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Shopping on Sunday

Stan Gotlieb

Made by art students from sand and other materials, this sculpture in front of the Oaxaca Cathedral was created for Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Photography by Diana Ricci

Today was Sunday. On Sunday, most of the stores and tiendas (small shops) in Oaxaca are closed. Except for a weekly farmers market at a mercadito (a city owned building housing many leased sales booths) more than a mile away, and a supermarket equidistant in the opposite direction, there are few places around our house to buy stuff on Sunday.

There is one small tienda on the corner that is open until all hours, seven days a week. In a jumble of items reaching from floor to ceiling, they sell an unbelievable variety of household needs. There is of course the usual overabundance of potato chips, fried pork rinds and pretzels; beer and soda pop; Pan Bimbo (like Wonder Bread) in a variety of flavors. As well, canned soup, tuna, sardines, chili peppers, refried beans and deviled ham are complimented by paper products and plastics.

While it is possible to buy a pear, a chayote, a tomato or an onion there, the produce displayed in the truncated rack tends to be about a week too old. The sterilized milk, on the other hand, will keep forever, and does not need to be refrigerated until you open the carton.

Mops, brooms, scrub brushes and mouse traps share space with soap, detergent, bleach, softeners and light bulbs.

The prices are higher, as they are in all convenience stores, the merchandise may be a little dusty, and while there may be one of everything, there is not likely to be more than one choice of brand or size. Nonetheless, all of this, housed in a space no more than ten feet square, is most impressive. A truly amazing collection: everything except what I need.

I seek a fresh bolillo (bo LEE yo), a sandwich-sized loaf of bread, crisp on the outside and soft within. Made of white flour, the bolillo has replaced the tortilla in many middle class households. Today is a sandwich day at our house, and we are out of bread. The tienda owner directs me to a small "pan dulce" (sweet baked goods) shop, a couple of blocks away.

As I wend my way, I think upon the contrast between going to a U.S. supermarket, and shopping here where it is necessary to go from one store to another in order to scrape together a meal. There are stores for produce, stores for yogurt and cheese, stores for baked goods, stores for tortillas, stores for this and stores for that. Shopping for lunch can work up a heck of an appetite.

In the pan dulce store, there are two bins, about two meters square, containing bolillos. Normally, we prefer pan integral (whole wheat loaves), but today it's bolillos or nothing. I pick up a few.

Coming back, I wonder how Mexicans, many of whom do not have refrigerators, cope with Sunday.

When I get home, my neighbor, a Mexican, is accepting and paying for a Domino's Pizza, being delivered in a hot box by a delivery boy on a motorcycle, wearing a red and blue jacket and a full helmet. The more we are like them, the more they are like us.

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Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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