Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Market Day in Ixtapan de la Sal

Sunday is market day. The town closes off from traffic one long main street and several cross streets. Local sellers set up improvised stalls. Think flea market with farmers' market..but less organized. It's an explosion, a riot, an Impressionist painting. I didn't know Sunday was market day. As I turned the corner alongside the municipal building, I was accosted by smells, noises, and colors. Overhead was a patchwork of party colored tarps. Remember when you were a kid and made an improvised tent by stringing a tarp between two trees? Well, it's like that, one vendor's plastic roof attached to his neighbors with whatever cord he keeps around for market day. I was walking down this plastic-covered tunnel. Tall people, please duck your heads. I kept thinking, "this is a blast!" People scurrying to and fro. Old-fashioned hawkers touting the advantage of their wares, "My bananas are the sweetest, only 5 pesos." The fundamentals of retail merchandising and display: ladies with a cloth spread out on the ground the--with all the care of a department store window designer--place oranges or squashes or limes in precise little pyramids. Things I don't know what I'm looking at--mysterious fruits, which I'd still like to try. Long coils of fresh sausage hanging from overhead. And shoes. What's the deal with Mexicans and shoe shops? Probably every sixth or seventh stall had shoes of some sort, whether they be plastic flip-flops, Crocs, work boots, house slippers, leather huarache sandals, or anything else one could put on one's feet. Maybe because everyone walks everywhere in small Mexican towns, they go through more shoes? Oops, blew a tire: time for a new pair.
Smells: big vats of oil bubbling away over portable gas burners. Chiles rellenos being stuffed and breaded and fried to order. Chicarrones, fried pig skins, the Mexican equivalent of potato chips. Stealth restaurants that just pop up on market day with one table, a skillet, vats of food, one stool. A health inspector's bad dream.

Tiny little finger bananas. One man exclusively selling big, red, ripe strawberries in wicker baskets. Apples--mostly imported from the U.S., but a few grown in Chihuahua up north. Teeshirts and ax handles. Homegrown and roasted peanuts. Dried beans. Homemade ice cream in buckets packed with dry ice. Kitchen wares. Dried herbs in huge bundles. Off-the-farm honey packaged in used juice bottles or whatever container was at hand. Cowboy hats and batteries. Carters navigating impossibly loaded dollies through the crowds. Women balancing loads on their heads in a feat of equilibrium. One woman had the very best answer to a fancy baby car seat--she just placed her little one in an empty plastic milk crate lined with soft towels. Hey, it works. With the mountains of picturebook pretty fruits and vegetables I thought to myself, "I could become a vegetarian." Of course, I'd have to have my pork roasts and hamburgers, too.