Monday, March 24, 2014

May I Interest You?

Sell it on the street if you can.

Out front of where I live you can get yourself weighed. Twice.

There are two guys there with scales. One has a scale and that's it, the other also sells lollipops, chewing gum, cigarettes, and coca tea.

They're out there at least five days a week, standing in the shade of the white west wall of the church (Iglesia del Carmen de la Ascención), and they know when to fold. Early afternoon rain showers slide in quietly from the east and from the west, circling the city in a gentle headlock before wetting it. Much of the sky is hidden from these vendors but they know their turf and begin packing up long before the downpour pours down.

Around the corner, north, is Plazoleta del Carmen, also known as Parque de la flores, or simply "the flower market". You want flowers, go there. They gottem.

Continue east on Mariscal Sucre, along the facade and under the pale blue domes of la Catedra de la Inmaculada and you might see anything, or nothing special. It depends. Festivals and holidays come and go, and with them the vendors. Near Christmas you'll find white, aluminum-framed tents where small women sit behind piles of plush toys and dolls, and myriads of other small items, and collections of children's clothing, and tinsely bits and odd things that tiny persons are attracted to, or that are sold only here, though most of these things are made in China. It's cheaper that way.

Around the next corner, turning right, is a covered walkway, which continues at the next corner, if you turn right again, so that you are once more headed west, but still under cover. People wait here for their buses, which come to them in great thundering herds and lay down intense thick black clouds of diesel smoke that spread along the street and turn whole blocks a dirty blue-gray.

A few women, crouched on steps there, sell cookies from small baskets, waving away the occasional fly, and readjusting the single layer of plastic wrap they might have as protection for their goods from the smoke, dust, bugs, and trampled, powdered dog excrement. At the corner there is another woman selling espuma in ice cream cones. Looking like a great, basketball-sized lump of white cake frosting, it sits, gathering in and accepting without discrimination everything that the air carries to it, until she scoops a scoop of it out, and relocates that scoop to a crispy cone. Which she hands over to the customer.

Lately she too has taken to covering her goods with a bit of transparent plastic, which helps to ward off the greater part of the exhaust effluvia that wash over her corner like smoke from forest fires.

She works all day and has nowhere to wash her bare hands, with which she handles all food sold.

And then, across Padre Aguirre, still going west, is Plaza San Francisco with its half-acre of sheetmetal roofs, and secret runways darting among the tiny puestos, the stands, heaped high with shoes or sweaters or tin pots. Not to mention the line of similar goods across the alleyway to the north, where you can find knit gloves so small you can barely fit even a single finger inside. And knapsacks, and jewelry, and ice cream, and a small pharmacy squeezed in among all the rest.

It's like that all over. Wheelbarrows full to the brim with grapes or strawberries. Women plunked down anywhere with a basket of custard-apples, a pile of newspapers, unidentifiable odds and ends. Freelance vendors roam up and down, pacing, calling for all to buy lottery tickets while they can. Everywhere. All over the city. All day.

Today, returning from Spanish class I saw a few things I hadn't before.

First, a man carrying four large and hefty magnifying glasses in one hand, each at least four inches across, while touting them loudly as he walked, to any passersby. It was another WTF moment, but that's only what I think. Maybe I just have not been paying attention.

Or maybe it was my day to see things, like the four-foot-tall yet well-proportioned woman who went by just before that. And then, immediately following magnifying-glass man, and across the street, there was a man carrying kerosene lanterns, and offering those for sale using the same standard technique of calling out to other pedestrians. You know (or maybe you don't) — the clunky old, cheap, pressed-metal lanterns that have been manufactured continuously for 150 years. Those. As if anyone needed them. And they might.

And again, after I interrupted this post to go have lunch, and while executing a mid-course trajectory change, I skirted a corner where a man was standing in place and advertising rabbit-ear TV antennas, with a box of them at his feet and a fresh display model sitting in one hand, which he waved around. As if. And maybe it is.

Best of all, I think, are the New Year's effigies, the ones made for burning. Cloth, and stuffed.

Stuffed with sawdust or leaves or straw. Or manure, in some cases. They are burned when the year ticks over, but before that can happen they have to be sold, and. You guessed right. They are sold all over — on street corners, in stalls, in empty lots, in shops.

You don't see much of that back in North Dakota any more.

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