While visiting Washington, DC this past Saturday, I met K‘s sister at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where amongst other things we talked (in the shadow of the Bard himself) about place and the differences between here and there. In a day and age when travel is easy and families are often scattered, what keeps us rooted in a particular place? Why live, say, in Keene rather than Washington, or in New England rather than the Midwest?

Now that homogenous corporations like McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and the Gap have invaded, it seems, even the tiniest town, what gives, we wondered, a given place its particularity? If I were plunked down unaware at the intersection of Walk and Don’t Walk, America, what (if anything) about my surroundings would help me orient myself? Would I be able to find myself (literally) by looking around me, or would the corner of any given town look like the corner of any other given town?

By way of suggesting one way of approaching this question, perhaps, K’s sister pointed me toward Washington’s Eastern Market with its weekends-only crafts fair, seafood vendors, and farmer’s and flea markets. Strolling Eastern Market on a Saturday morning with pencam in hand, would I find a splash of local color that bespeaks the “Washington” where people live, not the “Washington” where tourists merely visit?

Like the New York City shops that stock abundance on shelves, a good farmer’s or flea market typifies the riches of a given community. Here, on display and for the asking, is the fat of the land: local produce…

and fresh flowers, just picked.

Here too are displayed in all their richness and splendor the handiwork of local artists and artisans, the heart and soul of any community.

And most significantly, at good craft fairs and in thriving farmer’s and flea markets, you can see that most important of local resources: the faces of ordinary folks as they shop wares with friends…

and interact with merchants.

On a hot summer Saturday while other folks were searching for treasures among the stalls of Eastern’s flea market, I was looking for the local color–the spirit of place–that fosters such activity.

For me, the ultimate find came by accident: a nameless woman who (unsuspecting?) looked straight at me and my shot-from-the-hip pencam right at the moment I snapped. Perhaps this moment of connection–two ordinary folks whose eyes accidentally meet through a barrier of sunglass and camera lens–is what turns any given place into that most precious commodity: community.