Among the plethora of regional “only in New Orleans” who dats, where yats, and duck fats, what makes one feel more like a local than the timeless event of gathering foodstuffs we commonly call “makin’ groceries”? I put the origin to my French-immersed 11-year-old, and she walked away perplexed, but more like, “duh.” In French “to buy” translates as acheter (ash-atay), but we are talking academic-France French here, right? So you don’t simply buy your food, you of course “do the market” or faire la marche’. Ergo “to do” and parallel that in “to make” and, voila, one makes one’s groceries. One tween eye roll later, I knew I was on to something.
Understandably most of the rest of the world have no idea what we’re talking about. Beyond that, most of the rest of the world also have legal restrictions on what one may purchase while making said groceries. For example, say you find yourself at Whole Foods in Philadelphia, and you’re feeling peckish for some beer: stop right there, fish out of water! This isn’t Arabella Station! Beer must be bought elsewhere. Same in Texas, but only sometimes and in some counties. I recall a midmorning Sunday visit to a Fiesta in Austin some years ago, when the checker set my Shiner aside noting the clock had to strike noon before I might procure my weekly allotment. Seriously. They call them blue laws. I call them hoops.
As a child I would often accompany my grandfather on his walk to the grocery. We could’ve driven, but it was only a couple of blocks so we loped along the broken sidewalks beneath the shady oaks, something Lakeview has in short supply these days. And some times we’d hit Meme’s on Canal Blvd but most of the time it was the Canal Villere on Robert E. Lee. It was here he knew many of the checkers and they him, that whole neighborhood thing. The event seemed quite ordinary at the time, if a little mundane. Playing supermarket bingo or scratchoffs or whatever promo might be going on. Who cares? For the birds, I thought, but how I miss it – and him — now.
Frankly, we don’t know how good we have it here. One-stop shopping, no matter what’s on the list or the time of day. Recently I made my way to the Rouses on Tchoupitoulas midmorning on a weekday to find what I always do: a well-stocked and well-staffed local establishment where I may, unimpeded, make my groceries. Curiously Steely Dan’s “Peg” played in the aisles. As the song spun on, one of the stockers finished the second verse aloud with a definitive, “You know I’ll love you better,” and it just caught me. Exactly. The sentiment coupled with how it was expressed in the setting all came together. When we prepare the food we love to eat, loving the journey of visiting the market makes it complete — and better.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.