There’s something about the energy of a food market that invigorates me. The colors, the smells, the sounds and the sense of community observed as a regular shoppers with their proprietor all feed my soul in a way that the food would fuel my body. I was first able to feel this energy in the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City but I did not fall in love with markets until my first visit to the Sant’Ambrogio market during a study abroad trip to Florence, Italy. Things here felt different. It wasn’t that the Italians were taking their time in the market as La Dolce Vita would dictate, everyone seemed to want to get their shopping finished as much as any New Yorker, but the attitudes were different creating a different atmosphere.
The attitude of one vendor was unavoidable. His vocal calls about his wares punctured the din of general conversation and plastic bag rustling like a person talking in full voice on a cellphone in a library. While some fellow American students and Florentines scoffed at his brashness, I found it intriguing and endearing. Our instructor and guide for the market tells us that this kind of calling is typical of the Italian south, that producers chant in rhyme and rhythm to turn your head their way. Following the call, I tasted the cheese and had as much of a conversation as one semester of university Italian would allow. It was this brutal exchange that defined my romantic chemistry with markets. I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying in a Campania dialect, but I wanted to attempt to talk to him, to taste the cheeses in front of him. He seemed to want to share (or at least sell) what he had and was generous, outgoing and didn’t seem at all disgruntled to be doing the work he was doing.
Markets for me became a place for people, not just products as I’d always known growing up sitting in the basket of major supermarkets.
As an amateur photographer I choose to shoot this market for the class project. I returned on another day to spend the entire morning capturing different light and different people and I inadvertently became this cheesemongers stalker. Paparazzi like, I hid behind columns and other people trying to capture him in his natural habitat. And like a good paparazzo, I got the money shot.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to think of him same way since. And I always think of him wandering through the streets of Napoli when someone calls for me to come to their stand.