Like many others, I too have had to overcome a lot of what I was taught in my early education. It took a while, and sometimes it was hard to figure out what to keep and what to throw away. Some things stayed with me all my life, like finishing everything on my plate… and staying away from the market place. Neither of these instructions seem important to me now. The first came from my mother, who spoke of starving children in China. But that was only because she didn’t want to talk to me about the starving children in concentration camps. It was a time when people felt guilty about eating, let alone throwing food in the garbage. As for the market place… that came from a very different source. Maimonedes wrote that a scholar, aspiring wisdom, should stay away from the market place. I was kept so far away, that it was only as an adult that I began to learn what it was all about. I have since come to the conclusion that the warning to stay away from the marketplace was to protect the young scholar from vulgarity. But in my few visits, I have discovered that there is a lot one can learn about the human personality at the market.
We call the market place ‘shuk’. And perhaps, because I don’t spend much time there, I appreciate it all the more, and often feel like a visitor from a far away planet, when I walk through the lanes filled with plenty. The marketplace offers meetings between people from many different backgrounds, and we are exposed to a great variety of tools, clothing, and especially foods of all sorts. I usually find myself intoxicated by the colors and shapes. And I find the people quite friendly, and so it’s possible to ask about the many different products available there… even how to cook some food item that I have just discovered.
For me, there is something exotic about the many aspects of the market. It is wonderful that we are able to find coffee shops and eateries in the lanes, hidden away… the different areas are filled with sound and smells so special, and so different from all other places. We were on our way to the poetry festival the other day, which just happened to be in the same neighborhood as my favorite shuk, Machaneh Yehudah… and I just couldn’t go by without taking another stolen look at the market. The lady friend I was with knew the area better than I did and she easily found the coffee shop I was looking for. We had a couple of beers there, and some pastry. My eyes pulled me in every direction. If I had been there alone, I would probably have gotten lost in the shuk and never have made it to the festival. But I don’t mind getting lost. It’s all a part of living.
Over the years, I’ve learned ways to live without a lot of personal commerce in my life. Friends do my buying for me, and usually I only buy computers and cameras and their accessories. And the hat that I wear. Even my shoes are bought by others. My food, my clothing, and most of my needs are bought for me by my friends. There are even a couple of stores where I am known, and a telephone call, or a mail, is enough to have them send me whatever it is that I may wish to purchase.
Actually, I have quite a collection of photographs of the market, including a series I did of panoramic photos of the different stalls there. And I’ve been tempted to post some of these photos, but unfortunately, it’s a little hard to appreciate panoramic photography on the computer screen, and all the more so, when they are just illustrations on a blog. And then, even the best of pictures are missing those wonderful smells and sounds. But I’ll continue to think about it, because it’s a very important part of town. And the people who live in that area of our city are part of a very characteristic culture that we find there.