One of the upsides about not having a full-time job is that the day is not arbitrarily dictated by a certain number of hours at a desk. Feel like going to the beach one Monday? Go for it. There’s no one to report to. You’re the master and maker of your own schedule.
One of the downsides of not having a full-time job is that the days and weeks can slip by and you’re the only one fully accountable for making them productive. You can sleep the day away and there’s no system of checks and balances. You are ultimately responsible if nothing gets done. You are the master and maker of your own schedule.
Since David and I arrived in Spain, we haven’t had a fixed schedule. There’s no set time for doing things other than the hours set for us by the Spanish lifestyle, namely administrative hours, meals and siesta times. So we go about our day and Monday feels just like Sunday and bedtimes don’t matter because the next day begins only when we choose to wake up. But as the days blend together and 5:00 pm – once the revered hour signifying the end of a workday – has lost all its meaning, there’s one fixed thing that keeps us on course and provides us with some kind of tool to measure time: market days.
Every Friday morning, without fail, our immediate neighborhood is energized with the hustle and bustle of vendors selling and locals buying. Since it happens right outside our building and since David’s aunt, uncle and cousin have a fruit and vegetable stand there, it has become our routine to head out to the market on Fridays. We step out our front door and brace ourselves. And as the crowd molds itself around us, we go with the flow, quickly catching glimpses of the now discounted beach towels and bikinis and the newly added Fall attire: pants and sweaters (unthinkable just weeks ago!).
There’s something oddly comforting about the activity of the marketplace. It’s soothing to know that the market is a constant in a world that at times feels so unpredictable. It’s reassuring to know that, every week, all the vendors can be found in their designated places. That the olive guy can always be found with his twinkling eyes and charming ways. He has an uncanny ability to entertain while he scoops. He looks happy to do what he does and that makes people happy to wait even though there is another olive vendor just around the corner and even though the line at his stand is so long that it sometimes takes half an hour just to be served. There’s the salt torte lady just down the way who always manages to sell David a little more than he intended to buy with her sweet smile and savvy selling tactics. And there’s David’s aunt and uncle who, most weeks, send us home with a delicious bag of fruit – peaches, plums, bananas and grapes. Each vendor is an expert in their offerings and are able to make their living by living off the land. And then, before heading home with our bags of fresh produce and treats, we invariably stop at the chicken roaster with his racks of chicken. And, while I divert my eyes and try not to look, David will get half a chicken for $5.
It’s also at the market that David can find his G-Star knock off shorts for $10 (the days of buying real are over). And it’s at the market that I’ve learned that cheap can be cheap in all ways. The sandals that David’s mom purchased for $5 were cute but the sole lasted less than a day and it wasn’t long before the under wire in my $8 bikini top started poking through to the other side, forcing me to replace it soon after. I haven’t bought many clothes from the market since; however, I still happily collect the discarded hangers to fill our closets with at home.
But what makes the outing so special is that David’s family works at the market. Besides his aunt, uncle and cousin who we see weekly, we spotted his cousin’s cousin one day working the stall right behind the torte lady. And we were even able to track down his other cousin when we learned that he has a very successful stand selling baby clothes at the market in the village where David’s mom grew up.
Since it had been 15 years since David had last seen him, we decided one day to see if we could find him. We knew the type of stand and the general area. However, it turned out that there are a number of vendors that sell baby clothes in that general section of the market. Which vendor was family? The first was too old and wrinkly to be David’s cousin. The second was a possibility but not convincing enough. As soon as I saw the third, though, I could tell that we had hit jackpot. He had the same skin tone and the same animated way as the rest of David’s family. But David wasn’t so sure. Didn’t he look too old to be his cousin? Doubtful, David walked up and asked, “Is your name Luis?” Without batting an eye, Luis responded, “And you are David, the son of my uncle Ramon.”
The market lures us in with its fresh produce and friendly vendors. It embraces us in its energy and chaos. And it reminds us that we have family and roots here in Spain. Fridays are our market days. It’s our one constant. It tracks the passing of time. It keeps our fridge stocked and our fruit basket full. It offers definition and solidifies our schedule and gives us good reason to say, “TGIF.”