Chelsea Murray's wonderful new friend at the market in Ceret, France.
Story and Photographs by Chelsea Murray
(Editors note - For the next several months Chelsea Murray is working her way across Europe on a network of organic farms. Chelsea and her boyfriend Michael Kaneb spent two weeks harvesting potatoes in Bavaria, in southern Germany, and are now harvesting olives for a month on a farm in the south of France. They hope to continue on through Spain, Portugal, Italy, Albania and Greece. Chelsea has been writing columns for the Observer (which is owned by her father) since she was 11 years old. She will continue to report her adventures as time and internet access allows.)
After helping my farm host set up her stand at the market in Ceret, France (the city where Picasso, Dali and other artists had flocked to for inspiration), she informed me that I was a free woman and could wander around for a few hours to take in the sights, smells, and culture of a French market. My first moments alone were spent breaking from my vegan diet again (it's the lifestyle at the farm I'm working at), and sampling hoards of cheeses, meats, delicious baguettes and perusing through people’s wares.
I quickly stumbled upon an extremely friendly Nepalese man who was running a brightly colored clothing stand. I had met him through my host, and he invited me to try on clothes and gave me a pair of pants and a dress since we are now “friends”. I felt slightly awkward taking them, but he insisted. He asked if they made me happy and I said yes. He said “what good is it to live in a world if we aren’t happy”.
Who could refuse that?
After this wonderful encounter I beat my way through the market to an outdoor cafe. I took a seat and prepared to pass the time people watching. Moments later, a snazzy dressed, elderly woman pulled up a chair with her two little yappy dogs. She started chattering away at me in French. I quickly interrupted her and informed her that I don’t speak French. She smiled, and asked in broken English if I spoke Spanish. I hesitated, said yes, and before I realized it two hours had whizzed by and we had gotten to know more about one another than many people I have known my whole life.
She had lived for 80 years in Ceret, and comes to this cafe every day and orders the same thing. She loves sitting and watching the world go by. She informed me that she had just recently lost her young daughter and that she was achingly lonely. She said her heart was hurting more than it ever should, but she radiated a warmth and kindness that I seldom encounter.
After two hours I told her that I needed to go help my host pack up her stand. She thanked me for helping her to smile today, but it was my pleasure to step into her world for those few hours and bring a smile to her face. I went inside to pay for my 2 Euro hot chocolate and I handed the garson a 20 Euro bill.
“Do you speak, English?” I asked.
“Yes, a little,” he said.
“Can you make sure that the 18 extra Euros I'm giving you pays for that nice lady’s drink today," I asked, "and for her drinks the next few days that she comes here?”
He smiled and nodded. “Of course,” he said.
I headed back outside to collect my market purchases and help my host pack up her van. I said goodbye to my new friend and she gave me a big hug and kissed both my cheeks. I thanked her for the conversation, and she smiled.
As I walked away I realized how powerful and wonderful those two hours had been. Not only had we communicated with one another in a second language, but connected on a level that reached beyond words. Her name was far too complicated for my paltry French to decipher, but her face will be etched in my mind for years to come.
It was a wonderful day at the markey in Ceret, France. I had been given a pair of free pants from Nepal, gobbled lots of free non-vegan samples of food, and best of all, had made a deep connection with a wonderul older woman who had a massive hole in her heart.