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Thursday December 18, 2008

Shopping Frenzy

It’s a funny old thing, but whenever I enthuse about my regular shopping forays to our local town of Sóller, London friends view me with some skepticism. How, they ask, can I find the weekly grind of grocery shopping so enthralling? Well, I say, shopping in our town is not a perfunctory affair but more of a social event, an opportunity to catch up on gossip with favourite stall holders at the market, plump and mischievous señoras in the shops, and likely lads at the popular ironmongers. As I head to town for a few purchases, my husband waves me off with a cheerful, ‘See you by nightfall!’ The trouble is that rather like little Red Riding Hood, I am easily tempted away from the task in hand. As I amble into the Plaça, our big and leafy square, there will inevitably be a cry of greeting from a passing neighbour or friend and more often than not we will stop to pass the time of day. Matters of local importance revolve around the date for the next fiesta, latest roadwork updates, the opening of a café, or a new birth. To wave and walk on by rather than embrace the latest gossip, would be regarded as the height of bad manners. Then of course, there is Café Paris with its creamy parasols, and comfortable wicker chairs, which like a bewitching Siren beckons you to stop for a cheering espresso and hot ensaímada, Mallorca’s famed local pastry. How can one possibly resist?

So, finally I scuttle furtively into the market and depart laden with vegetables and fruit and often a gift of strong cherry liqueur brewed up by lovely stallholder, Teresa. At Can Matarino’s, the butchers, they greet me like an old friend as I stand patiently in the queue sharing colourful conversation in faltering Mallorcan with a huddle of elderly and kindly madonnas. At Xavier’s famed deli, Colmada Sa Lluna, Sóller’s mini version of Fortnum & Mason, I am ribbed mercilessly when I attempt to order in Catalan. Rather like a charismatic ringmaster, Xavier draws in eager crowds that respond with gusto when he gets me to repeat everything twice. It’s a good humoured circus act and often I’ll get a pat on the back for managing the simplest of orders and always leave with a gift of a sausage or bag of tomatoes. At the ironmongers, the boys like to show macho prowess by taking whatever I’ve laid on the counter right back to the dusty shelf where I found it and with a stealthy wink, advising me on a better, cheaper alternative. I thank them profusely and am awarded with a ten percent discount and a beaming smile. At the bank, Tolo, my manager, kisses me on both cheeks and welcomes me to his desk. After discussing the weather and family news, often interrupted by locals who come to join in the chatter, I at last recall why I’ve entered the bank in the first place and get down to business.

Recently I waved goodbye to my family and sunny Sóller to take part in an expedition in far off Borneo. After a 45 hour journey home my heart leapt to see my bustling town again, the rugged Tramuntana mountain range and a blue sky the colour of a Robin’s egg. The next morning I headed straight for the town for my long awaited Sóller shopping fix. Before I’d even reached the plaça, there came a cry from Café Paris as José, the owner, rushed over to give me a hug. ‘You’re back from the jungle!’ he cried, grabbing my arm and leading me inside. ‘You’ve been gone twenty days.’ Had he been counting? Other regulars greeted me, eager to hear about snakes and crocodiles and creatures that buzz and bite in the night. A big espresso and chocolate cake arrived, a welcome home gift, said José. What more could a jungle weary girl ask for?

That night my urbane friend Jane rang from London and asked about my first day back in Sóller. She listened then gave a cynical grunt. ‘So you’re telling me you got free coffee and cake, discounts in every store, a complimentary jar of pickles from the market, a bag of plums from the deli and a gift of fillet steak from the butchers? What planet are you on?’ Sometimes I wonder myself, but one thing’s for sure, I never want to get off.

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