Today we went to El Centro. It is just what it says. The center of town, just down the hill from La Plaza de Simon Bolivar, the historical plaza present in every town colonized by Spaniards and now dedicated to the great liberator of northern South America.
I like going to El Centro. It’s so... Bogotan! There are more people packed into those 3 or 4 city blocks than in the entire state of NM, I think. I’m still a little scared to go by myself, but I really wanted an ollita, a small pitcher shaped pot used here mostly to make hot chocolate. And my companions were after other bargains because that’s what El Centro is - streets lined with stores and vendors of daily things - not artsy and not meant to be anything “typical” of the culture - just cheap daily things. But I bought a thing to juice oranges or lemons, too, for 75 cents. It’s not really a daily need in the U.S. I found my ollita, which I never found at home, for $4. I saw a great cast iron griddle (the kind you cook tortillas on), but resisted the temptation to pay $10 because I didn’t want to carry it home. Keep in mind - 9 out of 10 of the kitchen stores are lined up together, across the street from 9 out of 10 of the clothing stores, and around the corner from 9 out of 10 of the shoe stores. Makes price comparison a lot easier! Anyway, El Centro may be bargain center, but for me, it personifies Latin America, where costs are costs, not results of a huge chain of people passing merchandise. The same vendor that calls you to buy (a la orden! a la orden! resounds throughout the street) may sell at half the price.
Which brings me back to the people. I stood for a while at the entrance to one store, watching people. Keep in mind the entrances are garage doors that have been raised. The aisles inside are one person wide, the sidewalks outside lined with carriers of merchandise, including blankets with lottery tickets spread across. I watched a few people bicycle, some homeless men digging through the trash for food or something they might possibly recycle, two or three taxis fighting their way through the hoards of people in the street, where a man would open the door for his wife, pile in her 6 or 8 black plastic bags, and give the driver directions. Carts drove - well, were pulled or bicycled - up and down the street, filled with fresh cut mango and pineapple in plastic glasses, or bottles of “Big Cola.” One gentleman entered with bags of pork rinds hanging from a stick, calling out for someone to buy. Women who clearly were tired of being mothers and appeared tired of life in general dragged their dirty toddlers down the street beside couples in suits and heels. The police are more spread out in El Centro, two or three with arms in holsters on every street, but usually hanging out together.
It’s sad in some ways. I didn’t dare bring out my camera, though I desperately wanted pictures. Being robbed here is not that unexpected. On the other hand, I wonder if in America we’ve veiled ourselves from real life. We’ve robbed people of the chance to make a living by their own ingenuity and labor and masked the problem of poverty with band-aids of food stamps and health care. And how often do all of rub shoulders in search of... anything?