Boston - I take a short detour off Boston's Freedom Trail and head to the Haymarket to explore a path less taken.
"Strawberries, $3 a box!" the man behind me shouts to the crowd
"Strawberries, $3 for two boxes!" comes the answering call from the man to my left.
"There's a reason he's selling two for $3!" shouts the first man, and we all erupt in laughter.
I hear the Boston accent in their shouts. No tidy uniforms for these folks, just well-worn Red Sox T-shirts, jeans or shorts. They obviously love this banter as much as the buyers do, maybe more, yelling their special deals at the customers, yelling at each other, smiling and scowling through it all.
The Haymarket - now on Haymarket between Hanover and Union - was established by pushcart vendors who made their way out to the "neck" (the piece of land that once connected the city of Boston to surrounding urban farms) to meet the farmers heading into town with their goods.
The area around the Haymarket, known as the Blackstone Block, is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in America. The buildings, signs and streets have the feel of 17th-century Boston. Surrounding the Haymarket, the pubs have lively names and decorated signs. The Union Oyster Bar is the oldest continuously operating establishment in the U.S. Twisty little cobblestone streets complete the sense of history.
Through the centuries, people have gingerly picked their way along these cobblestones and through muck to get to fresh produce at unbeatable prices. Today's muck is the product of a few dropped imported strawberries, a crushed mango and a shredded head of lettuce, all sending up a wonderful aroma of fruit salad and warm summers, and making the passage slightly treacherous. Yesteryear's muck from the shoppers' and sellers' horses must have made for a less appealing aroma and a decidedly more treacherous path.
White tents stretch as far as the eye can see. People trying to get past each other waltz unintentionally in the aisles. Older European women with shopping carts tug with both hands whenever they meet an obstacle, even if that obstacle is my foot. Market novices keep a tight hold on their companions, looking alternately fearful and amused.
Produce, from apples to zucchinis, is displayed in towering pyramids, signs perched on top asking shoppers to Please Don't Touch! The experts behind the tables will pick the best produce for you at the best prices in the city. Around a corner sits a little stretch of fish and seafood tents. Fresh oysters on the half-shell can be eaten right there - even at 10 am.
Bordering the market, down a few steps, a building houses butcher shops and bakeries. Most of the owners stand blocking their entrances with arms crossed until you make it clear that you intend to buy something.
By contrast, at the orderly Quincy Market, just a few blocks away, no vendors are yelling passionately about their produce. Most just lean against their counters, waiting for the next tourist ready to spend eight bucks on a bowl of "chowda."
The Haymarket may have changed over the years - no one sells hay any more - but the excitement and energy are still there for those willing to leave the beaten path.