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LA PARADA BORICUA

LA MARQUETA 1960













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 LA MARQUETA 1960 by Antonio Llanos2004
















Dawn........New York City........Spanish Harlem........It's 5:30AM and i'm up and wide awake.

Heading for the kitchen for a bowl of Corn Flakes, as I pour the milk I do a happy 2-step dance side to side,'cause I know that today is, MARQUETA DAY. Oh, yea. Gonna smell the dried bacalao still in their crates.

(La Marqueta is, or rather was, a 4 block stretch of stalls and kiosks that ran under the Harlem Railroad elevated rails. From 112th to 116th street, that section under the tracks was walled off and turned into, La Marqueta.)

Mom wakes up with a happy spirit. She's humming some Cha-cha tune that goes something like, "....toma chocolate, paga lo que debes...". Yep this is the day, I know, cause she threw out all that old MANTENGO food that she had as back-up. The fridge is empty and Mamita is getting ready...ready for...La Marqueta.

She gets dressed - myself, I been ready - and together we head for the, gathering place. We cross the 1-lane street known up here as Park Ave. Just beyond the street noise and the traffic, I hear sounds...at first distant but as we draw closer I hear what seems to be alot of different music and people all talking and yelling at once coming from inside La Marqueta. Excitement grabs my shoulders and grips my stomach as we approach, my mother reaches for the steel doors leading into our cultural cathedral. The door swings open and a wave of sounds splashes my body and engulfs me. Voices of hundreds of people in the bargain process pours out of the door and then into me. We enter into another world. Better than a party. Better than church. and definitely better than A&P Supermarket.

A world of Tropical colors for the senses, exotic and sensual flavors to taste, intoxicating and at times overwhelming aromas brand the soul with cultura. The concrete floor has been given a fresh coating of sawdust, it woody scent flowing thru my nostrils, I think to myself, it must be like this in Puerto Rico everyday. People of all races and colors melting into each other..........having cultural intercourse ......right there in the open......in La Marqueta.

All along the walls of La Marqueta, high up, are huge frosted windows. The sunlight filters thru them with a soft yellow glow. It's seductive light bathing the huge burlap bags bursting with all kinds of mystery's. Every possible food and ware, soft and hard that can be sold is here for the selling. Pink buttons, Chewing tabacco, 12 different types of Bacalao, recao, Belladona, bolita, black candles, short & long hard sausages, fish, drugs (legal and maybe not so legal), epazote, fresh basil, cilantro, pata de gallina, spiritual advice. If you wanted to record music, there was a stall where even that could be arranged and of course, La Marqueta was the place where the inside scoop could get GOT on anyone or thing. ( Latinos call it, BOCHINCHE ).

We stand in front of mom's favorite stall. The one that rises before me like a mountain. Burlap bags of 547 different types of rice. Then right behind them are 7,402 types of beans. At the top of this mountain is a small man in a white apron. He yells out along with the other vendors, each trying to outyell the other for customers. Carajo!!! My mind is racing..my eyes glued to all the colors...and at only three feet tall..my nose is at ass level with every adult in there - Held my breath alot. -

Ducks hanging by their necks to the left, a hanging lace dress dances slow pirouettes in another stall over to my right while tin toys are whizzing in a box on the floor somewhere. La musica is pumping. Every stall has a radio going almost full blast and they all seem to be on different radio stations. Everyone is intent on getting the freshest this or the ripest that.......

My mother eyes the goods too but waits to make her move, like a cat on the prowl she seeks out her food prey, she stands still and focuses on her timing......suddenly she jumps into the yelling..."How much for those platanos!!!".....the guy in the next stall yells back...."I GOT 'EM CHEAPER OVER HERE!!!....and so it begins. She goes on this way, stalking, pouncing and buying at the right moment just whats she wants until we have full shopping bags in each hand. We work our way up to the last section where the fishmongers are.

Up on the hill, the fishmongers are all Italian and Jewish. Rough looking guys in white labs coats stained with something pinkish/reddish. The bargaining pace here is furious as well. This section is a mini-Fulton Fish Market in El Barrio and every possible type of fish could be had at the right price. Smoked herring, fresh Snapper, frosen shrimp and on and on. Again, my mom makes her move and gets her fish. After an hour or so we head back home, bags full of, STUFF.

I'm sure that my mother loved it. For my self, I have to say, my eyes teared from the powdered chili and all that ass in my face not to mention the smell of dead fish caking my senses, all this had me just about semi-concious. But I loved it.

All these people, my people, in one place. Buying P.R.Loteria tickets, finding work, making deals, meeting soon-to-be lovers, finding lost friends. Getting our cultural fix. Oh yes, that nasty, sexy, loving and beautiful dose of Latino love filling us up once again until next Saturday. When we all wake up once again and head for....LA MARQUETA.
















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