Marchés au Gras

Volunteer butcher at Marchés au Gras de Gimont

So no lying burrowed under the covers in bed this morning — we were to be in the car by 8 to make the drive to the Marchés au Gras de Gimont.

The indigo blue night was still upon the farm when my alarm woke me. My feet hit the wooden floor none too eagerly, but a cup of coffee and a bowl of Greek yogurt revived me sufficiently to step outside for the sunrise. The bright moon still hung over the ruins out back while the rising sun tinged the eastern sky pink behind the chicken coop.

It only took three or four times of one of us running back into the house (ok, mostly me, but once it was Kate for her real shoes) and we were on our way at quarter past 8, buzzing in her little Renault through the frosty morning towards Agen. Bacon ensconced in the boot of the hatchback, watched the road winding away behind us.

We met Sandra and Paul at their hotel then drove into the sun towards Gimont. Once off the autoway we wound through rolling hills and farmland, many fields surprisingly green with winter wheat. Others glowed golden with recently furrowed soil. We needed to arrive at the market before the 10 a.m. whistle from the inspector with the veterinarian service who inspects all the duck and geese vendors’ goods before giving them the approval to sell.

We made it in time to join the crowd outside the doors, then like a group of brides tumbling into a Filene’s wedding dress sale, we plunged into the frigid indoor market and into a sea of dead ducks.

Duck from the Marches au Gras. photo by Erika Hildegard Johnson

Kate had told us about the frenetic pace but until we swirled abut in the midst of it it was hard to imagine. Everyone here was on a single mission. Duck. (and geese.) Rows and rows of white table bearing the draped ducks competed for the customers’ attention. Though bright sun poured in through high windows, the exchanges between buyers and sellers came out in bursts of white breath in the air.

The mad dash for the ducks was nothing compared to the measured intensity of the volunteer butchers. These white-clad men, some of them sporting chain mail on their fingers, hacked and cleaved the ducks with speed and skill that made my attempts yesterday seem nothing short of sadly ridiculous. Lines ten deep waited to hand over one duck or two dozen (or more), for which they tipped the men a few coins or couple euros to butcher.

Kate bought two ducks from among the thousand plus for sale and we were out of the market before 10:30, and shortly before my toes would’ve turned to ice.

Young salesman

Our pace slowed as we climbed a hill of this stone village to see the covered market, where Kate picked up some croissants and pain au chocolat and I bought some honey with sunflower oil from a sweetheart of a young shopkeeper maybe eight years old.

With  Bacon on his leash, we stepped into a bar for chocolat chaud to thaw out. I do love sauntering into a restaurant in the company of an enormous dog.

I haven’t even covered up till lunch yet but it’s been a long day and I’m already in bed.  I knew that was dangerous with the whirring ceiling fan and clicking radiator  and the sounds of the 300 year old farmhouse settling in for a cold winter night but I have to give in. More tomorrow, and for now, some photos.

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