by Alexandra Román
Maybe I have been accustomed to polish floors, glamorized windows displays, fluorescent lights, and well arranged foods stands. A typical mall; a clean appealing to the eye supermarket. To enter ‘La plaza del Mercado’ in the Puerto Rican town of Río Piedras is to cross the threshold of a place that was blessed with the touch of the rustic, the natural way of what you expect to find in the old days when our grandmothers use to visit the local ‘plaza’ to buy the ingredients for pasteles, recaíto, and the viandas.
The glass doors welcome you letting you know technology is here for it has central air, one thing the past did not have. Back then the air was strong, warm and filled with all sorts of essences that still linger near. You come in and as if taken from a past not long ago, for it is something like the Puerto Rican parrot here in the island of Enchantment, an endanger specie paints a smile in your face. My eyes have not seen this since a little girl and I grab my phone asking permission to snap a photo to make this a lasting memory. There it was a man sitting comfortably relaxing while the other goes about his business shining his shoes. Giving thanks I went on accompanied with my godmother, the maker of my recaíto.
A maze of small stores embraces those who visit and walk through its veins stopping here and there for their needs. Vegetables stands pour out their contents to the corridor making it narrower, while their workers offer you the best deals. Butchers dressed in white like they have been taken out of an old photo, laugh loudly with friends right beside the hanging cod fish fillet and the glass case filled with fresh cut meat. Inside, the pounding sound of the knife as its bearer cuts meat to be sold. And in the corners of every corridor there is tradition exposed on the glass for everyone to see. Papers filled with onyx numbers hang from pieces of strings, examined by eyes searching for luck, even my godmother surrenders to temptation. Why wouldn’t she, is tradition after all! They are part of who we are, these numbers, and a little bit of hope never hurts.
With our bags filled with goodies, we strolled through the cantinas to eat. Ahh! The smells are divine, a mixed of freshly made sancocho, rice and beans, food fritters and, of course, coffee. My madrina is not in the mood for soup today, but for fried chicken one she has every time she comes. It was crunchy and juicy a delicacy for the taste buds, KFC has nothing on it they should take note.
A total change from the city I’m use to, I embrace a few hours there thinking of my grandmother and the ‘plaza’ she took me where now a Walgreens stands. My sight turns to the ceiling and was glad no fluorescent lights stood there, but architectural circle skylights. Sighting, and with my azucenas in hand, I said a silent farewell to a vivid past, to ‘la gente’, humble and cheerful, that has kept it alive. I’m thankful this is still here, part of an old way of life that should be vivid in every corner of this island. ‘La plaza’ where people get together just to eat from their favorite cantina, buy luck and ‘viandas’, and stroll through the past like nothing has change.
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