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The “old laughing lady” in Olhão market

“If I were a pop star, I’d sing like Johnny Cash,” said Clive James. I wondered who Josie would imitate?

I do not sing, but music and Josie’s voice are occupying my thoughts. Josie Whistler is a character in development. She may appear as an ageing hippy, owner of a food van, frequenting music festivals, in a new novel this year.

The birth pangs are not painful, just ever present and ponderous. My head was full of Josie when we made our way to Olhão Market, parking near the garden not far from the port.

Busy, Busy, Busy. African entrepreneurs pushed trinkets, carpets and “genuine” labelled goods. Two-wheeled shopping trollies in a variety of colours some fluorescent were not easily avoided.

Tall, blonde, northern Europeans occupied uncomfortable chairs in some of the cafes. Portuguese men shook hands with old friends and neighbours. Women hugged, kissed and chattered with no interest in moving over, so people could pass.

What I wanted to do on this market day was observe and see if Josie Whistler had anything to say.

The garden on the edge of the market was fairly empty. On two benches sat elderly Portuguese men in caps. They were observing, then occasionally commenting and laughing.

Jehovah's Witnesses with literature cartAt the front of the garden near the ocean wall, somewhat hidden and away from the main market action, two young female Jehovah’s Witnesses stood by their literature cart, in front of a green wooden bench. They did not make eye contact. They were ignored, and they ignored.

I watched. No one approached to look at their books and magazines. They talked to each other. They did not want to engage. They will report back to the leadership that they preached the “Good News of the Kingdom” for X amount of hours this morning. No one heard them. No one cared.

I snapped one or two photos of the sun glistening on the ocean.

We moved on.

The market was bustling. Tall, short, heavy and slim moved chaotically with no rush. Buggies complete with small children and babies parted the crowds and occasionally caused ankle damage to those who did not hear or see them coming.

The German “plant man”, had lavender, purple pansies, and fertiliser. The nut and fig stall had passion fruit and large fresh black and green olives, some mixed with chilli.

We once bought an ostrich egg from a stall in this market. We had to take a screwdriver and hammer to pierce it. Out flowed yoke mush, thick and yellow, the equivalent of about 20 eggs. I digress.

Papaya stallLarge papayas in a basket on the floor caught my eye. I squeezed some of the smaller ones and chose one that will take a few days to ripen. Two women, maybe mother and daughter smiled, greeting their customers. I added some Madeira bananas, the small sweet ones, to my papaya and the young girl calculated the cost and said, “Bom fim de Semana” “Have a good weekend” as she handed me the fruit.

Papaya stall 2Being served by the women on this stall was a contrast to the two “witnesses” I had snapped. Perhaps it was because it was within 10 minutes of both experiences, but the life just shone out of the market women in a way that was missing in the “witnesses” as they stood with their literature cart.

I took a photo of their fruit stall. I think I caught happiness in action.

One of the pleasures of going to Olhão on Saturday morning is having a break at the Cantaloupe jazz cafe and watching characters moving up and down past the laden stalls.

The Cantaloupe plays Charlie Parker, Michael Buble and a good range of everything in between. I have enjoyed Dave Brubeck’s, “Take Five” more than once drinking a mais de lait (coffee – half milk).

Four people, blonde, tall and German, sat outside on the next table to the one I nabbed. You have to be quick and lucky to get a front and centre table looking out towards the ocean. The market stalls mostly block the view of the ocean on market day, but through the gaps, it is still possible to glimpse passing boats on the sea.

I ordered green tea. Jim had coffee.

The day was Olhão hot, warm with a sea breeze that can turn suddenly cold. I just loved the prickles of warmth and well-being on my arms and face.

The Tissue LadyOne of the “tissue women” walked past the Cantaloupe. Today she did not open her basket looking for a few cents for her tissues. A man stopped to chat with her. He seemed genuinely pleased to see her and put a caring hand on her shoulder. She wore boots, a Parker jacket, and a woollen hat. She seemed to enjoy the attention.

Not to be outdone, a middle-aged Romany woman worked the crowd. She was determined to get her message across. She had on offer, calendars featuring Fatima, the Madonna and child and the Portuguese equivalent of Old Moore’s Almanac. (It is a kind of magazine that foretells the future, especially the weather, so planting takes place at the right time).

Romany womanShe mingled and stood her ground, looking a little frustrated that no one seemed interested in her wares.

The green tea made a refreshing change to milky coffee. Maybe it helped me gain a little clarity about Josie Whistler.

I heard Josie say, “Neil Young, I would like to sing like Neil Young.”

I asked the voice in my head, which song? and she replied, “Old laughing lady.”

Josie had been watching. I think she may crave the attention and love shown to the old tissue lady. She may have the determination, but the vulnerability of the Romany woman. But overall, she is very glad that when she was young, she kicked Jehovah’s Witnesses out of her life.

As we made our way to the car, the “witness” women were no longer in the park. They had served their time and packed up and left.

I came home and looked up “Old laughing lady” and found this 1976 Youtube video of Neil Young, busking incognito in Glasgow. He sings and plays for the passing crowd “Old laughing lady.”

In the background, a man occasionally shouts “Socialist Worker.”

The video captures a few minutes of rapture, in the midst of distraction.

Neil Young was busking in Glasgow city center, on April 1, 1976, before headlining at the city’s Apollo Theater later that night. He performed outside Glasgow’s Central Station, on Gordon Street, on All Fool’s Day.

In 1976, I was one of those “witness” women. I would have ignored both “Socialist Worker” and the legendary musician playing right under my nose.

So pleased Josie wants to sing like Neil Young.

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