Monday, July 20, 2009

To market, to market

Every Saturday, Amynah and I head over to the farmer’s market in the shadow of the 18th century palace built for Strasbourg’s Bishop-Prince (a story I hope I’ll have time to tell before I leave).

The market is fairly small, as these things go. There’s about two-dozen stands, most of which are staffed by the very farmers that grew the merchandise on display. Everything for sale is grown or made locally, and so we tend to eat whatever is in season: if strawberries aren't in season, no one here is importing them from Chile. And once they're out, they're out: my apple juice vendors have no storeroom in back from which to get more bottles. When they run out, there won't be more until September, when the next crop comes in.

It was in this market where we first realized that we had become, if not native Strasbourgeoise, at least a regular part of the city. The merchants here became so accustomed to our weekly visits, that they would notice, and comment, if we came in earlier or later than usual - we were as much a part of their routine as they were of ours. It made us really feel at home.

Over the course of three years, we’ve developed our favourites, though our preferences aren’t always rational. For instance, I always buy my home-made apple juice from The Apple Juice Ladies who run the smallest stall in the market, spurning the guy who sells nearly identical juice from a much larger stall behind them. Why? Because the guy behind them once had the temerity to address us in English, having assumed I was a tourist. We were so offended we never patronised his stand again. By contrast, The Apple Juice Ladies know I’m a local, and so always ask me to “please think to return the bottles” on my next visit, so they can re-use them. When I told them this Saturday was going to me my next-to-last visit, they gave me a complimentary pomme.

Not everyone is so friendly: Amynah has always bought most of her vegetables from “The Potato Guy.” He’s not one for social pleasantries: while other merchants were at least recognizing us after six months, The Potato Guy didn’t start acknowledging us as regulars until late last year – even that concession is but a subtle flicker in his eye, as he never says anything beyond the bare minimum required for any given transaction. Though damn, he knows his potatoes: Amynah always takes care to tell him what she’s planning on cooking when asking for her tubers, so that he can select a batch of the appropriate firmness.

Amynah’s first stop at the market is always the “Egg Lady.” The Egg Lady sells plenty of berries as well, and Amynah will always buy one basket of berries from her, and another sized basket from a different merchant, in order to get the total amount she wants. This is one of the friendliest merchants in the market, and Amynah likes her enough that she actually made Christmas cookies to give to her in December. On the other hand, although the Egg Lady also sells flowers, we never buy her blossoms because….

…we always go to the Flower Guys (the younger of whom is on vacation, and thus not in the photo). We don’t actually know the relationship between the Flower Guys. They look kind of the same, so I think they’re brothers, but Amynah thought they were just business partners.

At least one of them is married, so they’re not the other kind of partner. Not that there was any doubt about their inclinations anyway: the Flower Guys are serious ladies men, or at least they are with Amynah. They always greet her with an unusually enthusiastic two-cheek kiss (bidding me to look the other way – jokingly, I think) and dismissing me with a quick handsake. Amynah only ever buys a bouquet worth less than 5 Euros from them, but they always throw in several extra blooms, sans charge.

After I took this photo, Flower Guy insisted on giving us his address, so that we could send him postcards from California.

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