04 September 2010

el mercado

perhaps my favorite word in spanish - until my vocabulary expands - is cotidiana, which means everyday. i like the sound of it but also my favorite facets of traveling are the everyday things. when i travel i like to get to know a place through grocery stores, hardware stores, train stations, and the people that fill these spaces.

one of my favorite things in san jose was the mercado central. it blew my mind that this is where people come to do their shopping of all sorts. the place is enclosed and takes up at least a square block. from the inside you can go into the shops on the outside and from there get back out onto the street. on the edges they sell lots of housewares, coffee, and tourist stuff; in the middle is more food. you can buy anything in the central market, from a pet bird to a teapot to a saddle to chicken feet.  to me this demonstrates a very personal type of shopping, where the acquisition of everyday necessities is not just a transaction but an interaction. when you go to the market where there is a different stall for each sort of item - from leather goods to fabrics - with a different vendor at each counter, where you have to ask the price of anything you're interested in, you have a more personal and, thus, i think, meaningful experience than simply picking something up off the shelf and handing it to a cashier barcode-up. (this at least partially explains why i love swapmeets and yard sales so much.)

by adding the dimension of a language barrier - albeit a fluid one - the everyday "market" experience becomes, to the tourist, much more than the sum of its parts. shopping, even just window shopping, takes the form of an organic lesson in cultural understanding.

i had the best fish soup in el mercado central.

the first time i went to the central market i didn't have my camera because i was tired and didn't feel like carrying it. so i just ate my fish soup and drank my guanabana juice and tried to absorb everything that i couldn't with my mouth with my eyes.

it didn't work. i had to go back with my camera the next day. luckily the market seems to be teeming with life no matter the time of day and even at nine on a saturday morning there were plenty of people milling about and running errands - the sodas were just a little less crowded than they had been the previous day at lunchtime. it wasn't too early in the day, though, for the butchers, spice-sellers, and fishmongers to be doing lots of business.

i love the handpainted signage.

the bowels of the market are labyrinthine. i kept going around in circles... or squares... or octagons...

there's a remedy for everything.

it was eye-opening to see so much food in one place. it really made me wonder where it was all going, and where it all comes from. there was produce in abundance, yet i hardly saw produce in restaurants. so where does it all go? to people's homes? to be boiled down with beef so that it becomes unrecognizable? and how does one go about eating a jocote? i may have to return to find out.

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