Imagine this. A warm October evening in the covered market: on the ground floor stalls packed with gleaming fruit and veg, upstairs friends gather to chat, drink and eat. We wander round, selecting small dishes to taste, secure our stools by the bar and dream about what might have been in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms.
Ah, if only. Inside the City Council other plans are brewing for the George Street building undergoing restoration. But come with us briefly to Madrid where the skies are almost certainly still blue and the air is warm. The metro whisks us to Gran Via, the nearest stop to the central Chueca district. Following the street map, and an email from a friend of a friend, we find the Mercado San Antón.
The new covered market is a remarkable space for several reasons. Not least (if my Spanish is any way correct) because this shining emporium, completed this year, came in more than €3million under budget (Edinburgh please take note).
The building itself, squeezed into a bustling network of narrow streets full of small shops, is clearly not to everyone’s taste. Probably Madrid (observing the MAD in Madrid) likens it to the worst of British municipal architecture of the seventies
But others (see guiriguide) welcome the new market – there was an old dilapidated building on the same spot – as a contemporary twist to the city’s mercado tradition. Our friend of a friend is obviously among them:
Inside there are many stalls where you can try small portions of lots of different kinds of food and cheese and wine – very much like the Mercado San Miguel off La Calle Mayor – but bigger, there are 3 floors, and a huge roof terrace. You can take your food and drink and eat inside or outside. It is not as busy as San Miguel so you can at least sit somewhere!
We didn’t spend much time looking at the architecture, we were more intent on finding what was inside. The roof terrace was full so we retreated to the second floor and spent a happy half hour tasting cheese, chorizo and anchovies with a glass (ok, two glasses) of chilled white wine.
The roof terrace at a quiet moment earlier in the day
Imagine, we kept saying, what you could do with a space like the Assembly Rooms. Bring the Farmers’ Market indoors? Invite new and traditional enterprising local producers from in and around Edinburgh to display their skills in the city centre? Encourage a multicultural market to celebrate Scotland’s growing diversity?
Ah, if only. It’s all too late of course. Back home in Edinburgh, rolling along George Street in a bus on a cold October evening, we look out of the windows counting the succession of bars, bistros and restaurants sliding by: Gusto, Browns, TigerLily, CentoTre, The Living Room, Cafe Andaluz. Is Assembly Rooms really the best location for Jamie’s Italian?
The City Council has decided. Our fantasy covered market will have to find another location. Leith maybe?
October 20th, 2011
Government cuts won’t hurt Canna museum or library but real life makes itself felt in other ways. Island life is not for softies.
We got back to Edinburgh in the early hours this morning, now it’s evening before the day has properly begun. I always have difficulty adjusting to the clocks going forward but today my mind is still running on Canna time.
The island is hard to leave behind. We’ve had almost a week there and it was a magical break for city slickers: resting screen-weary eyes on distant misty Skye; stretching legs on long walks round the bay and up Compass Hill; putting the world to rights round the table at night after watching sunset on Rum – or mists swirl where it should be.
The visitors’ book in Gerry’s cottage is full of enthusiastic comments. And rightly so. It’s a restored crofter’s home on Sanday, warm and comfortable with a kitchen looking out to Rum while living room windows watch tides roll in and out.
As always I wonder what it would be like to stay for real life after the holiday is over. The outside world seems far away when you pick up odd snatches of news on the internet (we found wifi in the cottage) but ripples of the wider economy reach the shore – oil prices hit island tractors and diesel generators.
And real life makes itself felt in other ways. Government cuts won’t hurt Canna museum (lovingly curated by school children) or Canna House library (bequeathed by John and Margaret Campbell) now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. But while the NTS might preserve island infrastructure, the primary school can’t survive without school age children.
How to sustain island community? When Ray and I fantasised about living on Canna we always stumbled at the bit where children leave the island for secondary school. That’s looming reality for parents on Canna – though Eilidh, the school teacher, also tells us that the transition is now very well managed: from Primary 4 children are preparing for a move to lodgings in Mallaig.
So island life may not be for softies but it makes for fascinating conversations well into the wee small hours.
This year for the first time Canna House opens to the public allowing visitors a glimpse of the past and not just in the house (I particularly like the garden history exhibition in the old laundry). But the present is just as interesting and this time (fresh from my experience of the World Kitchen brunch) I have come home marvelling at the multicultural wealth of Canna.
On a small island with a current population of 21, the community is now a mix of English, Welsh, Irish, Spanish and Dutch as well as Gaelic and Scots. Canna primary school’s four children, who between them speak Gaelic, Welsh and English, are also learning French taught by Magda from Spain, whose first language is Basque.
The future is always uncertain for small island communities but I hope they find a way to make this great and wonderfully quirky wealth form the basis of a new sustainability for the next generation.
March 27th, 2011