Why do I love markets? It must be the combination of energy and soul. The meeting of basic needs and the basic meeting of people. The energy from people rubbing up against each other and interacting over brightly-coloured fruit and vegetables. Dressing up in their finest, even if the high heeled sandals that are en vogue in San Cristobal are totally inappropriate for tramping through mud and food scraps on cobbled streets.
People come to see people and be seen. To be part of something bigger than life at home. To make the connection between the labour of their hands and the stomachs of strangers. To gossip. To eat. To feed on the presence of others. I delight in watching couples shopping together - small weathered men and walnut-faced women together choosing which fat papaya they want to salve their salivary juices. Markets are the food of life. Full of life and there to fill you with food.
This energy just can’t be generated in the refrigerated aisles and neatly stacked shelves of a supermarket. There is no market research-derived layout to a market, you are not psychologically tricked into buying what you don’t need. Instead you have to search and seek out the best product, and the reward is often sweeter as a result. People are not automatons pushing trolleys for support, but take support from the energy around, the air filled with scents of fruit, herbs and blood, the noise of music, sellers shouting out their wares and the rhubarb of the crowd.
I could go on. Markets excite me. Especially the Sunday market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, which even Tom, fed up of being dragged around markets, had reason to enjoy.
On arrival in Chichicastenango our finely-tuned fiesta firecracker ears rushed us down a street lined with florescent stripy material, bags and hippy trousers smack bang into Saint Sebastian. On a regular Sunday Chichicastenango’s market would be an assault on the senses, but on a fiesta day it positively takes it out of you.
Effigies of San Sebastian were being carried passed us on pedestals at shoulder height, engulfed in clouds of incense and firecracker smoke. In front and behind the people of Chichicastenango dressed in brightly- coloured, flower-embroidered tunics with stripy scarves wrapped around their heads and shoulders, accompanied the saints holding candles, silver amulets and drums. The procession stopped to launch an eardrum-bursting rocket in front of us and disappeared into the layers of rainbow scarves and hammocks hanging from the stalls, leaving us deafened and dazed.
The motion of the crowd moved us on vacantly until we escaped up the nearest flight of stairs to gather our bearings and draw breath. The sight we beheld only served to bewilder us further. Below lay a sea of green, red, yellow and orange - a mesmerising blur of colours and faces. We had stumbled upon Chichi’s famous fruit and vegetable market. Here, amongst piles of tomatoes, carrots, radishes, potatoes, bananas and onions sat vendors in cowboy hats and patterned skirts. They chatted and bargained as women stuffed cucumbers and cauliflowers into florescent blankets, tied them up and put them on their heads to leave. Looking down from above we caught strong wafts of plum tomatoes and fresh green onions. It was as enchanting as watching a whirling dervish and as reminiscent as an English harvest festival.
Down on the ground we were bumped and pushed along in a multicoloured throng of five-foot women, baby bundles and vegetables wrapped in bright, stripy cloths. Amidst the crush kids put their heads down and squeezed through, bashing our knees. We were ejected into the central plaza where our ears were soothed by the gentle patting of tortillas as young girl flattened balls of dough in their palms and our nostrils comforted by their earthy, maize smell as they cooked on the hot plate. Next to them men sold freshly quarried rocks of limestone that is used to make the tortilla dough and gives the tortillas their cave-like scent and slightly gritty texture. On the steps of the church women beamed with gold rimmed teeth over bundles of fresh flowers. The whole town was aglow and abuzz.
The market was both energising and exhausting. We were full. Filled with aromas, images, colours, whistles and whispers we quickly fell into a deep sleep on the onward bus to Antigua. All our energy had rubbed off on those brightly coloured clothes, left behind to whirl around the tomatoes until the next person picks it up and puts it in a shopping bag.