I was merely walking into town to look for a couple of batteries for a blood monitoring device when I stumbled into what must be the national passion in Mexico, Market Sunday.
We´d driven from Mexico City with friend Tom and Ninfa to the town of Amanalco about two hours west. It´s a sleepy, unobtrusive place, just a notch up from a village--plain stucco, cobblestone streets, fields of corn and sheep, cows, stray dogs. You find the narrow sidewalks by following the cow pies, basically, and the center of town is where the church steeples rise.
You would never guess this drowsy little place would be jamming on Sunday morning. Turn a corner and suddenly the streets are lined with vendors and the sun is hidden behind all the blue plastic tarpaulins stretched overhead.
The festivities stretch for blocks, up one street and down another, making left turns, then right turns. There are huge displays of fruits--mangoes, papayas, apples, pineapple--followed by stacks of the freshest local produce--perfectly white onions, immaculate radishes, potatoes, avocados and innumerable herbs and salad greens.
Certain sections are reserved for shoes of all descriptions. Hundreds of CDs are laid out on blankets for inspection. At various intervals stereo equipment is blaring the CD offerings. Meanwhile, the comals have been fired up. Heavy cleavers thump against wooden chopping blocks as grilled pork is minced for tortillas. The air is heavy with the aroma of meats grilling and cheese melting. Then there´s the steam rising from the elotes, or boiled corn on the cob. It´s usually slathered in mayonnaise and dusted with queso fresco, then served on a stick. Another vender is grilling the corn for a similar kind of street snack.
I notice at one of the food stalls a man tending a large, peculiar block of dark meat. We had seen this yesterday at the market in Valle de Bravo, the nearby lakeside resort town. When we asked about it there, we were told it is called cecine de res, a kind of salted beef. But not salted as in beef jerky. It is still fresh and pliable. In fact it is cut improbably thin in large rectangles, about the size of an unfolded newspaper section. I´m guessing it is skirt steak cut on a band saw while frozen. Otherwise, I cannot imagine how it is sliced so thinly. I had eaten a similar cecine de puerco in Oaxaca, a grilled piece of seasoned pork that had barely fit onto my plate.
I move on and ogle the fruit prepared by one vendor, neatly sliced and displayed in a fanciful array in plastic cups. Another man is pushing his cart with kegs of ice cream. Still another is ladling cups full of atole, a favorite breakfast drink of blended corn meal.
Sunday market is when the people from outlying villages come into town to purchase provisions for the week and enjoy the sights. Children are sucking on flavored ices and scampering around the square in front of the church. Grandmothers are buying their stacks of corn tortillas. Grandpa is inspecting some tools. There are stalls with assorted cook pots stacked to the rafters, electric appliances, breads. I am always amazed at the doggedness of these people, who begin their day setting up their stalls and hundreds of items, not knowing what the day will bring or what they will sell, then stoically disassembling everything that same evening and carting it all home again.
Well, I used the few words of Spanish I know to ask a clerk at the town´s only supermaket if I might find our batteries there. He shook his head no, not there, but indicated I would find them at another location up the street. But I could make neither heads nor tails of his directions and came home empty handed.
We headed back to Mexico city to find that Market Day was still in progress here in the capital. But in our neighborhood, the streets are almost empty. Families have hied it to the park, where we took our daughter to play on a trampoline and to paint watercolors--activities cleverly arranged by a local entrepreneur for a small fee. We took a leisurely stroll to a local coffee shop for chocolate malteds and nachos. Then we found our batteries at the nearby Sanborn´s department store.
It was a good day...
(Photo, top, by Tom Janota)