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Published: February 12th 2010
I have discovered the local food and general everyday ware market in San Pedro Cusco, its a riot of colours, smells and its hectic activity has brought me back there many times in the last few weeks.
It is an Andean Indigenous melting pot made obvious by the numerous different colours and styles of dress, Felt bowler hats topping the heads of ladies who would appear to sell mostly vegetables and meat by products, Other ladies in the most charming snow white top hats with black and brown bands, tend to be associated with the garments, weaving, woolen products and wood artifacts.
I mention women here a lot because it would seem that the market is a woman's domain, something I also noticed when walking through the potato fields a few days ago, The fields and crops also seem to be the responsibility of the female of the house, The animals are tended by the women, household chores and child rearing are also a woman's responsibility. I don't mean to be unfair or uninformed but this is my observation, I witnessed similar behavior in rural ecuador, I have also asked several people here and general opinion would seem that
to be a chap in rural Peru is a much easier existence than your female counterpart.
The Quecuha language dominates the haggling and gossiping, the food area where women (mostly young women) make enormous pots of rice, beans and various grilled sliced meats, sold at about $1.50 a plate, forget about trying to understanding anything, the food is great if you don't mind being pushed as people pass (rows of benches with only inches between each) children stare and dogs sit and your feet and look at you pleadingly, at our table the other day, a little boy and girl sat under the table doing their homework at our feet while hundreds of market goers milled around, they seemed to be getting on with it.
The market itself is a whirlwind of non stop activity, Personal space is not a big thing is this part of the world, Women push by you as if you weren't there, its your responsibility to get the hell out of the way, some of these women are advanced in years and the loads most often obscured in colorful throws or blankets tied on their backs that are huge and obviously heavy, These
women know what hard work really is, their faces are weather beaten and wrinkled but I think each wrinkle is earned as their expressions are more often than not of pride and determination.
The place is divided into sections, depending on where you enter, it is a huge open planned area, along one side is the sections where animals have been expertly butchered, all parts of the unfortunate bovine or scrawny goat hang from hooks and sit on well worn wooden blocks, that is all parts but the actual lean meat, it's no where to be seen, its a curious thing and I believe that perhaps what we would call the off cuts may be the main diet to some of the people in these parts, (there are specific butchers outside the walls of the market where you can by meat cuts but inside there is ner a sirloin or porkchop to be purchased) Brains, jaws, intestines, stomachs, kidneys, skin, cheeks, ears, snouts, fancy a hoove, San Pedro is the place, the one that baffled me most was the cow jaw, teeth and all, did not find out for what it's purpose is.
Rows of burlap bags full of
huge variety of grains, ground, semi-ground and whole, in various colours. rows and rows of beans, peas and dozens of varieties of pulses, and nuts and seeds, on the ground between these stands, women in flowing skirts made from colorful potato sack (burlap) type fabric with intricate embroidery ,again with the bowler hats and babies contentedly tied to their backs, sell the vastest variety of fresh herbs, I recognize many of them as what in Ireland I never knew as anything but weeds as well as the many I know as culinary additions, it would seem what we may have forgotten in our western rush to get to absolutely no-where as quickly as possible, the uses for a lot of plants that grow around us remain wasted, their medicinal properties forgotten, Not so here.
The fruits stands and riots of colour, the variety of fruits in this part of the world is amazing, Papayas, Maracuyá, Tomate de Arbol, Naranjilla, Guanábana, so many varieties of banana, oranges, grapes, Pineapples for 50 cents each, their smells are potent and a pleasant assault on the sinuses, the artfully displayed arrangements pleasing to the eye.
At the far end of the market,
speciality stalls sell woven fabrics, kimono type dresses and the beautiful skirts and blouses worn by the different communities, In the whole of Peru there are 21 indigenous communities each have individual dress codes and styles, Young women sit at the exterior of each stall sewing each stitch after each stitch, some of their work would fetch huge amounts of money in certain parts of the world, here their clients are poor with limited money for clothes.
Throughout the market children dart in and out between your feet enjoying their games, Many stalls are devoted to the spiritual side of Andean life, selling all sorts of trinkets, from bags full of party favors, fake money, toy houses, to bring prosperity, lots of natural incense and fragrant plants which are burnt, llama fetuses are everywhere, thought to help with a happy home, they are buried in the foundations when the house is built. Feathers of many colours, and ominous colored potions, some with the remains of snakes in the bottles, when rubbed on the body promotes healing. Toros(bulls) that are place on the roofs of the houses to protect those dwelling within.
Old women sit on the steps
with buckets of live frogs, frog's legs are not just a french stable.
The whole market is mostly country people going about their day, gringos are few and far between and I encountered a couple of older ladies laughing at my sturdy hiking boots, rather uncouth I would imagine in their eyes.
Outside the sales extend about 4 square blocks, We walked into an alley, where dozens of Cuy (guinea pig) sit in large containers munching on grass awaiting their inevitable fate, Live chickens stand tied outside shops selling trays of eggs, and mum is obviously for sale also, pretty fresh I would say.
The surrounding streets do the same as the market, One street has nothing but Kitchen equipment, Handmade stoves…..we are not talking Aga or General Electric here, We are talking about a man, or probably a woman in this case, take a few lengths of steel a welder, add a burner, tank of gas and Bob's your uncle, Rows and rows of handmade crockery and enamel buckets and basins, something I haven't seen since I was a child.
Electronic equipment has an important place in the average home in Latin America, I the
side markets, stalls sell state of the art Plazma T.V.s and impressive looking stereo equipment, of course rows and rows of stalls selling every DVDs available some of which have not even made it to the cinema.At times you can walk or drive through parts of rural parts of Latin America and even though there are gaps between the badly lead breezeblocks where the electric light leaks through and leaky roofs are common as are dirt floors, The children may be barefoot and at times thin and ragged but for sure you w.i.ll hear the beat of a stereo or the constant drone of a T.V., Now I'm not saying this is a bad thing I just find it curious that a T.V.comes before repairs for a leaky roof, Maybe its a sign of Status or maybe and I suspect more likely, its escapism, A little virtual trip into a world that is is highly unlikely they will ever know.
My most curious observation was the old ladies sitting on the market steps selling a concoction that is a mixture of foul smelling and looking bottles of liquids some with baby snake carcasses in them, these are mixed together
and rubbed on the body to promote healing and ward off evil, I respectfully declined.
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keep uyp the good work irish