I eye the strawberries in their pale green paper containers, hundreds of them stacked in neat little rows on the grocer’s table. They are of uniform shape, about the size of a grape that is used for making wine. The grocer can sense my suspicion.
“Would you like to taste one?” he asks, in a sweet, country-English accent.
“Sure,” I hold out my little palm.
The berry is so sweet, sugary almost. It packs a lot of punch and exemplifies the phrase that “big things come in small packages.” It is soft, and the juice runs down my chin a bit.
“Those are the greatest strawberries I’ve ever eaten,” is my reply.
The grocer smiles. I buy a bushel to take back to school with me. How can I resist?
“I didn’t think England was known for its strawberries,” I say to him.
He shrugs. “It’s the summer months. We harvest them from a farm close to here, so they are also good because they are local.”
“They are so small, but so delicious.”
“We’re not permitted to use harsh chemicals,” he explains. “The pests aren’t really a problem here though, because of the rain. It’s those chemicals that make some strawberries bigger, it inflates them.”
“And make them not taste nearly as good as these,” I add.
I could eat every last one of the strawberries right then and there.
We part ways, and I stroll over to the other market stalls. Today, our class is set in Winchester. Maggie and I escaped the study abroad crowd, who were sifting through cheap poly-blend clothing at a nearby fashion shop, to explore the wares of the local merchants. We stop at a booth selling antique jewels.
“I love cameos,” Maggie remarks, holding one up to her neck. “One of my favorite necklaces was a cameo.”
“That’s so nice,” I say. “Who gave it to you?
“Oh,” I answer sheepishly. “Sorry to hear that.”
She shrugs. “It just wasn’t meant to be. I cared a lot about him, but there was nothing I could do when he wanted to break up.”
I don’t press her further on the matter.
A silver tray displays some clip-on earrings. I pick up two small squares of purple jewels bordered by tiny rhinestones.
“I’ve started collecting clip-on earrings. They make great shoe clips.” I tell Maggie. I pick up two more sets for a total of three pairs of costume-style clips.
“How much for the three of these?” I ask the merchant. I’m not very aggressive when it comes to bargaining, but perhaps this time I’d luck out, or get a discount, for buying in bulk.
“They are six pounds a piece,” the merchant replies. She’s a spry old woman with feathery white hair. She wears a sweater even in the July heat.
My attempt at haggling fails miserably.
I pay her for the one pair of purple, faceted glass jewels and put them in my pocket.
English strawberries are the superior fruit.