The centeral piata (pee-ah-tsah) is near my apartment here. It’s open from early in the morning, maybe seven, although I’ve never made it there then, until around three in the afternoon. Any time of day it’s bustling, everyone in Balti is invited and on the weekends it seems as if everyone might have decided to attend.
It’s a Saturday morning, around lunch time and as you enter the indoor section from the center of town, you almost trip over two dogs running past you. Inside the huge indoor section are the women selling breads of every kind. You walk past them and the women selling honey straight from the hive and you see the women sitting making and selling brinza (homemade cheese). You’re wondering if you’re brave enough to buy cheese here rather than at the grocery store, but you chicken out at the prospect of speaking your first words of the day in Romanian. You decide to opt for the safer route and head around past the butcher section and outside, you note where the women selling eggs are, those will be your last purchase.
Outside you stand on the steps for a minute looking out over the seemingly endless aisles, the colors, smells and happy bustle around you make you think you must have entered the adult version of the candy shop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You could simply stand there for hours and never be bored; but out of the corner of your eye you catch an old man smoking and giving you a funny look, clearly you’re not blending in well today. You continue on your way, down the stairs and onto the piata floor, where people are selling fruits, vegetables and of course since this is Moldova, bomboane and bisquits (candy and cookies).
You can’t help but peruse the sweets as you walk past – you notice a few words written in a script you’re unfamiliar with and you realize it must be Ukrainian. Most of the cheaper sweets here are from the Ukraine or Moldova, the Russian ones here are more expensive. You manage not to buy any, continuing past, sticking to your list. You stop and pick out a kilo of tomatoes and continue into the clothes and household goods section, searching for hangers. You know there’s a booth here that sells them, you’ve been there before, but somehow you haven’t been able to find it since.
You’re trying to maneuver gracefully down the small aisles between the stalls and trying to remember what else was on your shopping list. You step out of the way to let a Baba pass, she’s moving slowly and if your Russian was better you’d offer to help her with her bags. As you wait for her to move past, trying to press yourself against the stall, holding onto your bags and purse, you notice just behind her a young woman, a true Moldoveanca, in what can only be termed a cocktail dress, pushing her young son in front of her with one hand, while balancing her bags of produce in the other. Somehow she manages this all without a hair out of place and in four inch stilettos – you almost want to laugh at this convergence of clichés.
You decide to forgo the hangers; you’ll just have to buy them at Metro, although you are slightly bothered to have yet again been unable to find that booth and you’re wishing you’d thought to write down the Romanian for hangers. As you head out, you pass the ladies selling grapes, 15 lei for a kilo and you can’t resist – at least it’s a healthy impulse buy.
You get past the bustle that spills onto the street in front of the piata and you marvel at the perfect weather. You eat a grape, its room temperature and the perfect sweetness breaks open in your mouth. You swallow the seed without hesitation; it seems normal now and you smile thinking this is exactly how summertime in Moldova tastes.