The Union Square Greenmarket, NYC, was strangely quiet on Saturday, especially in the Northwest corner. A familiar voice was missing, along with tubs of peeled vegetables. Joe Ades, salesman of the Star Swiss vegetable peeler died on Sunday, Feb. 1 at the age of 75. A unique, eccentric and charismatic human is gone.
At least once a week, I would often pause and watch him, usually in the company of a crowd. He was an anachronism, a 19th C. peddler existing in the 21st C. He never had a license to sell goods on the street, and only once did I see the police ask him to move along. Perhaps they saw in him what I saw; a professional barker, a fantastic salesman, a gifted street performer and a craftsman with exemplarily hand skills.
In less time than it took to explain the virtues of his peeler–he was the sole importer from Switzerland, it could make potato chips, it could function as a mandoline, it made three sided french fries that absorbed less oil than four sided ones, it had blades made of surgical steel–he could cross section an entire carrot, holding both the carrott and peeler freehanded. Try it sometime, it’s not easy.
The New York Times published an obituary on Feb. 2. Strange that it was published in the N.Y./ Region section, and not with the other obituaries. Quite possibly Joe was very rich and lived in a fancy apartment. The article reports he stored his peelers in the maid’s room, frequented pricey Upper East-side restaurants and wore expensive suits. However, he loved hawking on the street, and I would see him out on the coldest days. I had always thought he was homeless, or close to it. An enigmatic man he was.
One of the functions of a green market is to reintroduce the relationship between producer-food-consumer.
Joe Ades reintroduced the relationship between vendor-tool-user.
Joe’s patter lives on in my head each time I use his peeler.