Cycled from Voorburg to the Hobbemastraat, to the Turkish F&S (Fresh and Snack) Supermarket with a strong June wind against me all the way. The supermarket would have a ‘sort of funny penguin’ over the entrance as its logo, I was told. That is how I would recognise it as the right one.
Once inside I walked (with purpose) to the butcher’s department and was immediately taken very seriously by a thin man in a white coat, somewhere in his forties, with oily black hair neatly combed back and a care-worn greyish face with deep cleats bracketing his nose and mouth. I wanted a kilo of lambs meat please, minced just the once. I did not know why it was important to specify this last bit, but assumed that normal minced lamb is minced more than once; anyway I was following orders and one does not question orders. Did I want the fat? He asked. I said I did not know, and felt my orders to be incomplete. Had I missed something? ‘What is it for?’ he asked, to be helpful. I suddenly became conscious that I was in a Turkish supermarket having to say: ‘Moussaka’ (which was Greek of course, or was it Turkish as well? I did not know). He lowered his head and turned back to his cold-steel ‘Butcher Boy’ mincing machine as if he knew enough. Leaning over slightly and holding his left hand out to the anus at the bottom of the machine, out flopped excretions of minced lamb which he deftly caught in the plastic bag he was holding. ‘With fat…’ I guessed; he nodded decisively.
With my prize in my shopping basket, I walked to the vegetable department, which was not as easy to find as it might have been. Almost every aisle was blocked with large trolleys carrying buyable stuff to be shelved by carefree, well-groomed young men, chatting and listening to the tortuously honeyed sounds of Turkish pop. I took a bunch of flat parsley and a bunch of green stuff that was labelled mint. It didn't look right, but then what do I know?
And so I arrived at the cashier whose till broke down as I was putting my things on the conveyor belt. I was promptly redirected to another till which was quickly opened by a new cashier, a fresh young Turkish lady with a friendly face. I paid and asked her whether this was mint. ‘No’ she said, ‘that is coriander. Would you like mint?’ ‘Yes please’, I said. She took the coriander from the pile and walked back to the vegetable department and swapped the wrong for the right stuff, which I recognised immediately when I saw it and put it in my bicycle bag, on top of the lamb.
I left the supermarket in a good mood, ready to wish humanity well and burying deep my light tendency to general misanthropy. Now with the wind in my back I felt royal and adventurous and cycled back a different route from the way I had come.
At the Spui three men were doing risky things with long ladders and soapy water. In trying to avoid them my eye fell on a shop called ANTIEK. The man I assumed to be the owner, a very thin man with long grey hair, was hunched over, doing something undecipherable just behind the door post. His body was half in the shop door and half out of it on the pavement. I spotted a plate in his shop window and thought to myself that I might as well have a look.
Some months ago I decided to collect ‘fun plates to eat from’ you see, but had not yet made a successful first purchase. Perhaps I would be lucky now. I stopped and turned around and locked my bike. Could I come in, I asked. ‘Well…’ he said uncertainly, ‘what is it you want?’ This seemed a strange reaction from a shopkeeper but looking past him into the shop, I understood his hesitation. The shop was crammed full of darkly shadowed stuff, all the way up to the ceiling. There was not a path to be beaten through it all. The shopkeeper, a fragile man and no mountaineer in my humble estimation, could in fact only open the door from the outside and stand in the doorway to do his shop-keeping. There was, quite simply, nowhere else to go, banned as was from his own shop by his cancerous collection of things-that-would-come-in-useful-one-day. I swapped my interest from that of a potential buyer to that of a discrete anthropologist, but to be polite I said I was looking for plates.
Vaguely pointing to stuff displayed in the shop window, he said that he kept his 'special stuff' there. I looked into the shop full of less special stuff and then looked at the plate I had seen earlier. It wasn’t really very special. ‘It’s a nice plate', he said, 'English… I think, I have two’. ‘How much?’ I asked him. ‘I would have to have seven euros for the two, I think’ as if deducing the price from higher principles. I didn’t feel like bargaining. I didn’t even really feel like buying the plates. I don’t quite know what compelled me to do so. It certainly wasn’t out of charity or pity. I think instead it was his unexpectedly gentle voice. Anyway I did. I counted out seven euros and the man was visibly pleased, his body straightened out to respond to my presence. I suspect it had been some time since his last sale.
‘Like a bag?’ he asked, full of generosity. ‘Noooh’, I said, I would manage, and opened my bicycle bag, revealing the green mint and the flat parsley. ‘Oh’ he said, ‘among the vegetables then? Very good…. vegetables’. As I took the plates from him I looked into his face; it was a kind and careworn face, grey-skinned, with deep cleats bracketing his nose and mouth. He was utterly harmless, a saviour of useful things, an Adam who would have accepted the apple from Eve simply because he would have trusted her completely. He had large, open, innocent eyes with which he looked at me intently. ‘Yes’ he said, smiling, ‘vegetables… much better… Give the poor little lambs a rest from the slaughterhouse, hey?’ I smiled at him and said thank you as I got back onto my bike and felt the wind in my back.
|The Butcher Boy Meat-Grinder.|
|The centre of the plate is occupied with a Chinese seat surrounded with vases, some holding flowers. One is set upon a side table. The whole is held up miraculously by blue globular flames or petals forming a kind of heavenly cloud. The borders are made of richly floral fantasies and geometrical patterns. If you stroke the plate you feel the unevenness of the surface where the colours have been applied.|
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