French Basket Culture Sunday, Aug 26 2012 

When I was living full-time in Paris, one of my favorite pastimes was wandering through open-air markets in whatever part of the city I happened to be in. Fruits and vegetables in season, fresh and aged cheeses, breads, whole fowl of every kind, rabbits and other game, seafood, spices, and more were a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The colorful Rue Mouffetard market in the 5th arrondissement was one I returned to again and again as it was further from the touristy center of the city and seemed to say on every visit, “I am a true Paris marché (market).” It was also where I acquired my first French market basket.

Tall and sturdy with a tight weave, the light-colored fiber panier (basket) was my new best friend. With it at my side, I belonged to the market landscape. No longer did I hike back to my apartment loaded with bulging plastic bags, a sure giveaway of a non-Parisian. And it was delicious fun to fill my panier artistically with newly-acquired vegetables, fruits, flowers, and bread so it looked like a photo straight out of a gourmet magazine.

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Still enamored of market baskets today, I strolled around the Saturday morning market in Aix-en-Provence a while back and made an impromptu study of market basket culture.* Even in the high-tech 21st century, baskets of every size and shape filled the bustling aisles accompanied by their French owners. Women and men carried or pulled them with the practiced air that comes from shopping for food at the peak of freshness, season after season. What a happy sight to see baskets full to the brim leaving the marché on their way to a welcoming cuisine (kitchen) or a French outdoor pique-nique.

But truth be told, I was slightly envious of the large willow baskets on wheels and their large capacity – a harbinger of many tasty meals. Unfortunately for me, that type of basket won’t fit in the overhead bin of a transatlantic flight so I haven’t made that purchase in France.

Market baskets

 

On the other hand, there are plenty of other baskets that travel well. When in Provence, I make a point to check out the basket vendors at the local markets. Staples are rows of traditional baskets with leather handles. Fancier styles come in bright colors of various sizes and shapes. Some have cloth drawstrings inside – perfect for use as a summer purse. I have added several of both types to my collection over the years and love how each one reminds me of a wonderful trip or of the marvelous market goods that were carried in it.

One “basket” I won’t buy, however, was a canvas one with wheels I saw one February morning in the streets of Aix. Perfect for the cold weather, this caddy had a tan canvas body topped by faux-fur lid and was tugged along by an owner in a leather coat trimmed with fur! I must confess my basket tastes run on the simpler side.

Towards the end of a recent stay in Provence, I began to realize that my purchases of Provençal treasures were outgrowing available suitcase and satchel travel space. At the Arles market, I looked around for some bag vendors hoping to pick up an inexpensive nylon sac. Hélas (alas), nothing like that could be found. And then I had an epiphany. I could buy yet another Provence market basket and transport my goods to the U.S. that way.

I finally located a traditional basket I liked with brown leather accents and long handles that could go over my shoulder. While I was unsuccessful in bargaining the price down, the vendor assured me the basket would hold some serious weight. Sure enough, my pottery rosé wine pitcher, artisan made ceramic bowls, calissons (almond candy made only in Aix), fruits confits (glacéd fruits) and French books made it home beautifully. And I have another wonderful French market basket to use and enjoy.

* The main market in Aix-en-Provence takes place Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the Place des Prêcheurs. Baskets, Provençal products and flea market dealers occupy the adjoining place in front of the Palais de la justice.

This article was originally published on July 9, 2008.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

If you’d like to purchase a French market basket stateside, then QuelObjet.com is your place. QuelObjet.com is a wonderful web site devoted to making marvelous French objets (objects) available in the U.S. 

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QuelObjet.com was started by several years ago by New York resident, Susan Sears. Susan loves traveling in France and found she wanted to start a French-related business that she could run while raising teenage daughters. She began to think about things she bought in France that she couldn’t buy here – espadrilles were first on her list. So she tracked down an artisan making espadrilles in the French Pyrénées, and, through him, tracked down the company making fabric for the espadrilles. And that was just the beginning!

