A MARKET FOR FARMERS
I wake up antsy at 4:30 AM with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve. Today I am accompanying Ante to a market to buy two pigs…two live pigs!! By 6:30 AM we are on our way, speeding up and down the hills of the Croatian countryside. Since Ante and I don’t speak the same language, we bond over murmuring lyrics from a hit European radio station. About a half hour into our journey, we pull over at a lookout over the Prološko Blato or “Prološko Mud.” During the high season of rain, these low marshlands fill with water. In the center of one of the lakes is an elevated piece of land, which turns into an islet during the rainy season. We pass the magnificent marshes and drive into the sunrise towards Ante’s prize.
Twenty minutes later, we arrive in Zadvarje. The center of town is lined with colorful farm stands selling bushels of green and red apples, tethered onions hanging from every nook and cranny, cartons of peppers for making ajvar, 3 ft bags of freshly chopped cabbage, fresh Adriatic fish, homemade cheeses and fresh bread! The small town is bustling with women, families, and children. Frustrated by all of the people and commotion, Ante lights up a cigarette and curses in Sicilian, “Minka!” I have to take myself out of the NYC perspective and realize that this is busy according to Ante’s standards, who lives in a village inhabited by a mere 40 people. We find a parking spot behind a general store and briskly walk past the busy street towards another opening in the center of town.
We arrive at a huge circle of trucks, their beds and walk ramps face the center of the circle, inviting you up into the inventory of the trailers. Livestock are everywhere, tied and fenced in between and in front of the the trucks and there is a constant, interlaced background noise of the chatter of men, the squeeling of pigs, the mooing of cows, the baahing of sheeps, and the cock-a-doodle-doo of roosters. A sweet musty smell hangs in the air of hay and manure. Beyond the circle of trucks is a long metal rail teaming with cows. Before this moment, I had never realized what had been missing at the countless other farmers markets I had attended. I had always assumed the varied fruits and vegetables represented the reapings of a farm’s labor, but alas I had forgotten the animals. This is a true farmer’s market, a market for farmers.
Ante signals to me to stay quiet and watch from a distance as he walks up one of the ramps. I have a feeling he is going to be haggling and doesn’t want me to interfere. I understand...an American here equals money and if Ante is trying to get a low price, a New Yorker escort is the last person he wants associating himself with. With a nod, I leave him and ascend a ramp a few trucks down. The bed contains pile upon pile of pigs, their snouts and corkscrew tails reach out from a rippling ocean of pink. I notice that a few animals are spray painted with initials, these must be “sold.”
I walk around and silently admire the flocks of negotiating people; they stand silently observing, pointing, whispering under their breaths and shaking their heads. I spot Ante and decide to watch his negotiating skills from afar. He ascends a ramp and begins to eye some pigs. He walks back and forth slowly surveying the livestock. The owner walks towards him and Ante asks a question, presumably: how much? They begin to barter, back and forth until Ante shakes his head. Both I and the owner watch him descend the ramp as he pulls out his phone and dials a number. He calmly and quietly speaks to someone on the other end, pulling his right hand downwards and holding it there, as if simulating a falling drop of water. In a split second he is spitting fire, flinging his hands up in the air. He hangs up the phone and swiftly walks towards the owner. Who was he trying to convince? They begin to talk back and forth until Ante shrugs and turns around, the owner catches Ante’s left arm and brings his right hand in for a shake. I can’t believe it. I feel like the Giants just won the superbowl.
After a few minutes of finalizing details, Ante finds me with his eyes and we return to the car where he lights up; not with a cigarette but with a jubilant energy. He relays to me his accomplishment: two pigs for 5000 kuna (~710 US dollars). He turns up the music and we drive away. Job well done. We arrive back in the village and Ante leaves for the kitchen to celebrate his accomplishment with the preparation of a wild boar soup (check out his mouthwatering Peka Recipe). I spend the rest of the day with Leila making Ajvar and Maritsa’s Peka bread.
It’s 6:00 PM and we are greeted back at the house by a delicious warm stew and an anxious Ante, peeping out the window every few minutes for the truck carrying his pigs. 15 minutes after dinner, we hear a noise and Leon, one of the triplets, comes running in the front door huffing and puffing with news of the pigs arrival. Ante runs outside and greets the truck driver. Within 5 minutes all the men from the village begin to swarm around the truck. Everyone follows the truck in a procession to the pigs new home on the other side of the village. We arrive at the pig pen and everyone helps to unload the pigs. Once they are in the pen Ante recounts his bartering story to us all, in turns out their was no one else on the other end of the phone. Hollywood sign him up.