I woke up Sunday morning in Astoria, looked out the window, and the streets were covered with white tents. A farmers’ market had sprung up all around my hotel.
I must attract these things, which is fine by me. I’d thought I’d have to miss buying my produce at the farmers’ markets this weekend, since I was doing the Hood-to-Coast thing, but the gods of vegetables must be looking out for me.
I pack up and check out of the hotel, stow my stuff in the car, and head for the tents.
Unlike most of the farmers’ markets I encounter in Portland, Astoria’s is a mixed bag of produce, plants, food, craft and handy-dandies, more of an outdoor market than a locavore’s paradise.
I find speckledy red-and-black sweet cherries, which later turn out to have a rich, dark and winey flavor. The peaches look incredible, and the first apples of the season are out in abundance. I grab a few of each, head to the checkout line…and discover I’m out of cash.
First rule of farmers’ markets: Cash. Cash. Cash.
I pay for my produce with change and some lonely $1s, dredged from the bottom of my purse, then start back to find an ATM. On the way, I encounter Samba Daramy, a smiling man from Sierra Leone, making baskets.
And in the chill fogs of Astoria, I’m suddenly back in Provence, where these beautiful woven baskets are the market carryalls of choice. They’ll hold a ton, their wide, leather-wrapped handles are easy on the arm, and they can collapse into a narrow roll when you don’t need them. I mention this to Samba and he grins, “Our people, our baskets, we are everywhere!”
A woman interrupts, “The baskets collapse? How?” so Samba demonstrates. She looks astonished, then chooses a bright purple, yellow and red basket for her marketing. As she moves off, Samba questions me intently about my basket, its colors and shape, then nods, looking off in the distance, lost in his thoughts.
“And you wet it regularly?” he suddenly asks.
“Yes, you need to soak it in water every few months, to keep it healthy and make it last longer. Otherwise it will crack. Let it sit out to dry, however. Otherwise it will become moldy.”
“Or in this part of the world,” he grimaces, “You can just take it outside. It is always raining and it will become wet.”
I make a mental note to go home and wet my basket, which right now is sitting on top of the printer cabinet, full of dried flowers and (probably) spider corpses. Then I choose a smaller basket for regular marketing, and buy it from Samba using my credit card.
He swipes the card in his wireless machine, frowns, and tries again. “It’s not taking it,” he says, looking at me with concern and carefully placing two “TRANSACTION NOT COMPLETED” slips in front of me.
I’m embarrassed. “Well, I’m on my way to the ATM,” I begin, “Let me come back with cash.”
“No, just write me a check. I think the problem is my machine, sometimes the cards don’t go through,” he says with a sigh. “I used to have the mechanical card swiping machine, it was much easier. But people would give me cards with no money and I lost $300. So I got this one, but sometimes it doesn’t work.”
“Uhm, Samba, if someone’s card isn’t good, do you think you should be taking their checks?”
‘You won’t be a problem,” he says, waving me off, “The check is fine.”
So I write a check, load the fruit into my new basket and move off. There are lots of handmade soap vendors (a weakness of mine) and plenty of glass fusers selling the usual fazolettos, sushi dishes and scrap glass pendants. I find peonies so neon-hot pink they glow, and artists painting the usual seacoast scenes.
A group of bikers and dogs stops me on the way back from the ATM (the card was fine). “Hey, you worked the desk at Desdemona, right?” one of them says genially.
“What’s Desdemona?” I ask, bewildered, and one of the women elbows the questioner in the ribs.
“See, I TOLD you it wasn’t her,” she snorts, and stomps off. There’s a snuffling at my feet, and I look down to see a brown-spotted pitbull, nose up and sniffing my basket.
He’s wearing a pink felt headband full of daisies, and may possibly be the most miserable dog in existence. He’s sweet and patient, but it’s clear he’d rather be anywhere else than walking a farmers’ market with a bunch of strange dogs laughing at him.
“I know, it looks like hell,” he says in a low voice, nodding at the woman who just stomped off, “But my wife, she makes us leave it on. She says it makes the dog look friendlier.”
I glance down at the embarrassed dog, about 60 pounds of pure muscle with jaws that could crush a skull, and give the guy a skeptical look. He blushes and hurries after his wife.
And I never did find out what Desdemona was.