A soft knocking on the door woke me up. The gentle breathing and warmth of Damen beside me in the bed and pale lavender light around the curtains lured me back into sleep. The knocking came again, then somebody opened the door and came into the room.
“Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Frost, we hope you slept well. Here is your early morning coffee and tea. Breakfast will be served in the dining room from 7:30 until 9:30 earth time. My name is Lula and I am your room maid. Please to call for me if you want anything else. Goodbye,” and Lula deposited a tray on the dresser, smiled, and departed.
I had forgetten where I was and was startled to have a stranger walk into my bedroom, but quickly became fully awake and sat up in bed. I watched Lula as she spoke and left our drinks. She was a native of the planet Solon, with skin of robin’s egg blue and copper colored hair, and those dark, dark purple almond-shaped eyes. Of all the aliens I had met, Solonians were the most attractive, in my opinion. They were so beautiful, in fact, that I found myself staring at them and how they glided around, seeming to skim over the floor. I found it fascinating to watch any creatures move around on Solon. Even sturdy Earthlings like Damen and me walked gently, almost gliding. The force of gravity on Solon was less than it was on Earth. It was even easy to run, even for us, a middle-aged man and woman, no longer as slender as we once were.
I got up and drew open the curtains. The view from our window made me gasp. It had been dark when we arrived at the hotel last night, too dark to see the colors. But then Solon’s two suns were slowly rising above the horizon, illuminating the purple hills, the green soil, and the orange and red trees and plants. I called to Damen to get up and come to look out the window with me.
“Yes, yes, I’m coming Sylla. Is that my coffee I can smell?”
“It is. Here you go. Let’s go out on the balcony and take in all this beauty. Just look at it Damen. We picked the right place to come, didn’t we?”
“Oh, yes,” said Damen, wide eyes taking in the colorful landscape. “I just hope there’s some good history here to satisfy my wife!” He put his arm round my waist and scooped me along with him, out on the balcony.
“Oh Damen, watch out for my cup of tea!” I said, but I couldn’t help but laugh. Even after all these years, he makes me feel like a teenager in love!
Damen is a Colorist at Oxford University back on Earth. Currently he’s working on research into the effects of color and sound on the human body. The Solonians have an advanced system that he was to study. His experiment was scheduled to last three months, then we would return to Earth. My specialty is History, and I was fortunate to be offered a six week scholarship from my Cambridge University Department to study the history of Solon and to write a book on it that can be studied intergalactically. Damen and I are celebrating twenty-five years of marriage this year of 4646, and we wanted to schedule a special trip together. Our visit to Solon fitted that celebration perfectly.
Our hotel was close to the Salanad, Solon’s major institute of higher learning, and our hosts were to meet with us at breakfast. The Salanad had many visiting professors and students from all over the galaxy, and our hosts included two from Earth, Jon Keating and Erik Stoddard, old friends of Damen from Oxford. Jon’s wife Celine was here with him, and Erik was a single man. Celine had sent me some intriguing details of life here on Solon that I was eager to see for myself. They all came too meet us at the Salanad Spaceport last night, and took us to the hotel.
Jon waved and beckoned as we walked into the dining room, “Hello Earthlings,” he said, “hope you slept well and have a good appetite for this fine orange bread, grown right here in beautiful green dirt.” He offered me a slice of orange toast, which I spread with what looked like butter, then with what looked like blueberry jam. It was not blueberry jam, but it all tasted good.
Celine said, “Sylla, have a glass of green juice. It tastes just like orange juice.” She was right, it did. “The men are off on a tour of Salanad’s sound laboratory this morning, so I thought you and I could start looking at the way Solonians shop, it’s so quaint and old-fashioned. I know that’s what you’re interested in.”
“That would be lovely Celine,” I said, “my history studies focus on how ordinary people lived, what food they ate and how they got that food, so shopping and marketing are important. You’ve told me about Solonian markets having all kinds of food available, and I’d like to see those.”
“Each area has its own small local markets, and one huge market, and the Salanad’s is very special, because it has booths that sell items from almost every planet in the galaxy, including a lot of interesting things from Earth.”
“I’m going to be taking a lot of notes for my book, I hope you don’t object to that?” I asked Celine.
“No, of course not,” she said. “Bring a recorder along, you might want to interview the booth holders.”
“Yes, I will. Thanks Celine.”
We left to go our separate ways and Celine and I took a shuttle to the big Salanad Bazaar, as the market was called. That name was familiar to me, a student of ancient Earth history, where it had been used for shops and markets thousands of years ago. As we walked inside my senses felt heightened by the shining beauty of the space, and the colors took my breath away. There was music too: some kind of strings and maybe a flute playing haunting melodies, but not too loud. Everything on Solon seemed gentle and soft to me.
