The recent Farmers Market kerfuffle, not to mention the Presidential election, inclines us to observe the vagaries of social behavior, and the recurrent tendency to look back to the past as the Golden Age of “good ole days,” worth replicating and re-establishing.
To be sure, our memories improve with age, which is to say most of our past pains and ill-adventures are forgotten in favor of remembering the times and events which made us happy; in short, feeling sentimental. Sentimentality, however, requires isolating moments and feelings from the events that led to them, and always comes at a cost, namely fabricating history.
Thus we celebrate historical events as if only one version is true. When reenacting the raising of the Bear Flag, for example, history from the pained perspective of exploited native Americans is not what we remember. So it is as well for recollections of small-town life in general; nostalgia generates its own unique versions of history.
The arrow of time moves unavoidably in one direction only: forward, never back. This is not true of memory, which like time also moves in one direction only. Reconciling these forces, accepting that an uncertain future lies before us despite the pleasures of our past that must be lost gives rise to personal and collective upheaval. There is no way to stop time, but that does not prevent us from trying.
Was Sonoma ever great, always great, or never great? The answer depends upon what we choose to remember. Perhaps Sonoma’s greatness is all of the above; selecting from the cacophony of the times is never easy and collective opinion is like statistics, valuable to gauge trends but not individual experience. For the vineyard worker, finding suitable housing was never great, not thirty years ago nor this year. For the 30-year homeowner on Sonoma’s Eastside, now ready to downsize and sell, it’s never been greater.
Memory allows us to record patterns and anticipate future outcomes. Sometimes we make smart plans, and sometimes not; when sentimentality alone directs our actions, we usually end up disappointed.
Historic preservation is not about replicating the past, but preserving our unique reminders of it, symbols of memory. A farmers market is symbolic too, the preservation of a heritage of local small-scale agriculture in an era of corporate mono-culture. The “Farmers Market” name alone evokes sentimental memories of a time before food was trucked across the continent. Ironically, the current market ruckus is now about “food trucks.”
For those who’ve recently moved to Sonoma, the Farmers Market as they know it now is what they will remember. For those who’ve been here 20 years, it’s something else. Organic produce is widely available at big markets around town, but that wasn’t true 20 years ago. Unless one loves doing it, farming has never been great.
Some say it’s not a farmers market, but a weekly summer party. Some say it’s great and others not. We select our feelings not unlike the way we select tomatoes; some prefer theirs on the soft side and others firm. Without dispute, however, Sonoma’s tomatoes are great.
Sun Editorial Board