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Going to markets

Kimmy was participating in a grand show with her dance school, which shaped up as a day-long exercise, with two final rehearsals and then two performances crammed into a single Sunday. After dropping her off at the venue in the morning (we later went to the evening show – it was really nice), Natasha and Becky were looking for things to do. Sunday market in Eltham offered them an opportunity to have some fun for a couple of hours.

Various markets have gotten a passing mention elsewhere in this blog. Natasha, if she were to perform her own “what I’ll miss when I go back to America” exercise, would probably place the markets near the top of the list. I have to at least allow that market-going is a pleasurable activity that is practically unknown in the States.

I’m sure somewhere in the vast expanse of the US, food and crafts markets may play a relatively prominent role, but in my neck of Northeastern woods, you only get farmers markets that are nothing but glorified grocery stores, plus an occasional flea market or a something that is tied to a special occasion. A regularly held market that sells produce, delicacies, meats, fish, sweets, articles of clothing, accessories, crafts, possibly antiques and bric-a-brac, etc, all under a single roof or, more often, in a single open space, is not something that I am familiar with in the US.

In Europe, such markets are found in many quarters. Some big, some small. Some open daily, others on a less frequent schedule. Some are popular tourist destinations, while many are tucked away from the prime tourist locations and have a much more intimate and local feel. The UK is not as exuberant with the market culture as contries such as France or Germany, but there are still plenty of them here.

Even when you are not looking to buy anything, browsing a market and checking out what’s on offer is a delightful activity. There may be some basic uniformity in the stalls configuration, but presentation is clearly limited only by the sellers’ imagination, and the resulting visual palette is nothing short of arresting. Wherever meats, cheeses or delicacies are sold, tastings are freely offered. Many vendors, when given an opportunity, engage a prospective customer in friendly banter, discussing or demonstrating their products, putting forward their expertise in a specific field as means of advertizing their wares, or simply aiming to establish a friendly rapport via the true and tried method of “where’re you from? – oh, I’ve been there once”.

To tell you the truth, it is nearly impossible to come away from a market without buying at least something, especially after you tried a few different types of spicy meats, several varieties of cheese, and a couple of brands of olive oil. It’s impulse buying at its best!

I’m pretty sure that you can make a meal out of various tastings available at the larger markets, but if you are hungry, there are always several stands that offer prepared food, from bratwurst to paella. Replenish your energy reserves – and dive right back into browsing.

As could have been expected, Natasha and Becky made a small contribution to the economic recovery on this latest visit, bringing home assorted foodstuffs and seemingly inexhaustible supply of impressions about the things that they looked at. With the half-term upon us – finding us staying put for the first time since we came to the UK – they are likely to work trips to other markets in the city into the program for the week.