Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rainy Morning at the Piaţa

As I coaxed my eyes open this morning, they were greeted by the perfect conditions for a lazy morning in bed.  Wandering over to the clock, they pleasantly noted that it wasn’t even seven yet.  The light that found its way into the room seemed to face an extra struggle today…it was a bit too dark for even this early hour.  It lacked that reddish fall tint of individual rays; instead the light was muted and unspecific, seeming slightly to obscure rather than illuminate the lines and colors of everything it touched.  Yes, in fact, it was cloudy, and in the States I would have curled up with a book and cup of tea with that comfortable weekend feeling – that feeling where one can revel in being awake, only because there is no mandate to actually be awake.

But here in my corner of Moldova, Sunday morning means the big piaţa (market), over in Olaneşti.  We have our own piaţa in my village on Saturday mornings, but the Sunday piaţa in Olaneşti is the real deal, with vendors coming from all over to hawk their wares in this ancient commercial center on the banks of the Nistru River.  Olaneşti is just a few kilometers away and only 2,000 or so people larger, but the river and the piaţa make all the difference.  On a Sunday morning when barely a person can be seen in my village, Olaneşti is buzzing with excitement, and one is more likely to meet a neighbor from my village there than on our own deserted streets.

I’ve been here for a week and a half now, and have been looking forward to a chance to make this trip, so when my host parents mentioned they’d be going this week I jumped at the chance.  Piaţa happens early though, and thus it was that we found ourselves piling into the old Lada at 7:30, defying the rain that had by this time begun.  Besides, it’s harder to slight the rain when living with a close connection to the earth; it hasn’t rained in over six weeks here, and the crops – which supply the majority of the food every family eats here – are badly showing it.

So rather than depress the mood, the rain lent a heady feeling of excitement to piaţa day, which already has something of the feeling of a carnival.  Vendors lined the main streets, much like in a Midwestern town’s summer fair, and the air was filled with the smell of fried food and fresh produce.  Jostling our way through the crowd, we scavenged from one section to another, constantly making the acquaintance of new friends of my host family.

The only discernible organization to the piaţa seems reminiscent of medieval guilds – stalls are grouped by similarity, such that all the dairy producers occupy the same long row, each selling almost exactly the same three products: butter, smîntina (a heavy cream resembling sour cream), and brinza (a homemade cheese resembling feta).  Then there’s the pork hall, a narrow low ceilinged warehouse with mound after mound of every imaginable cut of pork imaginable.  This is where I got to observe a man splitting a pig’s head with an axe on a stout tree stump.  Sometime when it’s not raining, I’ll be sure to grab a picture of this.

Mostly, I was just there to observe.  Amongst the various stalls of odds and ends – the flee market guild, if you will – there is normally a bike seller.  He seems to have sat today out on account of the rain though.  I did, however, have the chance to find bananas (not available at the local village shops), with which I plan to make my host family banana bread.  (They’ve been dropping numerous hints that they’re looking forward to me introducing them to some new foods…)

And finally, there’s another volunteer from my training group in Olaneşti.  It was my first in-person contact with another American in 11 days, so we relished the chance to share a hurried half hour conversation, huddled together over a cup of tea and placenta (fried cheese stuffed dough).  We were probably quite the sight – two oddly dressed foreigners under a dripping tree, laden with a bag of bananas and keeping an eye on the time to make sure they didn’t overspend their half hour.  Of course, we recognized it as the beginning of a quite regular routine – Sunday mornings at the piaţa.  Once I have a bike, the ride is quite reasonable, and I could see it being quite the beautiful ride on a crisp autumn day.

But maybe, once this all becomes routine, I’ll sit the rainy days out…


Katie said...

That was a beautiful little story, Zach. I love how you describe everything in extreme are becoming quite the writer. I feel like I was right there with you, wandering amongst the stalls!

Would you like to make a skype date? It would be great to hear/see you. Let me know, hopefully we can work something out. Till then, keep on giving us these delightful little anecdotes!

Katie said...

What a beautiful story, Zach. I love the detail that you go into when describing the morning light and the are becoming quite the writer. I felt like I was right beside you, meandering along the stalls.

Are you available for a skype date anytime soon? I would love to hear/see you and catch up. Let me know...till then, keep on giving us these fantastic little anecdotes!