Here is not for the claustrophobic, bodies shuffling chaos very close at varying speeds according to age or browsing impulse or impatience. The streets are not closed to traffic, so taxi and bus horns punctuate the minuet, drivers not shy about using the bumpers to shoulder you aside as gently as can be done by polyhedral steel. It’s spatially continuous but architecturally heterogenous with permanent building storefronts, then semi-permanent structures leaning up against the brick or concrete, then stalls huddled together for vertical support in the middle of the thoroughfare resembling a tidy shantytown, all tarps and rope, not to mention the carts ranging from beer cooler size to full on NYC falafel trailer and then umbrellas over mats with vendors camped in optimism. Sometimes at the very center there is a vast enclosure like a hockey rink sheltering endless produce bins and boxes and butcher racks and cheese round piles and buckets of fish. The dogs patrol in well behaved trios or quintets, this is an eco system at a dozen levels of resolution from economic to social to trash management.
I keep attempting to conceptualize these enormous town markets by trying to divide areas into what seem to me natural kinds. I repeatedly fail. Certain items — mobile phones and their accessories, sunglasses*, squeezed juice, candy, fried foods — can appear anywhere, as likely to be found amidst the power tools as the sheep carcasses. Other cluster transitions make sense, the half block of DVD’s segueing into audio equipment leading to a maze of televisions all showing a match or a show where contestants vie for superlative resemblance to Britney Spears (yeah, I wish I was kidding, too). But the bicycle repair stalls are not near the hardware shops, which in turn remain distant from the gardening tool hawkers who are inexplicably near the colorful crappy plastic bins of all sizes sellers.
It is easy to default to the explanation that these organizational configurations reflect only the vagaries of history and accident, but I keep having the sensation, like a word on the tip of my tongue, that there is a rationale dictating the juxtapositions that is part of local cultural knowledge but that remains frustratingly elusive to me. There must be a key to the cipher, like at home learning that at the fancy grocery store the soymilk is with the smug organic products, not with the cereal as it is where ordinary folk shop. But it never comes: I ask for coffee at the stall that sells powdered milk and oatmeal, she regards me with lamenting disgust and says, no, I’ll have to go a block and a half to where the coffee grinder is, in between a shop that recharges phone cards and a futbol jersey store, which, by the way, is nowhere near the for sale footballs themselves. I’ve been walking for twenty minutes triangulating on the precious mantequilla de mani based on the assurances of numerous jarred products shopkeepers, never do find it. I’m looking for replacement hose clamps, but they’re not at the hoses store, they’re with other metal things like doorknobs and screws, and that’s back where I passed the belts and tight jeans. Uh huh, okay.
I know the image will snap into clear resolution someday. I just know it.
*Which is completely baffling, since I’ve literally seen fewer than ten people wearing sunglasses in this town, in spite of the abundance of sunglass sellers with life size cardboard cutouts of Halle Berry at the beach.