Archive for the ‘Haymarket’ Category

Everyone’s cousin leaves Haymarket

January 15th, 2016

pcampoSurely it’s good when changing of the guard does not involve an ambulance or hearse.  Yet the absence of my favorite Haymarket vendor has disturbed me. Today I got truth and knowledge.

I’d had an eye operation and was under surgeon’s orders to “putter around the house” and not do anything athletic, nor lift anything, nor expose my head to extreme weather.

When I returned after several weeks to my weekend ritual of 36 years, Pat (left in colder days) was not there. He and his father, Frank, had that stall back when my now huge number-one son was an infant in a Snugli on my chest. Now though instead of Pat, Ottavio Gallotto, President of the Haymarket Pushcart Association, had his crew there.

I didn’t ask about Pat, hoping he was hale and away to pick up a tan or the like. I was trepid. His father had died in 2007. Frank was a great role model for Pat, born Pasquale. Frank was one of those kind and gentle souls, who wasn’t ruffled by even the nastiest bargain hunter. Someone would be yelling, feigning indignation, but Frank let him vent and then explained how things were. Nice guy.

I noticed too that Pat’s mom, Jean, whom I’ve never met, died this past fall. So, somewhere I feared he might have fallen ill or worse as well. I know he was younger than I, but hey, 20-year-olds have heart attacks and strokes.

With mixed feelings, I finally asked Ottavio today. He paused and said, “He retired.” (pause) “He is only 60.” (pause) “Crazy, huh?”

Maybe not so crazy. His father worked much longer in their stall. Maybe Frank never tired of it and Pat wanted to spend weekends doing something other than setting up a stall before dawn, artfully arranging lemons and grapefruits, and in 100F or 0F standing there dealing with the likes of me until late afternoon every damned Friday and Saturday. Good on him. Bad for us.

Various Haymarket vendors develop their shticks. There was the relatively famous guy at the butcher shop catercorner from the Campo camp. He frightened some sensitive folk with his sudden “Want some meat, buddy?” query, invariably delivered less than a foot from your face. As I recall there was even a t-shirt with the saying and his raw-steak-like red/blue face.

Jimmy was another who has moved on. He hated the cold. That’s not a good fit for an area close to the waterfront. He was cheerful in spring and summer, but come the dreadful winter winds with sleet, snow and ice, he’d let everyone know how unhappy he was.

And Pat’s calling card was his calling. He’d greet everyone as “Hey, cuz,” or “What do you need, cousin.” Everyone was family to him. He got that attitude from Frank.

So, Haymarket now is without Pat. Clearly, I”ll have to deal.

I got used to the candy/nut man moving on. My sons considered it a right and rite to get a treat from him as a reward for shopping with me. I got used to the massive herb cart going away too.

Pat was the place for certain items. If you wanted the prettiest and most flavorful lemons, you’d head there. He kept his prices the lowest in the market for what he carried too. It was a pleasure doing business with them, father and son.

 

Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

A mess of beans

April 20th, 2015

Praise muscle memory and felt sense. Let us not get into the emotion-driven impulse decisions that so taint our lives. Instead, marvel in how our senses take note in background.

From infancy, we learn the likes of how to push food into our mouths without stabbing our lips with tines. We pour liquids. Heck, we know seemingly instinctively what a cup of this or that means in a glass.

I experience this magic personally and at the weekly Haymarket trip. Tell the vendor you want three pounds of grapes and see him (or much more rarely her) grab bunches of various sizes, plop them on the scale, and poof, three pounds almost every time.

They appreciate their skill and are invariably happy when I praise them with a low-key compliment, like, “I guess you’ve done this before.”

I don’t get smug about it, but this is a skill I have too. Sometimes, I display it when forced. I’ll point to the tomatoes or Persian cukes and ask for two pounds. If the vendor tells me to pick what I want and he’ll weigh it, I almost always nail the amount. They are likewise impressed, but invariably put it down to coincidence.

In fact, this is a grandfather-related ability. The dozen summers I spent with him in his massive gardens came with unremarkable and remarkable skills. For the former, put rototilling and hand weeding. Among the latter is picking a mess of string beans.

Yes, I know that almost all modern green bean varieties are stringless hybrids, but we old-school boomers remember when you had to unzip them to make them edible.

