I market like a European, or at least my impression of how Europeans shop. At least five days of every seven, I descend on one of the four Whole Foods within a two-mile radius of my home; on Sundays, I hit the farmers market in either Bethesda or Dupont. For a long time, I was a strict, committed Duponter, but the cheesemonger in Bethesda is just beyond, and in the heady haze of top-shelf stinky cheese, my allegiance began to waver.
In any case, I started shopping this way when my husband and I lived in Amsterdam. We got married the summer between his two years of business school, and just after our honeymoon, moved to the 'dam for his internship. I had little in the way of responsibility while he was at work so rode my bike all over the city, up and down the canals, in and around the Vondelpark and the neighborhoods that grow off it, like an octopus that keeps sprouting arms.
One of my favorite haunts was the Cuyp markt, an outdoor area chock-full of stalls selling fresh everything. I'd weave through it, purchasing some bread here, some tomatoes there, some cheese if we'd run out. The jugs of freshly-cut flowers always caught my eye, and I loved the way a bouquet of them and the paper-wrapped bread stood at attention out of the baskets straddling my rear bike wheel as I pedaled home. To this day, seeing someone biking with a baguette sprouting from a bike basket fills me with almost inarticulable joy.
I loved then, and still do, the connections that can be forged over the selling, purchasing and sharing of food (and related beauties like flowers). Those connections can be the most ephemeral wisps or can evolve into a sturdier trunk.
How many times have strangers and I discussed just what I or she planned to do with a handful of something appealing? Sunchokes, rhubarb, velvet apricots, papery heads of garlic, an enormous pommelo...I can recall specific conversations around these items, often over the tables that displayed them, as we picked and chose those that looked most perfect to each of us.
And to now know many producers and purveyors by name makes my regular shopping even more fun and communal.
"How is your daughter? Is she feeling better today?"
"When is graduation? Go you!"
"Thank you for asking; the boys are having a great year!"
Last month, at the checkout counter at Whole Foods, I paused while unloading my cart and glanced towards the tall wall near the coffee bar. A poster-sized photo of one of the kindliest employees there hung as memorial to his recent death. He'd been on his way home from celebrating his 39th birthday, was in a horrific car accident, and never made it back to his wife and children.
I was just about to turn 39. I had just seen this man, had just been thinking what a great manager he seemed to be. Because I know her well enough by now, I turned to Mae, and said, "Mae, WHAT happened?" Her eyes welled up, and she told me the story, and I left feeling shell-shocked because just last week I'd seen him.
*This is my first Finish the Sentence Friday post. FTSF is a group of writers and bloggers who gather each week to finish the same sentence, completely or loosely. This week’s prompt is”It started in the line at the grocery store…” Hosts are Kristi from Finding Ninee, Dawn (this week’s promptress), and Nicki at Red Boots.