Sunday, 28 June 2009

On communist idiology and erotic fruits

I have come to a conclusion that one of the main criterion (let’s be honest, THE main criterion) in choosing my future place of residence ought to be its proximity to a good farmers’ market. And by ‘good’ I don’t mean a bijou type of a market, with a handful of artfully set up stalls of organic burgers and couscous with sun-dried tomatoes. I am after gluttony of shackled tables, all offering the same, all offering something different...

I have come back from a week in Croatia, you see. I am a new person, with a renewed belief that a (post) communist space, sea and sun can work together, even if the first few days you are in a haze of (seemingly) incompatible sensations - clean and luxurious sea, rude and haughty service, lightly (as opposed to Northern European 'cook to death' method) fish and vegetables, uninterrupted kind sun and a rumble of Slav sounds all around. I felt on the edge at first, not being able to put my finger on my feelings and the surroundings - a sense of displacement, disbelief and even envy that the hoards of Slavs managed to settle in this Adriatic paradise some many centuries ago - well done, bro! My predecessors in the not-so-far-away Ukraine chose steppes and sub-zero winters. The territory of Croatia was part of the Roman empire, and invaded by everyone from Turks to Venetians - the Italian influence is particularly strong here, with many local Serbo-Croatian dialects (a language so close to Russian that I could almost read newspapers) sounding positively Italianised - ciaos, sing-song rhythms and energetic gestures added to my overall Slav-Latin confusion. But it's Croatian markets (surprise-surprise) that made me feel if not at home then definitely homey.

The nearly orgasmic feeling of being able to just pop around a corner and have a selection of 10, 15, 30 little stalls all offering the same basic, beautiful, fully ripen products; all differently priced depending on their size and purpose (eat now or can for later); all having their customer and making a small but a buck. I aimlessly dreamed of organising guided tours here for the English farmers and producers, to show how selling the same product can still work in one market...

Unfortunately, we know well that the underlying structures of the markets in Britain are too different for us, on the Island, to even dream of having a market culture (things are changing, but the result is still uncertain). The Continent (and in my view ex-Communist countries in particular) still have masses of people with their allotments, growing a little bit of this and that, some for their own bellies, some to earn an extra coin. In Croatia it is a combination of a fertile land, mild climate and many years of Soviet food shortages that result in proliferation of markets. In the olden days growing your own was almost a necessity, even for the city dwellers. My own theory is that for many people under the Communist rule of no private property having an allotment meant having space for that Cosmo-induced 'me' time, freedom to have different conversations with your friends, creating something of your own, for yourself, getting away from the concrete reality of party-enforced limits. Perhaps it was all a lot more relaxed in Yugoslavia (I still remember my parents dreaming of a Czech 'garniture' - Yugoslavian furniture was highly desired for the unknown to me reasons), but things are clearly different here now. Even in food-phrensied countries like Italy and France markets are more professional than here it seems... But I'm transgressing away, here are the highlights of what you should try:

Figs - the freshness, light perfume and obvious eroticism of this large and squishy, lime-coloured fruit with its pale purple inside is unbeatable consumed with lashings of (local, lavender)honey and morsels of very mild (local, goat) cheese or just devoured as it is, lying Emperor-style by the sea, gazing leisurely at the surrounding female bodies.

Cherries - tiny, intensely sweet and sour jewels, the colour of a gypsy girl's eyes (and why not??), are surprisingly refreshing in the heat, especially when chilled and swallowed first thing in the morning after a thirst-inducing night. I kept dreaming of having them with peeps and all sunken in an almost-frozen vanilla ice-cream (note, NOT of local variety - overly-creamy and sugary - but hard and Italian, to sunk your teeth into).

Prošek - sweet dessert wine made out of dried grapes, syrupy in texture and blood-coloured. Highly recommend the kind produced in the isle of Vis (the island was closed to public until 1990's being a military post and the main hideout of Tito). Drink it cold after the abundant dinner of fish and molluscs; it gives energy and sweet dreams.

And of course, THE fish, on which just a bit later...

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