BootsnAll Travel Network

Yuppie-land Farmer’s Market, Reflections on Living Single

It’s a halcyon day in Portland: sunny, blue-skied, a patter of flower petals falling off the trees with each breeze. Portland people with their dogs and kids are out in force. One weather report promises it will go up to 80 degrees F today, and I’m just back from my first trip to the Portland Farmer’s Market (a farmer’s market with its own website–that should have given me a clue). A few photos are here. At this market, one can purchase goat cheese for $15 a pound, a bouquet of flowers for $20, a mound of fresh multi-grain bread for $10, a pound of locally-grown nuts for $16, a dollop of vegan pesto for $9, and mixed lettuces for $8 a pound.

I spent $19 and came home with a fistful of baby bok choy, a leek, three pears, five fresh white turnips with tops, a quarter of a pound of farmer’s cheese, a dozen small eggs, and enough mixed greens for one salad. I don’t think I’ll be shopping there again, given my minuscule Social Security check, but it was fun to see the people and all they buy and sell. There must have been hundreds of people there, all very cheery. However I really miss seeing people of color. There were a few Asian people, mostly vegetable and flower-sellers, but that was all I saw, other than masses of white people.  As I shopped, I remembered another time, and a movie, and a vision that has worked for me for the past fifteen years and has perhaps steered me to this moment.

I have mentioned before how moved I was by the end of Damage, a movie I saw in Durban, South Africa, in 1993. The movie itself is not all that great unless you’re into obsessive heterosexual sex, tinged with S&M. I’m not, though to each his (or her) own. I watched it on a night when I was worn out from editing videos and there wasn’t much else to do in Durban. But the end of the movie has never left me: Jeremy Irons, gray-haired and blasted by the loss of all the people he ever loved–due to his own bad decisions–is living alone in a beautiful little cobble-stoned Greek town. Having fallen from his former grandeur as a PM in expensive suits, living in a mansion in London, he wears baggy sweat pants and sandals, a black turtleneck and a tweed blazer, and he goes shopping as only those who live alone and don’t ever expect to share a meal can shop: putting into his expandable string-bag one small wedge of cheese, one tomato, a half-loaf of bread. 

I was then living in Lesotho as a Fulbright Scholar, on the verge of adopting two girl-children, directing several theatre groups, teaching, and making educational videos about gender and economic change in several southern African countries. It was a good life, but a bit wearing and over-full. Although I think the audience for Damage was supposed to feel that Irons’ character’s life was dreadfully lonely and horribly isolated, in fact I thought it was the perfect dream come true–exquisitely romantic, exotic compared with what I had, deliciously self-indulgent, with time to stroll around a beautiful place and not have to talk to anybody about it, with nobody else to cook for, no need to be accountable to anyone. No deadlines, nobody expecting anything. Free as the sun-kissed wind. A black turtleneck and a tweed blazer. I have all of that now. That occurred to me when I bought the single leek (sixty cents, please). I have it all. And I do exult in what I have. A beautiful town, a sunny day, a sweet little niche of an apartment that is all my own. When I come back to it, my little cat greets me. I open the windows and sigh with sweet pleasure. One leek. Three pears. Five turnips. Bliss.

Gertrude Stein is supposed to have said the only question that ever matters is, “How do you like what you have?” I like it. I like it very much. I’m worried, deeply worried, about one member of my family who is in terrible distress. But at the same time, there is this simplicity, this ease, this bliss. One leek.

Tags: , , , ,

9 responses to “Yuppie-land Farmer’s Market, Reflections on Living Single”

  1. the website says this: “In May, look for Chefs in the Market each Saturday at 10am on the main stage, opening with Chef Scott Dolich, owner of Park Kitchen, on May 3rd. Junior chefs can watch this space for details about this summer’s Kids Cook in the Market series. Classes take place every other Saturday in June, July and August.” That won’t do at all. A proper shopper doesn’t need the assistance of some trumped-up incompetent amateur to spend more money on contrived products, nor should basic gastronomy be reduced to the level of a popular entainment for the pretentious classes. And by the way, even the simplest meal can be shared with the right companion, if you can find one …

  2. Kathryn says:

    Finding the right companion is a life’s work for many of us. Alternatively, we can come to love our solitude.

