Eymet (pronounced “eh-may”) is a quiet little bastide* village in the Dorgogne region of France. Warm limestone buildings, dating back to the 13th century when the bastides were built, surround the town square, and line the narrow lanes leading away from it.
I arrived on a Saturday and was becoming accustomed to the tranquility of life in Eymet. Sure, there’s the odd morning where there’s a man in the fountain, but even that was solved peacefully when his wife, in hushed tones, coaxed him out.
Morning café au lait and croissants are served outside the boulangerie and cats loiter idly in doorways.
Imagine my surprise when, early Thursday morning, I was awakened by the sounds of engines revving, tires bumping over the cobblestone streets, people shouting, dogs barking…the market had come to town. Eymet was transformed.
The square had the atmosphere of a carnival, filled with people and produce and merchandise spilling out from under colorful tents. An array of flowers transformed the corner by the wine shop. A long white trailer was parked along one side and opened its sides to reveal racks of lamp, shoulders of pork, duck breasts and guinea fowl.
Baskets of sausages (who knew there were so many different flavors?), boxes of onions and garlic, wheels of cheese (the local sheep’s milk cheese was delicious), and bags full of fragrant spices were enticingly displayed.
I had to drag myself away from the immense array of baskets laid out in the square. (Not easy to fit a basket into a suitcase…although I did manage to squeeze in a striped rattan bag with leather handles.)
Stores that I hadn’t even noticed before opened their doors to the crowds. I’d wondered about the mysterious antique shop across the street from where I was staying, because it was always, frustratingly, closed. Suddenly the door was wide open on Thursday morning, with its contents spreading out onto the sidewalk, and a friendly proprietor named Bernard greeting customers with a wide grin. Jackpot!
At around noon, the crowds started to make their way home. While I was still making the rounds to see everything on offer, the vendors were packing up their goods, and methodically taking down their tents. It seemed like a huge undertaking, but it was done quickly and efficiently. Stores closed their doors, as proprietors went home for lunch. One by one, cars and trucks and vans rolled out of town.
By one o’clock, everyone was gone, Eymet was restored to its “quiet bastide village” status, and the exuberance of the market was just a memory…until next Thursday.
*Bastides are fortified towns in southwest France that were built in the middle ages to establish secure “urban” communities in the countryside.