Fresh Australian Bananas
“I’ve got a lovely bunch of bananas. How can I have such lovely bananas?”
–Fruit stand barker at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market.
I don’t know what the markets along Delancey Street in the Jewish section of New York City were like during the early 1900s, but I imagine they were something like Melbourne’s Queen Vic Market on a Saturday at the turn of the 21st century: A busy, noisy, over-crowded, smelly assault on the senses filled with stands selling everything from meat and comestibles to clothes, toys and anything else you can think of spread out as far as the eye can see.
When I lived in Kansas City, Missouri, I loved going to the market because its location in the sleazy section of town gave it a wonderfully seedy character. Seattle’s Pike Place Market is on the opposite end of the spectrum because it’s so clean. Its only saving grace is the cry of the fishmongers as they pitch customer purchases over the counter so workers can wrap up each buyer’s order. The Queen Vic is the ideal compromise between Kansas City and Seattle: what it lacks in dirt, it makes up for in noise.
On the day I was there, the air was filled with the sound of competing barkers attempting to attract weekend shoppers by out-yelling and under-pricing the competition. The fiercest jockeying came in the meat market, where every stand had at least one hawker yelling for business.
“$3.75 a kilo for mince,” one yelled as I walked through the doorway into a section of the market decorated with skinned rabbits, chicken and other forms of meat hanging over refrigerator cases.
“Best beef here,” his neighbor yelled.
“Check out our specials,” said a third.
My favorite pitch of the day came from a 40-something fruit seller who, with an exuberant but occasionally mournful voice, yelled, “I have a lovely bunch of bananas. Please come see my bananas…. Fifty cents for a kilo of bananas. How can I sell my bananas so cheaply?”
I’ve never been a big banana fan, but his pitch so amused me I had to buy a few. I stuck around just long enough to buy food for dinner then went back to my hostel and spent the rest of the day hanging out with one of the reporters I met on the Port Arthur tour. We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting while we waited for nightfall and the start of the Chinese New Year Celebration in Chinatown, just a few blocks away.
We weren’t quite sure what we were looking for when we hit Chinatown, but had our questions answered almost immediately when we heard gunfire and followed it to a nearby smoke-filled alley where a dancing dragon had just been disassembled. The sound started up again two blocks away and we took off running, arriving just in time to see the smoke rise. By the time we got there, however, all the dancing was done and it appeared the dragon had shot its load and was ready to roll over and go back to sleep.
Ironically, missing the dancing didn’t bother me as much as not hearing all the noise and excitement of the crowd reacting to the fireworks. The combination of the cry of the lonely hawker and cacophonous din of the dancing dragon made me regret not bringing along a tape recorder to capture all the sounds of the trip. I considered buying one before I left Melbourne but realized I hadn’t budgeted enough extra money to afford a really good pocket-sized one.