I read a lot of books wherein the authors – Julia Child, Paula Butturini, MFK Fisher – describe these tranquil early morning moments of going to the market for their day’s food. They leave when the world is still quiet, when farmers and vendors are the only other ones awake. They describe the smell of bread baking, the murmur of sleepy shopkeepers opening their doors and figuring out their day’s business. These women describe an amber, glowing, beautiful world in which the market is within walking distance, in which the carts are full of produce that is fresh and ripe and inspiring. They describe a world without parking lots or plastic grocery bags.
I envy these women. Let me tell you about the best equivalents I’ve found.
There’s the early morning Harris Teeter. For those in the 7am crowd of shoppers, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The parking lot is nearly empty. The morning is cool, though the sun is out and by the time you come out of the store, you’ll feel the heat coming. The grocery store is quiet, and employees work at loading produce into their shelves. The meat case is empty. Somewhere in the great expanse of the store, someone is cleaning the floor. The only other shoppers are other early risers – gym-goers, moms, people on their way to work. These are the people who bring canvas bags, buy granola and salads, and are usually wearing some sort of sensible outdoor athletic shoe (the brand of which I would never even be able to guess). There is one check-out lane open, usually manned by the employee still in training, still chipper about offering the e-Vic sign-up.
Or perhaps better is the farmer’s market. No. Not perhaps. It’s better. We have an open-air market in Olde Towne Portsmouth where local farmers set up with fresh flowers and produce. Their tomatoes make me envious since the ones in my garden have brought me so much heartache. They offer variety and smiles. They can tell you when the produce was picked and what to do with it. There’s a hustle and bustle to it. It’s primarily a cash-only affair. Inexplicably, a town crier makes his rounds, carrying a walking stick and dressed in colonial garb. We try to dodge him, avoid making eye contact, primarily concerned with getting our tomatoes and garlic and greens and whatever else we need for our day’s/week’s meals.
I think it’s that simple beauty – that organic form of shopping – that makes a CSA so fun. You get something seasonal. Part of the challenge is that your CSA goods are chosen for you, and you must then figure out what to do with them. There’s no amber glow at the CSA – just rows of boxes with instructions: take one lemon, two heads of garlic, six tomatoes. (Don’t mind if I do!) You bring a canvas bag or you shamefully try to stuff celery and sweet peppers in your purse.
I remain jealous of those writers who describe the Marketplace, that glowing beautiful time of morning when you can smell bread and trail your fingers along freshly picked beans or peaches. When you occasionally find poo on your eggs (is that weird, that I want to find feces on my eggs?). When I described these scenes to Amanda, she said, “Ooh, let’s make that our retirement.”
We will. And when we do, I promise to write about it in all its glowing, sensuous, simple beauty. I will pretend not to know what a parking lot is. I will stare off into the distance and try to remember some by-gone world of parking spaces and grocery bags and empty meat cases and waiting in line at the cash register. But no. I won’t be able to remember because my memories will be covered over by the smell of bread and pastries, covered over by a thin film of morning dew, covered over by the awesomeness of the homegrown, the fresh, the seasonal, the exotic, the mysterious, the glowing – always glowing – beauty of a marketplace world of my dreams, of memoir, of somewhere other than here.