Friday, February 26, 2010

The Indoor Market: Wroclaw's best kept secret for notions and reptiles

Although I had already been to the sewing store inside the Rynek, and could have easily returned there to purchase the necessary needles, thread, etc. for the first day of the workshop, I needed to distribute more flyers and I wanted to challenge myself in the indoor market. The sewing store I had originally found was very nice and seemed to attract a certain clientele, where as the indoor market was much rougher around the edges. I figured, if I was going to truly put the idea of QUILTED to the test, the indoor-market was where those flyers needed to be.

Let me give you a quick illustration of the indoor market. This is one of our favorite places in Wroclaw. It sits just outside of the Rynek and right by one of Wroclaw's many city rivers. The market is housed within a huge, ancient brick and stone building with crazy iron rafters on the inside that make determining the original use of the building near impossible. The rafters are so aerodynamic looking that I believe it was a hangar for turn-of-the century dirigibles (19th to 20th not 20th to 21st...). When you enter the building, which only has two small doors for entrance and exit, though they aren't marked and part of the fun is getting trapped by the onslaught of people always going the way you aren't going, you are immediately struck by the synesthesia of the interior. A burst of smell, color, sound and eventually taste (after ordering a criminally cheap bowl of potato soup) explodes upon your every sense so that you're tasting the shouts of vendors and smelling the light filtering in from the ceiling-high windows and seeing the tartness of the fresh pickles and the richness of the freshly ground cinnamon.

Now. What does this have to do with sewing, you ask? Everything. First of all, the people who frequent the indoor market are the kind of salt-of-the-earth people who find grocery stores inconvenient and overly priced and unsociable. These are the kinds of people that I want to know more about. Besides, all along the top floor of the market, which isn't a floor so much as a stroll beside some of the last craftsmen to be found in public, are teeny tiny nooks where cobblers, seamstresses, locksmiths, watch repairmen, etc. can be found working at their craft day in and day out regardless of the Globalization occurring just outside the door. Curiously enough, situated in between these craftspeople, are strange stores that remind one of the sideshows of traveling circuses. There was a reptile store specializing in giant, exotic lizards and insects to feed to lizards. Another store featured baskets. The store smelled like a box that has been traveling on a boat from Asia to San Francisco and got left on deck during a storm. The owner was so doubtful of his own wares that he sat propped in a chair, sound asleep. Somewhere between the reptiles and the baskets, there were two notions stores and one seamstress. I approached the seamstress first.

What do you think of when you hear the word "seamstress"? Whatever you think of, I promise you this woman didn't fit the image in your mind's eye. She was sitting in the hallway, with a great view of the activity on the main floor. Her sewing machine looked old enough to be her great grandmother and she had a tiny radio plugged into the same outlet as the dinosaur. The radio was belching out what I guess I would call "rave" music. And when I approached her to show her my flyer, she actually turned the music up. She was wearing a pantsuit with fatigue print...the arctic know, camouflage in baby blue, white and black? She had a crew cut and looked like she might have come out of the womb smoking a cigarette. I started with a very timid, "Do you speak English?" That was when she turned the music up.

Luckily, my flyer was in Polish as well as English. Slightly daunted, I put the flyer over her sewing machine and pointed to the Polish portion calling for learned sewers to attend the workshop. She shook her head "no". I motioned taping the flyer to a wall nearby her, thinking that people who spoke with her might know how to sew and might be interested in the workshop. She shrugged and went back to the item in the dinosaur's teeth.

I'm shy, and I don't like pursuing something once I am given a clear "not interested" indication. However, I was proud of myself for at least taping the flyer to the concrete post relatively nearby the seamstress. So, I suppose I was a little "heady" with my "success". Which explains why the second person I spoke with turned away from me completely and wouldn't even take my flyer. I had gotten too cocky, as it were. She was the proprietor of a notions store that I had seen while walking around the market the first time with Lloyd. I had lusted after her cheap embroidery thread, having spent the previous three months threadless because embroidery thread in Italy costs the equivalent of $3 per loop! I was recently at our mega-chain: HOBBY LOBBY here in Birmingham and was shocked and delighted to see that the same loop costs approximately $0.40 when sold in the US.

Okay, so she was totally disturbed by me and my overly excited request to tape the flyers to her windows, but I felt she didn't even give me a chance. My last hope was a notions store in between the seamstress and the lady with all of the embroidery thread. I had to be careful. I had to be smart. I had to buy needles and thread!

This store was closed and had what I can only imagine was a "be back soon" sign taped to its tiny door. While I waited for the proprietor to return, I scanned the earrings for sale at the booth that was at the top of the stairs leading down to my favorite fresh pickle dealer. What I wouldn't give right this minute for some of his pickles.

I had no intention of buying any earrings, but my position at the booth allowed me to watch for the return of the notions store lady. I saw a tiny older woman walking speedily towards the door and started towards it myself when I saw her thrust a key in and open the door. She ducked into the back and was nowhere to be seen by the time I entered the store. This time I was going to buy something before bringing out the offending flyers. This turned out to be the correct approach all around, although I still think the tiny notions lady at this last store was far friendlier than anyone else I had encountered that day. I purchased several items and then showed her the flyer. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up because she didn't speak English. Then, two young women around my age entered the store and the proprietress showed them the flyer, pointed at me and grinned. They kind of smiled and then went to look at buttons on the opposite end of the store, which was three feet away.

I left the store with more needles than I possibly needed and lots and lots of colorful thread. I walked back down the stairs into the thick of the indoor market, bought a pickle for the walk home and made my way back to the apartment to cut up fabric and organize for the following morning: Oct. 29th - the first day of QUILTED! (The picture at the top of the post is me preparing the fabric)

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