My love for markets is well known among friends, people that accidentally read this and strangers whom I tell randomly. Luckily, I am not alone in this. My friend and I have always discussed our mutual fondness but we never truly realized the extent of it. Well, until this one particular moment.
The set: a japanese restaurant in Dublin. The time: afternoon, hammer time, doesn’t matter. We were, as I recall, having a completely normal conversation that somehow led to a “Oh, the market!” (long sigh). We weren’t saying anything special, merely poking at a soft spot. Apparently, that soft spot was much softer than we thought it was because we had tears in our eyes! Our voices were trembling and there were definitely water works! On both fronts! We rapidly went from crying to laughing because it was ridiculous ! We had no idea what caused it, but it just seemed that we had an overflowing amount of love for the farmers market. Months passed and somewhere inside remained the question. Why? Why the excessive tenderness? A month in Bacau and I finally understood.
I was a market child and remain faithful to this day. I remember looking up at the stalls,just like being at the foot of a mountain gazing at the top and feeling very small and very far away. My tiny hand was in my dad’s big, puffy, soft hand. At times it was in granddad's big, puffy-but-not-soft hand. His felt different - it was as if a thin layer of fine sandpaper covered the surface of his skin, and he had deeper valleys and rougher mountain peaks. It gave me a different kind of grip. In my dad’s hand, my hand would get warm and pink and his flesh and my flesh would stick together the way melted cheese sticks to soft bread. With grandpa it was more like cream cheese hanging onto toasted bread.
They seemed to know everybody and everybody seemed to know them. We’d always stay for a talk and a taste even if we weren’t planning on buying what they were selling. I’d be “downstairs” surrounded by legs: legs in pants, legs in skirts, spaghetti-legs, sausage-legs, legs in motion, slow, fast, wobbly; legs, legs, legs as far as the eye could see! A whiff of freshly baked bread would make its way through the crowded leg parade, tickle my nose, warm the inside of my nostrils, making me impatient. Then I’d get a small bribe in the form of cheese or cherries or anything that could momentarily shut me up. All I could think of was “Mmm, this would go well with that bread I’m smelling!”
When we’d eventually get to the bakery, I’d be overwhelmed by all the choices but then my dad would ask the magic question: “What’s the hottest bread you have?” and just like that, all the others ceased to exist. May the steaming hot bread warm your hands and your guts and your heart.
On our way out of the market area, we’d enter one last place: “Agricola” - the meat place. Mostly known for its chicken but our bread demanded something else: good old-fashioned pork pastrami. All of that became a ritual that withstood the passing of time. It’s like a natural map that’s engraved within us, the ones that once held the same hands and walked the same roads.
You see, my hand grew in my father’s hand (though it never outgrew it), my grandpa’s hand disappeared, my dad stopped going to the market (or anywhere else for that matter). Seems like everything’s changed but the pastrami lady is still there, the bakery keeps baking the same breads, the watermelons are always sold in the stalls in front of the market and we never stopped asking “What’s the hottest bread you have?”
Now I look at the stalls from above: I’m on top of the mountain, baby! Who thought I’d miss the leg parade at the bottom when I can finally look the peaches right in the face?!
Little boys and girls should always take trips to the market, for the market is a magical land with tiny mountains of tomatoes, beans and other types of beans.
Every stall is like a new ride, with new smells and new joys. Lavender, linden flower, peppers, melons - you name it, they probably have it!
Apart from my own personal connection with the market and all the significance I find there, there’s another very simple explanation that came to me while I was talking to a farmer/vendor about the herbs she was selling and I asked about green beans (as one does). She said something about her crop being late this summer because it’s a slightly different type. It hit me then and there! It’s all about connection! This woman plants every carrot, every parsley, every potato! She gets on her hands and knees, she tends, she cares, she reaps what she sows and then she comes to the market with soil underneath her nails and she sells. It’s a labour of love! It’s a chain of care that gets broken in supermarkets where it becomes cold and impersonal. Not to mention the fact that most of the time they taste like nothingness with a hint of perfume. Markets are real jewels and we should treasure them and have them everywhere! It’s one of the things I miss the most from back home.
Plus, think about it: there is something profoundly moving in the whole act. Planting a seed, putting in the work and the patience and watching it grow into something. Isn’t that what we all do or what we strive for? It comes in a milion shapes but it’s ultimately the same thing. We forget that and it’s such a basic human trait. At the end of the day, it’s all love.
That’s that, I’ve now fully clarified my teary reaction. If you still think I’m a weirdo, that’s fine.
All that time spent in the outdoors in times of sizzling heat is enough to drive one into a delirious state. That’s why we went back to our one and only saviour: the mall. Well, that, plus I did have a bad case of “Girl interrupted” meets “Titanic”, if you would please remember; that needed to be re-addressed. One does not simply give up.
