Before I moved to my current place, I lived on Brighton Beach, a neighborhood mostly populated by emigres from the former Soviet Union, for almost a year. In the Russian-American community, and even in Russia, Brighton Beach is known as the place to go food shopping. When I first moved there last October I was struck by the amount of produce stores on Brighton Beach Ave. Nine stores, all located on a 13-block strip.
From morning to night a constant stream of people descend on the neatly stacked apples, tomatoes, grapes, plums, oranges, berries and bananas. The men and women, alike, gently pick up each specimen, bring it before their eyes, smell it and examine it from every angle, before placing it in their bags.
There is a popular theory among the Russian-Americans behind the reason why it is the way it is when it comes to produce on Brighton Beach. During the Soviet era good produce was hard to find. At stores and markets the fruit and vegetables were behind the counters. You had to stand in line and wait to be served. When your turn came the clerk handed you the weight amount you asked for. Picking was not allowed. Perhaps, to ensure equality of all the shoppers, as Communist doctrine dictated. So now that it is allowed, they want to make sure that they get the very best.
Much of the social interaction in the neighborhood takes place as shoppers painstakingly pick out produce or wait on line.
“How are the cherries today?” a woman would ask.
“Good, very good,” her neighbor would answer.
From there all kinds of conversations develop. Many speak of their families, who likes to eat what. The older people always mention the Soviet era.
“Here we wait on line, just like we used to.”
When I went out to photograph people at their shopping today, most were so involved in picking out their produce, they barely noticed me. After I finished with my photos, I put away my camera and walked closer to the fruit stand, tempted by the mounds of perfect pomegranates. I ripped a plastic bag off the roll. At $1.49 each, I thought I should get at least four.