In the map, the north-south-running grayed-in street is the essay's much mentioned, very busy Anillo de Circunvalación. The small building marked "F.M." is the Flower Market, one colorful entrance to which is shown below. The "GM" is the General Market, basically a smaller, even more congested version of the Merced; it's where I bought my granola. The Supermercado for meat consists of untold numbers of butchershops, plus my "comedor with a boquet." The "C.P." is the new, upscale Commercial Plaza, mostly empty, and not nearly as colorful as the rest of the area.
At the left you see one entrance to the Flower Market. You can bet that anyone passing by that door walks through a moist bouquet of aromas that almost knock you off your feet. The colors and variety of floral designs are as overwhelming as the odors. Next to the flower market stands the Iglesia de Santo Tomás de la Palma , a dignified, scrupulously clean little church with a spacious courtyard paved in stone, completely enclosed by a high stone fence. When services there require flowers, the Flower Market could not be more convenient.
The Merced's interior consists of aisle after aisle -- some fifteen of them -- of unwalled, room-size establishments arranged next to one another. The picture shows the corners of four of the Merced's hundreds, each of these specializing in oranges, but sometimes making room for a few other fruits. Other sections of the mercado specialize in different produce. Walk through the fresh pepper zone and your eyes water; walk through the garlic area and your head swims.
Yet another zone in the Merced deals with almost nothing but cactus pads, which are being marketed in the picture at the right. In this photo you can see thousands of cactus pads arranged in a cylindrical mass, the white shipping canvas lying at the cylinder's base. In Mexico's arid uplands sometimes you see whole fields of a special, mostly thornless cactus, called nopal, being grown for food.
In the picture the merchant conducts a sale while his young helper does exactly what he does the whole day, day after day -- sit paring away imperfections and the occasional spine from one cactus pad after another. In Mexican cuisine, cactus pads are often sliced into slivers, then fried with onion and other ingredients, and doused in lemon juice. The slices are referred to as nopalitos.
The picture to the left shows an interior view of the Merced, with one of its several long, vaulting ceilings towering overhead. The white, cylindrical stacks in the photo consist of clean, dry cornshucks, mostly destined to serve as organic, thoroughly traditional wrappers for steamed tamales. A whole section of the Merced is dedicated to cornshucks, and one can hardly imagine that such a demand exists for them. Not far away a similar section sells only neatly cut and wrapped cuttings of banana leaves, which are also used for wrapping steamed tamales.
Mercado dealings usually overflow into streets adjoining and just beyond the main mercdo area. In the picture at the right, a block from the Merced, an Indian family has set up business selling white plastic bags of charcoal. Charcoal fires the many thousands of streetside comales roasting tacos, huaraches, ears of corn,and many other foods. Many homes and restuarants also use it. Of course, the charcoal business clears the land of its trees, but what is there better to take charcoal's place?