Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Saturday Morning in Oaxaca

Each town in and around Oaxaca has its own market day--the BIG market in Oaxaca is on Saturday.  We decided to get up and hit it early, before it got *too* crowded (one writer described the Saturday market as "Maximum Occupancy: One Hundred Gazillion People.")  We actually got out a little too early--Oaxaca is justifiably famous for it's food, but it's hard to find anything open in the morning.  We finally stopped at a coffee shop for a pastry and coffee.  Then down the several blocks to the market.
In today's venacular--OMG!!! Words like labyrinth, maze, or rabbit warren can only suggest the absolute claustrobia of this place. It's a fire marshall's nightmare--aisles only maybe four feet wide (sometimes less), packed with people shopping, pushing handtrucks, selling their wares (you have to pay for a booth, but you can walk around selling your stuff for free). If you're native, you just push through. If you're a gringo, you find yourself squeezing sideways and saying "perdonme" a lot. (Although a couple of girls rounded a corner and found themselves eyeball-to-naval with Bob and screamed) It's alive. And filled with that incongruity that defines Mexico. You don't step back in time--but you do somehow step a little sideways. Old and new blend together. Dozens of booths of clothes (designer jeans--even the mannequins in Mexico have impressive curvy backsides) and various flea market gew gaws. Cell phones. Tools. Traditional pottery. Chocolate being ground. We go by the fruit stalls and supplement our breakfast with tiny monkey bananas (sweet, firm, tasting of banana and apple), mandarin oranges, and drippy juicy pineapple. Zapotec (Native tribe) women
 selling herbs and copol incense.  We get paper mache skeletons, chocolate, mole paste (a chili/nut/chocolate paste for sauces), ceramic skulls, bread.  Do a double take at a large goat costume.

What overwhelms us most is the abundance of everything.  It is a market, and people are there to sell, but are there enough buyers for it all?  Think in terms of thousands--thousands of bulbs of garlic, thousands of peppers, thousands of loaves of bread (jeans and cell phones will keep, but ripe fruit doesn't), thousands of flowers.  The other odd thing didn't occur to me until the next day--the market didn't stink.  You'd think that many people and stalls and food (including unrefrigerated meat and chickens and fish) would get a bit ripe smelling--but it just smelled of incense and chocolate and the seaside and cooking meat--no smell of rot.  I don't know if it's the dry desert air, or the natural frugality of people who don't let food go bad, but it was odd (I'm used to flea markets that always smell like they need a good bath.)  We slowly made our way up the street--crowded, because vendors who can't fit into the market set up stalls for blocks all around the market.

After that morning, we were ready for some quiet time, so it was back to the room for some Fanta soda (made with sugar, not corn syrup), bread (with a little face of the Virgin baked into it) and put our feet up.

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