City Market Reflections
by Avery Chenoweth
Although I've been coming to the CityMarket since the early 90s, I've never worked on the other side of the table until this spring. And in doing so, I've discovered there are two markets, both as distinct as parallel dimensions in some Sci-fi movie.
On those Saturdays in the 90s, it was pleasant to meander from tent to tent, and browse, which meant that I would examine the items, engage the seller, then say goodbye when my interest waned, and I wandered ahead into the afternoon. While browsing that way, it was easy to see, or to avoid, faces in the crowd; and reconnect with grad students from as far off as the English or even History departments, which meant that they had traveled some medieval landscape of the mind to connect with farmers and craftspeople, to purchase their goods and wares.
Trained as a journalist, I was looking for ox-bow social events, those pleasant diversions from the main stream where new ideas drift up, grow, and become islands or outposts of the New. Now that I am on the vendor's side of the table--with Dr. Eva's SkinCare--the other side of the experience is now more than vivid. It is necessary, and in ways that I hadn't seen before.
Faces still move through the fluctuations of the crowd, many known to me now more than twenty years, others still new; all are fascinating. This time around, I am stationary, and I can well appreciate those folks who look, see, touch, and then move on without buying anything.
While we remain present under our tent, though, we are there to make a living. We are taking part in an evolving sidebar economy, one foisted upon the degree-holding public for whom the careers of cities are either not available or sustaining. We make stuff with our hands and sell it. We look out to see the buildings where the glassed-in dreams are managed here and in cities around the country that have Saturday markets. Behind the reflective windows people work to make products the importance of which is all a matter of faith. Were they all to fail at once, the victims would reach for...tangibles...like bread, and, yes, soap. Hard to imagine that our plucky heroes, crawling past the zombies, would risk their lives for, oh, I don't know--FaceBook stock?
On any given Saturday at the CityMarket in Charlottesville, the story unfolds around us.
Eva stands at our table, eager to engage everyone. Friends come out of the crowd, new and old, happy to share a hug with her. And to catch up with her on the news and weather. Some people consider small talk very small, but I don't. Establishing that we're on the same page, in the same experience, grounds us conversationally before we commit to the transaction of the moment. And when people replenish their supplies of soap, we feel an essential replenishment for ourselves, as well--that we are helping people feel better, and that makes us feel wonderful.
So, while I would once pass the faces and tents, today I feel like a part of a grounded economy, where real things exist. At the market, real people are there to serve real people. For all we can tell, this just might be the oldest form of congregation in our communal history, and date back to immemorial centuries. Indeed, this economy may well predate religions, and selling goods and crafts among polytheistic tribes would make the marketplace as timeless among humans as the sunrise. We need to be off line, to socialize, to see and feel one another's energy and presence. To be here means to be here. On Saturdays, for Eva and myself, it just feels right to paddle out of the mainstream, and rest up on this island of time, while life is still flooding by in the distance.