Monday, May 7, 2012

Let's Get Outside - It's FlowerMart!

What exactly is FlowerMart? From its name, it sounds like a row of sweet smelling booths overflowing with buckets of irises, peonies, and tulips etc.. It sounds like a colorful array of plants and flowers from Maryland's farmers presented for the masses to sniff and touch, photograph, examine, and purchase. It sounds like a place where Baltimorians can come to take bundles of heady blooms back to their homes to rest on their mantelpieces and tables. It sounds like a market of flowers.

I had it on good authority that FlowerMart was not any of the things its name suggests. I had heard that FlowerMart was filled with crafters, performers, and food vendors, and while a fun festival, was grossly absent of actual flowers. I heard that at its beginning FlowerMart revolved around flowers, but as the years passed, it drifted away from flowers and became more about vendors pushing gifts for the upcoming Mother's Day, retaining only a few token flower booths. 

I was, of course, completely intrigued by the idea of a street festival that had, even if only very slightly, anything to do with flowers. Saturday morning I awoke restless and excited to finally see what exactly FlowerMart was about. Sipping my coffee, I leaned out the window and felt the warm, steamy, humid Maryland air wash over me. Down on the sidewalk, parents in tank tops lugged backpacks and pushed strollers filled with kids sporting sun hats and drinking from juice boxes. I could almost smell their SPF40 from the window. At 9 am it was already a scorcher, and a perfect day to spend outside discovering whatever FlowerMart had to offer.

I walk around the Mt. Vernon Monument almost everyday. It is usually uncrowded and quiet, visited by only a few people reading newspapers, writing, or visiting with friends over lunch. Yet on Saturday, FlowerMart had completely transformed this usually slow scene into a bustling market of people, tents, vendors, and action! The streets around the Monument were closed off with caution cones, and I basked in the freedom of walking over the cobblestones without worrying about traffic. If only there were no cars everyday, I wistfully thought. 

As I walked, the unmistakable smells of street food wafted through the warm air, enticing festival goers to forget their budgets, forget the healthy carrots they packed, and dish out large sums of cash for crispy, crunchy, salty, and sweet goodness. Sitting at plastic tables, lounging on the grass, or just standing in the middle of the street, Baltimorians of all ages paused and bit into crab cakes, french fries, teriyaki chicken skewers, corn dogs, and cinnamon buns with looks of pure bliss on their faces. The 21 and over crowd slurped bright yellow margaritas out of purple, pink, and orange plastic, beaker-shaped tubes, while others stirred icy mojitos flecked with green mint leaves. The official drink of FlowerMart, half a lemon speared with a peppermint stick, was cupped by sticky hands all throughout the park. Many mouths sucked hard to turn these sticks into straws and many lips puckered when they did.  

After winding past the food vendors we came upon the crafters, importers, non-profits, and local business booths. One booth sold homemade pastas, another herb infused olive oils and barrel-aged vinegars. One man imported African bracelets and hand carved wooden spoons, while the tent adjacent to him sold bejeweled and whirling garden sculptures. My husband and I swirled chilled Vidal Blanc in our mouths from tiny plastic cups, courtesy of a local vineyard, and chatted with the other tasters squished next to us.

We nibbled spicy habanero cheddar off of toothpicks at another booth and laughed as we felt our faces break out in a sweat. I watched a girl tug a lacy white linen dress over her clothes, trying it on for size, and at another tent, sixty year old women squeezing into crinkly, fluorescent-colored expanding tops, the kind you only ever see at craft shows. I saw the look of pure wonder on a little boy's face as he watched a magician hammer a nail into his nose and pull it out again, and the look of pure delight on a little girl's face as she stroked a rescue cat with a glittery collar. 

Finally, at the base of the Monument, I found some flowers at FlowerMart. I also quickly found out that my dream of finding buckets of fresh flowers was not going to come true. The cut flowers consisted of only a few buckets of wilted carnations and commercial bouquets, all imported and nothing local. Someone had gotten a bit creative and made a flower sculpture of a women with a skirt made of red roses, but it was more weird than pretty. The plant selection was better: a local nursery had a great selection of bright potted dahlia's and fuchsia hanging baskets, and another grower had fragrant herb gardens and more hanging baskets. 

The best "flowers" at FlowerMart ended up being a slightly scary selection of carnivorous plants with appropriate names such as "Shark's Teeth" "Big Mouth" "Long Red Fingers" and my favorite, "Fused Tooth." With their spiky teeth and deep caverns it was easy to see how an unsuspecting fly could be swallowed up whole by one of these carnivorous plants. I told my husband he should try putting his finger in one, but for some reason he didn't want to. 

A group of ladies in purple sequined tops warbled out show tunes on the main stage as we left FlowerMart. Even though it didn't sound too good, they looked like they were having a blast, all dressed up on stage, and I thought well, good for them! Everywhere I looked I saw people tasting new foods, trying new products, learning about local businesses, interacting with each other, and maybe even getting a little out of their comfort zones. A lot of good things are happening at this small festival, I concluded.

Even though it should be called "Spring Fling" and stop pretending to be a flower market, I've decided that I'll forgive FlowerMart its lack of flowers because it really was a totally fun, free event. I loved having an excuse to spend most of the day outside and I'm guessing, based on the hundreds of other people there, that the rest of Baltimore loved it too. So thank you, whoever decided to throw a festival in Mt. Vernon.  I had a great time at your Spring Fling.