January 31, 2017

Why I really shop at the Shuk


The age of social media has been all about connecting people. And it has, indeed, built bridges across continents, shared ideas over oceans, and created an international, real-time conversation that never stops flowing. This globalised, virtual world is dynamic, rapidly and exponentially growing in depth, breadth and height. It is, undoubtedly, the most exciting and connected time we’ve seen in human history.

But then there is the supermarket. It is almost inexplicable that the Mecca of modern urban existence is the white-tiled, florescent-lit, overly-air-conditioned (like, need to bring a North Face coat when I go there) gigantic box that is the supermarket. It is a place utterly unsuited to human connections, or to shared experiences. Shelves littered with cues encouraging additional purchases, but missing the layers of human emotion or the melody of conversation. Hidden behind pursed lips and wandering eyes is the panic of indecision, the struggle to remember the shopping list, the fire of impatience, and the longing to get the hell out of there.

I have never made a friend at the supermarket. Not even a Facebook friend.

And so I have found myself asking – how is it that in a world so unwaveringly focused on connectedness do we surrender ourselves to such a solitary, cold and unsociable experience that is so regular and essential in our lives?

Then I went to Machane Yehuda – and I saw first hand what the shopping experience is supposed to entail. My first walk through the Shuk left me exhilarated and glowing! Hard working men and women shouting insistently that you must buy THEIR strawberries! Because they’re sweeter, fresher and more affordable. Beautiful music echoing on the speakers from various stalls, songs seamlessly morphing into each other as you move further from one and closer to another. No labelled grids of isles, but quaint, charming alleys that wind into one another, never knowing where a turn will take you. Young merchants standing in the middle of the strip and offering you free tastings of halva, of grapes, of nuts and grains, and other produce that they have so earnestly worked to create at the highest quality.

But most importantly, the freshest thing about the Shuk is the people. Most are smiling, bustling, surrendered to the human wave of crowded shoppers that effortlessly flows around them through its alleys. The elderly will walk gently and slowly with their bags-on-wheels and kindly ask you (or sometimes vehemently insist) that you help them across the road. Children will scurry past you, soldiers will wander freely out of uniform, finally home for the weekend. Tourists will gleam, wide-eyed and entranced by the smell of hot pastries just out of the oven, and fish caught just a few hours earlier. Some shoppers are flustered, frustrated, biting your head off as they shove past you, or insisting on paying before you – but at least they’re honest! They’re real, living humans to whom the Shuk has given the freedom to be who they are and say how they feel. And this, is what makes us feel connected.

So, my humble suggestion would be, that the next time your fridge needs stocking or your pantry refilling, avoid the supermarket, and just come to the market. Because the experience is supernatural.