Review: Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

September 14, 2006
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Fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, lingering smells of garden-grown herbs and spices, traveling merchants and farmers hawking their wares—these romanticized images of the local street market have helped it to retain its almost timeless appeal to consumers worldwide. Today, tourists flock to places like Carpentras, a city near Avignon in the south of France, to experience the provincial traditions of its outdoor market.
In Market Day in Provence Michèlle de La Pradelle explores the modern popularity of the market at Carpentras to deliver a revealing critique of the various fictions that have allowed it to survive in the midst of a modern economy. Sarah Howard explains in a recent review for the Times Literary Supplement:

According to de La Pradelle, although patrons understand the reality of the modern market, they are caught up in a theatre of illusions, a vast participatory dramatization or a “kind of method acting for the masses.” … Gritty bunches of leeks and muddy potatoes convince them that products are fresher and more natural. Peasant-like sellers extolling the virtues of “their” pâté embody rural, artisanal images, while regional toponyms, such as “Sisteron” lamb and “Cavaillon” melons, allow patrons to connect with the terroir.

Yet, Howard notes, “the brilliance of Market Day in Provence lies precisely in the fact that however much Michèle de La Pradelle demystifies the object of her study, she remains loyal to its magic. Her evocative descriptions of this colorful theatre of fantasy will delight anyone who has ever wondered why the lettuces look crisper, the tomatoes redder, and the oranges more juicy at the market.”
Read an excerpt from the book.

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