by John Berger
I have never been in this square before and I know it by heart, or rather I know by heart the people who are selling things in it. Some of them have regular stalls with awnings to keep the sun off their goods. It is already hot, hot with the blurred, gnat heat of the Eastern European plains and forest. A foliage heat. A heat full of suggestions, that does not have the assurance of a Mediterranean heat. Here nothing is certain. The nearest thing to certainty is a grandmother.
Other sellers ⎯ all of them women ⎯ have come from the outlying villages with their produce in baskets or buckets. They do not have stalls and are sitting on stools they brought with them. A few stand. I wander between them.
Lettuces, red radishes, horseradishes, cut dill like green lace, small knobby cucumbers which in this heat grow in three days, new potatoes, their skins, with a little powdered earth on them, the colour of grandchildren’s knees, stick-celery with its cleansing toothbrush smell, cuttings of liveche, which the men, drinking vodka, swear is an incomparable aphrodisiac for women as well as men, bunches of young carrots swapping fern jokes, cut roses mostly yellow, cottage cheeses, which the rags pegged to the clothes line in their gardens still smell of, wild green asparagus that the children were sent to look for near the village cemetery.
The professional traders have naturally acquired all the trading tricks for persuading the public that golden opportunities never come twice. The women on their stools, by contrast, propose nothing. They are immobile, expressionless, and rely on their own simple presence to guarantee the quality of what they have brought to see from their own gardens.
I wander between them. Different ages. Different builds. Eyes of different colour. No two women wearing the same kerchief. And each one of them has found, as she bends down to cut chives or pull out dogtooth weed or pick red radishes, her own way of protecting, of favouring, the small of her back, so that its intermittent aches do not become chronic. When they were younger it was their hips which absorbed shock of events, now it is their shoulders which have to do so.