This time, I took my sister with me, I grabbed the biggest size H&M can provide in a boobholder and I went to the dressing-room to non-metaphorically try that on for size. It looked hot but I thought a bigger size would fit me better. A bigger size would be wiser, I wouldn’t risk the dreaded strap marks and the discomfort. I convinced myself that it was not a good idea. Sure, it looked good, but was it gonna feel good in the long run? I also thought that I may not be thinking clearly because I was obviously infatuated, I couldn’t distinguish right from wrong anymore. This was a fruity cocktail of high expectations, fear and self doubt topped with a crazy straw. I had to get out of there. I convinced myself that I did the right thing, I’ve grown, I’ve become a smarter shopper. I buy wisely now, I do not get swept away by beauty, I need functionality, dammit! Somewhere, far away you may hear “bullshit” echoing calmly and rolling down the hills all the way into the city.
What better way to take your mind off a crush then by going to a sausage fest? Literally.
Also known as “Hramul Bacaului”, a festival/fair/annual fete that we use as an excuse to stuff our faces with fried, grilled or sweet stuff in the name of Petru (aka Peter) and Pavel (aka...Pavel?). Yes, the apostles, they got this gig years ago and they’ve been our town’s patrons for as long as I can remember. Every summer we throw a party in their name, eat, get shit-faced and listen to traditional music.
We went there in the daytime, before the madness begins and everybody and their mother joins the fun. We went like ladies, ate like pigs. Look for yourself:
We washed that with a cheap beer, took some old-fashioned digestive pills to help with all the grease and the low quality meat. Then, we had this beauty:
Known as chimney cake to the english speaking world, this is a thing of joy. “Kürtőskalács (Hungarian pronunciation: [kyrtøːʃkɒlaːtʃ]), sometimes transliterated kurtosh kalach) is a spit cake specific to Hungarian-speaking regions in Romania.” Thank you Wikipedia for your dry but useful input. Now let’s talk about what really matters. “What is it made of?” the choir of drooling children asks.
Well, children, it’s made of a sweet, yeast dough that’s left to raise. Then it’s rolled and cut into one big circular strip that is then wrapped around a cone-shaped baking spit. They rock&roll that in granulated sugar and then roast it over charcoal. I hear some defy all the rules of common sense and baste it with melted butter while it’s spinning round and round over the hot ashes! Now, those are the people I’d like to hang out with, because they know how to party!
After it’s achieved that coveted golden brown color and the sugar caramelized into a glossy, crispy crust, chopped walnuts rain all over it until it can bear no more! They also do cinnamon, coconut or plain, but for this gal walnuts hit the spot. You walk and eat, eat and walk and wish you could have access to this 24/7. Everyday would be a feast. As reality crudely wakes me up from my cake fantasy, I realize I’m craving these badly. I have to stop talking about them right now or I’ll die in a pool of my own drool. Not a pretty way to go.
Next on my list of “small town fair” gems are the roasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Normally, you see these in stores, packed up and everything. Back when I was a kid, my grandma used to buy them from the market and roast them herself or we’d encounter such “establishments” that catered to our needs:
When I stumbled upon this, I almost lost my marbles ! This is my version of “like a kid in a candy store”! If you’re one of those people who are thinking about hygiene and other such irrelevant things, I can’t help you. This act is clearly performed and enjoyed by romantics only. To have those unknown chubby hands pour me some home-roasted seeds was a thing of joy. I’m a sucker for the simple things, can’t blame a girl for that. You can judge, but you can’t blame!
The one thing that tops this experience is eating the seeds directly from the majestic sunflower. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have sunflowers in my garden, so I’d get them right from the source at times. I ate a lot of unwashed carrots, raw grapes, green prunes and I must admit I ate cabbage with my face more than one time. If you can motorboat something, why wouldn’t you?
Seeds in our pockets, sausage in our bellies and kurtos kalac in our mouths we strolled down Bacau’s city centre and it was quite pleasurable.
The second day I was starting to suffer the consequences of my sausage party actions. Irritable bowel syndrome is like a monster that lays nice and latent in a cave until a bunch of stupid peasants with torches wake the beast and then all hell breaks loose. To top this off, this was shopping day for grandma, with grandma. Another latent monster that wakes up when poked.
Where do I begin, to tell the story of how great a love can be? I know, I’ll begin with the weather. Surprise: it was still as hot as Satan’s dorm-room, so we decided to get an early start, you know, to avoid the “Burnt by the sun” hours. This leads us to our next point. Time of the day: morning. State of mind: relatively grumpy, because it was relatively morning. State of bowels: irritated. Mission: get grandma some presentable, “classy lady” type summer clothes that lack the crazy prints that she’s used to hypnotize us for the last decade. Grandma state of mind: stubborn. Aunt’s state of mind: persistent. Sounds like a recipe for insanity-topped nachos. Mmmm… nachos.
