Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thou Hast Thy Music Too

Except for Earth, Wind and Fire's "September," I don't think there are any upbeat songs about autumn. There's September Song, which I hate, and California Dreaming, which I like, but both are pretty depressing, wishing away autumn. Then there's the equally depressing genre of songs about the ending of summer. These, like Boys of Summer and 4th of July, Asbury Park (I know, but read the lyrics) are really about the end of youth, so they tend to be kind of meaty, and I like them a lot. A few years ago, I went to Alaska in early August and it seems that everywhere I went, the residents were talking about autumn coming. It's not a date on the calendar there. You really could feel it in the air, in the angles of the sun, etc. But, for perhaps the first time in my life, I wanted a vacation to last longer and summer in Alaska was so pleasant (beautiful fruits and vegetables, salmon, blue skies, wonderful smells, all without horrible heat or humidity), that I actually felt that end of summer depression.

But Alaska was an anomaly for me. Autumn is by far my favorite season. I love everything about it: the quick change in the length of day, the smells (in my case, the smell I associate most with the start of autumn is the overripe grapes on my grapevine, which is accompanied by the sight of the birds that come for the feast), the colors of the leaves, the end of the last heat waves, and the evening chill. I love that it is also the best time to plant new things in the garden. This is definitely not the end of youth, but the beginning of something.

Autumn is still a few weeks off and we're going through a heat wave, but today at the Farmer's Market, its signs were unmistakably there. I walked over to the corn booth, where the owner told me that this was their last week until next July. I stuff myself with corn every year for two months, so that last week leaves me feeling bittersweet. I bought eight ears and vowed to appreciate every bite. But then, I turned a corner and there were apples! I hadn't seen an apple (a locally grown one) in months. I bought a couple of pounds of them and reminded myself that the foods of autumn are on their way and that peaches and melons and berries will still soon make way for apples and pears and brussels sprouts. One of the great things about September is that you will find all of these things together for a short period.

I'm such a pragmatic person in most ways that it surprises and amuses me (and probably those who know me) that, for me, going to Farmer's Market is not just about getting nutrition so I can live another week. It's more like a religious experience. I feel like I'm doing the right thing shopping there, I enjoy its cyclical nature, and I revel in the smells, the colors, the tastes and the textures of the various foods. One time, PJ saw me choosing some produce and told me that I was putting on my Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) face.

The reader may notice that I did not say that I enjoy the sounds of the Farmer's Market. No, I did not because I do not. A recent trip to the Farmer's Market involved a woman who was getting on in years and a head shorter than me (I'm 5 foot 1 inch) repeatedly asking a vendor where the bananas are in a kind of bullying way. The man clearly didn't speak much English, so I smiled at her and said, "You won't find bananas here. They're not grown in this area." To which she narrowed her eyes and angrily said, "I have bought them here before!" I apparently hadn't made a dent in this woman's resolve because she continued to bother the vendor for a couple more rounds of questions until she gave up and went away. No doubt she's still searching for that papaya, mango, pineapple and banana booth.

I know that in many, many countries people are used to bargaining over prices. I realize that this comes as naturally as breating for the people from these places and that I shouldn't find this behavior as offensive as I do at Farmer's Markets, but it just seems that these farmers aren't exactly getting rich off of their produce and that we should all be happy to help them out. I am trying to get used to people who try to bargain in a non-insulting way, but I really hate it when people insult the produce when they don't get their way: "You are charging two dollars for THIS? Look at it! No good!" And then there are the customers who need to take Economics 101. A couple of years ago, I was waiting my turn at the blueberry booth. For only a handful of Saturdays every summer, these women show up with their mountain blueberries. They are delicious beyond words, and pretty expensive. Right now, they're charging six dollars a pint, but on this day when I was waiting my turn they were four dollars. It was about 10 in the morning and the Farmer's Market still had two hours to go. There were only two pints left and I was standing behind this woman who was rather aggressively trying to get these women to lower their price. She even had them weigh the pint of berries, and when they came in less than a pound, she declared triumphantly that they were charging four dollars for less than a pound. I wanted to scream at this woman. How could it not be obvious that these women were going to be able to sell their blueberries at the price they were asking long before the market ended? I got my turn when the customer gave up in disgust. By the way, I have accidentally found out that there are nice ways to get Farmer's Market bargains. I only bring so much cash, and I will often go to a booth with my last two dollars in hand and say, "Can you give me two dollars' worth of those?" The vendors are often very generous, especially if it is close to closing time.

Back to music. I appreciate artists, really I do. They put themselves out there in a way that I can only dream of. A good singer/musician can even enhance a shopping experience, and I have heard some good ones. I have a friend who has played at our local Farmer's Market to much crowd enjoyment. Recently, I was pleasantly surprised by the talents of a Beatles tribute duo, and found myself reluctant to finish shopping, enjoying the bright sunny day and the boppy tunes that seemed to fit well. Today's experience was more typical, though. There is a woman who has a decent voice who sings mostly covers of Brenda Lee songs. That type of music just doesn't seem to fit a Farmer's Market. She clearly has created an entire lounge show in her head. If you're listening as you shop, before you see her, you imagine that she's wearing a long sequined dress and she's being accompanied by a jazz combo. She does a little talking between songs and in the middle of songs, she'll stop singing and say, "C'mon, play it, boys." When you actually make your way over to where she's singing, you'll see a woman standing alone with a microphone and a boom box. Instead of that sequined dress, she's wearing a pair of polyester pants and an oversized print top and she's saying, "Play it, boys" to a CD. Although, in another setting I might enjoy her show, in this setting I feel uncomfortable as I pass her. But at least she can sing. Sometimes the musicians do not have that talent. The music does not drown out the bargain hunters, but just gives me something that I have to try and filter out along with the voices of the shoppers.

Four out of five senses aren't bad, so I'll keep returning, trying to listen to the sounds in my own head, like the voice that keeps telling me that autumn is coming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How in god's name did I miss this woman doing Brenda Lee cover songs?! AWESOME, if by awesome you mean really, really, awfully cheesy.

p.s. I love Autumn, too. More than ski season, even.