During almost any morning of the week, excluding Monday, there is a market somewhere in Toulouse. Whether its the enclosed market at Carmes, with its astonishing view if you climb to the roof of the parking garage above the market, or Victor Hugo, which I've been told has exceptional cheese vendors, or the open-air markets at St. Aubin or the Boulevard, Toulouse is teeming with commerce.
This last Sunday, September 6th, I went to the market at St. Aubin and now I understand why my host mother calls things "un bazaar" when they're disorganized. It was a giant, crowded, gleeful mess. I saw roast chicken and rabbit, pizza, confit du canard, paperback novels, ceramic dishware, toiletries, handbags and very fauvist artwork of a woman with a daisy growing out of her breasts. Slightly odd, but anyway.
My friend Christina and I bought a pizza, basil, goat cheese, and tomatoes to make dinner that night. I couldn't resist a carton of organic strawberries-- smaller than my thumbnail but incredibly sweet--- and Christina bought a bag to use when she's shopping. The Casino (no, Mom, I am not gambling) charges a few centimes for a plastic bag, so we prefer to bring our own.
After lugging our loot home (or consuming it within minutes after purchasing, in case of the strawberries), I went off to the Musee St. Raymond, right next to the Church of St. Sernin, to see some of the Roman relics discovered in Toulouse, including the Gallery of Emperors, France's most complete collection of busts of the Roman emperors and their families (below).
When I arrived there, I emerged into another mess. Apparently, there is a marché à la brocante (a second-hand goods market, specifically not selling food) every Saturday and Sunday morning around St. Sernin, which they were just breaking down. There were vans, trash and people packing up unsold merchandise everywhere, as well as a few scattered sanitation workers trying valiantly to cope with the mess. There weren't doing so well, but I had to dodge a oncoming street-cleaning van to get into the museum.
It was cool and quiet when I went up to the top floor to look at the artifacts. Every once in a while, I would look at the window at Place St. Sernin below, watching the sanitation workers and the market people scurry like frantic ants below me. It seemed like such a disparity. Cool marble and quiet inside, heat and frenzied activity outside.
But, now that I think about it, maybe it wasn't. The Romans had a forum in every city, a large open space where people gathered to socialize and do business. Maybe that was something like the brocante market being cleaned up below me, or the market I had gone to that morning. Maybe the rings I was looking at in the sterile glass case and been someone's great find on a Saturday morning. Maybe the toy sword had cost some Roman boy his pocket change.
I don't know. But I like to think so.