Market meanderings

A hot morning. A brown paper bag full of samosa’s to start the day. Walking. Walking passed the colonial train station, past the incessant calls of the street traders and taxi touts. Walking to the markets. Markets appeal to me. Not their sense of crumbling aesthetic, nor their smells nor the slippery-under-foot sludge of something rotten from days forgotten. It’s the people. Market people have vitality. They make for good pictures.  It’s essentially a place for men to toil and sweat and yell and mix with other men and of course make a little money. Working in a wholesale market is a thankless task and nobody really cares until they can’t get their fresh veggies and then its your fault … I once worked as a fruit picker. Eighteen and on summer vacation, fresh out of high school exams. We were far from our concrete commission flats and it was quiet and dusty, very hot. Even before the sun rose at it was hot. My Mediterranean mate packed it in after 4 days – I lasted about 14, and did just enough picking to afford a train ride home and a bottle of Bacardi to console myself with. Each morning I’d climb a ladder to fill a bucket to tip into a bottomless wooden crate which was to be piled into a truck with other wooden crates and stacked into a supermarket warehouse – you get the idea. I was part of a chain. An anonymous link in a long chain that ended in a plastic bag on a fruit scale. I envied these guys. Replenishing empty stalls each day seemed a lot more satisfying than picking a branch bare and knowing there’s 100 more just like it. A sense of camaraderie washes over me. We are like brothers, I mused. Suddenly a voice jolts me into the now. “Hey man, where you from? A beautiful country. My brother in law is there … It’s a good life.” I nod and take his photo. We share a joke, a piece of fruit is offered. More photos. I’m off. Now I’m in the meat section. Butchers are usually big men, all guts and hairy faced with big meaty fists and broken-tooth smiles. “Where you come from?” I tell them I once worked in a butcher shop. It was an after school job washing trays and hauling carcasses slung over my shoulder to the fancy restaurants on Chapel Street, Prahran. The fat butcher asks me to send him the photos and scribbles down his address. It’s eligible. I smile and nod and tuck the scrap of paper into my shirt pocket. Camaraderie makes for good photos. And so do colours. The walls here are painted the same colour ochre red as the blood caked work benches. All the market buildings are gorgeous in their faded pastel glory, weathered, and bold as the bronzed locals working within. Colours make the decay seem more palatable I thought. It was similar story all over Sri Lanka: take a grimy old wall, dab on some cobalt blue or a coat of sunflower yellow, let the sun baked it, let the rain wash down through tattered awnings, give the mould its due in the tropical humidity. Wow! Colours make great pictures. And people too!




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