Chapter 3: Life in France Part One

On the Road with Sally: Saint Jean du Gard

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photoSally’s first road trip was to the Tuesday market in Saint Jean du Gard. The town’s history dates back to the twelfth century when monks from the Abbey of St-Gilles created the settlement on the banks of the Gardon River. With its religious beginnings, Saint Jean du Gard and the surrounding area — the Cévennes — became known as a stronghold for French Protestants (Hugenots).

The citizens, mostly white-shirted Calvinist peasants (Camisards), famously banded together to fight royal control throughout years of religious wars. Many fled to America, England and Switzerland from 1685 into the early 1700’s to avoid ongoing persecution. More recent history of Saint Jean du Gard includes the town’s mention in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

San Jean du Gard

Market day in Saint Jean du Gard

Because market days seem to be the focus of my explorations in France, I planned the visit to Saint Jean du Gard on a Tuesday.San Jean du Gard When I arrived in the town, I was happily surprised to see familiar sights. I had been here before on my trip a few years ago — the same visit when I discovered Uzes.

It was a rainy, overcast day but that didn’t stop me from wandering around to some of the same places I remember before and exploring for new photo opportunities. First there was a stop at the “indoor” market area to take note of the products indigenous to the area and those in season

Apples, apples  more apples.

Apples everywhere. All varieties and juices galore.Many types of apples are the same as in the States. Only a few I’ve never seen before. In addition to the raw apples, there are several versions of apple juice. Not being a big fan of fruit juices, I didn’t buy any to bring back with me. Nevertheless, it makes a great photo.

San Jean du GardSan Jean du Gard

 

Also in season are chestnuts. While doing a bit of research on Saint Jean du Gard, I learned that chestnut trees were once an important food crop and brought a degree of wealth to the area because of the popular “marron” nuts. San Jean du GardWhen planting mulberry trees to “nourish” the silk worm industry became more profitable than harvesting chestnuts, mulberry trees took over much of the landscape. Fortunately marrons are abundant enough in the markets today for all to continue to enjoy.

Root vegetables and pumpkins

Pomme de terre (potatoes) are found on French dinner tables probably more than any other side dish. So it is no surprise there are bushels and baskets of white and red-skinned potatoes in every market, regardless of the season. Baking potatoes (russet-type) are harder to find in the markets where I’ve ventured. Certainly I haven’t seen Outback Steakhouse giant-sized spuds anywhere.

2013-11-05 09.47.14Squashes and pumpkins are now on display in time for fall menus, including creamed soups. The usual way I prepare squashes —  like splitting a butternut squash in half and baking it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon — is unheard of by those I’ve asked. Instead, the squash is peeled and steamed, then mashed. The one I have at my house is going to end up in a creamy, cold soup.

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One vegetable, pictured in the photo on the right, is a giant radish. According to the vendor, it is eaten raw like its tiny kin. Presumably it’s almost as hot as horseradish. The truth I’ll find out about later.

There are not as many varieties of green, leafy vegetables like collards and kale in these markets. But there are many types of veggies like endive, shallots, fennel, and leeks. Eggplant (aubergine) is very popular and prepared in many ways. Mesclun, spinach and other salad greens are in the market throughout the year. Having lived most of my life in the southern states of the US, there are not many vegetables here that I don’t recognize. Some I’m trying for the first time — fennel for example. Yum!

People watching

San Jean du GardSneaking photos of interesting people is another reason I love market days. Saint Jean du Gard has its own special flavor for my spectator sport.

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 Let me share a few shots that were taken on this visit, including one of my friend Andy who came along for the ride.

San Jean du Gard

Village views

Now, for some of the best views along the journey. Perhaps this will give you a feel for the town of Saint Jean du Gard. Even on a less than beautiful day, it’s a special place to see.

San Jean du Gard

San Jean du Gard

San Jean du Gard

San Jean du GardSan Jean du Gard

San Jean du Gard

The Cévennes

Along with the quaint village streets and scenes, tourists head to Saint Jean du Gard for the steam train ride through the mountainous areas of the Cevennes. The 45-minute roundtrip to Anduze is on my to-do list for on a sunnier day.

Hikers and outdoors travelers head for this part of the Cévennes and the Cévennes National Park in the summertime in droves.The beauty of the hills and river, speckled with small farms and villages, also attract photographers and artists.

Did I mention? … there are pottery shops and wine domains all along the way.

Cevennes

Cevennes

For more about Sally, read the earlier post “A nice friendship”

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