Samosas, bags of mackerel, and the Blues

I had a busy weekend. My colleague M woke me up early on Saturday to “go to market” and have breakfast. We did both at once, dashing through the late morning crowds in Fredericton’s market (it opens at 6 am Saturday and closes at 1pm) to find a prime eating spot in the cafe in the centre of the market hall. On our way we passed manufacturers of fur hats, handmade greeting cards, carrots, eggs, meat, and fish. Mackerel, it seems, sells by the bag (I deeply wanted to buy a clear plastic bag of shiny fish, but that would require eating mackerel morning, noon, and night). At the cafe, it seems we inadvertently occupied the habitual seats of the local politicians, who must also get up early to partake in the relatively crowded and vibrant market exchanges. “I see you’re holding court” said one acquaintace, dapper in tam and tartan scarf. But our prime spot for our heart-attack-on-a-plate breakfast, which included a cinnamon roll on top of the usual excesses, gave us lots of opportunity to overhear local mutterings about the “samosa situation”

Last week the managers of the farmer’s market told three vendors that they would have to set up shop outside, instead of inside the market hall. Why? The vendors all sold samosas, a product so successful that people queued up all over the hall, blocking other vendors. This Saturday morning, market visitors were rueful: “my family is gonna complain: no samosas!” “Well, there aren’t many folks here, what with the kerfuffle about the samosas” “that was absolutely the worst decision ever! Why make people a victim of their own success?”

The samosa story is one aspect of life in a small community. A quick decision meant to solve an immmediate problem fails to address the longer-term issues. But small communities can be agile in solving these problems. Fredericton has, according to several people I’ve talked to, based its growth and development strategy on making this city a nice place to live. Thus the trail system, the efficient municipal government. The support for downtown live performances (I saw contemporary dance performances on Friday night). And, of course, the focus on IT projects.

This agilty must negotiate with the kind of stolid “it’s-always-been-this-way” that keeps cafe seats in reserve for local politicians and expects a certain level of foot traffic — but no more — at the market. Ideologically, it must negotiate with conservative values that make this city part of Canada’s “Bible Belt.” A nice place to live, for young families? For bureaucrats? For students? For new immigrants? For gay activists?

Saturday night, M invited me to a blues benefit concert for the family of a recently decesased musician. The crowd was vibrant and eclectic (if still primarily over forty) and the music sultry and commanding. I saw some familar faces from my research/university/contemporary-dance-going exploits, and watched the play of relationships between people who had known each other for a long time. I was touched by the desire of the local musicians to support the family of their old friend, but aware of how this very display served to mark some people as in, other as outside of their community. I walked home with B, a PhD student originally from India, who said, as we crossed the empty frozen streets, “I am known here, I am a little bit remarkable, and I am always embarrased that I can’t remember who everyone is, because they all know me.” I asked him where the 20-somethings hung out. “I haven’t figured this out, yet. This place is a quiet place, a good place to settle, if you are done moving.”

Be done moving, but be agile.