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How’s this for a nice bit of symmetry: just a couple of months before our residency in St. Ives I find myself in another place that has its waters at the heart of its identity but latterly welcomes tourism too. I am in Vietnam on holiday and I’m struck by how celebrated fishing is here, but unlike Cornwall, the fruit and vegetable harvests are amalgamated and are sold at floating markets on the Mekong River at - or even before - sunrise. Tourists like me are guided along the river approached by boats selling fresh fruit, iced coffee, or steaming hot bowls of pho, alongside restaurant owners buying their ingredients for the day’s dishes. I am told that all the produce comes from within a few kilometres.
It’s an amazing sight and not just a show for tourists, the river is still a better option than trading on dry land. It’s accessible, there’s no cost to sell from one’s own boat, and if not everything goes you can sail on down to the next spot where there are more buyers. Wonderfully, instead of a sign or any shouting, each boat identifies itself with a pole reaching up into the morning sky with an example of what it is selling. I see one showing off sweet potato, bananas, and coconut, another with a solitary pierced water melon.
I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say that this is art although John Cage said "If you celebrate it, it's art, if you don't, it isn't", and this way of life is certainly celebrated. Boats are painted in bright colours and with eyes to see off threatening underwater creatures, round basket boats without engines are still used, and it’s not uncommon to see a lone fisherman crouched on a bare wooden boat armed only with a net.
I’m now looking forward to my first visit to St. Ives to see what similarities and contrasts there are, and what we will produce in such an environment.