The wonders of the meat market

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I need to be careful not to dump all my pictures on this blog in the first week of my stay here, and save a few goodies for later. But I took 43 photos today at the market and it’s hard not to blurt out everything I feel.

Classes began today, and I was placed in Nivea 1B. It’s a very popular level, those who know slightly more than nothing. The campus is beautiful, with a large enclosed courtyard garden in front and a smaller courtyard inside. It’s just the way you want your Spanish school to look, palm trees rising grandly before you, flowering trees, and bright yellow walls with arches and nooks.

Of the students I’ve met so far, there are your college students on summer vacation (who seem painfully young to me), a graduate student studying women’s peace movements in Latin America, teachers who want to gain Spanish language skills, and a middle-aged couple who quit their jobs, sold their house, and are starting a Peace Corps stint in a yet-unknown country in August. Whoa baby! Makes my little 6-month adventure seem ridiculously easy.

This school likes to pack your day. We have three hours of instruction in the morning, then one hour of conversation, a lunch break, then an optional hour of “intercambio” or English-Spanish exchange with a local student, and then an optional 2-hour, 2-week workshop in cooking, ceramics, weaving, or salsa. Guess what I picked?

It’s definitely not a serious cooking class, but it’s nice to do something laid-back in the afternoon. On Mondays, the class goes to market, and so we went to the two everyday markets downtown, Mercado 20 de noviembre and Mercado Juarez.

I’d already been to both markets, but this time, I felt less shy about taking photos, especially of the meat market that had been haunting my dreams. Imagine this: a room lined with stalls with their meat on full display, big chunks hanging on hooks, round red links of sausage, long thin slices that then vendors periodically pat with their hands, like they’re patting a baby. You see everything through a hot haze, because the room is filled with smoke from the little grills at each stall.

When the smoke blows away and you can see the meat and the cebollitas (green onions) getting browned—well, it thrilled me almost as much as when I saw the clouds part above Machu Picchu.

(My guidebook and the orientation packet the school gave us today says, “Do not eat food from street vendors!” But what’s the worst that could happen? I’ve been immunized for hepatitis and I have plenty of Pepto-Bismol.)

The meat was clearly not something to be eaten alone. There were groups of people sitting around large platters of meat with a stack of warm tortillas and all the fixings, radishes, salsa, guacamole. But this wasn’t an eating trip and we had to move on. I felt intensely jealous. One day, I WILL eat the meat at Mercado 20 de noviembre!

Next post: the “nieve de tuna” (cactus fruit sorbet) at Mercado Juarez.

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