The magical French Market
It always arrives unexpectedly.
I remember the first year. I awoke to a heavy fog – so heavy you couldn’t see 20 feet ahead of you. I headed up along the river under the castle on my way to work early in the morning when suddenly the mists around me parted and I was passing by makeshift stalls, colourfully dressed people brushing past me chattering away to each other in a foreign tongue. The odours of spices, pastries and leather cut through the crisp morning air.
It was magical – where was I? Had a stumbled onto some ancient travel stone and journeyed far from Athlone? No, I had simply walked unknowingly into the travelling French Market.
The market travels europe, a loose caravan of merchants that passes through Athlone once, possibly twice a year. They set their stalls up in the elbow below Athlone castle; a festive alleyway blooms into life between the castle walls and the River Shannon. Their presence drags the town back centuries into a medieval market. Cured sausages, spices, handmade soaps, clothing, wooden hand-made toys, chocolates and, of course, the Crepe vendor; this is the magical French Market. Though not a particularly large market, I always end up taking a circuitous route through it, revisiting stalls I’ve already seen and criss-crossing my path over again, hoping not to find myself at one end or the other, but perpetually lost in the clamour of goods and strangeness.
I was having a jar the other day with friends in the know a week or two ago. We were discussing the market then and no one seemed to know when their next visit was due. As if summoned, here they are just a week later, as if blown in last night by the first storm of the winter.