When I was a kid growing up in the ‘burbs of Montréal, the grownups were always warning us to beware of men driving around in white vans. They were loathe to explain why, but something in their serious expressions made us, for once, heed their advice.
Since then, the white van has always been synonymous with kidnappers and paedophiles in my mind. It was therefore somewhat disconcerting, upon arriving in France, to see the sheer quantity of them on the roads. It seems to be an unwritten law here that all plumbers, electricians, construction workers, farmers, etc. can only drive this type of vehicule. They are literally everywhere, and have funny little brand names like “Jumpy” and “Kangoo”…which should lessen their intimidation factor, but somehow doesn’t. Perhaps it is their lack of side windows that re-inforces old fears of what could be concealed within.
White vans are the French equivalent to the pick up truck…though mono-colour, and with none of the rugged cowboy-esque charm. Today is market day in my little town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, so the parking lots around the main square are crammed with (menacing) rows of these identical machines. When the van doors slide back, they are found to hold nothing more terrifying than crate upon crate of fresh vegetables, cheeses, meats, spices and other such riches.
Market day is a glorious day in little Provençal towns. Frustratingly they are often held in the middle of the week (Thursday for me) and only from 6am to lunchtime. But if you do manage to pull a sicky, or drag yourself out of bed in the wee hours the experience is worth it. The colours of all those courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, olives, etc. is mind boggling.
There is always a little outdoor café next door with all the old men holding court, drinking thimbleful after thimbleful of sharp, white Côtes du Rhône or Picpoul-de-Pinet. Everyone shouts across to one another and the vendors flirt shamelessly; especially if you have a ‘petit accent’.
You generally end up buying far more than you really need and cursing yourself a week or so later when you find slimy lettuce hiding behind the camembert in the far reaches of the fridge, but what the hell…it beats the scary hyper marchés (giant wallmart-esque supermarkets).
The truly tricky part is finding the strength to exercise self-restraint. After the marketing is done, the café is a terrible lure. Why not just stop for a half hour and a nice, refreshing Picpoul? The glasses are so small, maybe just another one for the road? Oh, they have oysters & shrimp too? And suddenly its 4pm and you find yourself wandering home…ready for the sieste.