Monday, October 15, 2012

Adventures of the Bazaar Kind

I definitely did not have the weekend I expected. At times I even felt like I was having the weekend from Hell. Almost everything that could have gone wrong did. I know that life, and owning a small business, are not always easy; but come on.....

   The night before I drove to Wiesbaden for the bazaar I wouldn't let myself sleep. This meant that I couldn't handle the 2.5 hour drive without pulling over and taking a nap on Thursday morning. Setup began at 8:00, but I wasn't able to get there until 10:00.
   Due to check-in complications I wasn't able to actually start setting up until 11:15. The initial space my bazaar hosts tried to give me wasn't even wide enough to fit the tables they provided; let alone any of my other displays. I took their second option, which was a spot in the Fest tent. At the moment this seemed like a much better option. I didn't know that it was going to be cold and rain all weekend.
   I had not planned a wardrobe around being outdoors in this kind of weather for three, 10 hour days. I packed my stretch pants, skinny jeans, loafers, no socks, and v-neck shirts to be in a heated hangar.
   At bazaars I have a full length mirror. It's nicer for shoppers to see their entire self along with the scarf. Fifteen minutes into setting up, that mirror got bumped and smashed all over the ground in a billion pieces. Cleaning it up without a broom, and disposing of it properly, was quite a fete. Another vendor lent me some working gloves so I wouldn't accidentally slice my finger off. After the mirror broke it seemed (probably only to me in my own head) that the other vendors were ganging up on me. I got hassled to move my car and rearrange my tables to better suit the needs of those around me. The other people in my tent were European vendors that all seemed to know one another. (I was like this little-tiny-all alone-crafter) They were laughing, and joking in German. I was silent, and cold, and sad, and I ripped my tablecloth!
   After my annoying set-up I had to navigate around the city; finding my hotel, going to Ikea for a new mirror, going to the mall for socks, leg warmers, and gloves, and feeding myself. By the end of the night I was exhausted, but this did not stop the Universe from punishing me further. I got trapped in the parking garage. It seems I was initially printed a parking receipt without a date and time. Because of this, the machine wouldn't let me pay, and the gate wouldn't let me out. There was no security guard answering the telecom; and there was no guard at the security desk. It took me an hour and the help of two different sets of Germans to free me (and my automobile) from the imprisonment. When I finally got back to my hotel (which was just a house with rented rooms) there was no parking. I drove down the street and around the corner.

And that was just on Thursday.

   On Friday morning when I woke up I had half-a-mind to pack up and hightail it home; skipping this whole bazaar in Wiesbaden thing. But I couldn't give up so easily. I arrived at the bazaar grounds at 9:30. I finished setting up, mingled with my neighbors a bit, and waited for some scarf-selling action. It never happened. I didn't sell my first scarf until 2:00 pm, and there wasn't much activity to follow.
   The bazaar ended at 7:00. In aimlessly driving around the city to find a place for dinner, I ran a yellow light. After I went through it I saw a light flash twice in the corner of my eye. I'm pretty sure that means my photo got taken for running the yellow and there will be a ticket in the mail for me any day.
   I managed to survive most of Saturday without incident. This was until after dinner, when I almost didn't have enough money to pay for my meal because I couldn't find the cash I had put in my pocket. Nor could I find my driver's license. I left the restaurant, after emptying my change purse, only to find it had begun to rain again. (Good thing my car was eight blocks away.) I ran all the way back in the rain, but took one turn too fast, on a grassy corner, slipped and fell. My entire right side was mud soaked. When I got back to my car there was no money and driver's license. In the rain, I retraced my steps two more times before confirming my money and ID were officially gone.

Isn't that wacky? It's been a while since I've been handed so many (ridiculously annoying) incidences in a row. When I eventually got home, Sunday night, I wanted to throw myself a party, for surviving. Instead I just threw myself in bed. Today, I have felt like a new woman.

 Now that my crying is out of the way I can also share all of the cool things that happened to me this weekend...

