I hate supermarkets. Although we only go there for the basics and always buy exactly the same stuff, they infuriate me – why are there so many different but identical types of washing powder, where do they hide the coffee filters? Shopping in a supermarket is generally an impersonal and soulless experience and they are always freezing cold, even though here the chiller cabinets now do at least have doors. Anyway I hate them.
But there is a small Intermarché in the centre of Lamastre which caters for the often elderly local residents of modest means who lack transport to get them to the larger Super U (‘Superglue’ to us) on the outskirts of town. It is somewhat funereal in atmosphere and chaotically arranged, with narrow, packed aisles, but it does stock everything. The other day we were on the hunt for a rather unusual item so in we popped, little imagining what a sociable and hilarious time we would have.
We happened upon our friend Nanou, who is elderly and very stylish. This place is not her usual habitat, but she is recovering from a serious bout of ill health and had dropped in to make a few basic purchases. Her medical treatment has left her with very shaky hands and she was puzzling over the shopping list she had made. “Just look at this!” she exclaimed crossly, “I can’t read a word of it”. She held the slip of paper out to us. “What do you make of that?” she asked and I took a look. “Well Nanou, that is either bananas or St Marc (a cleaning product)” I decided. “No I’ve got bananas at home, but that reminds me, I’m looking for fly spray, you know, in the blue can, and I can’t find it anywhere”. Markus helpfully trotted off to look for it – without success. (QED)
On his return he was accosted by a Dutch lady who was staring in perplexity at the frozen vegetable cabinet. “Excuse me” she began, in careful French, “may I ask you a question? I am a vegetarian but I have – she searched for the correct word – guests arriving, so I have bought a rabbit” (as you do) “but I do not know what vegetables I should serve with it”. We turned to Nanou, as the only French person present. “Carrots” she exclaimed immediately and emphatically, “and onions”. Then, warming to her theme and with a Gallic wave of her hand “and a pinch of herbes de provence, un peu de vin blanc . . . the carrots to be sliced en lamelles.” The Dutch lady was very grateful and said she had both carrots and onions at home, but I feel we had lost her and I suspect that she roasted the rabbit and boiled the carrots. No matter, it was a pleasant multicultural exchange.
More was to come. We caught up again with Nanou in the check-out queue, still flummoxed by the last item on her list. “Well I think it looks like caviar” said Markus mischievously. “Oh no”, she exclaimed, “I detest caviar, a friend brought me some once and I thought it was horrible”. “Well you know, I don’t like ceps”, I ventured incautiously. Nanou was outraged. “That’s just not possible, it must be because you don’t know how to prepare them properly. You know that greenish spongy part, you have to cut that off.” “It’s a question of personal taste I suppose”, I replied, “for example, I don’t like the Mona Lisa”. “The what?” she exclaimed with irrefutable French logic “the Mona Lisa! you can’t eat the Mona Lisa! Now you should come round to my place, Philippe from the pharmacy has just brought me 15 kg of ceps, it’s a good year, and I will show you how to cook them”.
Meanwhile Markus, who had not found what we had come in for, enquired of the caissière whether they stocked “those little pouring devices, you know the glass bubbles for measuring out Pastis” (I should explain here that we have not opened a bar, this is part of a long running joke with our friend Kiki). “Oh you mean les couilles”, she exclaimed loudly, immediately attracting the interested attention of the entire queue – this is particularly frank term for part of the male anatomy. “Hush!”, cried Markus in a flash, “not in front of the children!” but the damage had been done. The entire shop was by now convulsed in giggles, and to spare your blushes I will not translate some of the more saucy remarks that followed.
We helped Nanou pack her shopping and walked with her to her car. It was lovely to see her looking so much better and full of her usual sense of fun. Plus we had helped out a Dutch lady with a culinary quandary and enlarged our French vocabulary. A great morning!
And no, the supermarket did not stock them!