27 September 2008

French Market in Waterford

Waterford, Ireland's oldest city and my home now for nearly two decades, is twinned with the town of Saint-Herblain, the largest suburb of the city of Nantes in France.

Usually one does not see a lot of evidence of this relationship, except that there is a housing estate in Waterford named St. Herblain Park. But once a year the twinning brings a traditional French street market to Waterford, occupying the Jenkins Lane area close to the western end of the old city wall.

This weekend - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - the market is here again, and of course I went for a strole and a good look today. Even though the availability of foreign - including French - food in the Republic of Ireland has much increased during the past ten years, there are still certain kinds of food and special delicacies one cannot find in Irish shops.

The annual French Market brings those rare treats to the city, and many local people go there and take the opportunity to buy good French wines and cheeses, nice home-made biscuits and sweets, meats and sausages of high quality and many other continental delicacies. Or they might try one of the enticing crepes that are made there fresh to order.

I had a good look around this afternoon, and once again encountered a number of the traditional stalls with food we don't see here normally. This is always a great experience.

However, I have to admit that I am a little disappointed. There are a lot less traditional French stalls here this year, and I wonder why. The gaps have been filled with plenty of market traders from all parts of Ireland, who of course do not offer French food and delicacies. There are instead plenty of stalls selling clothes, fashion items, jewellery, children's toys and all sorts of nick-nack.
As much as there is certainly a time and place for such as well, it changes the character of the market, which is no longer what it once was - a traditional French food market.

What surprised me most was to see not one, but two so-called 'bouncy castles' at the western end of the market. These strange contraptions of inflated plastic are one of the many bad things we have adopted from the USA. In my opinion they have no place on a traditional street market, and parents who bring their small children should well be able to look after them and show them the lovely things the market offers, instead of parking them at the 'castles' where they hop up and down in a rather senseless way. It is also worth mentioning that these 'bouncy castles' need a permanent supply of compressed air, provided by a generator that uses up energy and creates noise and pollution.

So I went home today slightly disappointed, and with a lot less goods than I had bought there in previous years. Sad really, that a good idea has been altered in this way, and I hope that next year the traditional French market stalls will be back with all their rare and delicious treats.

However, there was one unexpected positive encounter, which compensated me for the missing French stalls and really made my day. Among the many market traders I found a stall from a traditional German bakery, offering breads, bread rolls and numerous cakes and pastries I have never seen offered in Ireland before.

Having lived in Germany for quite some time, I am familiar with these delicious bakery products and seeing them suddenly right in front of me here in Ireland almost transported me back in time and space to the many traditional bakeries one can find all over Germany. For reasons I do not know there are very few such bakeries in Ireland, and most Irish people eat fluffy soft white 'bread' that I would not call by that name. It is produced in large factories, sold in all shops and supermarkets, and it is totally tasteless as well as unhealthy.

What a difference between two countries and cultures! But today I saw this German bakery stall and bought traditional bread and pastries I have not eaten for nearly twenty years. So despite a lack of French delicacies I anticipated to buy, I went home with a bag full of lovely German bread and pastries. That made me very happy, and as I write this, there is a pot of tea to my right and a nice round German pastry with plums, crumble and icing sugar to my left. What more does one need to have a good weekend...

The Emerald Islander

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