Monday, July 13, 2009

it takes a vendor

Every night at 7:30, whether we were at the villa, or walking up the hill, sitting by the pool, or traversing across town...we heard his call. For days, I thought it was two men: One would call out the first part


quickly followed, overlapped even, with the low sound,


and once again,


and then,


It was fascinating. Strange. Eerie.
The way it came every night at the same time, the way it started above our house on the hill and made it's way down into the town. The way it bounced heavily off the sides of crowded buildings and kept us entranced. We couldn't see him when we heard him. And we couldn't find him when we ran out of the gate to catch him.
It was driving us crazy.
In a good way.
And I was determined to get to the bottom of it. I wasn't leaving Mexico until we found him.

I LOOOVE a vendor call. I think the first vendor that caught my eye was a heavy-set, sweaty guy in NYC who seemed to take up a street corner while sitting on a turned over box. He picked up and set down little wind-up mice and called out in this classic new york, nasally voice, "good for caaaats, good for caaaats". To this day, he's one of my favorite.

But this call, this vendor, wherever he was, whoever he was, would go down in my memory as one of the best for being one of the most unusual, one of the most mysterious. He wasn't calling out words, I still wasn't even clear it was just one man ...and I could NOT figure out what in the world he was selling. One night, RK decided to ask our night manager, Francisco, if he knew what it was. He described the call and Francisco smiled. Yes, he said, he knew what it was. But, as with any lack of language skills, we could only make out that it was some sort of corn thing and deduced that it was probably tamales. We worked out a plan to be home by 7:30 that night and we'd buy at least six to ten of them, eat a couple for dinner and freeze the others to enjoy throughout the week.

Laying by the pool that night, we heard the call! We threw on our clothes, raced out the gates, passed Francisco (smiling widely at us crazy Americans), and hoofed it down the street. There he was! Right at the street corner! We saw him do the call! We tried to act casual as we half sauntered, half ran up to him, but our excitement was overtaking us.

There was no clue as to what product he was hawking. A young guy, with a couple of coolers attached to a dolly. No pictures, or signs, or even anyone near him enjoying his wares. We went for it anyway,

Us: Cuatro, por favor.
Him: Cuatro?
Us: Si. Cuatro.
Him: Con queso?
Us: ummmm, si?

He whips open one of the coolers. Our eyes are wide, our mouths slightly open... what could possibly be in there?! What in the world was he going to add cheese to?!

He pulled out four cobs of corn, jabbed in a thick dowel of wood that had been fashioned into a small spear, pulled out a spatula covered in mayonnaise and slathered it all over each ear and then rolled them all in queso. I'm not sure he noticed our slumped shoulders and, luckily, he couldn't hear our hearts sink as we each took our two ears and walked away. But, by the time we got home, handed an ear to Francisco, and sunk our teeth into the rock-hard, freezing cold corn kernels, we were laughing our heads off. ALL the build-up, ALL the wonder, ALL the guessing, ...and here we were, holding the result of a week-long mystery and we couldn't even eat it!

Ah, well, we told each'll make for a great story.


Molly said...

And it does a wonderful story make!
Wow, you sound like you're having SUCH a great time.

paige said...

Yes, great story.

I love the sounds you hear when you travel to a new place... they define the experience as much as the sights.

Corn, mayo and cheese... I'll try that one on Arann.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I have just come accross your blog and think it is great. I am moving to México this winter so reading your insight into the country is very interesting. Is it okay if I ask questions every now and then? I'd love to get some opinions from you about various things because I have never been before. Keep up the writing, your certainly entertaining me =)

Unknown said...

i love vendor calls too! when i lived in downtown sf, there was this guy selling body oil, all day every day. the way he said it sounded like, "mighty oil!"...or more like "MIIIGH-ty oil!"...and very occasionally "OIL! mightyoil!"

anyway, i'm sorry your corn was so anti-climactic. i'm pretty sure the mighty oil would have been a disappointment too.

Ellen Zachos said...

My favorite was the Greek chair mender who drove around on Crete, chanting the word "ka-rek-les" (chairs). We saw the same guy all over the island. P.S. I can't watch your video. It keeps telling me it's private and that I need to accept the sender's friend request first.