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Life found me at Fremantle Markets, minding a stall. I was reading ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’ by Paul Theroux (see my book review here) that suited the general ambiance.

For those that don’t know, the ‘Freo’ Markets are a public market built in 1897 and situated in the town that bears the same name. It is a large, red-brick Victorian edifice featuring a shambling, barn-like interior with few mod cons and no air conditioning – all part of the charm.

When I first visited Fremantle Markets around twenty years ago, it was thronging with local artists and craftspeople. Many of these interesting sorts have been driven out by the ever-increasing rents. This alas, has changed the original character of the place, as business people selling cheap Asian imports don’t impart quite the same vibe.

Still, there was a steady stream of visitors looking for something to eat, or for that something ‘other’…

One such explorer, ‘D’ stopped in front of the table. He looked a bit like a Buddhist monk. We talked casually about the recent death of Mandela, and then about travel through Egypt. To my surprise he exclaimed, “let’s go together!”, proposed marriage and followed this up with an attempt to kiss me. Later (gathering my wits) I ruminated, that ‘D’ was looking for a wife…

A woman, perhaps in her mid forties, paused to examine the merchandise. Her pretty, dark-haired daughter accompanied her. I said ‘hello’ and we engaged in conversation; she bravely confided that she was suffering from a relapse of Paget’s disease of the vulva, which is a rare kind of cancer. Never having heard of this disease, I commiserated “let’s not rule out a miracle!”

Other human souls that happenstanced by my table, was an artist, ‘Chris’, and then later, a musician and poet by the name of ‘Nigel’. They were agonizing over the production of their work. We agreed that it is so very difficult for an artist to carry on, as grants are rare and generally given to those gifted in filling out application forms or from indigenous backgrounds. Both were tormented souls “I have to drive a bus, for Chrissake” groaned Nigel. Being in a similar situation myself, I totally sympathized.

A totally trendy mademoiselle, garbed in black leather hat, stopped by to look. She looked too chic to be from Australia and I asked her where she was from. “I’ve just got back from nine years in New York.” The young lady was lamenting over her diminished a social circle, which now consisted of just one person – her mum. (“Thank God for mums!”)

Poignantly, Leon, was looking through the markets alone. He wore a striped kaftan having been an Australian teaching in Kenya for the past twenty years. He was revisiting the places of his youth. He looked at me, and I saw that he was sad. “My wife is dead” he said “you can’t go back even if you want to can you?”

I rescued a distressed boy who’d lost his mum. To distract him while we waited, I asked him “What is Santa bringing you for Christmas? “He peered up at me, “I want a scar on my forehead like Harry Potter” “Ouch! Wouldn’t that hurt?” I exclaimed. The boy nodded. “Anything else?” I probed, “I’d like a magic wand…and I’d like it if would snow…”

A wife, a health cure, an arts career, a social life, the past., magic and snow…. It occurred to me that all these people were looking for something never to be found at the market. Still, you don’t get those kind of connections in an air conditioned shopping mall do you?

I can’t travel like Theroux but I was nourished nonetheless.

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