In the course of 15 long minutes grandma has managed to dismiss anything my aunt suggested. I gave it a try, one almost made it but then it got thrown out of the competition at the last moment. We went to the next store that I’ll later remember as the “Who knew I could lose my patience so fast?” store. Other 4 or 5 other stores followed. Nothing could please the woman! It was either too short, too tight, only came in “dead people colours”, too simple, too revealing, too expensive! You name it, she probably used it as an excuse! It was like the geriatric version of Goldilocks and the 3 freakin’ bears!
After a while, (a half an hour or years) we admitted defeat and we let grams lead us to her usual place of business: “Piata Mare” aka The Big Market aka the bazaar. Here, the sun was loose and we had no place to hide! Suddenly “patience” seemed to be the hardest word. You might hope that changing the background of the story may change the course of the story or the main character’s behaviour. It did not. It changed mine, though. Add sun to injury and I’m done. I went looking for a pharmacy ‘cause I needed some outside help. Sometimes inner-power means shit when you’ve had too much cheese and questionable meat. Fortunately, I found the drugstore fairy and she hooked me up! Relaaaax, I had a prescription and everything, no funny business. Now that I had my bag full of goodies, all I had to do was eat, take the pills and repeat until the evil spirits are banished.
I return to the “shopping” area only to find my grandma basically in the same place having the same dilemma she had before I left. It’s like time stood still and I don’t mean that in a good way! We left empty-handed, grandma couldn’t decide. She said “never mind, I’ll come back another day”. That being said, we headed to the fruits and veggies part of the market where I got to be the weird one that stares at the produce and lingers. Then I bought all the honey I could carry and all the cherries I hoped to be able to eat without consequences. The light at the end of my tunnel was this pastry/bakery shop that I’ve always loved. I couldn’t wait to eat some of their stuff and risk some of those dreaded repercussions. Sometimes, a girl just has to give into temptation. After all, she’s leaving town soon and life’s for impulsive decisions and either immediate or long term regrets. I was sweating from the sun and drooling in anticipation! I was reaching the finish line - so close I could smell the cheese pies! - when my grandma stops and says “Maybe I should’ve gotten that skirt, you know, the white and black one. I mean, I do need a skirt…” My heart fell into my pelvis, freaked out and ran back up again! I felt dizzy and dangerous. I definitely shouldn’t be around when complex decisions are being made very slowly and painfully. No, I should be locked up in a place that’s out of the sun, filled with food to distract me and calm my murderous instincts. In this rare moment of lucidity I suggested they go, do what they had to do, I’ll be in the bakery, stuffing my face with pies and pills, my two best friends. I made such a good case for P&P, that they decided to join me for a quick bite and then go back with some new-found joie de vivre aka belly full of hot pockets.
Imma make this long story short and simple: I ate every kind of cheese pies/pillows/hot pockets they had. First the salty one known as The Merdenea.
Second, the sweet cheese pie with the yeasty soft dough, the star, the one and only : Poale-n brau. Branzoiace. If I had to translate it to English - and it appears I have to - I’d call it The Big Cheese, because it is!
Mot à mot it means “hem in waist”. If you would lift the very bottom part of your skirt (long skirt) to your waist line you would get something that resembles the shape of these pies. I like to imagine that country girls carried the pies in the fold of their skirt delivering them hot from the oven to the ones working the field. That way, the pies would stay nice and warm, the women’s thighs wouldn’t get burned and it would totally create a pie-ception. They wouldn’t think of that, though. They’d think the men must be fed. In my mind that sounds at least slightly heroic. Plus, I think it could be kind of hot.
I thought I was done but then they got some brand new beauties straight outta the oven. “Grab us while we’re hot” I heard them whisper, the dusty sugar on their surface jumping off in slow motion. They looked like puffed up pillows of joy and I cannot deny myself joy.
Flaky layered perfection with a sweet cheese core. Mamma, may I?! But I didn’t wait for permission, I followed my nose on this one. That was one cheesy day to remember!
A couple of days passed, my aunt flew back to Italy, my sister went to the seaside and basically “then they were three”. We went back to my grandma’s house, ate some leftovers and watched some hip turkish soap-opera that all moms and grandmas watch. Then one of us fell asleep and ruined the crazy party, so we called it a day.
Next day: what could a mother and daughter do on a “mother-daughter day”? Well, I’ll tell ya’! We ate some ice cream, visited some other grandmas, had some fried chicken and oh yeah! we bought some bras.
Well, not some bras, a bra - The Bra.
