Jean-Luc

Age: 69

Où et comment//Where and how: Lyon

Every morning, Mondays being the exception, the rauckus of the Croix Rousse market stirs the village-on-a-hill-in-a-city. It’s not the cries of uneurouneurolabananemaprincesse like the markets in the north of Paris, heady with smells of mint tea and lined with lettuce leaves and fruit stems. Here at la Croix Rousse it’s docile, almost tranquil, in its smallness, in its just-woke-up-now-have-a-petit-café friendliness.

Unlike Paris, the producteurs, or the farmers, in Lyon do not boast of their local-ism, their smallness, their proximity to the earth. Propped against cabbages, their signs are often pasted on small cardboard posters stenciled with black marker — “Madame T., producteur, fruits et légumes, RHONE-SUR-SAONE.” Mrs. T, farmer, fruits and vegetables.

Their hands, gnarled and dusted with dirt, move magically over the stand, grasp and feel for ripeness, firmness, freshness, taste.

“When will you be eating this?”

“What are you making?”

Un grand ou un petit?”

Their questions come with smiles, small jests about the weather or the time or Lyon or the day. Their faces are worn and wrinkled but full, expressive, welcoming.

At the corner of the market, at the crossing of one tucked-away rue and one grand boulevard, is the egg-seller, Jean-Luc. He wears a cowboy hat, bowed in the front and bowed in the back. It’s easy to imagine him trotting through the prairies on a steed equally proud, equally stoic. Like the cowboys out west, his skin is leathered by the sun. His wrinkles are tattooed into his face, entrenched. It’s easy to tell where his smiles begin and where they end — they wrap around the corners of his eyes, the outskirts of his mouth.

Over the top of his wire-rim glasses, he peers down.

Bonjour mademoiselle. What can I get for you today? Some cheese? Some eggs? A mix of both?”

Looking over his table, I point quickly to the eggs, but my eyes rest longingly on the cheese. Molded over in layers of blue, green, and black, the small disks of cheese are much more tantalizing.

“How good would that taste melted over a fresh baguette…” I think to myself.

I glance in my purse and find I only have enough money for the essentials — the eggs.

I sigh, pause, still point to the eggs, and in that moment of hesitation, the cowboy-clad eggseller reaches down, pokes at a cheese, wraps it in a small paper cloth, and hands me a basket of eggs topped with a small round disk of the moldiest, stinkiest cheese he could find.

I try to find the right words to say thank you, to show or express that really, I am grateful, but he beats me to it with a “Bonne journée au revoir.”

I return his smile, his goodbyes and turn back into the crowd. But just before I rejoin the other scarf-clad humans searching for their fruits and legumes and breads and cheeses, I notice a sign next to the piles of cheese and stacks of eggs: “Jean-Luc, producteur, fromage cru et oeufs frais.”

Jean-Luc, farmer. Raw-milk cheese and fresh eggs.

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