Last Thursday I popped into my fruit and vegetable shop in our quartier, at the bottom of Rue Verte. The shop is always a delight and loaded to the gunwhales with delicious fruits of every variety, extraordinary vegetables, fresh potted herbs, candied fruit, bottles of wine and fruit juice. A long counter displays a good variety of delicious ripe cheeses and a few handy epicerie products are tucked away handily in one corner. It really is possible to make a fabulous Salade Niçoise without visiting another shop for the ingredients.
It isn’t possible to visit the shop without ending up in a queue. But the queue is a window to french life. The women who run the shop are popular and efficient and know many of their customers by their christian names. Stories are swapped, with the entire crowd of customers often contributing to the topic of conversation of the day!
We have demonstrated on the shop floor to the women that a Bay-Blade stadium is not a dog bowl, but a boys toy, we have paid hundreds in order to savour the delicious vine cherry-tomatoes, we have laughed ourselves to tears over my appalling pronunciation, and discussed methods for cooking humble vegetables with absorbed interest.
Imagine the shock of the neighbourhood and myself on Thursday morning on noticing stacks of empty baskets in the window. At first everyone assumed a general spring clean was taking place. It was early January and the Christmas rush had just finished. Gradually it filtered through the the waiting customers that the Patron, or owner of the shop had disappeared. The closure of the shop was sudden and ‘definitive’. Customers lingered in the shop quietly listening to the two women who had overnight lost their livelihood. The dismay was tangible. The quartier is in mourning and the loss of the shop will be sorely felt, not only by the individual customers, but also by the large Hotel Dieppe on the corner who sourced their supplies there daily and not further afield.
What has become of the Patron, nobody knows. A little seed of hope lingers that the shop still may re-open, but everybody knows deep-down that the credit crunch has taken yet another victim.
May he rest in peace.