Oooh, but I did. We somehow ended up in the H&M because sale season is evil and we are weak of spirit. Once in there, I heard The Call Of The Bra even stronger. Like Frodo, I tried my best to resist it but it was much too powerful. There it was, the last one in my size. I realized in that moment that I’ve never tried so hard to buy something in my life. It feels like I went on dates with this bra, auditioning it for marriage or something. It was clear by this point that floods and logic will not keep us apart. It was meant to be. I tried it on and I finally gave in. It was mine. I can’t explain why it felt right now, and wrong before. Maybe it was just my ever-doubting nature that prevented me from seeing the truth or maybe sometimes it needs to feel wrong for us to recognize when it does feel right.
If it would be socially acceptable, I would wear this bra as a top or at least with a lot of opened buttons so that it can see the world. Unfortunately, I would be considered an attention-seeking slut. The world is simply not ready for a fairly bosomy girl and her bra to walk freely down the street. I’d like to say that it’s fine and I’ll wait patiently, but sadly, life has an expiration date and gravity is a bitch.
The day before the last day we ate at my grandma’s place. I had spoken to her on the phone and told her not worry about dessert because I wanted to get back to that pastry place and get me some goodies. She verbally nodded and we had ourselves a deal.
Later, we found ourselves waiting for her in front of the building ‘cause she hadn’t come home yet and we had no key. Silly grandma got distracted while running errands and forgot that time flies even if you’re not having impressive amounts of fun.
I can’t for the life of me remember what we had for dinner that time! I think we just had ciorba and we agreed that I would buy merdenele (the salty cheese pies) from the same place.
I do remember exactly what we had for dessert, though. Its name: Trigon cu nuca aka Walnut Triangle. Filo pastry, buttered and layered, generously filled with a mystery walnut mixture and then folded in a triangle shape. I’ve never been a fan of geometry but if they would’ve used tastier triangles, I bet I’d be a groupie.
When the time came to get these babies out of the bag, grandma inquired what what is that I got from “Gio” (the name of the bakery). I told, I showed, she laughed, I was intrigued. She gets out of the room and comes back with a bag of her own. She says “Look inside!” half guilty, half mischievous. It was as if I was looking in the same bag, because somehow she managed to replicate this! It was a very “Jesus turn water into wine” moment for me. “How did you do this?” I asked, bewildered. She then proceeds to tell me that she thought I might not make it there and she was in the city so she bought some herself. “I didn’t know what you wanted, but I picked these up and hoped for the best.” Either grandma is a mind reader or the Universe sometime does like me and rewards me with double the amount of walnut pastry treats. Well played, Universe, well played. I accept your offerings and stuff my face with them. Cheers!
On my last day, I packed my bag, then I went to the market and did something I’ve never done before. I bought green beans, cherries and sour cherries, apricots, urda, cas (romanian cheeses), lovage, tarragon.
I put them all in my luggage and hoped for the best. I didn’t have enough. Not enough time, not enough cherries and peaches and watermelons, not enough mom time and sister time, not enough friends fun, not enough and yet too much. It was time to go back to my home, my cat, my bed, my other struggles. The things I could cram in my luggage, I did. The others I’ll have to take with me in another way, but boy, how I wish they made luggages for that too. As I was getting on the plane, the sun was setting. How poetic, how meaningful, how wonderfully freakin’ sad. Goodbye it is.
Landed in Dublin, the nippy air woke me up and brought me back to my senses (whatever that means). I was now really excited, wanted to get home as fast as I could!
The same Universe that made Walnut Triangle happen also made this happen(?)I Got back home after almost an hour cab ride because my driver was so old that he literally forgot where I was going, got confused twice. My phone was acting up, so I couldn’t call anyone and no one could call me and I couldn’t freaking access a map to guide the mole man in these dark,confusing times we were going through! We eventually made it and I guess that’s what really matters. I hope he made it too. As I closed the door and waved goodbye I got to thinking...What if he doesn’t remember where he’s supposed to go next? I’m not entirely sure he knew his own address,poor sweet ol’ muffin of a man! But hey, if he made it to a place he didn’t know, I trust his nose led him back to his molehill.
Me and my bra were doing great! We became inseparable, I couldn’t imagine a time when I thought we wouldn’t be a great fit. Now I had only one regret and that regret was that I only had one bra. See what I did there? With the “only” and the “one” and the “regret”? No? Let’s move on. Why didn’t I buy another one? I need a spare one! Wear and tear is real, people and it affects the lives of bras everywhere! It turns out my obsession was not yet over, the fire of lunacy burns wild inside this one! What I did was hope with all my boobs and soul that they would have the same collection in Dublin, on stock, my size! After a couple of failed attempts at H&Ms that did not have a lenjerie departament (wtf?) I went to the H&M location that had the most floors, I climbed aaaaall the stairs and voila! There, closer to the skies I found them. Again! What’s that? Half price?!
It’s a regular day miracle! What happened next is most expected. Why buy one backup when you can buy two? If anyone is struggling to do the bra-math, that’s a total of 3. I have 3 bras and no regrets.