Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Dublin fruit and veg market

A busy old city market can be an excellent locale for crime fiction. For a murder perhaps. A dead body in, say, a bag of spuds. I'm thinking in particular of Hitchcock's penultimate film, the rather neglected Frenzy (1972).

The location work was shot in London mostly around Covent Garden - still a major wholesale fruit and veg market  at the time. As the DVD's extras point out, Hitchcock knew the market's days were numbered, and his last great film is very much an homage to his childhood haunts - his father had worked there as a wholesale greengrocer and poulterer.

Two years after the film's release the markets were relocated, and  the area became a tourist hotspot with its shops, street performers, theatres, pubs and restaurants. So besides being a taut thriller, the film is well worth catching as a period piece, to see the everyday hustle-bustle of the market in its final days.

Although Hitch's film has a deadly theme - a serial killer on the loose and a wrong man in the frame - it also has several superb supper scenes with a Chief Inspector and his wife, who has pretensions as a gourmet cook. Perfect light relief.

Redeveloping the Dublin market

Meanwhile back in today's Dublin, our city councillors have given the green light to redevelop the northside's wholesale market building between Capel Street and the Four Courts.

Unlike the Covent Garden redevelopment in London, this one will continue to specialise in foodstuffs. The plan is to convert the late-Victorian building and a large surrounding area into "a Continental-style food market", along with cafes and restaurants.

The old market has been in operation since 1892 - check out this RTÉ documentary from 1962 when it still quite literally was a farmers' market. Since then the building's interior has been showing its age, though much of the redbrick and stonework exterior has survived.

The main entrance from Mary's Lane, with its Corinthian columns
The bold terracotta carvings range from lobsters and fish to... carrots

Locals have mixed feelings about the redevelopment plan. The existing traders feel under threat and ignored. Foodie bloggers have been salivating about the place and it hasn't even opened to the public yet.

The refurb will give the building a split personality: the wholesale traders who serve local restaurants and shops will be shoved over to the western side of the market hall; the other half will become a retail haven for consumers.

“Every trader in there lodged an objection to the plan and nothing changed. The council isn't interested in listening to us, because really what they're doing is trying to squeeze us out.”  
- Pat Martin of K&M Fruit and Veg, talking to the Irish Times, 20 February 2015

The plans were amended to address the traders' objections - particularly about the loading and parking facilities, and the roadways within the building (most of their boxes and pallets of produce are moved around on forklifts).

There will also be a strict segregation between  the wholesale and retail halves "for food safety".

"The retail market will aim to attract a range of food producers, including butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, fishmongers and greengrocers serving goods to take home as well to eat at the market." 
- Irish Times, 11 February 2015

The retail half will have 40 "cages" or permanent stalls that can be closed up on close of business, plus about the same number of temporary "umbrella" stalls inside the hall and within a  semi-covered courtyard by the Chancery Street entrance.

The wholesale market currently operates from 5am to 3pm on weekdays (early closing Tuesdays at 1pm), and 6am to 11am on Saturdays.  The new retail market is intended to be more of a 9 to 5 affair.

It's hard to predict how this new retail half will turn out (if it ever happens), how much it will be like the stalls in Moore Street and Camden Street in their heyday or whether it will be more like, say, a "farmers' market" in the Financial Services Centre.

Class questions

Back in January, Dublin City Council's Assistant Chief Executive Jim Keogan talked to the media about a draft charter, and how the new market should be...

"for ordinary shoppers as well as those looking for artisan goods".

He said a report by an "expert retail consultant" had recommended the following:

"Make sure that the Dublin market doesn't become an elite place just for the middle class, and has a mix of everyday products so that people from all walks of life can shop at it...  It must have a social element to it, it must stock the cheaper foods and be accessible to all points."

They are right. It shouldn't become an elite place. It needs the right  mix of products and people. The rents should be low enough to attract food start-ups alongside more established producers.

But do I detect a slight whiff of class snobbery? In any of the "Continental-style food markets" I've been to on the actual Continent, in  larger towns in the south of France or Italy,  you'll find the "ordinary" shoppers aren't confining themselves to buying "the cheaper foods".

For example, check out the magnificent Les Halles in Narbonne, or the Marcato Orientale in Genoa, food halls where "ordinary" working-class people will be on the hunt for quality, freshness and flavour too, and, yes, even a few artisan goods alongside the bargains, even when times are tight. Let's skip the notion that only the extraordinary middle classes know what taste is.

Anyway, come what may, Dublin's "new" market is bound to have its fair share of class friction, which is always a good theme within crime fiction. I'm just wondering where to park the dead bodies.