Home Again

It’s good to be back. I don’t mind the travel for work, but I do like to reconnect with this space we call home, to be surrounded by books and paintings which are part of the tapestry of the past, which are steeped in the history of our experience. To come home is to once again recognize the genius of Pierre Bourdieu. Here I can attempt to report the things I see and do in an objective way, but at the same time I must acknowledge that my engagement is subjective. Like all social science what I write is influenced by who I am, my own perceptions and attitudes. My understandings of ‘home’ are grounded in my experiences, my past lives in Papua New Guinea and in Black Lake, in Baffin Island or in Kosovo, my recent immersion in Afghanistan.

The garden is now completely buried in snow, there are drifts of almost a metre on the back lawn, and only the tips of the Corkscrew Hazel are showing where the front flower beds are located. In a couple of months this will be a mass of colour, the hazel and the holly are under-planted with hundreds of spring bulbs. But right not there is just the soft sensuous sweep of the snow drift, streaked with spray from the plows and dotted with the remnants of pin cherries discarded by the birds.

Our black Labrador puppy, Ceilidh, has grown a lot, and has now colonized the chairs as well as the couch. I was surprised to find her sitting up in one of the high backed wing chairs we have next to the fire. She wasn’t curled up, head on front paws like a relaxing fox, and nor was she stretched out in full ‘rub my belly’ mode. She was sitting straight, peering around as we moved from one place to another, just moving her head. She was looking for all the world like my Aunt Nora, who had scandalized the family by paying over 600 pounds for an armchair. That was a lot of money in the 1970s, but Aunt Nora argued that at 81 years old she spent a lot of time sitting in a chair, and that she intended to be comfortable! Ceilidh obviously shares the sentiment.

On Saturday we go to the Farmer’s Market. This is another part of life in Charlottetown which I miss when I am away. It’s not just the shopping, although that is part of the attraction. There is a rhythm to the market, one which isn’t replicated in the large super-markets. I make my way around, spending time to talk with people as I move from stall to stall.

First stop is always for cheese and eggs, and to catch up on the news from Alister and Margaret. Then across the aisle for mushrooms and leeks, and perhaps a few shallots. Sally gets fresh sausages and meat from Taylor’s, while I wander round and see how Tony is getting along on his quest to give up smoking. He’s got some gorgeous jewelry, and it’s interesting to see what new pieces he has designed. In fact,that whole corner of the market is full of art and crafts – paintings, pottery, wood carvings, jewelry.

I move on. There is usually some fresh haddock at Mr Seafood, although they’ve stopped carrying the fish cakes we used to get. Apparently there is now a federal regulation which blocks the ‘export’ of fish cakes from New Brunswick to PEI. Who knew? I suppose there are good reasons for it, but when we have free trade for Mexican cucumbers and Chilean strawberries, it seems a bit strange that Moncton is a bridge too far.

A bit further along we run the potato gauntlet – after all, this is PEI! I remember the first time I met Garth and asked for 10 lbs of potatoes. “What do you want them for?”

“Ummm … well, I was going to roast them …”

“You want these!” he claimed, pointing to a particular variety.

“Great. And then on Monday I might do mash… (These!) … and on Tuesday fish and chips (These!) … and then we may have scalloped potatoes and ham (These!) …”

When I left I had my 10 lbs of potatoes, but they were in five or six separate bags. When I got home I couldn’t remember which was which, but after trial and error I learned that there are differences between red russets and Yukon gold, between netted gems and bakers, and it does make a difference which ones you cook in various recipes.

Next to Garth is Steve, who bakes bread the old fashioned way, lots of good grains and no preservatives. He also has an oyster licence, and during the season it’s relaxing to stand and chat, and down a couple of freshly shucked bivalves before moving on to the rest of the market. Steve is passionate about military history, and has a wealth of stories about various island regiments.

I wash the oysters down with fresh coffee, today it’s a blend of Ethiopian and south Pacific beans, and then continue the circuit. I stop to say hello to those selling labneh wraps and other Lebanese delicacies, seaweed soaps, baked goods, free range chickens from the north shore (ready salted after a life near the spray which plumes over the dunes), fresh Island lamb, carrots and cabbage from the organic farmers. If I’m lucky there will be a vacant seat at a table in the eating area, and if I’m really lucky then that seat will be within shouting distance of friends or neighbours who have gathered for their weekly chat.

To walk around the market is to confirm the theoretical constructs of Bourdieu. As people, we are social agents and we do have the ability to act in a deliberate and collaborative manner. We can choose our actions. To cite Derek Robbins (2009, p. 5), we can collectively “construct markets which are fit for their purposes without capitulating to the imposition of an uniformly individualized economic model”. The Charlottetown Farmer’s Market is one such construct.

There is a place for the mega-markets where everything is available, irrespective of season or origin. As we trawl the shelves of such places we can persuade ourselves that we are controlling what we buy, even though we know that the location of goods – what is at the back of the store, what will be on the top shelf, or the bottom one – is carefully calculated to maximise our spending. We are individualizing our experience but fail to realize that we are being influenced in our choices.

There is also an argument to be made that the current Farmer’s Market is too small, too crowded. But to move to a bigger space, or to build an extension, is to capitulate to the economic imperative of increased profit through economies of scale. As it stands, it serves a purpose within the community, acting as a magnet for social interactions on a weekly basis. Later, when the summer residents are here, it also brings together the four solitudes of Island life – those born on PEI, the CFAs (Come From Aways) who are resident year round, the seasonal inhabitants, and the tourist visitors.

After an hour or two we retrace our steps across the car park and head home. We do go to the big super-market, for we need kitchen paper and washing up liquid and all the things which aren’t available at the market. We wonder at apples from New Zealand – how can they possibly be cheaper than ones grown less than 100 kms away? We buy those goods which are not produced locally, and then drive to the liquor store for some wine. After all, as long as there have been settled populations so there has been a trade for the exotic – for spices and wines, for fruits and condiments and other goods which are not available locally.

When we get home there are two robins pecking at the pin cherries on the tree in the front garden; spring must be on its way. Ceilidh is sitting up as we enter the house, looking at us hopefully as we unpack our bags. I light the fire, and push the puppy off the chair so we can sit down with our coffee and the newspaper. It’s good to be home.


Citation: Robbins, D. (2009) ‘After the Ball is Over: Bourdieu and the Crisis of Peasant society’ Theory, Culture and Society 26 (5) 141-150.

online: Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0263276409106355

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