   The house I rented a room in was perfect. I picked it randomly off the Internet and lucked out. It was clean. I had my own room and bathroom, the landlady was terribly sweet, and the price was affordable. You (really) couldn't ask for more, when traveling for work.
   The bazaar had a refreshment room for vendors only. They kept it stocked with breakfast, lunch, snacks, and hot and cold refreshments. It was such a relief to be able to grab a cookie and some tea, every so often, to warm up and stay busy during the slow hours. We also had our own bathrooms. I may have died if I'd have had to use a port-o-john all weekend. Also, the volunteers working the event, the ladies of the Wiesbaden Community Spouses and Civilians Club, could not have been nicer. They were very supportive, attentive, cheerful, and helpful. They provided a warm, energetic atmosphere that lasted us through all the awful weather and lack of crowds.
   I was (absolutely) selling the perfect items given the weather. If Mother Nature was on any one's side; it was Florida Scarf's.
   For my German-language skills, the Fest tent was the place to be. I was eavesdropping as much as possible to try and understand as many conversations as possible. In certain instances, I was able to participate in conversations using German. These were the times when I really wanted to pinch myself. I would laugh, as I joked with the Polish Pottery Lady (in German) about how she gets asked the same questions all day long and she delivers the same answers. I can do a pretty good impression of an Army wife inquiring about baking dishes. I wonder why. It's probably because I'd have had the same questions if I had not heard her information over and over again.
   Wiesbaden is definitely a cool city. There are a few historical attractions; and they are pleasantly blended with great residential neighborhoods, shopping, and dining. Some of the streets reminded me of Savanna, Georgia. (I hope that isn't too random)
I had the best dinners. It would take me while to find the restaurants, and then find parking, but it was worth it every time. 
   On Thursday I ate at Taj Mahal. It was a basement restaurant under a three story office building. Random, right? Not really for Wiesbaden; they had many basement bars and restaurants with cool signs, descending staircases, and romantic porches. The Taj had great music. I was delighted when I heard an eastern version of a song I know to be played by the Gipsy Kings. My face lit up, but since I was alone I could only make a mental note of it, instead of pointing it out to a dinner date. I was seated at a table next to the door. In every restaurant I went to; I got the worst seat in the house. I wasn't surprised. A restaurant should never waste a good table on the weekend, on one person. One waiter sat me, another waiter took my order, still another waiter brought my drink, then a forth brought my warming plate and entree. I saw that last waiter twice more, because he also cleared my table and brought my check. I am wondering if everyone working felt the need to get a look at the girl who came to dinner all by herself. I didn't care. I'd probably be nosey too, if I were them. I was just content to have the attentive service in this warm, smoky, cumin scented sanctuary; far from a cold day of work and stress. I ordered Sahir Paneer Masala (I'm pretty sure I spelled that wrong) and garlic naan. It was delicious. As I ate I dreamt of owning my own Indian restaurant. It would be a room full of bathtubs. The bathtubs would be full of typical Indian sauces. Restaurant goers could bath in their favorite sauce and there would be overflowing baskets of warm naan on all sides of the tub for dipping.
   On Friday I ate at Di Gregorio's. It was situated on a hill in the middle of a bunch of old homes and large trees. It was really lovely; out and away from the center of the city. I felt like I experienced the “single girl in a restaurant” syndrome again. Di Gergorio's is one of those establishments where the diner gets a gift from the kitchen. On Friday night it was three slices of (some sort of) soft salami. As I embarked on this culinary adventure, and sampled some bread, tomato paste, olives, and house wine; I was greeted by a total of three members of the restaurant staff. What is the deal with that? Like the night before; I refused to let it bother me. For my main course I had pasta and sauce. It doesn't matter what kind of pasta, or sauce; all that matters was that it is the best pasta sauce I've ever had. Since I was out to eat, again with no one to talk to, I thought to myself how inspired I was by the sauce. It motivated me to want to work on my own sauce skills. I also thought about how singles need to eat at upscale restaurants if they are going to eat alone. The food and the atmosphere can be all the “date” one needs. Take Di Gregorio's for instance. You are in a beautiful surrounding. The food and drink are delivered with theatrics like extra silverware, plates, olive oil, and fresh ground pepper. There is lots of setting, clearing, and resetting of the table. You get surprise gift hors d'oeuvres. And if I need to mention it again; you receive a delicious entree, perfectly portioned, with impressive ingredients and multiple levels of flavor. Frankly, I'm beginning to think it's all the company I can handle. While eating at Di Gregorio I decided to open my own Italian restaurant too. It's going to be called “Cut the Crap and Just Give Me Wine, Cheese, Bread, and Maybe Something With Garlic.” (I may need to shorten that somehow)
   On Saturday I ate at Sombrero Latino. The restaurant's décor made me feel like I was Ernest Hemmingway. It was dark, with lots of wood, candle light, black and white photos, and musical instruments hanging on the walls. To my surprise I was not seated by the front door, but I was seated in the very back next to the bread and butter prep station. (the lesser of two evils) It was no matter; I still liked dinner. Instead of chips and salsa (which is what an American expects at a Spanish restaurant) you get hard (really hard) rolls served with salsa verde and mayo. Interesting combination, right? The salsa was green tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, tons of black pepper, raw yellow onion, and garlic. Can you imagine what it tasted like all together; the hard roll, mayo, and salsa?...a hoagie. I loved it! After my hoagie-without-the-meat-and-cheese appetizer, I had a burrito. It was chickeny, and cheesey, and just what I wanted; and I ordered the perfect Chilean red to wash it down.

