Monday, November 10, 2008

Messud's market

This past summer I read (and greatly enjoyed) The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. While poking through a wonderful used bookstore this summer, I found a copy of an earlier Messud novel, The Last Life.

Last night I fell into the most visceral of passages from The Last Life, and for one who simply adores outdoor markets/farmer's markets of any kind, Messud's lush description of an outdoor market in Algiers is too delirious not to post/read:

"The visiting hawkers arranged themselves in front of these sleepy shopfronts in an implacable order prescribed by long tradition, mysterious to the uninitiated. There were vegetable men and fruit women and stalls selling both, blushing mounds of peaches alongside plump and purple eggplants, exuberant fronded skirts of frisee salads cozying next to succulent crimson cherries, pale, splayed organs of fennel pressing their ridged tubes and feathered ends up against the sugar-speckled, wrinkled carcasses of North African dates. There were florists whose misted anemones and roses glistened as if it were dawn, and the cheese vendors' ripe piles, wares which, from behind glass, leaked their fetid and enticing stinks out into the crowd. There were olive men and herb men, buckets of punchent rosemary and spiky bay leaves, cheesecloth sachets of lavender, blue bottles of rose and orange water, and teas for almost every ailment--for tension and bad skin and insomnia and constipation. There were tables of candlesticks and salad servers and pickle tongs; there were great strings of garlic and waxy pyramids of lemons. At the bottom, near the quay, the fishmongers sold their bullet-eyed, silver-skinned, slippery catch, blood-streaked fillets and orbed, scored steaks, milky scallops and encrusted oysters, all laid out on trays on ice in the morning sun, their rank fishiness rising in the air with the day's temperature; while opposite them, in their own corner, a family of young brothers hawked cheap women's clothes and glittering baubles, shiny earrings and gilded anklets, leopard-print leggings and lurid synthetic T-shirts with sequin lionesses, or fringed white vinyl jerkins with matching cowboy boots, all manner of sartorial novelties whose rampant success could be gauged from the ensembles of the women out shopping."

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