Où Est L’Oignon Johnny?


As a kid growing up in Glasgow I can remember when little Frenchmen with striped shirts and a black beret would cycle around the streets selling their onions. Each summer they would suddenly appear, their cycle bedecked with strings of onions, to us kids it was so exotic. How I wish I was into photography then.

It’s 9:15 in the morning, the sky is blue, the temperature is rapidly rising and I’m in Tournon during the annual onion festival. Held every year for more than 700 years on the 29 August and it is reckoned that more than 1000 people will be exhibiting their wares.

Onions, I’m in France, Onion Johnny is going to be here, I just know it, Johnny I’m coming to photograph you.

So here we are, down by the river I find a statue to probably the first Onion Johnny. But a quick bit of research soon proves me wrong and then to make matters worse I find out that the traditional Onion Johnnies come from Brittany and we’re definitely not in Brittany. Good old Marc here was a bit of an entrepreneur and inventor, being the first to develop a wired suspension bridge in continental Europe. In 1829 Seguin designed two steam locomotives that used an innovative multi-tube boiler design. This gave more power to the engines and allowed them to increase speed from about 4 mph to around 25 mph, making rail travel commercially more viable.

Marc Seguin

Did I mention that Tournon has a castle? More on that later with a second post from Tournon, probably about Wednesday.

Tournon Castle

Anyway moving on. Wandering around the market by the riverside it was already starting to get busy, but there certainly wasn’t a 1000 traders in the market space. No! There had to be more elsewhere? Round towels, can’t say I’ve seen them before.

On the Market

Ugh! Nutella. I don’t know what tastes worse, Vegemite or Nutella. The idea behind this stall is you buy the pastries (donuts, maybe) and they get filled with your choice of filling.  But I actually saw someone buying the pastries and then getting them warmed before eating them. So a little bit of research courtesy of Wikipedia and I find that a Beignet is the French term for a pastry made from deep-fried choux pastry and they are meant to be prepared and eaten right there and then.

Nuttella

It’s chocolate time and I’ve never seen this before. You buy the yellow carrier bag for 10 Euros (about USD $12) and then this market man goes around filling it with chocolate. There’s lots of talk and gesticulating and he was just starting to get in his stride when I came along. But just remember this. It was a hot day, later we were told the temperature had reached 40 degrees centigrade. I wonder how the chocolate survived.

Chocolate Heaven

Another one from the market before I set off to have a wander around the town. Apparently all local made.

Shoes For Sale

Getting away from the river I started to wind my way through the narrow streets looking for photo opportunities. Now I know where all those traders are. They’re in the streets of the town and of course so are all the townsfolk and tourists. It’s hot, sticky, there’s a lot of bumping going on and I have already worked out I’m going to be photographing crowd scenes.

People

That is until a find this narrow little street with no one in it. At last a bit of peace and quiet and I can take some photographs without people. Look at this, dark, narrow, winding and surprisingly cool, considering. Look at those pipes coming down the side of the buildings. Perfect.

Light and Shade

And then I found this before heading into the Eglise Notre Dame

Door and Window

The church was so cool and peaceful. It wasn’t my intention to take a photograph but I wanted to linger a while and just chill, excuse the pun. I’d had enough of crowds and the church was almost empty.

Eglise Notre Dame

But I couldn’t stay there all day. I had a hot date with a castle later in the afternoon so it was time to get back to the river, grab some lunch and cool off in my air-conditioned room before venturing forth again.

And there he is. “Onion Johnny”. Surprisingly although it’s the Onion Festival I saw very few onions for sale. But there again I wasn’t exactly going looking for them it was just too hot.

Onion Johnny

That’s it. Later this week I’ll take you on a trip around Tournon Castle.

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20 thoughts on “Où Est L’Oignon Johnny?

    1. Thanks Arv. I drift between extreme HDR and plain and simple get the dynamic range right for churches depending on the mood I’m in. At the moment it’s the extreme HDR and a preset I created especially for churches that I had to photograph for a tourist initiative..

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        1. In the UK I would say yes, but in France no. Many churches whilst they allow photography they don’t let you use a tripod. So I normally set an aperture of f2:8 and just get myself as steady as possible before hitting the shutter button. Having a mirrorless camera helps as well.

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              1. That’s great! Olympus and Fuji are not being marketed in India. Sony is having a clear field out here. They claim to have the best mirror-less technology.

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  1. I know what you mean by crowds. Although it is great to immerse oneself in the local culture and flavour, finding a secluded spot does give one a moment to look around and find treasures as you did. Thanks for the pics. Cheers.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Dan. It’s one of those things. If you go where tourists are likely to be, you’re going to see them, unless you get up really early or stay really late. Nature of the thing and no getting away from it

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  2. Lots going on there. I saw boxes that said “Mars” and the company is quite large here in the states. ( if those were boxes of candy) We have a Mars plant here in my town. The pic of he church with stained glass is so beautiful. And the onion man looks a bit tired and warm. Very interesting with all the vendors and their wares.

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    1. World wide company Yvonne, but a Mars bar in the UK is nothing like one in the USA or Canada. Different chocolate content in each of the three countries. It was really warm that day. Later that afternoon I was talking to the owner of a vineyard above the town and he said it was 44 degrees Celsius on the slopes where they were picking wine. That’s 111 Fahrenheit. French markets generally are very good as are some in the UK.

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  3. Yes, I too, remember Onion Johnny from my childhood, an exotic creature from another land who surprisingly, to us kids, spoke no English. Your photos of the day bring it all to life and I was one of the crowd.

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    1. It’s so strange now how times have changed. We used to look forward to seeing him each year. One visit to our street and that was it until next year, but we kids used to follow him down the street. Once he’d sold his onions that was it he never came back

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  4. My grandpa was from Glasgow and he told us about the Onion sellers on bikes, I didn’t realise then they really were French! I think it’s such a shame that local markets wherever you go these days all seem to have the same things, even though the styles of goods may vary a little. Local food was always something that was more traditional and unique to regions, but even that is becoming more ‘homogenised’ with the intro of such stuff as Nutella! I did spot that you could have had local Apricot conserve on your warm Beignets though – bet that was nice! I’m pleased to see you found some more authenticity in the backstreets, the clean spotlessly-maintained church makes a perfect contrast for the gently decaying buildings around it.

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    1. re the comment on Mars above. About twenty years ago on a trip to Bremen, I saw great silos near the harbour where they made the crumbs for Birdseye fish products, each one making the crumbs for a different country as each country had different tastes. In the UK apparently, they had to make them a bit sweeter with saltier ones demanded by Spain.

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