Gone In 1,500 Seconds
After considering Boston cream and glazed donuts a few plates over, I eye the cinnamon buns smothered in white icing. I’m standing at the closest table to the door, the first stop for people entering the community hall gym. “I’ll take one of those,” I say, quickly handing over $2 in change. The woman selling her baked goods grabs a cinnamon bun with a pair of tongs and drops it into an empty sugar bag. “Sorry, I ran out of bags,” she laughs, bunching the top.
The Pond Inlet Flea is held every Saturday at 3 p.m. It’s still minutes before the flea market is officially slated to start. I was warned to be punctual—by 3:25 p.m., pretty well everything is gone. And that includes the vendors. You have to be aggressive too, I was told, or you’ll leave empty handed.
Besides the baked goods, there are jeans, sweaters, and even shoes for sale. Some are new—ordered from the south—and some are used. The clothing table is popular at the flea—it’s the only place other than the NorthMart or Co-op to shop for new threads in the Nunavut community. Baked goods, crafts and even services like nail-painting are on offer. The flea is a way for locals to pocket some extra cash.
I take a seat next to three older women on a bench at the edge of the gym. It’s goose egg season—otherwise it would be a lot busier here.
“Uluit,” a bench-mate says, pointing to where a woman and her young daughter are starting to set up. She assumes I’m interested in some standard tourist fare—and the traditional rounded blades are a popular takeaway for the southern visitor. She is correct in her assumption. But against the advice I was given, I wait things out. I want to buy an ulu but I’m not sure which are crafted for tourists and which are intended for legitimate use.
A crowd is gathering around that table. I’m momentarily panicked, but the customers are more interested in ice cream. The elder woman cracks open a four-litre tub of strawberry swirl and a box of cones. Scoops, piled high, are sold one after another. The uluit are still there.
Another woman walks in carrying a shopping bag, Tupperware, a muffin tray, and a baby in the back of her amauti. She places everything down on the table just to my left and lifts the little boy out of her hood. I now understand why the women I’d been sitting with have chosen this spot. The three of them stand up and line the front of the table while she unpacks loaf tins and the muffin tray, filled with strawberry-glazed cheesecakes. Children that were scattered about the gym and a group of men, who had mostly kept to themselves at a table in the middle, also make their way over. The women next to me buy entire trays to bring home and the men and children snap up smaller cakes, sold with a spoon. Within five minutes, there’s only one left.
My focus is still on purchasing an ulu at the neighbouring table. The one I want is small, probably three inches across, with a shiny silver-coloured blade and a handle made of wood—not a material that comes from Pond Inlet, located where it is on the Arctic coast, well above the treeline. (Handles were traditionally made with antler or bone.) The room is starting to clear out when I walk casually over to the table. “How much is this?” I point to the small ulu—it really is the perfect size.
“Forty,” the woman behind the table says. She points to a larger ulu, with a handle attached at either end of the blade: “One hundred.” It’s not really what I want though.
“I’ll take this one.” I reach into my wallet for the cash and hand it over. It’s a fast exchange. I’m thrilled. I clutch the ulu, the handle fitting perfectly into my palm. I envision how I might use it for something more than a decoration. I look around the gym for the women I’d been sitting with, to share the excitement of my purchase. But the tables have all been folded up. A woman smiles as she pushes a broom past my feet. It is 3:30 p.m., after all.