Il y a des fleurs partout... (There are flowers everywhere...)
Once upon a time--and because this is Paris, we're talking the 10th century--the central market of Paris was established smack in the middle of the city, a market called Les Halles. This market would transform oodles of times over the centuries. Early on, the trade centered around dry goods, but food stalls began to spring up in the 1500s and gained vital economic influence. As the area grew increasingly cramped, it was completely torn down and rebuilt in the 1850s. The chaotic atmosphere of the old Les Halles is well chronicled by artists of the time, including Emile Zola in his novel, Le Ventre de Paris (the Belly of Paris) and in this painting that I saw just last Saturday at the Petit Palais.
Les Halles - Leon Lhermitte, 1895
As much as a shame as it might have been, given that frenzied scene, it's no wonder that the powers-that-were eventually decided that the bustling market was much too crazy, not to mention dirty, to have in the middle of the city. Les Halles was therefore dismantled in 1971 and the food traders moved to a southern suburb of Paris to create the Marche International de Rungis, today the largest wholesale food market in the world, covering almost 575 acres and employing roughly 13,000 workers. In addition to the meat and poultry and fish and produce, there are flowers and plants--beaucoup! Since the market is not open to the general public, I tagged along early yesterday morning with the lovely florist, Stefania, as she shopped for the artisan florist Meme dans les Orties in Montmartre.
"Early" is relative, of course. Stefania picked me up in her bright red work van (with duct tape where a window used to be) at 6:45 am and we arrived at the market a bit after 7:00 am, but that was already the end of the day for the food markets. Buyers swarm those markets at 2:00 or 3:00 am, and even for the flowers, the most serious buyers show up hours before we got there. I hadn't yet had coffee (the Cafe L'Industrie on the corner where I met Stefania seemed too intimidating to go into--packed with uniformed city workers in that pre-dawn hour), but as we stepped foot into the market, the smell of the thousands and thousands of flowers and plants wafted over me and woke me up--in the nicest possible way. Not incidentally, it was also quite cold in the market, and so there was some shivering going as well.
And now I'm going to stop "talking," because other than being there yourself, the best way to experience the marche is through pictures (some narration included in the captions)...
The place is massive and the trucks need to know where to pull up!
Inside the fresh cut flowers portion of the market
Stefania assessing the flowers
Don't ask...I have no idea what these are!
What a snore!
This guy snuck up behind me and scared the heck out of me!
Moving on to plants...
Strangest succulent ever...the tips feel like velvet!
And the award for most romantic succulent goes to...
This is the actual color of this orchid!
At 500 euros wholesale and the retail markup of 300%, this tree will cost you 1,500 euros!
Let's go get some coffee...
...at the aptly named "Watering Can"
Made it through the traffic and back to the flower shop...
...where Stefania taught me how to "make" a bouquet--not as easy as you might think!
Phew--those were a lot of flowers! The day was over-stimulating to the eyes, that's for sure, and there's nothing like the scent of those French roses. As when I took the perfume workshop, what's most interesting about these types of experiences is the appreciation you come away with for not only the artistry, but also the hard work that goes into these finer things in life--and a real understanding of why they can be so expensive.
Lastly, if you really want to binge, there are many, many more photos on the Gallery page...