The Marais Poitevin is in some ways quite unlike anywhere else we’re familiar with in France. One of the most enjoyable shopping experiences in France, even for one such as myself who does not regard shopping as a recreational pastime, is wandering around one of the iconic French street markets. The reason for my making an exception here, of course, is that a good proportion of the street markets centre on French gastronomy and I’m likely to stumble across something that I can’t resist trying. The weirdest thing for us about the Marais Poitevin is its almost complete lack of markets. What happened to the French love of street markets here? We used to stay in Damvix a couple of miles down the road and that occasionally has an oyster stall set up shop in the street. Once we happened upon a rarely occurring farmers’ market there, too, but that’s it; no regular weekly street market. Now we stay at Arçais to make visiting Mike and Linda easier and that seems to lack a street market, too. Odd!
Most of our shopping when in Arçais is done in one of two supermarkets, a Super-U at Magné and an Intermarché at Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon. Both are a not too arduous car ride away. Our purchases here can occasionally be supplemented by a relatively meagre choice of items from a small local Coop at Arçais.
Unknown to us, however, there is a relatively little known further source of some specialist items from a very bizarre shop tucked away in an unnamed village/hamlet in the marsh. Mike, having lived here for a number of years, knows the area pretty well but even he had trouble finding this place for the first time. Telling someone where a shop is is a little difficult with no name involved; directions are about the only option. Directions concerning some of the more minor roads threading their way through the marsh can get quite convoluted. Nonetheless, Mike now knew roughly where this curious shop was and managed to take us there.
Mike parked outside a house in the said unnamed hamlet. [Silly choice of phrase – without a name how can the hamlet be a “said hamlet”? Just a thought.] The “shop” was clearly a converted garage on the side of the house. What makes this shopping experience most enjoyable is that the first thing the proprietor, Jean-Claude, does as a new customer enters his bijou establishment is to pour them a glass of wine. He generally pours himself another glass, too, of course. As the day wears on, Jean-Claude gets steadily more inebriated.
Several customers were already browsing around this marsh curiosity as we were receiving our welcome drinks. What they were browsing was a goodly selection of goats cheeses and some hams and sausages in vacuum packs. There was a fair spread of booze on offer, too, above a selection of eggs, some of which looked like quails eggs and others more like ducks eggs. I made my selections: two crottins of goats cheese and two packs of saucisses and approached Jean-Claude to pay. “Go and get another goats cheese”, said Jean-Claude (in French, of course). I happily complied. There was no till. I suppose a till would be far too formal in an establishment such as this, after all. Besides, Mike is quite sure that the authorities know nothing of this backstreet business in an unnamed hameau. Totals were arrived at on an elderly calculator and the till, as such , was Jean-Claude’s pocket. I think you’re probably quite right, Mike. 🙂
The sausages, I have to say, were the best I have ever tasted in France. [Hic!]