This afternoon I was quite distracted; there was quite a bit of immediate response to the ¡Con razón! podcast that I uploaded yesterday.
There’s quite a story developing there, but I’m sure I will get to that more in depth later. The point is that it was four o’clock in the afternoon when I realized a) I hadn’t eaten lunch, and b) I hadn’t put on pants. I had spent the whole day in my boxers. Probably too much information, right?
Anyway, I put on some pants, and I made myself a tortilla de patatas; a serious one–tall, oily, a little runny on the inside…. As I was letting it cool, I thought, “I’ll run to the bakery, pick up a baguette.” Columbia City Bakery is about a mile down the road; their baguette was kick-ass enough to ease my French colleague’s fears about America. We Seattlites may in fact be barbarians, but we do have kickass baguettes.
So I found a parking space and picked up a baguette, as well as an apricot walnut loaf for my auntie. I went a couple doors down to Bob’s Quality Meats and picked up a pound of sweet italian sausages. I feel good buying meat from there; he assures me there is no pink slime in his ground meat products.
And then… And then indeed. I had allotted some money to spend between now and payday; I had about $25 left. The responsible thing to do would have been to get back in the car and go back to my tortilla de patatas.
But nooooo. I hung a left instead of a right, and found myself at the Columbia City Farmer’s Market.
The first vendor I stopped at was Loki Fish; they had little samples out of honey-smoked chinook salmon (smoked fresh! never frozen!). I happen to know that the chinook run is almost over, but not yet; these smoked chinook were amazing. The lady asked me if I was going to buy any, and I told her, “Let me come back; this is the first place I’ve stopped, and I want to see the rest.” I jiggled my $25 allowance in my pocket and made my way down the gauntlet.
I stopped at the cheese booths. One booth had a bunch of curds that they advertised as “squeaky.” Upon sampling, they were not, in fact squeaky, not up to the standards that I learned in my summer in Wisconsin. They also had goudas, which… meh.
The next booth was all about goat cheese. They had several wheels of delicate, fresh goat cheeses, but after sampling I went for the goat cheddar. I handed the guy the money and as he got my change I asked, “Is there a romantic story behind this cheese that you have to tell me?”
“Romantic story?” he asked. I had already paid him, so technically he wasn’t obliged to sell me on the cheese, at this point.
“You know,” I said, “did it save someone’s life? Did it make people fall in love?” Come on, it’s the farmer’s market. Stuff has to have history. I can get story-less cheese at Safeway.
“Well,” he said, “early in the spring we make a spring cheese, it’s like a havaarti. But then as the spring gets on, the grasses change, so the mineral content of the milk changes, and that’s when we make this cheddar.”
Ah, I thought, a process lesson. Not quite a romantic story, but it will do.
I also stopped at the dairy stand, and bought a little thing of fresh whole milk, for my coffee.
The flowers and all the vegetables looked amazing in the afternoon sun, which was making its way toward the horizon, casting a little golden-hour effect over the market. Berries are in season now; local strawberries which are red in the middle, raspberries that still had that fresh perky look to them, gently curving local leeks which somehow seemed innocent still.
I blew past all of those things and found myself back at the smoked salmon, and picked out a chunk of chinook for $6.35.
There was a Chinese grandma next to me, who picked up a chunk of peppered coho and asked the sales lady in her old-fashioned flowery sundress, “这个是辣的，对吗？”
I ignored her, because she wasn’t talking to me. Because I’m from Seattle.
And then I thought, aw dammit, if it were my grandmother, I’d want someone to help her.
So I told her in Mandarin, yes, it is hot. That one’s hot. “This one is spicy, right?” I asked the red-headed sundress lady, in English.
“Oh, it’s not that spicy, actually,” she said to me, smiling.
So in Mandarin I told the lady, she said it’s not spicy.
Which one do you like, she asked me.
I like this one, I said, picking up a chunk of chinook. This one is I like.
What’s the difference?
This fish is good to eat. Flavor is special. Mandarin was starting to come back to me.
Is that the one you bought?
Yes, I said, and I took out my purchase to show her.
How much is this one? she asked, looking at the price tag, which said $5.25. I’ll pay $5. Is it from Alaska?
I looked up at the red-headed sundress lady. “This is from Alaska, right?”
“Yes, it’s all from Alaska.”
She says it’s all from Alaska, I told somebody’s grandma in Mandarin. Hey, where are you from?
Beacon Hill, she answered.
No auntie, where in China are you from?
Canton, she said. What about you, you speak Chinese so well!
Not at all, I told her. I’m from Seattle, Filipino ancestry.
Filipino ancestry! she exclaimed. The fish is from Alaska, and they smoke it?
“Do you smoke the fish?” I asked the red-headed sundress lady.
“No,” she said, smiling broadly. “It’s caught in Alaska, we have it smoked by a company in Monroe.” At that point I realized I had just learned how to talk about smoked fish.
It’s from Alaska, but another company in Monroe… Another company. How do you say smoke? I could see she didn’t understand what I was talking about, and the word “Monroe” did nothing for her.
Classic Chinese comprehension strategy: change the subject. What this one? she asked, pointing to some expensive looking salmon jerky. The meat was flaky and translucent.
That is… dried… I looked up at red-headed sundress lady, surprised that I knew the word for “dry.” She nodded “yes” at me, earnestly, in support.
I want this one, she said, I’ll pay $5.
“She’s bargaining with you,” I told the red-headed sundress lady, “she’s offering you $5.”
“Ok, we can do that!” says red-headed sundress lady, looking earnestly at somebody’s Chinese grandma.
It’s settled, I told somebody’s Chinese grandma, $5. Hey auntie, you bargain well! She handed her money to the red-headed lady in the sundress.
“Thank you,” said the lady in the sundress, that was entertaining.
“Yah, well, that’s the last time I pay full price!” The red-headed lady in the flowery sundress smiled back at me.
“Thank you,” said somebody’s Chinese grandma, reaching for my arm. That’s a good word to know in English.
Ain’t no thing, I told her in Mandarin. Unnecessary to thank.
I walked back toward my car with an armload of fussy groceries. The setting sun hung behind me bathing the vendors’ tents in golden sunlight as the people in their smart summer clothes gazed at the produce, planning their fresh local salads. A beautiful college volunteer for some liberal community organization asked me a question and offered me a refrigerator magnet as I was leaving the vendors, but I blew her off. “I’ll check out the website,” I told her, “and decide whether or not you’re evil.”
I only have a couple bucks left in my wallet for the rest of the week, I thought. Meh, try not to think about it.