Conversations with an Herb Seller

I really do not know what else to call her.

The walk to the open market in Tripoli is from the main square through the narrow roads on uneven pavements. As you leave the square there are modern shops and banks and as you approach the market there are general trading stores, saddle makers and even an iron monger. Although Tripoli may give you the impression of sophistication with its smart bars and fancy shops, it really is a hard core survivalist agricultural trading town, where farmers can sell their wares and buy supplies to crack open the rock strewn earth to plant vegetables.

Originally they used furrows to distribute the water in the fields, then they moved onto long steel linkable pipes, with bulbous clamps to join one to the other. Now the shops sell boring black plastic pipes in big rolls, to be used for a season or two, then discarded.

The market happens on you suddenly. My father always stopped just before, on the sidewalk, where a lady used to sell fresh fried bunches of oregano. Now, I grow fresh herbs at home to cook with, but this dried oregano from the mountains of Arcadia, growing amongst the rocks and with hardly any water, is the most aromatic herb I know. A few pinches of the leaves can add another dimension to food. And if the food happens to be robust local Arcadian lamb or tomatoes, accompanied by homemade cheese, then the gods of flavour have blessed you.

Clutching the bag of mountain herbs my father would enter the market, and speak to stall holders, always spending more time with people from our village or the villages of his close friends in South Africa. He would taste and apple here, sample a cucumber and buy a few tomatoes for the house. When he was alone in the village on business he would never buy a lot, and then only classics like bread, tomatoes, onions and cheese.

By now the morning was late and the sun high and hot. He would make his way back to the main square past the church that used to house the coffee shop, a small roastery that sold fresh ground coffee, an added aroma to the heavenly incense wafting from the church: frankincense and myrrh . Off another side road was a cafe under some chestnut trees, large and shady. He would pull up a chair, usually the same one, greet a few people he knew, ask of their families and businesses (although I really think they do very little work there, hence the dire current economic times) and have a  coffee.

He always finished by saying how he loved shopping like this, and not in a mall.

Conversations with a Portuguese Tiler

My father had a Portuguese tiler working for him at the time of the main expansions of our house.

“Patria”, he would shout as he passed the tiler, and the tiler would give him a broad smile. There was a labourer or two, but they were always in the background.  The tiler did all the laying, each tile placed to perfection and on the veranda, edged with a perfect cement frame.

I used to love watching them work. As a young boy I was fascinated but the trades; carpenters, tillers, electricians, even plumbers. These were men who created something every day. They were also story tellers and dreamers.

The tiler was particularly happy doing the front veranda. He had recently completed the floor and veranda of my father’s tavern at the back, in the same style as the church. He didn’t enjoy that job so much, because there was no cement border for him to show his skill. Although I am sure he enjoyed the idea of the open entertainment area. My contribution to the tavern was to hand the pelmets with my friend Reggie. We used large iron brackets and placed 3 planks of split pole to add to the rustic atmosphere.

I think I used to irritate the tradesman. Perhaps they thought I was spying on them for my father. I was not. My father often had the work at the house done when he was away in Greece, so he avoided all the tension of renovations!That’s why I hate renovations.

The one year I did get involved was when my father decided to redo the brick driveway. It was an Afrikaner that had done some work on the houses, but I wouldn’t class him as a regular contractor for my father. He did the most awful job of laying bricks, with no eye for detail or level. In fact, I remember he just dropped his labourers off to do the work and went off to another job. No pride! So he and I had a big fight, and eventually the bricks were relaid.

Unlike “Patria”.

When he finished the front veranda with the perfect cement rim he added his trade mark. Not a signature nor imprint, but a coin.

This time I remember he put three coins in, one of each of the corners. For more good luck? For good luck for each of the children?

“Just good luck” he said.