The standard quantity of green beans was that mess. In country talk, that translates into two pounds. Granddad has a box of small brown paper bags for such orders. Whether it was for home or a relative or a customer, I picked a mess thousands of times. I just knew when I had two pounds in the bag by the feel. My body remembered and still does.

We each likely have a dozen or more such acts of magic we perform daily, without being aware.

Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014

Come blizzards. Come scorchers. Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell vegetables, fruits, herbs and fish.

For our part, the tradition continued this weekend. I had visited during college days when I was living across the river in Cambridge, but only every month or so. It was 34 years ago when we moved to Boston with our six-month-old son that I went weekly…and still do. Back then, Aaron was in a Snugli carrier I had embroidered with his name and I walked from Beacon Hill.

34years

This Saturday, a considerably larger Aaron, well beyond carrier size, wore his own six-month-old son there. Continuity, generations and yes, traditions come into play.

Among obvious differences were that we drove in from the Hyde Park neighborhood, that Aaron and Alasdair are visiting from California and won’t be regular visitors there, and that the carrier is the new version, an Ergobaby. Still, the symmetry ruled.

As Alasdair does, baby Aaron really enjoyed being toted, face to face, chest to chest. I always liked doing it as well. The only (minor) shock to me this time was that both Aaron and I wanted to carry the baby. I deferred, in part because he is the father and in part for the elegance of dad with his son in the sling.

In the middle of the longest strip of vendor stalls was Pat (in the pic below from last year) with his huge stall, two or three times the average. There are vendors who specialize in only brown or green produce, some who favor greens and herbs, some who go for salad and cooking greens (and reds), and a couple with mostly citrus. Pat’s stall always includes various potatoes, a range of citrus (including the absolute best lemons in the market), and various other veggies and fruits. You generally can get a full trip’s worth from him.

balmy

He has known for calling every customer, “Cousin” or “Cuz.” He was long twinned in my memory with his father, a short, thin, ever-smiling gentleman. His father deflected the impatient, pushy and rude customers with a kind word and gracious attitude. He was a delight. He died not long ago, but I half expect to see him beside Pat.

Saturday when the three of us appeared, we chatted up Pat for a couple of minutes. I mentioned that 34 years ago, I brought my six-month-old baby to the Haymarket and bought veggies and fruit from him and his father. That day, my son was wearing his own six-month-old to do the same. Pat was appropriately impressed and reminiscent.

He said, “34 years,” several times. He even reckoned that he might have a vague memory of me with baby Aaron from back then, when he’d have been in his teen or early 20s. It’s not all that relevant whether he does nor does not remember. It’s enough that the connection is real and continuing.

Train to Gorillas

November 29th, 2013

femalelook

 

The quasi-suburban parts of Boston can have their own simple pleasures. Mine today came from an excursion, train time, zoo time!

Here in Hyde Park, as in Roslindale and West Roxbury, we all seem proud of being part of the city, yet very aware we can’t reasonably walk across the central fist of it as you can from Beason Hill or the South or West Ends. Standout successes like the recent new stations and skeds of the Indigo (Fairmount) Line are big deals down here.

For 10 years, we lived right downtown and then for 21, we were in JP, right below Forest Hills. Now in lower Hyde Park, it’s a trek and rigmarole to get places. I and one of my sons bike frequently (it’s quicker to get to Porter Square on two wheels than by T or God forfend by four). We have to plan. Until recently too the infrequent commuter rail just down the hill from us was also $5.50 a trip and only went as far as South Station.

I’ve been taking the zap, pow, wow improved Fairmount line regularly and grokking it. They dropped the fare to subway prices ($2 a trip) and roughly doubled the frequency. There is also a subtext. This is Thomas Michael Menino’s turf also and part of the idea was to pay attention to the Mayor and District Councilor Rob Consalvo in fostering development in Logan Square, a few hundred yards from the Fairmount stop. Moreover, personally, I got my geezer card from the MBTA, so one way is half price — a buck.

Freebie Road Trip

Today was a trial run for many who had not caught the T fever and fervor. Touted in the local weekly, in flyers at the Y and such, the notice was that today at 11:45 AM, we could gather at the Fairmount Grille and head for the 12:03 PM train. We’d get free round-trip fare.

