Why the Parisians have nothing against their children eating unwashed berries, what a small piece of fabric means for the Londoners, and which beaches of Portugal offer a chance to meet a world surfing star

 

Paris

By Daria Knyazeva

The Parisian market, it turned out, was a separate sight. That was something to become accustomed to. In Moscow, I used to live right next to the Losinoostrovsky Market, went there three times a week and never thought that those trips could be classified as cultural entertainment. As a result, when the reverential tourists told me “well, we would also like to go to… (a subdued pause, after which you’d expect at least “to the abandoned catacombs” or “to the Masonic lodge”) …a Parisian market” I knit my brows in such a special way that additional words were strictly unnecessary. They went to look for the market with someone else; I remained there with a feeling that I had failed to understand something important.

The Gallic culture, flaunted by the sturdy provincial French and personified by Gérard Depardieu, is concentrated around the navel. What we, northern Slavs caught in the quagmire of conventionality, hypocritically call ‘plain style’, is the basis of philosophy for the ardent Gauls. Food, physical love and healthy function of the gut embody the triumph of life in all its reflections. It is this contrast that draws us to the French market. Strong impressions are guaranteed; they will include horror, disgust and delight. Piles of chicken whose spotty necked heads are contrasted against their pale plucked bodies; pimply cows’ tongues and dressed rabbits; wall-eyed fish and green crayfish, moving their claws and barbs in slow motion; yellow towers of cheese and mother-of-pearl mounds of oysters upon ice; children who trustfully receive berries from earth-stained hands of the sellers and put them into their mouths unwashed… A hipster from St. Petersburg, looking at all those Bacchanal-style scenes, told me: “After I have learned that our lashes host some special mites who feed on keratinized cells, many things have lost their power to frighten me.”

The Sunday Mass and the following journey to the market are historically connected and to this date remain important to the rhythm of small southern towns. In the capital of this most secular country the church is increasingly absent from that union, so the market partially takes over. For a Parisian, a walk to the market is simultaneously a funny game, a way of socializing, a Sunday habit and Communion.

First of all, this is a quest of locating the right seller. Here is the all-points bulletin: a natural Frenchman, gaunt and red-nosed, surrounded by his whole family and selling, usually, 33 varieties of a single vegetable. Do not, I repeat, do not, mix him up with a naturalized French citizen who calls the people to his long stand with 33 of the most popular vegetables and offers three mangoes for the price of one. A worthy alternative to the right sellers are the stands with the green Bio sign — not necessarily a family business, but also quite decent from the point of view of an urban intellectual.

Secondly, people go to the market in Paris to communicate. Simply exchange money for the goods? Who could be interested in that? No, before you buy, you have to tell the owner of the wine stand the menu of your next dinners and ask for advice about their ‘wine accompaniment’. You have to make the cheese-maker throw himself into a comparative analysis of young goat cheeses. You have to ascertain with the grocer the provenance of the figs and cast your doubts on their timely nature — is the season really in full swing yet? You have to be patriotic and buy the pale French strawberries instead of the full-bodied Belgian ones.

A market is a defilé of temptations and virtues. To plunge into gluttony or to buy only the absolutely necessary? To agree to harmful but cheap pesticides or to prefer the natural product? To save money or to reward the honest laborer? This is the battle between good and evil in real time, and the Parisians go to the market every Sunday to prove to themselves that they are still on the right side of the barricades.

They say the new French revolution will begin on the market. Some momentous political decision, they say (to leave the European Union or to recall the diplomats from the United States) would be forced by the powers cutting the number of tomato varieties that are allowed to be sold, or prohibiting unpasteurized milk, which would lead to the impossibility of making fresh cheese. Both measures have been attempted already, which is why globalization ideas are not very popular on the market. Exactly like clean-washed berries, typical of the exaggerated hygienic notions cherished by all of our own citizens.

London

By Anastasia Denisova

Recently, there was a scandal in Italy: it was claimed in a TV program that men preferred girls from Eastern Europe because they were excellent cooks, tended to agree with their husbands in everything and wore miniskirts even in the kitchen. The indignant Italian women smothered the editorial board with complaints, the (female) speaker was sacked, the egregious case was discussed by every newspaper.

In Italy, the struggle for sexual equality in the workplace and money situations is no joke; it has taken many years. That is why the reaction to an essentially jocular TV program was so tempestuous. Is the miniskirt a symbol of women’s oppression?

Things are different in the UK. A contentious object of female costume assumes its honorable place at the Mecca of fashion historians, the Victoria and Albert Museum. Its main exposition presents the evolution of the style in the course of several centuries. There is, for example, a dress as wide as a sofa, which certainly made it difficult for the lady to squeeze inside the room. However, everyone could see the status of the husband, who had spent a huge amount of silk and pearls for an attire. There are fringed tunics from the jazzy 1920s. Europe was enchanted with Asia, especially Japan, and embraced embroidered silks and mythological motifs.

To wake up famous is something that could be easily said about Christian Dior. His famous ‘new look’ dress is an ode to the end of the war. During WWII the fabrics were mostly used for military uniforms and parachutes, and it was only in 1947 that fashion could show some extravagance. The new look outline — a wasp waist and a splendid cupola skirt — was the greatest achievement of Maestro. The journalists called this cult dress a hymn celebrating the female figure. Like many other works of world fashion designers, this is on museum stands now. But, together with the masterpieces of Balenciaga and Chanel, there is also the notorious miniskirt.

