, all trying to out-cool one another.

Descending into the maze, the market reveals its beautiful secrets. Clementines from Corsica. Endives from the Alps. Giant wheels of goat cheese and wedges of inexplicably Christmas-tree-green cheese. Fig preserves handmade in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (one of our excursion destinations). Oysters and salmon filets and clams and shrimp. The smell is unique: sharp, sometimes sweet, but not at all unpleasant.

There are other markets offering their tastes of Provence daily, but the one in the Place des Precheurs has, by far, the best to offer.

 The treasures of market day

The market is divided, more or less, into two sections. The first section is all foodstuffs. The second is filled with treasures. Some wares are less valuable than others, true, but to me, they’re all treasures. Five euro watches, knockoff leather goods, linens, antique vases and vintage costume jewelry, each more beautiful than the next. A favorite of mine is the Alsatian book seller who sells antique colored maps of bygone colonial empires.

The magic of the Place des Precheurs disappears a little after high noon, as if all the vendors are summoned by some invisible call. They pack their things into vans and whisk them away, leaving behind an empty parking lot once more. If someone were to walk to the Palais de Justice in the afternoon, they would find no trace of the market. It reveals itself only to those in the know, as if it was Aix-en-Provence’s secret members-only club. And I like it that way.


Elizabeth Manovill is the Spring 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a junior at The University of Dayton.

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