Every station had its attraction. In particular, New Market was the big honking blue-collar South Bay shopping center with anything your little heart desires. Honestly, as much as I bike and sometimes drive around there, I reeled at the mentions of Four Corners and a short walk to the Franklin Park Zoo. I had never gotten off the Fairmount line at that stop and in my rigid mind thought it must not practical…too far.

Wrong-o.

thallcosgrove

I decided to do the zoo stop, assured a lackey would appear to lead me. Turns out, I was the only fool headed to the animals in the cold. When we gathered at the Fairmount Grille before heading to the stop, people were talking about shopping, either at South Bay or downtown. Joe Cosgrove (right), the MBTA’s director of planning and development, and Mat Thall, the interim executive director of the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, spoke, but did not pitch Franklin Park. We heard that the $2 fare was an experiment, for both Fairmount and as a test for other Boston neighborhood commuter lines shackled to absurdly high fares despite being in Boston city limits. We heard that the Fairmount traffic had spiked 47% since the fare change, and mostly we heard that we had to talk it up.

Clearly, I”m self-interested, but I think it’s worth it. Sure to the rail geeks, Boston has a reputation far beyond our boundaries for how hard the CDCs pushed for the Indigo Line work that has produced the improvements after almost two decades. Honestly, I can attest that we are a model for the hemisphere for the accomplishments. More personally, I want to see weekend service and trains that leave downtown for my neighborhood after the current latest, 9:40 PM. I want to be able to go to the Haymarket on Saturday, thank you very much. Let’s be a real city.

Gorillas, No Giraffes

My hick mindset had the zoo out of range. Despite my frequent bike rides down Columbia, up Blue Hill, through Franklin Park, past Forest Hills, the length of Mass Ave and all of the convoluted Washington Street in various neighborhoods, I fell into the Geneva Ave/Four Corners is distant gang turf. I was ignorant.

Sure enough, I ended up being the only bozo getting off the train at Four Corners. At Fairmount, the conductor was amused and amusing. He was the veritable gang of us, highly unusual for 12:03 PM on a weekday and did a great double take as he greeted us. I was literally the only Four Corners stop requester and the only one who exited for the zoo instead of consumer/Black Friday choices.

fairmounttoot

As promised, a pleasant young man, Hanad, was there to shepherd me. Turns out, as I was the only one, he didn’t even bother putting me through the half-priced-day gate. I got in for free. So there, shoppers.

Sure, a cold November day is not primo. Many animals are not the slightest bit interested in playing the game below 65F. Even my favorite beasts of all, giraffes, were bunked or huddling inside. No tigers, a single lion, no roos, maybe a third of the areas and cages said exhibit not open. Harrumph, as the expression goes.

Yet there was plenty to see. The parents with kids in strollers and racing ahead of them squealing about dark jungles, warthogs, gorillas and such had a great time. So did I.

(I’ll post some pix on Flickr and update with a link here.)

For the logistics minded, the walk from the Four Corners stop to the zoo entrance is eight minutes. It’s exit the station to the South onto Washington, go four short blocks, then seven short blocks up Columbia to the zoo. It’s a devil of a lot easier and closer than by Orange line or some wacky bus combo.If you want to start from South Station or Hyde Park, this is it. It’s in my mental maps.

We can be as provincial as Manhattanites and a question I heard in the Fairmoumt Grille and on the platform was what can you see in late November at a zoo? Lots, sports fans. The Tropical Forest was fully stocked; the great apes, warthogs, pygmy hippo, wacky carrion birds and more are crowd pleasers.  Nearby in Bird’s World, ibises and lurid finches and parakeets play, while the huge green keas wail and shriek.

A male lion showed off endlessly and on and on and on.

I earned bragging rights for going to the cold-weather zoo, doubled by taking the commuter rail.

My Family Didn’t Bargain

April 22nd, 2013

Surely it’s too late to become a person who dickers for everything…or anything. I wasn’t raised that way.

However this afternoon I found myself forced at my end of a complaining phone call to negotiate. It’s damn tough for me.

I grew up observing people who haggle, which suddenly became common when I went to high school in New Jersey and later lived a decade in Manhattan. Although here living in Cambridge for a while during college, I had one chum who took her sport to the Haymarket and got phenomenal deals, matching resolve with the stall vendors.

