I reach out to grab what looks like a fugi apple but could also very well be gala or or McIntosh for all I know. Selecting one from underneath the pile, I run my finger vertically from the stem to the base and back up across the waxy surface.
The green skin around the stem slowly fades to a light pink right around the top curve of the fruit. Half-way down, the pink intensifies to a deep radish red only rarely permeated by thin ripples of green. Grabbing the apple by its stem, I prepare to give it one last spin to check for any major blemishes.
“On ne touche pas, Madame!”
I have been in France for about two weeks and, although I feel more comfortable speaking French in public and navigating the streets of Vendôme, I’m still trying to master the art of of the weekly market. I don’t know where the best figs are or which stand has crisper haricot verts. Every week, it’s a challenge for me to gracefully weave between the stands and make my way to the cheesemonger for some fresh camembert while simultaneously avoiding the gaze of the whole fish laid to rest next to their comrades on a bed of ice, staring accusingly at passerby. I still haven’t decided which local honey I want to invest in or whether I should take a chance on the pink garlic from Lautrec, a region in southern France. And, until today, I certainly didn’t know that it was an absolute faux-pas to touch the produce.
I quickly drop the apple back into the crate before my gaze meets that of the farmer whose stern command abruptly interrupts my examination. His white cotton t-shirt is stained with splotches of dark green and speckled with debris from the kale bunches he just transferred out of his truck. Mumbling an apology in the best french accent I can muster at 8am on a Friday morning, I point to the crate, hold up all five fingers, and smile.
He bags the apples and hands them to me. I add the fruit to my shopping bag that, at this point, is weighing heavily on my right shoulder. After shuffling through the rest of the change in my jean pocket, I reach out to pay. He quickly takes the change, the bulging veins in his hands weaving between sunspots that, at this point in autumn, are the only evidence of warmer days long gone.
“Merci, monsieur,” I say, smiling yet again in an effort to absolve me from my market sins. But to no avail – he’s already bagging a head of cabbage and handing it to the woman next to me.
I turn around and prepare for the trek back into the gastronomic maze of stacked apricot preserves, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and crates of large carrots snuggled underneath their thick green tops when I hear his voice echo behind me.
Spinning around, I half-expect to see something I left at the market stand.
“Oui?” I ask, worried now that I am hearing things and that he wasn’t, in fact, trying to get my attention.
“Bienvenue à Vendôme.”
I stare at him without saying anything for a good five seconds, thinking that I must have mis-understood him. Laughing to himself, he repeats “Welcome to Vendôme.”
“Oh! Merci, monsieur,” I say. “Merci beaucoup.”