Loving things as long as you can

In 1998 the great Adam Gopnik wrote a wonderful article in the New Yorker about his campaign to save his favourite Parisian restaurant, after a chain had bought it, and he feared it would be changed in ways he didn’t want to accept or tolerate. I can’t give you a link to the full article because the New Yorker has a pay wall, even for subscribers, but if you can access it some other way you should search for the edition of 3rd August 1998, and ‘Saving the Balzar’. Here’s the quote I want to talk about.

“… as I helped to organise the occupation I felt exhilarated, though I recognised in my exhilaration a certain hypocrisy. Like every American in France I had spent a fair amount of time being exasperated by the French because of their inability to accept change, their refusal to accept the inevitable logic of the market, and their tendency to blame Americans for everything. As I raged against the changes at the Balzar I began to hear people repeating to me the same tiresome and sensible logic that I had been preaching for so long myself: that nothing stays the same; that change must be welcomed; one must choose to live in the world as it is or live in a museum whose walls increasingly recede inward … It was all true, and when it came to the Balzar, I didn’t care.”

Mr Gopnik also reminds us that Jay Gatsby memorably said: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” Americans are taught that Gatsby’s tragedy is rooted in that mistaken belief but Mr Gopnik argues that the idea isn’t absurd. We repeat the past every day, he points out: we build a life, or try to, of pleasures and duties that will become routine.

But this blog post isn’t so much about the shock of the new, as Robert Hughes characterised modern art, but more about the shock of the changed, of the ‘no never no more’. My particular recent sadness is the disappearance of my favourite stall at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market. Yeah, go on, sneer if you will; accuse me of elitist whinging if you like. I’m still going to explain why I think it matters.

Sunnyfields has been the best stall at the market since it opened. There are other strong competitors: the fish man, the potato man, the goat milk woman, and in season, the flower stall that sells old-fashioned scented roses. But the range and quality of Sunnyfields’ organic produce has always been exceptional: fresh, delicious seasonal veggies that aren’t over-priced. The generous bunches of parsley last for weeks if you need them to; the beetroot tops are as crisp and lively as the roots, the young carrots drip with juice when you try to snap them in half. Later in the season Sunnyfields’ broad beans are among the best I’ve ever eaten, and as fresh as our own. We always start our weekly shopping at Sunnyfields and go on from there, happily and automatically repeating the past in Gatsby fashion.

Or rather, we always started at Sunnyfields until the other week, but now it’s no never no more, because Sunnyfields have stopped attending any of the London markets. They can’t sustain their presence in any sensible economic way any more – it’s become too expensive and time-consuming to drive there and back from their Hampshire operation, and it makes better sense for them to concentrate on farming and marketing their produce locally – especially in their own shop. (They’re also developing a partnership scheme, which is an interesting idea.) So if we ever want their produce again, we’ll have to drive to them – and in broad bean season, let me tell you, that might very well happen.

There were other distressed customers wandering the Marylebone car park the day that Sunnyfields disappeared, unhappy about the loss of such a resource. Organic producers of that range and quality are fast disappearing in the UK; the one that has replaced Sunnyfields seems to be the kind that gives organic farming a bad name. (Soft slightly mouldy onions that cost £1 for four when you wouldn’t want to be given one for nothing. That kind of thing, known to disappointed shoppers the world over.)

I miss the eastern European farm worker who most recently ran the stall at the market; I miss Ian Nelson and his son Tom, who used to do it together back in the day. Yeah yeah, things change. Change is good: you have to believe that; you have to learn to welcome it, even if – perhaps especially if – you didn’t want it in the first place. And as Adam Gopnik says at the end of his article you have to love things as long as you can. And I did. But it doesn’t stop me missing Andreas, and Ian and Tom, and that parsley.

6 Responses to “Loving things as long as you can”

  1. Jim Hoekema Says:

    Hi Belinda,
    Well, you brought in a lot heavy literary invocations for just a disappearing vegetable stand! But, yes, I totally sympathize, and I do like Adam Gopnik’s take on Paris! When in L.A. I mourn the vanished hole-in-the-wall Mexican places, and I have even shed a vinegary tear for all the fish-and-chip shops that have disappeared from your fair isle!
    But as you say, now is the time to love the things that are still with us, like mailing letters and driving our cars any old place we choose!

  2. admin Says:

    You’re right: invoking Gopnik AND Hughes in one post is certainly heavy artillery. But that parsley, I have to tell you, it was worth them both! And yes: mailing letters, driving where we want, they have to be celebrated while they exist.

  3. Helen McKinlay Says:

    Thanks Belinda, I love the literary references. And your passion for fresh organic veges. Nothing is more certain than change however and then there’s the other one…change is opportunity. That’s the one that irritates but also very true…look at Christchurch (NZ). and then again as Laurice Gilbert, a fellow poet said to me yesterday lemons to lemonade. But having said that there’s nothing like a nice fresh organic lemon :-)

  4. admin Says:

    All you say is absolutely true, Helen, including that bit about the irritation levels! And I once started a small publishing company called Lemonade Press, with the slogan of ‘if you have lemons, make lemonade’, so I should know (better?). I might just have to grow my own parsley…

  5. Lucille Says:

    Could I add a musical invocation?

  6. admin Says:

    Yes! Quotes from that song used to be scrawled all over Key West.

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