Saturday November 5, 2011:
We got wind of an all-organic exposition and fair going on at the Parc Floral located at the Bois de Vincennes (saw it in the PariScope, the weekly guide to all things entertainment, arts and culture going on in Paris; where else would you find this sort of thing?). It is called the “Salon Marjolaine” and it runs from the 5 to the 13th of November. It sounded like fun and the weather promised to be at least workable, so why not take a walk in the park and see what this event was all about?
The Bois de Vincennes to the east, along with the Bois de Boulogne to the west, are a pair sprawling parks that bookend the city of Paris and provide it with its most utilized spaces for outdoor activities. The Bois de Vincennes includes a medieval donjon, a renaissance chateau, a zoo, a floral garden, a grandstand for concerts, a lake with paddleboats and canoes, and acres of lovely tree lined lanes for strolling or pique-nique-ing or playing boules or just sitting on a bench. It also includes a cluster of pavilions that are used for a wide range of exhibitions, events, parties, festivals and conventions. The setting could not be more promising for a celebration of all things green; on emerging from the metro at Chateau de Vincennes, one follows the crowds on a 15 minute walk through the park, along trails signed with information about the biodiversity found in the wilds of Paris, to reach the event. Although the day was grey, fall foliage enlivened the scene.
I am not exactly sure why the event is called the Salon Marjolaine, but the range of organic (or “biologique” in French) products on display and for sale was truly inspiring. From the utilitarian (solar panels; rainwater barrels, garden equipment, green heating units for the home) to the functional (clothing, shoes, baby products, bedding, pillows, kitchen wares and tools) to the educational (books, manuals, guides, teaching supplies, puzzles, toys, posters)to the artistic (recycled-materias sculpture, ceramics, stained glass, artisan baskets, furniture, bird calls), to health and grooming supplies (soaps, acupuncture, essential oils, vitamins, massage), to the frankly difficult to understand what they are for (Horse milk? Royal jelly from honey bees? Giant salt crystal lamps?) to things I don’t really want explained to me any more clearly (something called a “dry toilet”).
The highlight for me was the selection of artisan food products and ready to eat food offerings, all 100% organic. Wine, alcohols, cider, cheese, charcuterie, bread, fish conserves, chocolate, honey, foie gras, coffee, spices; the list goes on and on and included many items that, the fact that organic versions existed was news to me.
Most of the booths selling hot food to eat on the spot hedged toward the vegetarian, like the young couple selling pumpkin soup with curry, gruyere and croutons as well as sweet, dense pumpkin cake, or a booth offering a stir-fry of heirloom root vegetables. But meat eaters found many offerings as well; I especially liked the booth grilling whole baby lambs over glowing coals. In a strange marketing choice, the front of the booth featured numerous photos of the adorable critters frolicking in the pasture with their elders in happier days.
It seemed to me that an overarching sense of good will, festivity and cooperation surrounded the event, lending it the feel of a carnival for former hippies. Just about every eco friendly idea i had every heard of was represented by a both at this event. The crowd was a pleasant mix of young idealists, old people walking arm in arm (many more old people than I expected) and families on an outing with children. The feeling of festival was furthered by the small groups of attendees who actually chose to dress in costume for the event, as if they were on the way to a Sci-Fi convention (the most heavily represented groups were inhabitants of the planet Pandora, followed closely by hobbits). Altogether, a silly and enjoyable celebration of a very serious idea.