Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The most annoying customers in the world....ever

The attention to detail in a Provencal market is remarkable. First thing in the morning the traders meticulously arrange their produce, the olive vendor creates perfect conical towers with the care of a sculptor and the clothes lady fans out pleats and dresses dummies according to the weather. By the time the customers arrive the market has such an air of permanence it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s been put together in less than an hour.

But hidden by the colourful Provencal tableware and the tables sagging with tapenade are old boards and rickety legs. Just occasionally over the year the mistral has lifted the skirt of the market, sending a parasol cart wheeling into the air, and leaving the unfortunate trader clinging to the attached rope like a small child chasing an oversized kite.

This week our luck broke.

There were probably 100 hundred bottles of wine on the stall arranged in a rainbow of pinks when it happened. It was midday and my thoughts were already turning to lunch. An English family stood opposite us, grappling with two conflicting desires - to taste some ice cold rosé and not to embarrass themselves by speaking French.

“Un degustation?” I offered, engendering a look of mild panic on their faces and a couple of involuntary steps backwards.

“Would you like to taste?” I cajoled them back to their English comfort zone.

Circling the table I grabbed a bottle from the ice bucket catching the leg of the stand with my foot. Everything then began a slow slide. My foot was trapped supporting the weight of the wine and every time I shifted my balance to try and arrest the vinous avalanche, the angle of the table became steeper. Tanya lunged and missed as the first bottle hit the ground. The ice bucket tipped over and a deluge of water swept our stock to the ground in a series of large cracks.

There’s nothing like misfortune to attract a crowd, and quiet soon we had a throng of shoppers and market traders commentating on our efforts to clear up as if they were watching a sporting event.

Our English family went further. While I was shredding a finger on a jagged shard and adding my own blood to the pink stream running out of the market, they accosted Tanya.

“We wanted to taste some wine,” they said erasing the recent unfortunate events with the ease of a pair goldfish.

Tanya searched through the wreckage for some bottles and poured

“That’s alright, but what about a paler one,” they twittered

On my hands and knees I passed Tanya another wine.

“Too dry,” they chimed

I grazed my arm as I searched for another.

“Hm I like this one,” said the wife.

“But they should serve it colder,” her husband chided, as if it was somehow our fault that our entire stock of chilled wine had just shattered.

“Yes we might have bought some if it had been cold,” the woman nodded in patronising support.

The two of them waddled off, Daily Mail clasped under one arm, and their moral rectitude under the other. What was the world coming to when they couldn’t get cold wine? If things went on like this they’d have to speak French in France.