Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bethel's Saturday Market


There is a long tradition in western culture of cities and large towns holding an open market on Saturdays where farmers and craftspeople gather to sell the products of their labors. Bethel has had a Saturday Market for several years now, and it is a delightful way to spend an hour or an afternoon.

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It is important to understand the context in which the Market exists. There is just not a whole lot to do for entertainment in Bethel on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve listed before on this blog all the things we don’t have that lower 48ers take so much for granted—no shopping mall, no movie theater, no bowling alley, no skating rink, no swimming pool, no highways to just go for a drive on, no amusement park, no gaming arcade, no tennis courts, no golf course (well. The die-hards go out to the sand pit and knock balls around, but it’s not what you could really call golf.).

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There are not even a lot of options for bicycling: one six-mile loop of partially paved road which is the major traffic artery around town. Not exactly a cyclist’s dream.

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So the Market fills a social need completely aside from the products available for sale: it is a place for people to gather and visit, and they do. Whole families come to spend a few hours.

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The Market is held inside the Cultural Center (which is nice when it is rainy, and it frequently is during the summer) on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month during the summer. In winter it drops to once a month, on the last Saturday, with additional Markets around the holidays. The hours are from 10 am to 3 pm. One of only three espresso stands currently operating in Bethel is also in the Cultural Center, so those with a penchant for fancy and expensive caffeine can get their fix when they go to Market as well (ummmmm, double tall skinny mocha no whip).

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One of the Saturday Market’s most important functions is that it provides one of the few local opportunities to buy hand-made Yupik crafts. Our regional craftspeople do not have many venues to sell their work; this is one of them. Dolls, baskets, carved ivory, and beaded jewelry are popular items, though on any given Saturday, not all different things are available. Many craftspeople only show up occasionally; some Markets have lots of vendors, and some are less well attended. You just never know, and if you are in search of some particular item it may take weeks to come across a vendor who has it.

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I have been in search of a particular thing for some time now. After my post on the Cama-i Dance Festival, in which I mentioned having found a small owl carved from ivory, a TMD reader wrote to me and asked if I could find him one. I’ve been searching ever since and have not yet come across another one, but I will. Hang in there Randall, I haven’t forgotten your request!

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In addition to crafts, there are usually vendors selling fresh vegetables from their gardens, live plants, tickets to various raffles, furs, leather, things made from wood, useful household items like long-handled dippers for the steambath, crocheted and knitted hats, gloves and blankets, dry fish, agutuk, fresh eggs, homemade soap, jam made from tundra berries, sometimes even collections of garage sale type items—books, records, clothes, pots and pans. Every Market is different, and even if you don’t think you need anything it is worth stopping by; you never know what you’ll come home with.

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And you’ll always run into people you know and can have a few minutes of enjoyable conversation with. Entertainment in Bethel is what we create for ourselves, and usually involves time spent with friends. It is one of the things that make Bethel such a special place.

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The photos for this post were taken by my friend Peter Ashman, who is an amazing photographer. He has a huge collection of photographs on Flickr; you can access his work and see more great photos of Alaska and other places from his travels by clicking here. Thanks, Peter!

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6 Comments:

Blogger RunninL8 said...

What a fun and eclectic market! I love Saturday markets but must admit I’m getting sick of the one in Anchorage. And I’ve only been twice! I’ve enjoyed all the festivals in the past 2-3 years but am realizing that you’ll find the same vendors, same wares, same everything from festival to festival, Saturday market to Saturday market-from Talkeetna to Moose Pass. Yawn. The only one that stands out for me is that wonderful hippy-fest The Girdwood Forest Faire-but of course they cancelled it this year and probably for years to come because of “undesirables” creating a ruckus at night.
Missoula Montana had a great Farmers Market on Saturdays! SO MANY wonderful memories there. Great food, entertainment, and an ever changing variety of crafts. My friends and I would buy a huge bag of shitake mushrooms, eat them in the beer garden and listen to music. I wish I could pick up and transplant that town here in Eagle River-then it would be PERFECT!

Monday, July 14, 2008 7:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW What about a web site for the market place? The unique and varies ethnic items are normal there... but here in Calif. Wow! Or ebay but a web site for the village would be oh so cool!
Rooth in Calif. who loves this blog!

Monday, July 14, 2008 3:43:00 PM  
Blogger CrankyProf said...

And here I was all excited when I saw Andrew Zimmerman in Bethel on last night's "Bizarre Foods!"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 6:56:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

RunninL8--I love Missoula too. Worked there for a year when I lived an hour north in Ronan.

Rooth--so glad you love the blog, and thanks for commenting. Sorry, no website that I know of.

Cranky--must sheepishly admit that I don't know who Andrew Zimmerman is, but do wonder what he was doing in Bethel???and what he was eating. Maybe stinkheads?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger CrankyProf said...

Andrew Z. has a whole "Bizarre Foods of the World" show, where he goes hither and yon eating disgustingness.

I came in that the end of the segment, but if you have a traditional food that is considered gross, he was probably there eating it.

I just jumped up and started yelling, "I know someone who lives there! wooooohooooo!"

Saturday, July 19, 2008 6:37:00 AM  
Blogger Ishmael said...

Sooooo.... exactly what are those plants Bev Hoffman is selling....?

Thursday, August 14, 2008 9:51:00 PM  

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