Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crossroads

I am often reminded of life's fleeting, fragile circumstances.

Humanity is a collection of oddly fitting puzzle pieces, and sometimes I wonder where my place is and why I'm a part of the grand scheme. Thankfully, these trains of thought subside when I get in an opportunity to people watch.

One of my favorite hobbies, Cincinnati's Findlay Market is perhaps the city's best intersection to watch and develop your own commentary on human existence.

Admittedly, Findlay is not the most polished market I've visited, nor the most extensive. The European markets I've explored are centuries-old traditions that have developed quite a following over the years. London's Portobello Road market stretches for miles, the first portion with vendors hawking everything from antique bone china to old prints and even older, obsolete industrial tools. Further along, bargain hunters inspect produce and patent leather platform shoes. I picked up a great collection of Indian spices at this market a year and a half ago and am rationing them like sugar during the Civil War.

Findlay is more similar to a quaint market I stumbled upon on a rainy, drizzly day in Amsterdam. Less refined and more all purpose, here the stalls featured slabs of pork along side bottles of discount shampoo. Shoppers perused through racks and racks of inexpensive scarves, cheap, imported t-shirts and barrels of nuts and candies. This market was more of a day-to-day kind of place where locals came to buy their everyday goods, not trinkets and touristy souvenirs.

Findlay Market has the potential to be that kind of place for so many Cincinnatians.

Lots of people bemoan the downtown district's shopping offerings, saying there's no place for anyone to make a quick stop to buy groceries before heading home from the office. On the flip side, many of my downtown dwelling friends say they rely on Findlay Market as their primary source when stocking the refrigerator and pantry.

For me, Findlay Market is an opportunity to score some affordable produce and soak up society.

On any given Saturday morning, Findlay Market turns into a melange of suburbanites, hipsters and urbanites, families, singletons and couples entertaining an unusual setting for a date. You'll see North Face and Carhartt, dreadlocks and denim, vintage Ts and daisy dukes, depending on the weather.

At one end of the market, an older blues musician sat on a chair, guitar in hand and a harmonica in his neck brace. His tunes were family-friendly, little bluesy versions of You Are My Sunshine and Puff the Magic Dragon. A little girl of about six with a head of long, blonde ringlets asked him to "stop singing kid songs" because she wanted to hear some grown-up music. He riffed on a Bo Diddley-type tune and she returned the favor by singing an Irish song.

In the middle of the open air portion of the market, a dreadlocked gentleman sat on a bucket while beating some drum sticks on another bucket. He dished out a rhythm that was especially enjoyed by the youngest fans, several of whom delighted in dropping dollars in a hat on the cement.

Aside from the obvious offerings of produce and meat, the market also includes several local artisans showing off their carefully crafted pottery, oils and soaps. My hands soaked up a delicious citrus thyme hand lotion, a scent as fragrant as some of the flowers and fruit several stalls away.

Findlay Market also serves up some of the more commercial items you'd expect at an open air market - things like knockoff handbags, funky jewelry and tacky t-shirts. My friend quipped that she had found her stolen cellphone charger among a rack of dozens of cheaply made, after market versions hanging from a pole in a stall.

For all the knockoffs and artisan soap bars, the real deal at Findlay Market is the produce. Shoppers peruse the many vendors for the best deals, and while you may save 50 cents by buying strawberries from one place and your corn another, the prices don't really vary dramatically from stall to stall.

My friends scored a flat of strawberries - eight one-pound clam shells - for five bucks. I picked up a $1 eggplant, the going rate at every stall at the market (though some places had eggplants as big as a container of parmesan cheese, mine was almost as large as a 2-liter soda bottle). Shoppers scooped up organic eggs, bread, floral bouquets (the selection wasn't as great yesterday - I imagine the showstopper bouquets will be available in a matter of weeks).

Inside the market, my eyes and tastebuds were tempted by $9-a-pound filet and the huge lobster tank with creepy crawly creatures dying for a steam bath.

Armed with a bag full of grapes, strawberries, potatoes and eggplant, I was charged with a desire to race home and spend the day cooking - if only the day had allowed the indulgence.

I intend on making my excursion to Findlay Market a weekly occurance, not only because its goods can nourish my body, but because its people can nourish my soul.

2 comments:

liz said...

i LOVE findlay market. i have started going there semi-regularly recently, and it is awesome. i think people really do not know how cheap it is to shop there. i spend so much less on produce there. and in terms of meats and cheeses and spices, it is not always cheaper necessarily but it is much higher quality for the same price. and the people watching is awesome.

john said...

Hi Kate,

I'm John; originally from Cinci, but moved to the Netherlands (Amsterdam) last July.

Big change, but exciting none the less.

I like your blog, and your outlook on life in general. Lots of contemplation.

And it's fun to be reminded of findlay :) and of course hear your comparison to the markets here in AMS.

I was trying to figure out which market you were talking about - but couldn't narrow it down. Maybe the Albert Cuyp Market in de Pijp?

Let me know - and I hope all is well in Cinci!

_john