I first came to California in the winter of 2004, and have only a few jet-lagged memories of my first few days here. There was meeting Christine for the very first time, the bigness of American roads and shopping malls, and then the Davis Farmer's Market. Christine (in the photo, left) helped one of the vendors, Jim Eldon of Fiddler's Green Farm. Of course I went with her on my first big outing in Davis, hence my first Saturday in the US was spent serving customers at the market stand.
I quickly came to realise that this marketplace was magical. Here was a social space, not just a place to buy veggies. People would stop and chat, swap recipes, admire babies, compare notes on the past week and generally support and encourage one another. The magic is in the people, you see.
Since then I have continue to go down to spend a little time with Jim and his customers, some of whom have become my friends and supporters during the long months of Christine's cancer treatment. When I started working at the Davis Food Co-op, I'd still go down on my days off, to schmooze with people, learn about my new country and its ways, and occasionally baffle people with my British English.
My accent came in handy sometimes (though Christine points out that I'm frequently chatted up!) in starting conversations, though occasionally there were moments of confusion. For example, I had to learn that what I'd known in England as a courgette was in fact a zucchini, the French loan word swapped for an Italian. Coriander herb was suddenly cilantro, and even basil was different - not the word this time, rather the pronunciation (we say ba-sil, Americans say bay-sil). Of course, this soon became part of my lexicon, though while I am quite happy to use a different word, I tend to stick to my British English pronunciations. You may say tomay-to, I still say tomah-to.
Then over time, as the seasons changed, I watched the progression of vegetables. Winter squash gave way to melons, the huge variety of summer squashes and a profusion of greens from the plain cabbage to the exotic mizuna. There was far more than just the plain courgette, of course - here were crookneck, Romanesco, Zephyr and their kin. There were peppers of all shapes, sizes and heats; likewise heirloom tomatoes with real old-fashioned flavour and a bewildering palette of colours.
Oh, and the people. They fascinated me. I'd talk and learn about America in general, California in particular. I learned about the history of the West, about farming in different parts of the country, about a dozen family histories, about their holidays and customs. In turn, they'd learn from me. I told people about the three-cent piece, about why the US pint was a different size from the Imperial pint, about British ways and language. It was a wonderful time, and you know, it still is.
Here's a piece of real America, the social marketplace, the gossip fence, the cultural exchange built on what colonised America in the first place - a place to farm and live in peace. Long may it last.
I wrote this after reading a customer's blog. She stopped by on Saturday as I was having a bit of a laugh with Jim. There are good words, and a good picture too, here.