The vast yellow and red market on Mount Street resembles, for the last couple of weeks, a disciplined intellectual space for gatherings rather than a crowded marketplace of fruits and vegetables. A police operation eliminated all the illegal vendors who had filled its vestibules and established order in the mess inside where it was easy to lose your wallet. At the same time, they are making essential repairs that may take half a year, or a decade.
Despite the image of chaos that accompanied the Mercado de Cuatro Caminos [English: Market of Four Roads], it had the merit of being the most well-stocked farmer’s market in the city. I found lemons there after several weeks of looking for them and – once a month — I was able to replenish my supply of peanuts. Exotic ginger and the nearly-extinct guanábana* adorned the stalls, which sometimes surprised us with the lost flavors of caimito* and canistel*. A veritable museum of what was once produced by this land, things that my son no longer recognizes, accustomed as he is to sweet potatoes and bananas.
The huge commercial market hall also was unique in the nineteen municipalities of Havana. An agglomeration of informal vendors offered some “persecuted” products such as cheese and evaporated milk. The meager assortment of what we receive on the rationed market was also set out there, where many sold their subsidized shares to cover the cost of other needs such as the electricity bill or shoes for the children. From this illegal exchange we all benefited, except the State, for these commercial transactions occurred outside its taxation or control.
Now, in the orderly Mercado de Cuatro Caminos, the wallet is no longer in jeopardy, but there is no toothpaste for ten pesos a tube or washing soap for twenty a tablet. The merchandise that was offered by the sellers there cannot be found anywhere at the same prices, but at least the relaxed mess is no more. The formula of discipline, constraint and control does not seem to content the disoriented shoppers, who continue to long for the market before the raid.
*Translator’s note: Tropical fruits, known in English as soursop, star apple and egg fruit respectively.