Short Stool

Part II
The cheese lady has eight or ten varieties of cheese. She likes giving me samples of the more unusual ones. She has a deep, throaty laugh which she unlimbers when I make a funny face at the high flavor found in some of the cheeses. I usually stay away from the queso montaņa. I suspect, despite its name --- mountain cheese --- that it's made directly from seawater. It's so loaded with salt it makes one pucker up like at kissy-kissy time.

The cheese lady's "corriente" is a very light feta which we crumble over the salads. I use a flat romaine-like lettuce cut into bite-size pieces, sprinkled with oil and salt and pepper and vinegar. The best vinegar here is made by the Presidente people, and it comes in a bottle that looks just like a liter of coņac. Back when he worked for me, Valentine was a "borracho" --- a dyed-in-the-wool boozer --- and he chanced across my vinegar one day on the table in the garden and to the delight of the other workers picked it up and slugged it right down. They tell me that his face was a sight to behold. It didn't cure him of his affection for demon rum, unfortunately, and shortly after I had to let him go.

One of our favorites is the quesillo --- a string cheese. It looks just like the salt water taffy we used to make ourselves sick on when we were kids. There is also one the cheese lady makes for special order --- a silky white cheese called "panela" in which she buries two or three varieties of cut-up green and red peppers. We sprinkle this on our hot hand-made tortillas, and it makes a nigh-about perfect lunch.

You buy your tortillas from the tortilla girls. These are not your shy retiring types. They range in age from fourteen to nineteen, and they stand around and when you pass they demand that you buy from them and them only. The tortillas are huge and meaty. They bring them from home in great white plastic water buckets lined with homespun. We usually buy ours from a smoky beauty from San Sebastian named Carmen who José swears he's going to marry some day. Then, he assures me, we'll never have to buy tortillas ever again.

Then there is the fruit lady over near the flower stalls. She sells a sweet orange native to this area. They are green and spotted with brown what looks like mange but once you get past the unappetizing cover, they are as juicy as you could ask. She also sells several varieties of mangoes, even the green bitter ones that you serve with a bit of salt and hot sauce.

She also has satsumas, known here as "mandarinas." They are obscene looking: fat and sassy, with pockmarked cheeks. When you peel them, they leak sweet juices down your wrist. She has some ten varieties of bananas including the little pecker-sized ones that my friend Marguerite once told me taste just like old Tampax. I of course being me asked her, "How do you know?"

Banana lady also sells free range eggs. The eggs are white, light brown, dark brown and green. I asked her where they came from, and she said, "pollos rayitos" --- striped chickens. I bought some last week, and we fried up the brown and white ones with a little bit of butter, parsley, and chopped celery leaves delicious uhm uhm. The green ones I saved out and stuck them into my incubator with some eggs from the chickens I favor --- Cochins, Silkies, and Polish. I'm dying to see these chicks with stripes that should be popping out of their green shells in a couple of weeks.

The fruit lady I suspect would never make it in the Walt Disney Acceptable Public Market World. She has too many bad teeth and dewlaps, and she shares a peculiarity with most of the denizens of the Puerto Perdido public market. They are all card-carrying members of the Short Stool Society.

They are forever and a day sitting around on tiny chairs that I estimate run no more than fifteen inches from ground to seat. Most of these people aren't giants anyway, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why the onion man who spends all day cleaning onions wants to sit so close to the ground with his knees around his ears. The same for the bean lady and the flower lady.

But they do: they lollygag around all day in apparent comfort on stools that were designed for their seven-year-old kids. I'm wondering if it is some sort of penalty they are forced to pay for working in one of the greatest, noisiest, smelliest, liveliest markets in the Western world.

--- Carlos Amantea
Go back to Part I

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