At farmers’ markets, we expect to see fruit bursting with juicy sweetness and vegetables greener than a golf course. For Michèle de La Pradelle these expectations are mostly the result of a show performed by merchants and sustained by our propensity to see what we want to see there. Hailed upon its release in France, the award-winning Market Day in Provence lays bare the mechanisms of the contemporary outdoor market by providing a definitive account of the centuries-old institution at Carpentras, a city near Avignon in the south of France famous for its quintessential public street market.
The renewal and celebration of the outdoor market culture in recent years, argues de La Pradelle, artfully masks a fierce commitment to modern-day free-market economics. Responding to consumer desire for an experience that recalls a time before impersonal supermarket chains and mass-produced products, buyers and sellers alike create an atmosphere built on various fictions. Vendors at the market at Carpentras, for example, oblige patrons by acting like lifelong acquaintances of those whom they’ve only just met as they dispense free samples and lively, witty banter. Likewise, going to the market to look for “freshness” becomes a way for the consumer to signify the product’s relation to nature—a denial of the workaday reality of growing melons under plastic sheets, then machine-sorting, crating, and transporting them.
Offering captivating descriptions of goods and the friendly and occasionally piquant exchanges between buyers and sellers, Market Day in Provence will be devoured by any reader with an interest in areas as diverse as food, ethnography, globalization, modernity, and French culture.