Are you still reading this? Thank you for letting me recap my culinary explorations of Wiesbaden. It was obviously the highlight of each evening for me; whereas my days proved to be explorations more on the cultural side.
   As I said, I wasn't in a tent near any other vendor that was American (or had a current Army affiliation) Initially I was intimidated by this group of sellers. They seemed to roll in a pack and know one another; like Carnies. I felt like an outsider, like my life was too normal because it didn't consist of a mobile store that I opened and closed in a new city every weekend.
   As I got to know the vendors; one by one they each opened up to me. The conversations always ended the same way; with each of them giving me similar advice. “Don't trust anyone,” was what I received most often. Most of them have been in the business for over ten years. They know enough to be nice to one another and to share laughs; but never to share any secrets. You don't tell other vendors how much money you are making. (or have made) You don't tell them about the other shows you are doing. You don't tell them if you are staying in a nice hotel. You definitely don't tell them if it's cheap, because then it won't be there for you in the future. Talking too much can ruin your life as a vendor. There were so many rules, and codes, and stories; they had just about scared me from ever doing a bazaar again. The Internet was starting to look like a safe place.
   Seriously though; I really enjoyed everyone's company. There was Romanio. He sold Italian wine. He also traveled with an espresso maker and hooked us all up every morning with delicious, dark, strong, coffee. I think it saved my life. He also made pizza and pasta that he shared both days. I also liked Fritz. He was a German ceramic artist. He specialized in personalized steins and had a mustache that curled on both ends. He wore a fishing vest stocked with cigarettes. He had a light cigarette he smoked in the first half of the day, and a stronger cigarette he enjoyed during the second half. I am also glad to have befriended Jerry, the french soap seller who also runs a B&B in the South of France. And Mama Kotroo; a Indian Sufi who sold goods from India (like Red Saffron from Kashmir) and also is a trekking guide in the Himalayas. He told me about skiing in the Himalayas. You know I'm now going to research that! And then there was Procy. She is from Kenya; and she was just the sweetest. She sold decorative African wares, and was a perfect neighbor for me to share stories with all weekend. There was also Juan Silva, the painter from Malaga; and an older couple from Whales who sold hand carved, knotted spoons. Lastly, there was Gerard. He was Belgian with a sore back. He was as passionate about Belgium as Ludwig is about Germany. Gerard spoke French, German, English, and a bit of a few other languages. He made metal sculptures. He told me that Sarah is the most International name; it's common with a touch of uniqueness. I really liked him after he said that. Of course.
   All of the different people I engaged with were such a wonder to me. I would get so wrapped up in our conversations that I would forget about my booth with no customers that I worked so hard to prepare for. I felt like I was having a chance of a lifetime to meet these European vendors and learn from them. Selling your artwork when times are slow is tough. I need to be doing, seeing, or learning something. Standing quietly and smiling for long periods of time is impossible. I was glad for my inspiring company.

Should I do more bazaars? In more countries? For more travel? Sounds dreamy doesn't it? Maybe it does, but only for a split second, then I start to think about the logistics and I think I'm good right where I am.

After reaching the end of this tale I've forgotten all about how upset I was about the bad things that happened. Bad times, like good times, are (surely) easy-come-easy-go. This weekend I got one step closer to being able to “roll with it” and I'm so glad I did. Had I gotten discouraged, and packed up and gone home; I may not have frozen my tail off but I would have missed out on so many awesome people.

Florida Scarf lives to see another day, and probably another bazaar. For now it's back home, settling in, and posting inventory online. I hope to stay warm, dry, and out of trouble.

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