My friend David died last year. Ah, I miss him. But now and then I channel David. His wife, Vidya, insists David channeled P.T. Barnum. David was an idea man. He was always coming up with a good idea to do this or do that. When we worked in theater, I used to tell him, “Write up your idea and tell us how you intend to carry it out.” That suggestion killed a lot of ideas. But when a super-great one showed up, we instituted it right away.
David used to say, “I just throws ’em out there. Some lands on good ground. Some lands on stone.” You’re going to love this idea. I’m sure it came by way of “P.T.” David.
The other day I took a bus to El Mercado, the hub of Mazatlan. It was built in the 1890s. The design is classic French Colonial, as are many of the surrounding buildings. At that time ruling dignitaries had an affinity for all things French, especially the wonderful open ironwork which one sees today everywhere in Mexico.
The Mercado is my favorite one-stop shopping place. There is no shrink wrap here. Fish is caught in the night and sold in the morning. Meats are brought in fresh every day and cut to order. The market houses fresh produce, groceries, breads, candies, gift items, clothing, spices, cheeses, leathers, household items and sprawls out onto the street. There are no empty stalls. It is surrounded by small shops on all sides as well as street carts. Upstairs there are a couple dozen eating places where one may sit down to a meal for $2 to $3. Buses drop us off on one side of the market and pick us up on the other side.
Suddenly I saw the potential. I’m a sucker for potential. Havre could build something similar, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. The notion struck me like a brick to the head. So, dear Chamber of Commerce, I freely give you my brilliant idea. Thank me later.
Imagine a community hub which reflects the values and cultural influences of our area. A few minor details have to be worked out, like how to incorporate aspects of Indians, fur traders, gold seekers, railroaders, homesteaders, Hutterites, farmers, cowboys, drifters, grifters and college students. The building could be sort of a combination round house and teepee. Or a trading post, with outer walls like a fort, for indoor and outdoor vendors. Or a hockey rink.
You get the idea.
There are people in the Chamber a lot smarter than me who can work all our diverse individual aspects into a unified whole without losing the individual “flavors.” Think of the new businesses which would spring up, the people who would be employed, opportunities to bloom and grow.
No need to start from scratch. The Havre farmers market is established and strong — build on that foundation. Every man and woman in area has a talent or skill that can be utilized.
What an opportunity. I foresee a steady stream of trucks with cows, pigs, chickens and buffalo heading to the market in the pre-dawn twilight. I envision early morning shoppers with hand-crafted baskets on their arms, pinching the melons, selecting the freshest onions and the plumpest chicken for dinner.
Greenhouse “farms” could ensure year-round fresh produce and flowers. But that is just a detail. Instead of menudo and tacos made from cows heads, the everything-under-one-roof market in Havre might feature lefse and lutefisk and Indian tacos. Picture a place to sell everything from home crocheted doilies to painted rock doodle bugs. So what if some of it is made in China. Don’t forget the hand-crafted card for Uncle Theodore’s birthday. See the possibilities?
We create our culture as we go through life. It is living and fluid, changing from generation to generation and from community to community. Culture borrows from the neighbors and forgets to give it back; maybe paints it a different color or carves a different shape. After all, the Plains Tribes didn’t set out platters of fry bread when they set up camp for the night, yet fry bread has become a cultural tradition.
So, I’m thinking we might borrow the ironwork idea and make it our own. Like Mexico borrowed it from France. Aren’t there iron palm trees in front of a Havre casino, or is that in Box Elder? No matter. What if iron palm trees became a trademark, sort of an oasis in the desert theme. Just a thought. I tosses ’em out—some lands on fertile ground, some on stone.
(Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem, graduated from Northern and despite years in foreign countries such as Washington state, says Montana will always be home. Poet, essayist, former theater director and business owner, Ashton splits her time racking up air miles between Havre, including suburbs from Glendive to Great Falls, and Mazatlan, Mexico. Her quirky essays can be seen at montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com. Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)