  3. Bob Currier says:

    If only I could come to fully inhabit the lyrics of the song from Sinead O’Conner: “I do not want what I do not have”. But farmers’ markets are a great impulse toward wanting. Today I succumbed to strawberries. It’s not, in itself, a bad thing–I’ll be able to have them with yoghurt for breakfast. But still, I would be OK without them.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Spoken like a man who knows detachment and knows that he doesn’t want to be detached. Enjoy those strawberries!

  5. h sofia says:

    Stephen – you are pretty impressive ….

    I see farmers’ markets as experiences – somewhere between walking through a botanical garden and decorating the dining room for a party. I haven’t been to the PFM since I worked downtown (they are also open on Wednesdays) – over a year ago. Pricey stuff, but someone there sold some delicious smoked salmon, and another person had a challah-like bread. I would buy those and they’d last me a week. When I felt the urge for a snack, I’d take a nibble of salmon, and tear off a piece of bread.

  6. Kathryn says:

    Mmmm. The pleasures of the northwest. I’m following you, Hafidha!

  7. Dave says:

    I, as well, have always been intrigued by the ending of Damage. When I saw it years ago I thought his banishment to that lovely Greek town was, well, lovely. I imagined a life shopping at markets, learning a new language, meeting eccentric expats, sun-drenched beaches, a garret apartment filled with used books and an Olivetti typewriter….I mean he looked so stylish in his sandals and tweed jacket. I don’t remember the sweat pants, though. My mind’s eye recalls rolled up , baggy linen trousers…. For a more sobering portrait of banishment, I recommend the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys. I love Ms. Rhys….talk about second acts.
    I went to a farmer’s market this morning. They are called feira in Portuguese. Everything is much cheaper than at the normal supermarket. The seasons are reversed here, so broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and collard greens are at their best now. I love that collard greens are popular in Brazil….reminds me of growing up down south. What are you going to do with that leek? When I lived in Japan, I used to saute leeks in lots of butter and fry some eggs on top. I love that kind of cooking. My crock pot arrived from Japan. It’s one of the old models(from 1975) that came with a metal insert for “baking”. It makes the moistest cakes and breads…..when I teach my private lessons I like to offer a piece of cake and a cup of tea. I guess that crock pot will accompany me around the world.

  8. Kathryn says:

    I love all we have in common, Dave. Thanks for jogging my memory–yes, I think it WAS linen pants rolled up, not sweat pants. I thought I was the only person on earth that envied him that life in the little town in Greece. And I also love Jean Rhys! And I am planning to saute that leek in butter and put it on some brown rice, with a little of the farmer’s cheese on the side. I didn’t know you could make bread and cakes in a crock pot. I gave mine away when I left Houston. But I do have a rice cooker. I wonder what you can do with a rice cooker, except cook rice.

  9. Nacho says:

    Kendall, just a quick note to tell you that I have not forsaken or forgotten you! I’ve just been minding my life a bit more so that I can reduce what accumulates much too quickly. Thankfully, the semester is drawing to a close.

    I’m glad you are enjoying Portland still, and I long to visit you and meet you and sit down and have tea. I hope meeting Terra, Phoenix, and Michi won’t be too disruptive. : )

    I like the quote you attribute to Gertrude Stein: re the only question that ever matters is, “How do you like what you have?” I am often reminded of a definition we use in sangha about suffering being wanting things to be different than they are. Certainly a broad statement, but that’s OK. It gives us room to move about inside and explore.

    I sometimes look at that simple, romantic life of a solitary figure, through the eyes of Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar. Intriguing and provocative character. Certainly a romantic perspective (as in 19th century literary practice/theory). Something to enjoy in its presence and fullness, but something I am given to over-romanticize at times. : )

    Hugs to you,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *