What do you do with a guy like Peter Mayle, a man who has not only gotten away with living a fantasy life (the most demanding aspect of which is lolling around the French countryside eating delicacies and drinking fine wine), but has managed to become nauseatingly wealthy doing same?

Not that I would hold any of that against him, or point out--in a fit of envy--the slight boo-boo in his latest book, "Encore Provence" (what's next, "Encore Provence And Then Some"?).

Mayle begins the book with a nostalgic memory of Sunday outdoor markets and a lament that American cities don't offer such treasures.

Apparently, Mayle never visited Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. Washingtonians don't have to go all the way to Provence to enjoy the instant visual charm of these markets, with their bursts of vividly colored flowers and vegetables and their handwritten signs and sausage chains hanging from the beams.

A block north of Pennsylvania Avenue on Seventh Street SE, Eastern Market vendors display meats, fish, produce, plants, honeys, oils, baked goods, antiques, Oriental rugs, jewelry and more every Saturday and Sunday, as they have for more than a century. (A century ago, they didn't have to worry about parking. But you do, so expect to walk or take the Metro (Orange/Blue Line to the Eastern Market station).

The colorful chaos of such a place is a seductive change from the chill and rigid aisles of a supermarket. On a recent visit, my brother Dan suddenly disappeared in the throng. When he showed up again, he was loaded down with dried fruit--cranberries, cherries, apricots. We helped him taste his acquisitions as we negotiated the purchase of a garden fountain. Before we closed the deal, he disappeared again--to replenish his depleted supplies.

My brother Rudy couldn't make up his mind which kind of prosciutto would be best as our dinner appetizer, so he bought four kinds. The Spanish and Italian, served with sweet slices of cantaloupe and a fine red wine bought along the way, tied for best of show.

The indoor market area is also open during the week except on Mondays and some holidays. It covers all bases with a bakery, florist and vegetable, meat, fish and poultry sellers. When you get hungry from shopping, you can stop at the famous Market Lunch inside the old building. It's a wonder that so much good food comes out of such a small place. The crab cakes alone are worth a visit. Tables inside are constantly full. Outdoor picnic tables handle the overflow.

If the wait is too intimidating, there are a number of regular restaurants in the area. At Tunnicliff's Tavern, across the street, etched glass impressions of photos from the 1890s separate the booths and depict ladies, baskets over their arms and bustles bouncing on their behinds, shopping under the same roof you see out the front window.

If your main interest is food, try to visit on Saturday as more farm-fresh produce is available. My friend Bob and I used to drive to the market on Saturdays from our Dupont Circle apartment to stock up for the week. Our lives took other paths for a few years, but when we returned and moved to Capitol Hill, we were happy to see the same people we visited on Saturdays years before, greeting us as if we had never left.

--Joanne M. Ivancic, Washington

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