Market Panorama

The best time to visit Puerto Montt market is early morning when it is brimming with the sordid business of life. The best day to visit is Saturday when families enjoy a day out with the children – little fair skinned snotty nosed brats clasping sweets and behaving like rats and who stare with wild feverish eyes. If you hurry there at first light when the sky is stained purple, you’ll find the streets stained black from the blood dripping from the fresh carcasses as they’re off-loaded from stinking trucks. The carcasses creased with black lines – blood draining along rivulets down gurgling gutters – their faces contorted into the varying grimaces of death. Some faces look like they are praying. Little baby pigs dangling from hooks. They look like human children. Why were they born? Suddenly I am overcome with a feeling and realisation of the utter cruelty of life. It stops me dead in my tracks and I play around with the thought in my head. How many animals are dying right now as I think these words? How many struggling in the jaws of some predator? How many being eaten alive and ripped apart and chased in fear and poisoned and squeezed – in pain, in mortal danger? What is so beautiful about bountiful green wonderful nature – the garden of Eden? Death – a good way to start the day!

As the sun rises higher – colour eventually returns to the world in a riot of the electromagnetic spectrum. Visible rays create a world for my eyes, infra reds tingle my skin and UV’s bounce off my sunglasses. At noon everything is whitewashed and over-exposed. When the sun is not too high up though, it casts shadows and one can take refuge in these cool slabs of grey – relief from the heat – escape from the hustle and bustle and the hawkers and the grasping hands and the one-legged beggars, the importuning retired soldiers sticking their filthy hands out in front of your face.

Memory shot: an old couple sitting inside a cafe. An old shitty cafe with sticky table tops. Zoom in: the man’s wife sitting opposite him – the man wearing a suit and white shirt – the two of them not talking. Zoom in further: the man staring at the blue television screen high up in the corner. His wife looking bored beyond belief. What is there to talk about? A life-time’s worth of talking already done.

Zoom out: a bunch of travelers with dogs. Dirty looking with backpacks and baggy pantaloons. Their hair greasy and matted and caked with dirt. Their faces black and ingrained with permanent grime – even in the lines of their face. Black finger nails and greasy sun-tanned faces. Yellow stained teeth and long beards. They are Spanish migrants and I bet they have interesting things to say. I long for such company, company of people who have spent years staring at life as it really is – on the streets, raw, real, indifferent and not friendly.

The women, squatting on their hams on pavement sides – in front of them – their little ‘stores’ consisting of nothing but a single handkerchief displaying their worldly goods for sale. Their goods so small and pathetic they fit inside a handkerchief. She begs me to buy something – but there is nothing she has that I want. I am tempted to buy something out of compassion – but then what about the woman next to her who looks even more desperate? How many can you help and how many more on the road ahead? How much money do they make from this? Barely enough – life eeked out on the margins. Day to day living. The future? – ‘Pfff! We have the present to worry about without worrying about the future’. There is no escape. With uneducated minds, ignorance and the yoke of circumstance – where will they go?

And me?

I can flap my wings, shed my skin and head off to anywhere I want – cross borders – cross continents. Or head back to a life of relative ease. Escape this life if things get too much, too hard, too horrible, too real. No escape for them though. Faith – chained to it they are. I, on the other hand, can gaze up and ponder the stars with some understanding of the cosmic and biological forces that rule our lives, whereas they no doubt look up and curse the heavens, or pray for a kind of rain. Prayer, it’s something they have. And superstition. And the Chilean lottery. They hold onto their beliefs as if it’s the last thing they have. It is. The poorer you are the more fervent your belief. You cling onto it. And belief is free (not withstanding the tithes paid in churches). Paper consolations. True – the same stars shine on all of us, and though we are all prisoners of our minds and circumstance – surrounded by prison bars – for some the prison bars lie closer, and for some, they lie farther out – beyond the horizon, barely impinging on their everyday lives. Barely visible.

But there is something you can do to push those prison bars farther out. Something everyone can do. Read and Imagine. For reading and imagining extends the area and volume in which your life is lived. Reading and imagining also provides a grander context, within which to consider and order your life. You will come out feeling less important and insignificant – but you will come out more adept, more sensitive – at tasting the real fruits of life.

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