Friday, December 16, 2011

At the Tuesday Market

When the taxi driver drops us off at the Tuesday market, he warns us to watch our purse and wallets. Ojo! He says, and points to his eye. Watch out. 'Hay muchos ladrones'. We have been warned before, but we keep returning, and so far have managed to avoid being targets for theft.

The market, locally called tianguis, (the nahuatl word for market) spreads out before us like a small city beneath a criss-crossing of colorful tarps spread across the entire area, anchored by cables and frayed ropes to strategically placed poles. The place is thrumming with activity as crowds meander past stalls with tables piled high with papayas, tomatoes, jicamas and chilies.  A stand with fresh fish shipped from the coast stacked on melting ice, a table where chicken parts  are displayed in grotesque piles amidst the circling flies: a mound of heads, then livers, gizzards, and even feet.  Aluminum cookware, plastic buckets, brooms. Boxes of gummy worms, syrupy piles of camote, candied yams.  Wasps landing on thick cakes dripping with frosting in unearthly colors.

We wander past cages of chickens and ducks, canaries and parrots, tanks of goldfish and turtles. There are stalls of garish underwear, enormous bins of socks, knock off T-shirts emblazoned with "Hollister" and "Abercrombe." A narrow cart laden with shoelaces ambles down the uneven aisles. We buy a jar of honey from a wheelbarrow with a dripping beehive in it, a pile of avocados because they are insanely cheap here, as is a huge papaya and a handful of limes, which we pile into our bolsa along with a bag of toffee covered peanuts and fresh goat cheese from a local cheese maker named Pedro.

Suddenly, my own underwear seems a bit drab and boring.

Crowds of women sort through piles of used clothing while hawkers call out through microphones: Bara-bara-bara! They repeat like a mantra, the magic word that drives customers to their stalls. A short form of barato, meaning 'cheap'. It seems to be the number one qualifier for products here- 
todo barato! It’s all cheap!
The hawkers' cries mingle with the crooning voice and strumming guitar of a passing musician collecting coins, and the chilling screams and explosions emitting from a TV screen at a stall selling bootleg DVD's.

A circle of people surround a man with a microphone attached to his face as he explains to them the miracles of the small flask he is holding in his hand. It will clean your liver, your kidneys, your intestines! He says. It will kill parasites and remove warts! It will bring back your youth! At his feet are laminated photos of unsightly body organs, a jar containing an enormous parasitical wormlike thing, bunches of dried herbs and a few vegetables, props he uses to drive his point home. He demonstrates the liquid's effectiveness by pouring it into a clear plastic bag and taking a slug himself, and then spitting into the bag. The liquid turns black, but as he swirls it around it miraculously becomes clear, thereby demonstrating beyond a doubt that it actually works. Hands reach into purses and pockets- it seems that everyone has something that needs curing, and god knows, we all want a miracle.

Mark spies a man selling foamy liquid out of huge plastic jugs, and his eyes light up. A woman chugging down a cupful holds it up to him as a sign of cheers. It will make you feel good, she says. 
Que es? We ask. Pulque! Says the man, and he hands us a Styrofoam cup with a sample of the stuff. It is tart and sour and alien tasting. Mark is enthralled, and wants to know all about the process of making it. As one home brewer to another, perhaps he sees the man as being a part of his 'tribe.' Limited by his knowledge of Spanish, he points enthusiastically as he struggles with one word questions. Fermentado? He asks. Llevadura? The man looks at him confused, but Mark can't help himself and struggles to find the words he needs. He points to the foam spewing out of the tops of plastic Pepsi cola bottles and asks Cuanto alcohol? But the guy just shrugs. Barato, he says. It’s cheap. What else could you possibly want to know? It’s cheap, AND it makes you feel good. Just buy some and drink it up, for crying out loud. *

We make our way over to my favorite part of the market, the surreal realm of old used stuff, where piles of rusty tools mingle with antiques and the hopes of a possible "find" of something rare and valuable. Barbie dolls leaning up against old wooden crucifixes. Machetes of all shapes and sizes lined up in perfect display. Brass doorknockers, fake tin retablos smeared with tar to make them look like the real thing, frayed stacks of Mexican comic books, plaster busts of Jesus with drips of red paint down his face from barbed wire thorns. A mountain of rusty springs of all shapes and sizes. Electronic parts, old jewelry, pot metal foosball players in an old cigar box on a table made of welded horseshoes. 
I pick up a woodblock print and am told it was made made by the famous Guadalupe Posada himself. Maybe yes, maybe no. I buy it for half the asking price, because regardless of who made it, it is a beautiful treasure.

We find a stall selling hand blown drinking glasses, and Mark wants to buy some small shot glasses for some home made Mezcal he has purchased. How much? He asks. 'Cuanto? ' 20 pesos, says the old man behind the table. I pick up a large drinking glass. How much for this one? 20 pesos, says the man. What? But this one is so much smaller, says Mark, holding up the shot glass. Shouldn't it be cheaper? In our gringo minds we know that big things should cost more than smaller things. That's how the world works. But the man just shrugs and shakes his head. Yes, but it takes the same amount of work to make both of them, he says, and begins to wrap the shot glasses in a piece of newspaper. How many do you want? He asks. We choose four of them, and are graciously offered a ten peso discount.

Tacos de Cabeza, anyone?
We come across a lone cow skull adorned with a bunch of radishes perched on the edge of a food stand selling tacos de cabeza, and realize that we are hungry. We sit on plastic stools at a crowded table at a food stand selling blue corn gorditas: thick tortillas stuffed with chilies, cheese, chicken, spiced meats, etc. They are delicious. I buy a celery and pineapple juice smoothie from a fresh fruit stand, to which Mark, who only drinks beer or Coke, turns up his nose. 

Finally, our bolsa and bellies full, we decide to take the local bus back to town, bumping down the cobblestones as grinding gears and squealing brakes play percussion to the wailing ranchera music blaring from the driver's radio.

*You can read more about Mark's experience with the 'Pulqueros' on his blog Beer Diary...

-posted by Susan

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