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Journals from National University of Ireland in Galway

2012-02-19 To Market on Foot

While speaking of the author James Joyce, one of my lecturers remarked that he was a walker, that he wrote the streets of Dublin from a walker's point of view, and furthermore that the way a city like Dublin (or Galway) looks is different to a person on foot than in a bus or train. Walking involves all five senses in a dynamic way: taking a walk is an invitation to know a place through every avenue available to you. I haven't taken the bus much, and I've never ridden on a train, but I walk more now than I ever have in my life. I want to try to take you (my reader!) on a journey to one of my favorite events: the Saturday market.

The market is a little over a mile from where I'm staying, but to me, most days, it feels like nothing. I take my backpack for produce, a raincoat even when it looks clear, and generally I wear my unfashionable walking shoes. (Nobody wears tennis-shoes, or "runners" as they call them, but I walk between two and eight miles a day, and they make the cobblestones easier to handle.) The wind hits as soon as I leave the courtyard; I've learned that a brisk pace keeps out the chill.

To get to the market I have to go through a roundabout, and that was difficult at first. Cars come from counter-intuitive directions, and most of the crossings don't have pedestrian lights. It's a matter of finding breaks in traffic, or, if I'm lucky, threading through stopped cars. They don't find it particularly pressing to slow down for you. I took to this a little more hesitantly than did some of my friends who grew up in cities, maybe because the pedestrian situation in rural Oregon is a lot more dangerous for deer than it is for people. I wrote to my mother early on and said "I've discovered how not to die crossing the road!" -- a fact for which she was very grateful, if perhaps a little worried that this was something I had to discover.

Once through the roundabout, I pass by several grocery stores and hit a line of little houses and shops; I'm roughly halfway to the market. Bits of bottle gleam in sidewalk creases, and the pieces from the previous night crackle underfoot where they haven't yet been swept away by the traffic of the day. There's half a block that consistently smells like clove cigarettes or something like them; whatever it is, it's a beautiful scent to me. I catalog house fronts of which I wish to take pictures, admiring little doors, iron fences, ivy competing with the soundness of window frames. There are crows overhead and birds who sing even after dark.

And there are people -- and the closer I get to Market St., the more people there are: older gentlemen in hats, hands in pockets, framing the doorways to outlying pubs; men in slacks or trousers; women in heels and tights and beautiful skirts and wool coats of all kinds. If I go to Market St. during the week, when there is no market, sometimes I'm there at the right hours to see hundreds of younger teens in uniform, either on break or out of school for the day, I'm unsure which. If it's a clear day the streets are always full. Sometimes it's hard to move around, and groups pause to watch street performers at regular intervals. The smells of coffee and pastries billow out of shops along the way, or there's the more hearty-smelling scent of pubs and restaurants. If you stand in the right place, you can smell several things at once and hear singers overlapping from every direction, and it's clear why people call Galway a lively city. So much reaches out from it, and if it seems a bit impersonal sometimes, there's still a sense of intimacy to the streets themselves.

The market is still fairly small compared to how it looks in the summer, so I hear, but even in February it's crowded and bustling. It is my favorite place in all of Galway, and it's only mine to have once a week, or twice if I went on Sundays too. I pick out a dirt-smudged parsnip, a cluster of bananas, a carton of individually stamped organic eggs, and pay the warm-faced older man who calls every customer 'love.' I look at the curry stand, the doughnut stand (the best doughnuts I've ever had in my life!), and the necklaces, and pottery, and the boots made of wool. There's a smell to the market, and maybe a taste, too -- and even with the curry on the air, what it reminds me of most of all is the countryside from home. I'm the daughter of farmers; perhaps it isn't so strange that it delights me to thread my way through a city, to the very heart of it, until the people press against me shoulder-to-shoulder, and find myself at last in a cool morning market that smells like earth and doughnuts.

Some days my feet hurt from walking, but I wouldn't trade it. My favorite parts of Galway are her streets.

Abby Lundberg

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