There is nothing like it. It is a bombardment of the senses. It is an organized chaos, a mess that grew organically but still somehow functions. As such, it is a metaphor as well for life in Latin America. Yes, markets truly are the beating heart of the continent.
‘American tourists don’t come here’, Dolores tells me, and her head nods no to underline her point. The Mexicans have a love-hate-relationship with their northern neighbours. Faraway so close. Migrating there is their ticket to a better future and more income. But they don’t really understand their capitalist culture, their eternal stress. And their fear to open up for other cultures.
Fabric of a messy life
To understand Latin America one only needs to dive into these markets. They are the fabric underlying this seeming chaotic mess of life.
On my first day in Mexico City my first trip was with the underground. Exit: La Merced. ‘They say themselves it’s the biggest one in the world’, my former colleague had warned. ‘And you haven’t seen anything like it before in your life.’
The latter remark turned out to be absolutely true, though I definitely discovered crazier markets later on during the trip. But not one was as big as this one. It wasn’t even clear where the subway station ended and the market started. There was no map, there definitely wasn’t any plan as well when this thing started. It is one big maze, that probably started under the roof of the official market. And then at some point in time just spilled over into the surrounding streets.
Bombardment of senses
[two_fourth]Whilst the cars are driving by dangerously close, they are praising their ‘official’ Adidas and Nike and Puma training suits. When you turn away from the road, a small church pops up. Followed by another covered market, solely intended for food. Every imaginable type of fruit and vegetable seems to be sold here.[/two_fourth]
Speaking of exquisite lunches, that brings me back to Dolores. She prepared my torta, tailored to my wishes (which were limited to my limited Spanish vocabulary). In the meantine her neighbor has joined as well, from the smoothie stand nearby. A guy with only three teeth, and a smile that doesn’t even try to hide the missing ones.
Where I am from? Complicated. ‘Yo soy holandes pero yo vivo en Alemanha.’ I am Dutch but I live in Germany. He had already heard I wasn’t American. ‘They are scared of us down here’, he laughs.
But wouldn’t he want to make money of them with souvenirs, like his countrymen in the streets upstairs? ‘Not really. My life is here, in the market. It is sometimes difficult…’, and he stops mid-sentence. And he gives me a look which seems to say: but isn’t life supposed to be a bit difficult? Which gives us a glimpse of this beautiful tragic Mexican soul.