When my sisters and I were younger, my mom dragged us whenever she could to the Columbus Farmers Market on Route 206 in Columbus, NJ. We would get up at some insane hour and arrive at what was basically a field with wooden tables in it. There were some paved roads, along which people pitched tents and sometimes displays. They backed up their windowless vans and the odd men and women wearing vendor belts full of change would all sell their crap to anyone with cash in hand. Long live capitalism!
They sold clothing, furniture, cosmetics, toys, tools, food, plants, wallpaper, luggage, housewares, jewelry, hardware, electronics, and sno-cones. They sold fruits and vegetables and seasonal whatevers. They sold belts and purses and underpants. They sold baseball cards and china and formal evening gowns and hair bows. Its claim to fame is being the largest and oldest flea market in the Delaware Valley. Apparently, it has some staying power.
I think that this is the place where I developed such a strong aversion to shopping. I really hated Columbus. Following your mom around while she shopped for junk for four or five hours will do that to you. Being ten years old and trying on matching, smocked dresses with my little sisters in a sex offender’s van will definitely do that to you. And how many hair bows do I really need?
We pulled into France on the morning of Day Two of our cruise. When I woke up, I wondered if France was mad at our cruise ship because there were a bunch of grey battleships right off of our balcony. We took a water taxi to shore and then walked around the tiny village of Toulon. Kid A bought some French shoes. We went into a beautiful church, which – odds are – was called Notre Dame. We tooled around cobblestone streets to do some window shopping, and practiced what few, lame French phrases we could recall (Combien?). Then we came around the corner and saw something that I found truly shocking.
They had a French Columbus right there in the middle of the street in Toulon. They had crappy clothes and cheap fabric and vegetables and sun meat (meat out in cases, not refrigerated as far we could tell, and sitting in direct sunlight). The sun meat stores also displayed for sale some tripe that looked like dirty rags. Tripe comes from the stomachs of various farm animals. We thought they were the skin off of lamb faces, complete with the eye and mouth holes, so I guess cow and pig stomach isn’t actually so bad in comparison.
Where was the incomparable French shopping? The fancy clothes? The lacy lingerie? I was a little disappointed that Toulon had such crap for sale because I believed that the French were above the low-end nonsense, but I guess that everybody has to make their living somehow. And this was the small port of Toulon, not Paris. At least there were some really cute storefront shops along the road as well. I tried to ignore the creepy vendors and focus on the good stuff. Vive le capitalism!
We walked all the way down to the end of the market and soon made our way back to the pier. As we rode the water taxi back to the boat, the salt water flew up and splashed me in the face. I watched the French mountains fade away into the background. And it struck me – despite the icky flea market – how incredible it was that I had just spent the morning in France.
Wish me luck for tomorrow…