In many ways, I envy the hagglers. I’m not clear why I can’t get over this part of my upbringing. I feel very uncomfortable where others would jump right into proposing a deal, and then enjoying the back and forth, then being ready to walk away at any moment if there’s no progress.

Today’s haggle was thrust upon me. A tub refinishing company showed up to work when I was not back from the gym yet. The $399, plus $50 for a color other than white, bid suddenly shifted. The tub tech said the residual glue from the liner needed to go to get the glaze to bond — at an extra $150. I had gotten and agreed to the bid and she felt kind of stuck. The rest of the bath rehab depended on the tub refinishing.

I called after the job and the check writing. The manager alternated between unctuous and paternal.  Ha ha ha, he called his tech, and reported back to me that the extra cleaning was absolutely necessary, it took over an hour, and that we got off lucky, at the low end of the service fee. Then suddenly, we want happy customers. And so it went, with me expressing my surprise, disappointment and anger. He said he not only had the smart-phone image, but that my wife had approved the big bump. I said $445 suddenly becoming about $600 was unreasonable and that I’d told them before they arrived and even before our bid that there was glue from the old liner, as well as that their site said cleaning was part of the operation. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us added angles and details and posits.

I continued to feel and think the fee unreasonable. Then just as suddenly, he shifted to bargaining. When we were at an impasse, he asked what it would take to make me happy.  Suddenly I was back at the Haymarket, watching Peggy at work, dickering for a box of fruit. While I normally would turn away, I did feel the discomfort but felt compelled to get some morsel from the deal.

We went back and forth a few more times, but now to force the other to make an offer. He wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. I remembered from my articles for business magazines that the first one to make an offer loses.  Eventually though, he wore me down. He had no intention of telling me what he thought would make me happy. So, I looked internally at the $150 and figured he’d bite on on the low end, $50, or the silly fee for biscuit, instead of white.

He did. We did.

That is nothing to someone who grew up in a haggling family, but it was remarkable for me. I don’t do that.

I thought of Peggy and how easy that would have been for her. She attributed her attitude and skills to being Jewish. I have come to downgrade that stereotype. I do believe it is cultural though. My tub refinishing manager seemed by accent clearly Middle Eastern. Peggy was from a German, Ashkenazi heritage. As I learned working for a Roman Catholic, German deli owner, the traits that many attribute to Jews are often common among Eastern Europeans instead, everything being negotiable included.

phsToday’s bargaining session also made me recall the only time I got shipped to my adviser’s office in my three years of high school. I was a smart ass but skilled at knowing my edges, my limits. I’d push a teacher with over-familiarity and wisecracks, but ease up when she or he tensed.

My tub guy said a few times, “I want you to be happy. What will it take to make you happy?” That put me back in history class, senior year, in Mr. Sidney Mace’s room, and my moment of ignominy.

The wisecrack that broke my three year of magic was far from my funniest or worst too. Mr. Mace (or Misssssssster Maccccccccccccce as we said for his hissing sibilants) would on occasion scold me and my best friend, who sat directly behind me in the A-B row, for talking in class. That happened often as he still lived lived his WWII personal history and that was the period we studied.

It was only three days before classes ended, we’d done our papers and exams, all we had to do was to listen to yet more stories of the war campaigns he remembered.  He hissed, “Misssster Ball, it would make me very happy if you and Misssster Blumert would stop talking.” I recall then my throwaway line, “We want you to be happy, Mister Mace.”

There was a long pause and I knew that was another safe insult. However, perhaps it was the proximity to graduation or something less obvious about the moment, but after a few seconds, the whole class of perhaps 30 exploded in joyful laughter.

That was all too much for Misssssssster Macccccccccccccccce. He in turn exploded. He ordered me to report to my adviser, Mr. Otto, the short, patient guy with the fly-away wispy hair. I showed, he seemed confused, saying he hadn’t seen me in trouble before, noting that we had only a couple of days of classes, and told me to walk about the halls until the period ended and go to my next class.

The tub guy wanted me to be happy. I wanted Mr. Mace to be happy. None of that was sincere, but everything worked out for all involved.

I bet this is not the start of a bargaining life for me though.