Changing seasons at the remarkable Stary Kleparz Market

The Stary Kleparz Market, which dates to the 12th Century, is an important part of Krakow for people like me who are addicted to fresh fruits, vegetables and the colorful atmosphere.
 I don?t go to the same shopping stalls each time, although I always buy dairy products. Today I?m at a stall with strawberries and cherries.
It?s impossible to resist when the old ladies tending the stalls prod customers to taste their products. ?I always give my customers a piece of each of my products,? Małgorzata Fanek of Nowy Sacz says. ?You know, it is so good that when they taste, they always buy something,? she laughs.
Tasting everything before buying is nearly a ritual and help creates a magic atmosphere in what Poles call the Stary Kleparz. It?s full of colors, aromas, arousing your senses like nothing else when summer is starting.
Close to the center, next to Matejka Square and Basztowa, the market is a convenient place for longer weekend shopping or just stopping by.
Part of the market?s fascination is that it is a mosaic of personalities. ?I graduated from gardener school,? a 70-year-old woman say when I buy flowers from her.
Next to her, an old man, in a worn gray suit with a peony in his pocket, is offering me roses. ?Beautiful flowers for every lady,? he calls out.
When I ask his full name, he says: ?Oh, here at the Stary Kleparz, nobody uses surnames! I am Janek,? he says with a wide smile.
Retired, he has been selling flowers for a year since his wife?s death.
Why flowers? ?Because my wife loved them, and I always loved giving women flowers,? he laughs.
You can buy everything at the market. Once a woman tried to sell me a live chicken.
The market became important centuries ago as a place to buy goods at a time when trade was the main source of income in Krakow.
In the Middle Ages it was famous for its horse trade.
During the hard times of communism, especially in the 1980s, Stary Kleparz was the place where impossible became possible: People could buy products that weren?t available in shops.
?I remember during the 1960s I bought a baby carriage for my daughter here,? a seller replies when I ask if she remembers the market during communist times.
Elżbieta — according to Stary Kleparz tradition she uses only her first name — used to work in Nowa Huta. Now she?s retired.
 ?The Stary Kleparz was the place that used to rescue all housewives,? she recalls. ?When I couldn?t get bread, milk or something else — you youngsters don?t remember, but during communism we had only vinegar in shops — then I always went to the Stary Kleparz.?
?After a few years,? she continues, ?I knew every stall and every seller. Sometimes I asked them to put products aside for me. It was one big family.?
Many stalls are indeed family businesses. In fact, in some, the sellers are the fourth generation of the same family.
Just before the market?s 6 p.m. closing time, I decide to buy strawberries. One stall is still open. Many people surround it.
The usual two sellers are not enough to handle the crowd, so a young girl comes to help her parents.
Ania has just started her school break. She plans to go to the mountains with friends in July but now she is working with her family.
?I like it,? she says, ?but when there is so many people — like now — it can be very exhausting,? she says.
You can see a lot of youngsters helping their parents at the Stary Kleparz, especially now, when school is out and students want money for holiday travel.
More foreigners are shopping at the Stary Kleparz Market these days.
It is not surprising. It is a chance to buy fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Poland during the spring and Polish mushrooms during autumn.
But you can also buy herbs and other products from all over the world.
Pyramids of exotic fruits, different sort of lettuces, cocktail tomatoes, aubergines, little courgettes, asparagus catch your eye.
Suddenly I decide that an evening supper with friends would be nice.
Originally I had planned only to pick up a few items at the market. After half an hour my basket is full.Once again I must devise a strategy for packing all these things on my bicycle. I?ve had plenty of practice, though ? and this time, too, I?m successful.

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