At dawn it is silent, but only for a short time. Everything is still except for the smoke that seeps out from behind a wall of red meats and yellow flowers. Light peers in from a crack in a plank of wood. They meet and the smoke lingers in the bright air and then disappears. It is forgotten. An old man piles huitlacoche into a white wicker basket. Its leaves overflow onto a pile of verde limes. The man is an illustration in a children book; he doesn’t sound, moves slowly, and is always content. Three ancient women sit on a crate with their back to a cart, their enormous baskets between their legs. The women are woven and tattered and brown. Their baskets hold chapulines and they smell spicy from a distance. They whisper amongst themselves and prepare for the days work.
Women and men slowly flow into the center of the marketplace. Their eyes crawl over each and every item like a runaway spider. One man sits alone and chews his mole-slathered tortilla. He doesn’t look up or around, but cares for each bite he takes. At another stand, a tall bearded man wears a faded blue beisbol cap. He adjusts it constantly while he moves between his cart and the cart across the way. A small boy jogs through the aisles – they are not suited for running full speed. Congested and slow moving, the passageways of the market are suited for browsing only. If only the boy could make it to the horchata sooner. Upon his arrival a huge ladle dips into a white liquid and emerges with a splash. It is poured into his cup. Finally the boy gets a taste. It is sweet and milky and he returns to his mother’s side.
Groups of three and four people stand over grills and around registers. Energy is like sweat. It drips off of vendors and customers alike. It falls into their fires, their stews, their piles of strawberries.
Movement is challenged but somehow, everyone gets through. The thought of the carne waiting for them at the other end is motivación y the lines wrapping around the vegetable stands don’t seem to deter eager shoppers. Pushing past is part of the fun and well worth it. Picnic tables are shoved into corners for those eating in. They are piled high with food and a central hub for the hungry. The outskirts of the market are less full but hold some of the sweetest treasures. You have to know where to look.
Navigation and recreation, competition and conversation, gente and comida. The space is hardly planned but always works. The marketplace is where cultures are made and tacos are served. Outside its walls lies only transition; either you are in or you are out.
It is the perfect place, filled with the joys of home and the joys of feeling far away. It is messy and distracting and a maze. It is foreign and feels like you have always been its friend. The walls contain a spirit that gnaws at you, sucks you in, and never lets you go.
Unlike a park or a street corner, people in the marketplace don’t pass through. They go around and around for hours and days and months and years. They don’t use the market as a pit stop or place to breathe. They stay, eat, talk, and live. It is not a public place. It is everyone’s home.