Friday, October 21, 2011

The Road to Abastos

When Steve & I lived in Oaxaca the first time around, nearly 16 years ago, we would walk the 30-40 minutes to get to Central de Abastos, the main city market. Now, with kids in tow, we drive, and we bring many guests with us. Today we packed five friends in the car, in addition to our family, and parked at our favorite lot that gives you an hour free if you pay the guy on duty to wash your car. A great deal for us and our stinky car.

Abastos rocks year round. My friend Rachel says it's one of her favorite places in the world. I always get lost, hitting the shoes time and time again, and I never, ever am in the market for shoes (my feet are too big for Mexico). But getting lost works here, because there is something down every aisle, and I often don't know what it is when I see it. But the vendors are happy to demonstrate their wares.

This is the kind of shopping that begets more shopping because all I came for was a vinyl tablecloth printed with fruit to cover my muertos altar. But what I've wanted forever is one of those cheap little grills that look like big incense burners. And two kilos of sweet potatoes to cook on it. Next time, because my bag is already full of papel picado, incense, tangerines, avocado, coconut water, glittery bread medallions, finger monsters, a devil mask, amaranth, pumpkin seeds, and peanut candy.

At some point, you just have to stop. But I'll be back soon, as guests are arriving and we always go to Abastos right before Days of the Dead to score altar supplies and watch the throngs of people hauling sugar cane, marigolds, sweet bread shaped like skulls and crossbones, ground chocolate, sugar skulls, toys, booze--the fiestas go on for days, and so does the shopping.

But it seems trivializing to call this shopping. There are no credit cards or coupons or sliding glass doors. This kind of shopping is conversations, crowds, bargaining, sweet smells, stink, giant metal wheelbarrows nearly running you over, women balancing baskets on their heads, and ducking under the tarps set too low for gangly Americans. And jamming it all in a giant sugar bag converted into a tote. And lots of shoes, just too many shoes.