March 5, 2007

Market Day, New York City (summer 2006)

This is why I so adore my city. A step or two through the concrete jungle, and it’s market day in Union Square, the kind that truly merits the phrase “market day,” with all the connotations it carries.

Market Day is a scene out of a romantic’s afternoon with a good (or not so good), old (or, at least, old-fashioned) book. The kind of book you read on the fire escape, or in the corner of a crowded schoolyard; the kind you are loath to be seen with and can't pull away from.

There are the colors, first of all – the bold, primary colors that spill over the produce stands, the rich browns and creams of the artisan breads and fresh cheeses, the fantastic rainbow bursts gleaming from the tables of the craftsmakers – some young and a-jangle with piercings, others older and a-jingle with beads – selling everything that might dazzle the eye and tickle the purse. The tables are piled with posters, painted canvases, silver jewelry, candles, tie-dyed T-shirts, vivid fabrics, all of it flashing temptingly in the sunshine as prospective buyers’ hands pass experimentally over each item. And then, there are the hot pinks and turquoises and kelly greens that the summer season has unleashed from the closets of countless girls and women. The men – with a few notable exceptions – remain in their uniforms, but even their khaki and beige shades seem a bit brighter today.

Then, there are the sounds. The chatter of passersby, in dozens of different languages. A symphony being played at an outdoor concert far in the distance. The laughter of children playing at a nearby playground. The bark of dogs at the dog run. A thread of guitar music appears at the edge of my hearing and weaves into the tapestry, and a look around finds a busker quietly but skillfully playing a jazz tune. A few notes from someone’s too-loud headphones penetrate, and then, there is the distant sound of sirens to remind you that you are still in New York.

A few stops at some vendors’ stalls adds smell, texture and taste. The hard, brown crust of fresh sourdough bread that leaves traces of flour on your fingers and reminds you of long-forgotten kitchens. The small, creamy lump of cave-aged cheddar cheese that smells almost too strong – and then unlocks its particular bouquet of ripe, heavy flavors inside your mouth. The crisp grapeness of the homemade wine washes it down perfectly. And the friendly smiles of the people who hand these to you, who actually made them for you, are a wonderful finishing note of happy flavors.

I collect these sensations like raindrops in the palm of my hand. I swirl them around in my consciousness – each pleasant enough on its own, but blending into a thing of marvel when mixed together.

In a way, it’s even more touching that all this is happening here, amid the unnaturally tall buildings and the corporate logos. Union Square, so fast-moving and commercial in mid-day, grows soft near sunset. Turn your head away from the grey residential boxes on one side, and you will see some lovely old buildings in shades of brown, red, green and ash – hearth colors, soft against the soft purpling sky. If you don’t focus too much on the bright posters advertising everything from a new Broadway musical to underwear, it’s easy to convert the scene to sepia.

But I do not convert it to sepia, because it is easy to enjoy it just the way it is. I do not pine for 1950s Paris when I truly possess 2000s New York. I drink it in, I sip it slowly, sometimes I gulp it down for the feeling of warmth and fullness and the promise of intoxication it burns down my throat. It is a bottomless cup of joy and beauty.

For the first time, the yellow of the taxi cabs reminds me of goldenrods. In their own way, the taxi cabs, too, are beautiful.

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