Every Tuesday morning, half of Lo Marcoleta – one of the main roads in my neighbourhood – is closed off and transformed into a ‘feria’ or street fair. The vendors begin to set up their stalls and lay their rugs out on the ground and an hour later, they are ready to sell.

The crowds quickly gather and soon enough, the narrow passageway between the stalls is filled with people, trolleys, strollers, bicycles and stray dogs that somehow manage to wind their way in and out of everything else without causing a major accident. It’s chaotic and vibrant and you have to watch your step. Being taller than most Chileans, I also have to duck constantly to avoid the low hanging, cloth awnings.

Most of the vendors come to the feria to sell fresh fruit and vegetables but you can also find people selling eggs, long life milk, fairly fresh fish, cutlery and crockery, along with second hand clothes and books. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and Roald Dahl’s The Witches are always on display, as are guides on how to read tarot cards and quasi-spiritual accounts of near-death experiences.

The prices of the fruit and veg, written in chalk on small slate signs, are much cheaper than the supermarket down the road. For 1000 pesos, or about $2, you can pick up six kilos of potatoes or perhaps seven, if it’s a good day. Zucchinis (or Italian pumpkins as they’re known here) and capsicums are usually 100 pesos each, while 400 pesos is not bad for a kilo of apples; although if you look carefully you can probably find someone selling them for 350.

“Six in a thousand for potatoes!” a vendor yells out from behind his stall, “Six in a thousand”. A few metres away, his neighbour is asking 450 pesos per kilo for Fuji (pronounced foo-hi) apples. They’re more expensive than the rest but he justifies the high price, saying: “These apples have been specially chosen. They’re the best you’ll find here, I guarantee. Sweet and juicy. All things considered, they’re really quite cheap. 450 a kilo.”

Alongside the apples, oranges and bananas are all sorts of exotic fruits that are rarely seen outside of South America. Among them is the tuna, a small fruit that grows on cactus plants. Thankfully the sharp spines are moved long before the tunas get to the market and when you peel back the thick skin, the seedy fruit is juicy and green. The flesh looks a bit like a kiwi fruit and tastes a lot like pear. It’s also worth trying mankakis, which look like tomatoes but taste and feel like soft apples, and pepinos, a yellow and purple fruit that has a dull, sweet taste and a lot of juice. Just don’t confuse them with cucumbers, which are also called pepinos.

While these culinary offerings are a novelty for me, I happen to be quite interesting to the people selling them. Out here on the outskirts of Santiago there aren’t many gringos and many of the vendors take an interest in me.

“Where do you come from?” one of them asks. “Oh, my cousin lives in Sydney. It’s beautiful – very beautiful,” she says with a smile when I tell her I’m from Australia. Another takes a long hard look at me before saying: “You’re pretty pale, aren’t you?” Down the road, the fishmonger just wants to know whether or not I’m a Mormon. It’s a fair question, given that most of the other pale people around here wear a black badge that says ‘Elder’. I tell him I’m not but I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus. For no particular reason, he chuckles to himself as he continues gutting the fish in his hands.

Other vendors take the opportunity to practise the elementary English they learnt back in high school. The man selling milk and eggs knows me well and when he sees me approaching, he calls out: “Hello, my friend. How are you?” Before we go he shakes my hand vigorously, saying: “Good, good. Thank you, my friend.”

But best of all is an older German Jew who sells cheap but good fruit with his wife and daughter, who look identical apart from mother’s greyer hair and more noticeable wrinkles. While they sit in the background hardly talking, Mr Von Nuselberger always has something to say. Under his pork-pie hat and thick framed glasses, his eyes twinkle with enthusiasm as he gets ready to share one of his well rehearsed stories.

“You’re very tall, you know. British, are you?”

“No, I’m Australian,” I reply.

“Oh, well they’re all the same anyway – the British, the Australians – they’re sons of Adam. That’s why they’re so tall. Just like you. They’re sons of Adam and they used to be pure but now they are sinners. When they were pure they lived for 900 years but now they don´t because they´re sinners. Sinners and tall.,” he says, his eyes still twinkling. He too shakes my hand heartily as he says goodbye.

“Until next week.”

“Until then.”

And after forty minutes of shopping, storytelling and impromptu English lessons, it’s time to return home. For under $20, we’ve been able to buy more than enough fruit and vegetables to keep three people going for a whole week.

Advertisements