So take a moment to check out Susan’s French market baskets (and other French goodies!) on her web site. The baskets are great for farmers market shopping, supermarket shopping, picnics, planters, office organizers…anything you want to have a French basket touch!

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www.QuelObjet.com

Small and Musical in Paris Sunday, Aug 5 2012 

One of my favorite pastimes in France is to wander into a church when music is playing. A few weeks ago, I got a two-for-one organ bonus at the lovely Abbaye Saint-Michel de Frigolet in the Provence countryside.

Frigolet

The secluded monastery traces its origins to the tenth century and has two main churches, the romanesque Eglise Saint Michel, church of Saint Michael, and the basilica of Notre-Dame du bon remède. It must have been music practice day since the monastery organists were hard at work in both sacred spaces. The basilica’s organist in particular was quite good – I sat down for a while to hear him thundering out Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Hardly another soul was around – it was like having a real organ concert all to myself.

I started the habit of entering French churches in hopes of an impromptu concert when living in Paris. With beautiful églises (churches) located almost every other block in the city, I found that opportunities abounded for musical moments. And too, you can only do the cathedral of Notre Dame so many times before branching out to smaller places with spires.

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Church of Sainte-Clothilde on the Rue Las Cases in the 7th arrondissement

Right in my former Left Bank neighborhood is the picturesque basilica of Sainte-Clothilde. While not that old, the nineteenth century gothic edifice had already caught my interest for its architecture and also for the charming, small garden right in front. Over time, I came to realize that the church had a spectacular musical history. Its original organ was a Cavaillé-Coll, and there has been a succession of famous composers who have been Organiste Titulaire including César Franck (1859-1890), Charles Tournemire (1898-1939), and Jean Langlais (1945-1987). I have managed to catch a few organ moments at Sainte-Clothilde over the years – it is definitely on the top of my smaller Paris churches list.

Another Paris church that merits a musical visit is Saint Eustache in the Les Halles area of the city. The late gothic église was completed in the seventeenth century. A young Louis XIV even took communion here at that time.

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Church of Saint-Eustache located in Les Halles in the 1st arrondissement

The impressive Van den Heuvel organ competes with that of Notre Dame for the title of the largest in France with close to 8000 pipes. It is often possible to catch an organ concert on Sunday afternoons or during some of Saint-Eustache’s music festivals and events. There is even a organ keyboard in the nave of the church which allows concert-goers to see the organist play, a unique feature not often found in church settings.

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The last time I popped by Sainte-Eustache, alas no music was playing. However, it was winter, and La Soupe Saint-Eustache was in full swing. It turns out that the church sponsors a soup kitchen which serves over 250 needy visitors a hot French-style meal a day in the wintertime. It is a real community effort – volunteers staff the kitchen, others prepare food, local kitchens donate soup, and even neighborhood bakeries and pastry shops donate excess stock to help complete the three-course meal.

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There are numerous other churches in Paris worth a look as well as worth a listen. Saint Sulpice and Saint Louis en L’Ile are two others on my short list. But since Paris has been called by some ’la capitale mondiale de l’orgue,’ the world capital of organs, then just about any church in the City of Light is going to have something to offer music-wise.

If this has whet your appetite for something French and musical in a sacred space – and you don’t happen to be in Paris, then make a point to attend the final stop of the Louis Vierne 2012 concert series in the U.S. On August 18th, rising star organist Christopher Houlihan will finish his six-city tour in Dallas, Texas, playing Louis Vierne’s six symphonies for organ which represent the summit of French romantic symphonic organ composition. Louis Vierne was the titular organist at Notre Dame in Paris from 1900 until his death in 1937, when he expired at cathedral’s organ console itself.

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The final Vierne concerts will take place on Saturday, August 18th, at the Church of the Incarnation on McKinney Avenue in Dallas in two performances:

3:00pm: Symphonies I, III, V
7:30pm: Symphonies II, IV, VI

For more details, please visit the concert series web site at www.vierne2012.com . And on your next trip to Paris, be sure to stop in at a few non-Notre Dame churches for the sacred spaces, the services, the music, the soup kitchen, or something else unexpected and wonderful.