Here is a sweet memory from my childhood. We lived in suburban Atlanta, and in those days we still had the milk man and the ice cream truck. But we also had Mr. White, the Flower Man. Mr. White was a farmer (ancient, and toothless) who drove a battered and abused green pickup truck with plywood sides on the back. The back was brimming with buckets of cut flowers: blue bachelor buttons, bright daffodils, snow-white snap dragons and neon marigolds. No need for him to sound his horn, you could hear the truck sputtering and coughing as it came down the street. The wives and mothers all hurried out to gather bouquets for their tables, with the kids crowded around to help pick the prettiest ones.
We were surprised early on to see, in the small town of Cluny that is ten minutes from us, a tiny appliance store. They seemed to have one, and only one, of everything: a stove, a fridge, an iron. We were puzzled—-after all, the big box stores with a multitude of chocies are 20 minutes away in Macon. Now we understand that certain French in the countryside, some of the farmers and older folks, ils ne bougent pas: they just don’t venture that far. The town of Cluny aims to serve their every need.
And so we have a bread truck that arrives twice a week in our little village; we hear the familiar honk, and the older residents line up for their baguettes and croissants. Our Chatêline, Nicole, says there used to be a boucherie truck as well, and Ali says there was once an épicerie truck that came to her village, sort of a 7-Eleven on wheels. But we were surprised to see a van in the village this week when we were out for une promenade that said “Magasin Bleu: S’habille comme TU veux” (The Blue Store: Dress the way YOU want). The back was open and packed with clothes, underwear, t-shirts. There was even a make-shift dressing room in the truck. Two ladies were there, busy organizing.
“Ron,” I said, “I think that’s a traveling clothes truck!” And so it was, as we learned from chatting up the ladies. “We are here,” they told us, because some of the French women in the countryside don’t drive. We have everything in all sizes: clothes, bras, underwear, clothes for men and for kids.”
“Do you simply knock on doors?” I asked, curious.
“Yes, but we have a list of interested women in each village. The truck has been coming since 1943.”
I saw them later making their rounds, but they didn’t seem to be having much luck. It is, I fear, a dying business model. But in these days of Amazon and Wal-Mart, one can only cheer them on. It’s one last gasp for personal, door-to-door service.
In the COMMENTS: Wow, interesting comments on French toast! First of all, though the French friends I questioned here don't make it a skillet, apparently they do in other regions--like in northern Burgundy, where Nadedge comes from (it's still true, though, that French toast did not originate in France!). Mary James, (of Mary James en Provence) I tried it your way, by sprinkling sugar in the skillet to caramelize it---delicious (had it for lunch today, pourquoi pas?). Also loved your idea of a main dish pain perdu with rye bread, prunes, and bacon. Natalia's belle mère served French toast as a savory side dish with meats, for dinner, good idea. Carol in NY serves it with maple syrup, like pancakes. And Ido, everything DOES seem sexier when you add "French" to it--think of French vanilla ice cream.
Favorite Reads: I just discovered that one of our readers, Jo Maeder, has a fun novel out called Opposites Attack: A Novel with Recipes Provencal "As frothy and sweet as a lucious chocolate mousse", says one review. Sounds like the perfect summer read!