Well, I am safely back on this side of the Atlantic. And it seems all the posts I scheduled published while I was away. Technology success!
The trip was wonderful, though I must say it is good to be home. I got a little too excited when we drove past a flock of sheep grazing the highway median. Why can’t we do that here? Instead we pay people to use fuel-guzzling equipment to keep our public spaces looking pretty. Animals are so much more efficient and better for the environment! Major points to Slovenia and Croatia.
I also loved that everyone seemed to have a garden. Whether we were driving through the countryside or walking through cities, every home had some edible plants. We passed vineyards and olive groves and Dubrovnik had plenty of rooftop and terrace gardens. Even public spaces were filled with orange trees. Imagine if we lined our streets with apple trees instead of oaks. These gardens were beautiful and functional unlike the standard American suburban law which is perfectly manicured and useless.
Every city had a central market. The markets had indoor and outdoor space and were open daily all year long. The produce vendors set up outside while the meat and dairy producers had indoor stalls with refrigerated cases. Shopping at these markets is the standard way to procure food. Grocery stores exist, but they resemble a 7-11 more than a Giant or ShopRite. Our guide was from Ljubljana, Slovenia and he told us that the city of Ljubljana tried to shut down the main market to make space for a new parking lot, but the people protested and now the space is protected.
I don’t want to put European markets up on a pedestal. They are far from perfect. The produce isn’t all local or organic. One of the vendors in Ljubljana was selling bananas and pineapples. Definitely not local. I didn’t speak the local languages so I wasn’t able to talk to the vendors about their products. Who grew what and how? Were the practices and techniques sustainable? How far had they traveled? Had I been able to communicated, I’m sure I would’ve received a variety of answers. After all, GMOs and Round-up and highly processed junk exist in Europe, too. Some vendors would have been very concerned about sustainability while others would’ve focused more on production and profit.
Still, these markets are so much more than places to buy food. They are the centers and hearts of the cities. Here in America I can go to grocery store and purchase all of my food without talking to a single person. Thank you, self check out. At one of these European markets, I’d have to talk to 3 or more people – one for produce, eggs, dairy, bread, and meat. Food is an inherently social activity, not just eating, but also buying. Markets are community watering holes. Everyone has something in common – they need to eat and have gathered for the purpose of finding good food. That’s why I love American farmers’ markets! While they are much smaller, they have that same vibe.
Even Venice had gondola produce vendors. I think that may be my life’s new calling. Selling produce on a gondola in Venice. Or I could go start up such a market back in Suzhou…
All said and done, it was a fantastic trip. I think I could be very happy in a little apartment in Ljubljana or working in an orange grove outside of Dubrovnik. For now though I am happy to be home.
A belated happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Tomorrow is small business Saturday. If you must support the commercialism and materialism that have overtaken the Christmas season, at least shop locally, right?