Pazar - A Personal History

Siniša Pavić grew up in Split and now lives in Zagreb. He shares with us his memories of Pazar, Split's legendary marketplace.

- Everyone has their favourites, everyone knows who has which spot on Pazar, which goods are sold where, and some things have become conventional wisdom, for example that the best greens are from Podstrana, the best soured cabbage is from Glavice near Sinj, and the best citrus fruits are from the islands... You can learn to be an expert in recognising the best produce, organically grown and sold by the person who grew it. If the lady behind the table has dirt under her fingernails that's a good sign, it means that she's been working the land.

- If you want the best prices come later on. 'Cause at the end of the day, they sell everything cheaper just to get home. But they won't give it away for free.

- Once upon a time you had to cross a small bridge to reach Pazar, Split's marketplace. Right alongside Pazar ran a railway track, which they later closed down. Along its route now stand kiosks selling piles of goods, clothing, shoes and a few food items. At one time on this bridge people used to exchange money on the black market (mostly German marks), as well as cigarettes, and jeans – which you couldn't buy anywhere else. In the morning people would gather here eager to work, day labourers, and here alongside Pazar others would buy goods from farmers only to sell them on an hour later.

- Haggling!? To be honest, you've got to have guts and talent for that. But experience shows that here, in true Mediterranean style, the stallholders are suckers for charm. A few kind words and who knows, alongside the head of lettuce you set out to buy you might get one free!

​The Pazar of My Childhood

Pazar! The stomach, the belly, the guts of the city! The Pazar of my childhood, even though, my father says, it's changed little over the years. It's still endlessly colourful, full of melodious sound as the ladies behind the tables shout over each other to bring in the buyers. Here are the smells of life, unbeatable scents, of cabbage souring in barrels, smoky dried meat, unwaxed oranges that spray out juice as you run your fingernail over the skin. It's the same, but different, different because when you're small everything's different, and when you grow up everything is more or less sentiment. When you grow up you realise: it was the university of life, of gourmets, of gluttons, of epicureans, of deliciousness.
My father used to set off for work at dawn, my brother was small and my mother was a solicitous mother who tried to squueze everything in despite working morning shifts one day and afternoon shifts the next. It turned out that those inconvenient hours had their bright side. Because she couldn't make it, it would often be me who headed off to Pazar for our groceries. Probably my puppy fat and my evident satisfaction while eating convinced my mother that I could do no wrong. And I wasn't half bad. She would hand me a list, and I'd have the freedom to wander around the tables, weighing up the fruit and vegetables, careful not to fall for the honeyed tones of a mountain accent which reminded me of my grandparents, or the equally mellifluous island dialect. What gave my role even more importance was the fact that my mother would give me just enough money to ensure that if I spent wisely, a couple of dinars (that was the currency in those days) would be left over, so that after two or three trips to Pazar I'd have enough for a comic. Even such a young age it was worth being shrewd, being satisfied with a cheap ice cream from the old-fashioned machines and remembering the important things from the headlines Ante called out when selling the newspapers – the things that were important indeed because they were the reason why people bought newspapers. A small boy could feel awfully big carrying bags of groceries home from Pazar. And awfully proud when the next day his classmates would pinch his sandwich with the hunter's salami, which you could only buy in the kiosk at the bottom end of Pazar. And endlessly flattered when his mother first said to him, «Come on, let's take a walk at the fish market.» The Peškarija, the fish market, a mythical place which you just have to stroll by, you don't have to buy a thing. It's enough to catch the scent and know that you're a part of that sea, that land, that city.
To leave Pazar, to leave for the big wide world was easy at first. When you're a strapping teenager those things don't seem to matter. There are Pazars in other places, you think naively. But there's always some connection, it's alive as long as your mother tells you during an evening phonecall about today's catch, or she tells you how you can now buy soparnik, that miraculous delicacy dreamed up by the poor people of the hinterland, by the slice, but it's not even close to the one my late grandmother baked in her fireplace.
However good those replacement markets might be, however colourful and full of scent, it's now clear that I miss that passion, that uncertainty whether a kuna will be left over for a comic, and I miss those shouts in dialects which my officially-proscribed accent never picked up.
«Why must they shout so?», I remember she asked when she first realised that in Split, on the market, you can't buy less than half a kilo, and nobody with any sense even asks. It's embarrasing, for goodness' sake, and they give you a good ticking off, even if you're the daughter of the President himself. And what seemed to her like rudeness was for me the best poem ever, the best song.
While you sing the praises of their greens they praise your youth and good looks, even if it's clear that you left your youth and good looks somewhere by the kiosk with the hunter's salami. It's the same game wherever you go. Wherever you end up you try to cook sauce so it tastes just the same as that small boy remembers, who knew no greater satisfaction than to arrive home from school, break off a hunk of bread and dip it right into the saucepan before his mother caught him.
- «Dad, has anything changed?» asks the emigré son, himself now a father.
- «Almost nothing», says Dad.
Almost nothing. Tell the youth of today that there are oranges and oranges, those from the supermarkets and those on the tables at Pazar, and how they are nowhere near the same thing and how they can't be, even though their mother tells them there's no difference. To have your own stallholder for eggs, a lady for chard, a butcher who won't cheat you. A lady at the fish market who'll give you a barely discernable nod to show which fish is fresh and which isn't... That's a matter of survival, of growing up, of evolution. Pazar, the fish market, coffee, newspapers. Confound it, that's it. There's no recession, no accounting law, no minister of finance who can take it away. As long as there's the human race there will be Pazar!


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