The view from my office in Santa Fe
There are two Mexicos. And there are two United States of America and two of every other country. But there are certain moments when the other Mexico stares at you so intensely that you have no idea how the world seems to ignore it.
Mercados. They are EVERYWHERE in Mexico. My roommate and I agreed that Mexico is probably the country with the most food sold in the street because you honestly can’t take more than a few steps without encountering a stand of tamales or tamarindos or tostadas or palanquetas or tunas or….the list is endless.
But what shocked me more than the sheer volume of markets was the stark differences between them. My roommate and I went to the Bazar del Barrio in the hipster Condesa neighborhood where vendors sold artisanal cookies and boutique apparel and other expensive crafts, protected by a white tent and illuminated with tiny plastic bauble light bulbs.
Compare that to a cozy park in Coyoacán where artists sold paintings and sculptors and a DJ played salsa music while elderly couples dressed in their Sunday best danced the day away to the clapping and cheering crowd of spectators. There I bought a small book made by a jovial old man. He shared with us that he started making books when he started writing music. Naturally we got to talking about music, guitars and rock and roll. When I asked him what artists he liked to listen to, he abruptly stopped the flow of conversation, looked me in the eye, and said,
“Escuchas a High Hopes por Pink Floyd. Me puso llorar.”
“Listen to High Hopes by Pink Floyd. It made me cry.”
And then there was another market in Coyoacán, a labyrinth of stands protected from the sun by sheets and plastic tarps forming narrow passageways crowded with people. Here they sold everything: piñatas, tacos and toys; fresh fruit and dried fruit; clothing and curtains; homeopathic remedies and Cheetos. Navigating the winding maze of stands and goods, you have no idea what you’ll find when you turn the next corner.
As we returned home via the metro, the market never completely ended: people even sold things in the subway cars. Every time the car stopped a new vendor would get on, replacing the one who had just left, filling the car with their sing-song chanting of prices, goods and deals. Once again there was a strange combination of goods represented: from candy to electronics to bubbles.
One bubble vendor in particular caught my attention.
We were two stops away from home, exhausted, and eager to sit down to dinner and rest our legs after a day spent exploring markets. I was fading in and out of daydreams to the sing-song voice of each salesperson in our subway car when suddenly the doors closed and a raspy child’s voice cut through the car’s silence like a knife.
“¡Buenas tardes, damas y caballeros!”
A boy no older than ten carrying a large box filled with tiny containers of bubbles stumbled into the car, fumbling with the box in his efforts to keep it upright. He took no time starting his chant, delivering it mechanically, phrase after phrase spewing out into the car, forced and rehearsed and shouted. He plowed through, determined to get to the end before the next stop, only taking a second between phrases for a short, gasping breath before continuing.
”¡de diferentes colores!”
“¡Se valen 5 pesos!”
“¡5 pesos se cuestan!”
By the end of the chant his voice was worse off than when he began, cracking and squeaking in the middle of words, sore from a long day’s work. His gaze was fixed on a point at the far end of the car as he mechanically opened one of the containers, took a long, deep breath that made his small shoulders heave with the effort and blew into the bubble wand. A stream of soap circles billowed into the car, pressing against the doors and windows, bouncing off faces and shoes and backpacks, landing in laps and on heads. One by one the bubbles dispersed, inevitably popping on the hard surfaces of the subway car. One tiny bubble tapped against a cracked window, curious as to what lay beyond the cracked glass, before it was sucked out into the dark abyss.
His chant and demonstration finished, the boy lugged the box of bubbles through the car, glancing at the people seated around him, waiting for someone to acknowledge him and indicate their interest in making a purchase. But no one did.
After his short parade through our car, the boy leaned against the far door. He rested the box of bubbles on one raised knee for a moment before the subway car doors opened with a ding and he continued his mission into the following car.
Having glimpsed a reminder of the other Mexico, I was painfully aware that the exhaustion I was feeling was the result of a day of leisure and shopping.
Before I went to sleep that night I decided to take the old craftsman/musician’s advice and listen to High Hopes. And I cried, too.
Graffiti along the road on my commute from work every day.
High Hopes by Pink Floyd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jMlFXouPk8