The large open space of the entry to the market was ringed around by small cafes, restaurants, stalls, and eateries of all sizes. The smells coming from all of them was making me hungry. Celine led me to a small, and quite dark, café which was filled with lush, growing plants of all kinds. She chose a table in one corner, and I was delighted to discover this table was surrounded by plants from earth; green leaves and stems instead of Solon’s purples, blues, oranges, and reds. They looked vibrantly alive, and provided a welcome respite from the constant presence of color. Celine ordered hot tea for us and a plate of light, delicate pastries, drizzled with bright green frosting, which turned out to taste like chocolate.
We left this green haven and made our way further into the market, passing booths selling statues and sculptures, books, hats, bags, gloves, coats and jackets, and paintings. On the other side of the walkway I spotted a colorful booth selling what looked like silk fabric. The current fashion on Solon appeared to be simple tunics and pants covered with floaty scarves and sashes, all made from this silky fabric. Celine told me it was silk and that Solonians had brought silkworms back with them from their first visit to Earth, thousands of years ago. I bought three of these gorgeous scarves: one in shades of blue, one in green, and one in pink, to match the outfits I had brought along. When it was time to go home to Earth, I thought these would make fine gifts for family and friends.
Celine then steered me towards a different walkway where the booths were selling spices, condiments, and preserves. This section rivalled any of the spice markets of the Eastern Sector on Earth. There were high mounds of spices set side by side in rainbow colors. Celine purchased some deep orange powder, which she said was like curry. It smelled wonderful and Celine promised to cook a curry for Damen and me the next day. Next she purchased some dark purple spice that looked like peppercorns, and was the Solonian equivalent of black pepper. We were given samples by the vendor to taste. A bright yellow powder looked like mustard, but had a bitter, earthy taste and had a name I couldn’t pronounce. A deep green powder tasted and smelled like ground ginger.
My favorite booth was selling cups, dishes, plates, and all kinds of crockery. The booth owner, Al Fula, a short, plump, and obsequious little Solonian, was happy to show us his wares. He handed me a beautiful little white cup with a gold handle that was so light and delicate I was almost afraid to touch it. I asked how it was made, and he gave me a booklet showing the process. Crab meat was a favorite food on Solon, and their shells were ground and mixed with the sap of a plant that looked like aloe, formed into the required shape and cooked in an oven until hard. Those who formed the clay were considered great artists, and I enjoyed myself looking at all the beautiful creations, until a loud group of tourists from Alpha Centauri descended on the booth and demanded the attention of Al Fula the booth owner. Celine and I went off in search of some crabmeat for lunch.
We dined at an outside table of a fairly nice restaurant that served us a delicious crab salad, with a basket of different colored Solonian breads, and different sauces. It was interesting to be outside where we could watch the crowds passing by. We took to guessing the home planets of tourists, which was fun, but we had no idea if we were right or wrong. Celine ordered us a plate of different Solonian fruit for dessert: I tasted a bright green slice of pineapple; a pink banana; a lavender apple with purple skin; and a few bright orange grapes. All were delicious, even if they weren’t quite the same as Earth fruit. Celine taught botany at the International School, which was on a break, so she had a few days of leave and we planned how we would spend some more time together.
While we drank our coffee, a group of Solonian dancers entertained the crowd milling around. It was amazing how they really did seem to float around because of the lower gravity, and those dancers made the most extraordinary moves. They were very limber, and they were all dressed in floaty, delicate silk. The music was joyful and lilting, and the whole experience left me feeling both relaxed and energized.
Our next stop was a bookshop where I searched for the history section. A helpful bookseller showed me what they had. She was an older Solonian woman, and I noticed that instead of gray in her hair, there was a pale pink! I asked her about the name “Bazaar” and she told me that it was borrowed from the big markets on Earth, on one of the first visits Solonians made there. They had small, individual shops before that Earth visit, but the borrowed idea of having many vendors in one space was immediately popular with Solonians.
The time had passed so quickly and Celine and I had to return to our hotel where we had reserved a time to contact our families on Earth. I had a lot to tell them. Then I looked forward to some time alone before Damen returned for dinner, to look at the two history books on Solon that I had purchased. I also wanted to process all that I had seen that day, and at the moment it was a busy swirl of colors and sounds. So vivid were my impressions of the Saladan Bazaar that I knew I would never forget my first visit. Soon I would go back again, on my own this time, to see more of what was offered at the market. There’s no better place to learn about a planet and its people than a marketplace.