I have a small obsession with markets—really markets of any type: farmers’ markets, starving artist festivals, street fairs. I like the idea of people coming together in an open space and selling stuff; even when it is junk, I like to peruse. Growing up, my mother would regularly take me to the farmers’ market in Milwaukee. It was there that I discovered the brain flower. Both my parents would bring me to starving artist festivals throughout the state. Sometimes, I remember being bored. Other times I would find some piece that I loved and they would get it for me. Many of these pieces remain my favorites today; some even came to Chile and are hanging in my room.
In Chile, this fascination can take on a whole new meaning because there are markets at every turn of the corner. On Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, on Avenida Argentina, about 2 blocks from my house in Valpo, there is a farmers market. I like to go and watch the sellers, watch the interactions, and monitor the fluctuations in prices. Usually, I come home with artichokes. Next to the farmers’ market, there are people selling goods off of plastic sheets on the ground. There is nothing I would really buy there—old children’s tennis shoes, stained jackets, used irons and ironing boards, and yet I love to weave my way through it.
Further away, in one of the plazas, there is a bazaar with old books and antiques. Most of the stuff is pretty useless, however, if you take the time to dig your way through—there are some amazing treasures. Also, the men (usually men at this one) who work there will sometimes take the time to tell you about their grandfather who built the clock or their memories of the doll from their childhood.
In terms of arts stuff—my favorite place is Artesenal Santa Lucia in Santiago. It is not a starving artist festival, like the ones my mother would take me to growing up in the Wisconsin, but rather it is a place where year round different artsy goods are sold—much of it is very commercial in nature and most of the stalls are not actually filled with the actual artisans. Still, it has its enchantment. Being that in 2000 I lived a few blocks away, I have spent many hours people watching there and examining all the stalls. It is interesting to watch how overtime things morph. For example, during the month of September, much more Chile paraphernalia and traditional clothing appears. While the copper items and lapis lazuli jewelry never go out of style, other styles such as glass work, wood carvings, and homemade jams fluctuate.
One of the things I love about markets is that after a while you learn who to go to; who has the best price on good corn in the West Alice Market of my youth; who has the best price on glass works in Santa Lucia, who has the tastiest churipan on Avenida Argentina. And, if like me, you go enough and are talkative enough, these people start to know you as well.
Moldova, despite having a dearth of good markets, did have some farmers’ markets. Two years after I left my village, the lady who sold onions asked a new volunteer who I was doing. Here in Chile, about 2 years ago I found a woman who sold glass pieces: earrings, plates, boxes. I really liked her stuff (and it was actually made within the family). I bought a piece or two and she commented how I looked like her niece. A couple months later I was back and bought presents to bring home to the states, again she commented that I looked like her niece. This time we talked a bit. That was August of 2006. Two weeks ago I returned and bought the above boxes. I actually went specifically looking for her stall, which is sometimes hard to find. (The other stall that sells similar stuff is much more expensive although has a slightly better selection). After picking out my new jewelry boxes, I went to pay. She remembered me and commented that I hadn’t come in for quite a while—astute observation, I have been out of the country for 1 year. Still, it was kind of nice. I think I will go back and get a box for my housemates birthday at the end