In France #4

I went to Italy to shop for groceries the other day. It?s not quite as daunting as it sounds. Our town is only 30 minutes by train from the Italian border and Ventimiglia is a town with a great marche.

Several years ago I noticed that every time I went into the huge flower market in Nice I always headed to the farmers? section of the big fruit and vegetable area. Always found the best food there.? And where were these farmers from?? Just over the border in Italy.

There is a gigantic market every Friday in Ventimiglia. Hundreds of vendors show up and sell knock offs of Fendi handbags and Prada shoes and anything else you can think of. The last time I went coursing around the mile or so of mainly dreck I decided never again.? The trains are jammed with people seeking bargains.

But I can?t take the crowds. Once I found a gorgeous scarf and wish I?d bought many more because I haven?t found that dame ever again.? I?ve bought other things and rather wish I?d saved my money.

But the food is another matter. Without doubt the Italians eat better than the French and you see it in their markets. There?s a large combination farmer?s market and regular retail vegetable stalls. And it is a complete contrast to the one in Nice.? At the latter it?s all out of doors and very wide and open and very quiet.? In Italy:? it?s in a big old high ceilinged building and very noisy.

There is an exuberance you find in an Italian marche you?ll find nowhere else.? It?s the discussions maybe, or the woman singing out her wares.? Artichokes are in season. Gorgeous little violettes with prickly points but delightful hearts.?

But the item you come here for specially are the lemons, they are famous for their flavour and I use them in just about everything I cook over here. Nothing, not Meyer lemons or even organically grown lemons in North America, can compare with a lemon from around Menton or Ventimiglia.

That?s what makes it hard trying replicate the food I make here (and I?m a pretty good cook) back home. Everything has a better, richer, deeper flavour.? Blette sauvage is wild Swiss chard, I could eat it cooked in a little lemon and garlic with a hint of olive oil every day.? And wild arugula has no comparison with the stuff we get in our supermarkets.

I usually travel the aisles so often people start waving at me, but I?m? just letting the old alpha waves float over me before even beginning to make up my mind what I want. I?ve got an old bundle buggy which I have to be able to lift on and off the train so try to be a little careful.

But I can?t resist the wonderful old ladies with little piles of stuff they get from their own back yards. One sells me lemons like little hockey pucks and what I can squeeze out of them is unbelievable it?s so tart.? Another piles on the lemons and adds more. By the time I?m finished I?ve got fresh baby artichokes, dried tomatoes (with extraordinary flavour), olive oil from the region (fruity and heavy), carrots, tiny potatoes, and freshly made ravioli stuffed with artichokes.? And green this and that.

I buy a bottle of vodka (a big bottle for 10E) for my husband and bottle of? red for me and stagger back to the train.

The ride is swift taking in all the capes along the coast jutting into the sea.? It?s not exactly like nipping downtown at home but it takes about the same amount of time.

I love grocery shopping in Europe. I normally don?t buy very much, just what we need each day, but this is special. And do we eat well. And I have enough lemons for another week.