LONDON / Off Broadway

Broadway Market / Hackney, London / May 2016

On market day Saturdays, the historical Broadway Market, and missing places before you’ve even left.

For nearly one and a half years, we awoke every Saturday to the sound of Broadway Market being set up, to tent poles clanging and awnings being erected. Every week, overnight, the street was transformed: on Friday, filled with drunken revellers, and on Saturday, end-to-end stalls and strolling passers-by. Before moving to this street, I’d never contemplated what it might be like to live in a farmers’ market. Now it’s hard to imagine throwing open the front door each week without encountering an olfactory assault  – a particular mélange of fragrant soaps, pungent cheeses, freshly baked breads, and spicy cooked foods.

With the market on our doorstep, Saturdays mornings were often a time for quiet rituals. Wake up, get coffee at the French deli across the street, pick up produce at the stalls, grab a box of Persian food, walk along the canal if it’s sunny. (All the eminently mock-able habits of the so-called “bruschetta society”.) Periodically, I’d tell someone who grew up there that I lived in Hackney and be regaled with stories of the neighborhood pre-gentrification. Walking down the street, it’s hard to miss the old F. Cooke jellied eel store front (dating back to 1900) nestled next to a sparse-looking Aesop store, or the benches in front of the Cat and Mutton (in existence for over 300 years) spilling over with ankle-booted hipsters. Hackney is a neighborhood in perpetual flux, having been home to wealthy aristocrats in the 1500s, the bourgeois middle class in the 1700s, workers and professionals in the post-industrial revolution 1800s, and immigrants from a diverse range of nations in the 1900s. The story of the 2000s is still being written, but I would venture a guess that the one constant will be the market set up right in its heart.

Changing demographics in the area has led to an interesting mix of residents and a slight eccentricity that grows to be endearing. Once, while working from home, I inexplicably heard an entire accordion concert take place midday in the parking lot behind our flat. Another day, a large, ripe mango crashed into one of our bedroom windows. Mostly, the street is an eclectic community which is deeply interested in its residents if they show interest in its establishments. Having grown up in the northeast U.S., where neighbors often do not ever speak to each other, and having lived in London, where eye contact with strangers seems to be a mortal sin, I’ve cultivated a strong aversion to chit-chat during errands. But I underestimated how much it warms the soul to be greeted with smiles of recognition, to have a regular coffeeshop, grocery, fishmonger, butcher, and convenience store where you know exactly where and whom your goods are coming from and they know exactly whom they’re selling to. In the past, I’d never frequented the same places often enough to breed this easy familiarity, which I found to be something in between having a “usual” at the coffee shop on your way to work and full-blown friendship.

A few days ago, just before turning in the keys to our flat and hitting the road with our backpacks, we walked one last time around the street on market day to soak it all in. Remember that place you used to buy me intricately arranged flowers, that clearing in the park where we got engaged, that pizza place you frequented so much they taught you how to make it, that hardware store which contained everything we ever thought of to buy as well as a beautiful green-eyed cat? I closed my eyes to memorize every detail, and yet the most important one – a feeling of belonging – was intangible, elusive, and therefore impossible to preserve. But I’ve left places I’ve loved before enough to recognize the shape this hole soon takes: a sort of “pre-nostalgia”; of already missing a place you’ve barely left.


See also:

England Dossier

And . . .

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