This world famous object was invented here, in the United Kingdom. Its author is the designer Mary Quant, the child of the swinging 1960s. Neat suits of The Beatles, motorollers, the angular Twiggy were setting the urban fashion of the time. Mary Quant, an energetic lady with a bob hairstyle, playfully cut out a mini of dangerous size (a palm’s length above the knees) and equally short skinny pants — both are still held in respect by British women. Even in the midst of winter, young ladies with a good percentage of ale in their blood run around the discos with electric-colored short skirts.

“To wear a mini is a class choice,” reminds us the Oxford anthropologist Kate Fox. According to her, going out in such a short thing is something done by either a working class member or an aristocrat. In the first case this is a sign that a girl wants to attract male attention — directly, deadly earnest. In the second it is perceived as a prank: the daughters of influential families are discreetly parading their thin limbs in risky miniskirts.

Where are you, feminists? What is your verdict? Paradoxically, a miniskirt from 1960s London is a true symbol of sexual equality in the eyes of the British public. Half a century ago, young girls, just like young guys, started going to dates and to the offices dressed the way they wanted. Mini with high boots and colored tights could be easily worn to an official place. “I called my skirt in honor of another British cult object, the Mini Cooper car,” remarked Mary Quant, who is now eighty-something. “It went exactly with the Mini Skirt: it was optimistic, exuberant, young, flirty”. In London of the third millennium, walking along the Piccadilly on a September evening in a miniskirt is not a scandal at all. It would be, indeed, scandalous not to.

Portugal

By Elena Vodneva

“I’m Luis from Peniche,” announced my surfing instructor during my very first trip to Portugal. Back then, a friend of mine spared no effort to make me exchange Bali for the cool Atlantic waters. Usually the stereotype view of the country at the edge of the continent is this: navigators, vineyards, port, sardines, fado. Beaches in the south, Lisbon in the center, Porto in the north, and the general patina of provinciality compared to more central and more visited European countries.

We, however, were attracted by the ocean. In the autumn, it begins to wake up after the slumber of the summer, while the temperature of the water, until the storms begin, remains usually the same.

The first people with the boards (apparently, the ubiquitous British) appeared in the fishermen’s town of Peniche, 90 kilometers to the north of the capital, in the 1970s. But I can vouch that I have seen its transformation into a power base of the surfers with my own eyes: nine years ago at the Supertubos Beach a stage of the world championship was held — Rip Curl Pro Portugal — and since then, it has become an annual event: the waves easily curling into fast and smooth tubes up to four meters high proved to be simply too good.

Unlike many other places or spots chosen by surfers for their competitions, the action here happens right by the shore and is available for any viewer; no need to rent a motor boat or secure binoculars. When you find out the starting time on the event’s web site, you simply come to the beach, sit down on the silky sand and watch for free the performances of world stars, such as Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Jordy Smith, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina or Matt Wilkinson. Each performance is just a few seconds long, but the sight is breathtaking, even if you know nothing at all about surfing. To work out what’s happening is possible thanks to the championship’s online app and fast WiFi, which is provided, thanks to the sponsors, right on the beach.

When you watch people moving across the waves on small boards with ease, emerging victoriously out of collapsing tubes of the waves, when you see how they rocket sky-high, you think that you’d be able to do that; well, almost. However, it is best to check your surfing abilities with an instructor: this is actually one of the most difficult sports. Today there are countless surfing schools and camps, sports and renting shops near Peniche. The back side of this popularity is seen in the crowds on the lineup, where the wave breaks, especially during the high surfing season, which has become even longer once the championship was moved from early October to the end of the same month. Beginner lessons for novices, though, are organized closer to the shore, in the foam, so it’s not a problem to get your own measure of impressions.

Now, though, the clubs and bars of Peniche and the Baleal peninsula on the other side of the gulf are open virtually every night, sometimes until the morning hours. To be ‘in’ regarding the best parties, you have to make friends with a local (not necessarily Portuguese): the owners of certain establishments agree that a concert of popular hit covers in one club would not coincide with the set of a fashionable DJ in another.

After the virtually sleepless night the best way to recover is to plunge your head (and body in rashguards) into the refreshing ocean. But you can also postpone your sporting achievements and spend a perfect hedonist day. You can go to have breakfast to any cafe with a line of locals leading to the counter; take the absolutely fresh pastry and a coffee (um café if it’s an espresso, abatanado for an Americano, or galão with a foamy milk cap). Walk along the dunes towards Baleal or make a trip to São Bernardino — the inexplicable local lore claims that the air there is curative; the waves, they say, break against the rocks in a special way, forming a seawater suspension all around.

During the daytime, it makes sense to eat oysters and sardines in Profresco, the most popular fish restaurant of Peniche of the season. Walk in the fortress which was built in the 16th century and used as a prison in Salazar’s time. By sunset, when slanting rays of the sun make everything more photogenic, climb around the fanciful Martian-like rocks which protect the northwestern part of the town. Catch the moment when the scarlet star drops into the ocean while standing on the viewing point of the Cabo Carvoeiro. If you still have any stamina left, go to the old town of Obidos — behind the castellated walls of its fortress in the evening you can find souvenir shops and restaurants, which offer mouthwatering octopus.

 

Published on: June 24, 2018