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.

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