Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Seize the day! [Carpe diem.]

Long before Horace, the Roman lyric poet and satirist wrote those words, mankind was already trying to find, capture, exploit and extend our time here on earth. Most of us fail miserably. We spend our lives waiting for the good stuff to begin. Then to our chagrin, find that huge chunks of time have simply evaporated. We search for the lost year, the lost youth, the lost opportunity.

The French have a term for it; “Joi de vivre” or “the love of life.” It's a two-fisted, grab-on-and-go approach to the time we get here on earth. I felt it in Paris. Joi de vivre savors each moment; the delicate curl of steam off a perfectly brewed coffee at a tiny street-side cafe, the earthy scent of fresh mushrooms at a vendors stand, the shared camaraderie of my family strolling down streets we never expected to be on, the hold-your-breath sweetness of a patio lunch at La Maison Rose on a spring day. Rather than tromble over the days and weeks (I don't know if tromble is a word, but it should be), Joi de vivre impels one to find the joy in both the mundane and the miracle. In fact, it implores us to find the miracle in the mundane.

It's easy, on a beautiful Colorado summer morning, such as the one this past weekend when I began this blog, to grasp the possibility of the day. It's much harder on a rare gray and foggy morning like today to believe that good things will happen. But that is the courage required to seize the day. In Psalm 57, King David announced, “I myself will waken the dawn.” This was a man prone to pre-dawn jaunts for conversations with his God. I am not a morning person. I have spent years pretending to be one, but in actual truth, I usually force myself to greet the morning. I know I waste what my Wisconsin farmer Father always called, “the best part of the day.”

On the other hand, I love long, lingering sunsets and the thrill of the night air. I guess, as Henry David Thoreau suggested, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” That's the whole of our day, awareness of all the hours given us, early and late, both large and small.

The thing is, most of us aren't present in those hours. Bernard Berenson poiently noted, “I would I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours.”

'Round about the time I turned 30, I penned a diddy that went like this:

“Time is just about all we have, and there isn't much of that.
We can think about it, or we can live it.
The choice is ours.
But while making the choice – remember-- there isn't much time.”

I know I still waste and wish away too many hours. Do you? My resolve today is to recognize the moments for what they are. “These,” as Seth Godin so musically pointed out, “ARE the good old days.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bite into Life at a Farmers' Market.

It's high season now for farmers' markets. I was raised a farm kid and it stayed with me. When you live in the city and get your produce from a grocery store most of the year, it is a big deal to be able to go to an open air market and talk to the folks who rose before dawn, loaded their trucks with fresh spinach, baby carrots, string beans picked just as the dew disappeared, sweet early peas, home made root beer and various other home made treats.

My favorite farmers' market was the one beside the old Munsingwear building in Minneapolis, in the shadow of the freeway overpasses. When we lived there over 20 years ago, it was a riot of Midwestern produce mixed with a wildly diverse flea market; part exotic circus atmosphere where jugglers mixed with Scandinavian farmers in bib overalls.

Currently, the closest one to me is in the parking lots of the Theater District in Lone tree, Colorado. I probably pay more there because it's considered quite a chic zip code. But my bargaining is half-hearted, because I know the effort it takes to raise this good food and I prefer to pay those who actually do the producing instead of an impersonal middleman. I like to people watch – to see who wanders the stalls, who seems to bargain more fiercely, who from the farm stands seems to really know their tomatoes or potatoes or who's an expert on garlic.

Here in Colorado it is possible to type denverfarmersmarket.com into Google and an entire roster of Colorado Farmers' Markets will pop up. None of this holds a candle to the elegant jumble that is the rue Cler in Paris.

This tiny street, only a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower and a few blocks long, is a Paris legend. The rue Cler is where the Parisians go (and in increasingly irritating numbers, tourists like me trying desperately not to look like tourists!) It's intimate, authentic market atmosphere, especially on a leisurely Sunday morning, puts the process of acquiring one's food on a human scale. The rue Cler is home to a year-round market of assorted culinary delights; picked-that-morning produce, breads, fish, pates, cheeses, crepes, wines, country cream, dark chocolates, hearty jams, kitchen utensils, handmade linens and flowers. It tumbles in joyful profusion onto the narrow, cobblestone street, piled in bins, stacked on tables and umbrella'd carts that partially obscure the shop doors and display windows behind.

The street is crowded at this early hour, tastefully-dressed French families, children in prams or in tow, stroll about, their cloth shopping bags or pull-carts ready to pop in their treasures. A violinist stations himself at the alley entrance mid-way through the street and begins to play. Restaurants and outside cafes beckon, heaters at the ready on the cool April morning of our visit. Sausages of various kinds, eels from the north Atlantic and fat French chickens spit and smoke on fire burners. Chocolate crepes roll out of crepes pans into parchment paper wrappers. Incredibly strong, French coffee is sipped from tiny coffee cups in one cafe, while a few doors down French rose wine is poured into elegant glasses. The acid smoke of French cigarettes roll delicately about the sidewalk as the French have...horrors....recently banned smoking in all indoor restaurants!

Poking about the bins and carts we select rounds and wedges of pungent cheeses, going heavy on the Brie and Camembert, the authentic kind that is so much better than that which reaches us in Denver via export. My son loads up on still-warm croissants, while I salivate in front of a display of sweet, French, torpedo strawberries, their scent hanging delicately over the bin. Why can't America grow strawberries like this, I wondered?

The morning at the rue Cler will remain forever mixed in my mind with the views from the top and grounds of the Eiffel Tower. I have come to suspect that many of us who hunger for farmers' markets are also passionate cooks and frustrated gardeners, lacking the space, time or climate to produce that which we really wish we grew. What we want is something that Rodger Doiron, founder and director of Kitchen Gardeners International, a Maine-based nonprofit, calls “relocalizing” food. We want to know the source. We like it to come from nearby if it can't come from our own plot of land. We like it fresh and deep down, we hunger for the connection to the land and the life of the people who grew it.

This weekend, if you're not out back in your own garden thumping the watermelons – find a farmers market!