Monday, June 4, 2007

Green peppers galore

A typical snapshot of me in during the day: plodding along, Maite on my back in her red carrier, Lucas dancing along, holding my hand; the other hand is occupied with my large nylon/plastic bag, either empty or stuffed full of fruits or vegetables, depending on which way we’re traveling. Our little corner market is about a 5 minute walk away, and I’m there almost daily, to sort over the pick of plums, pears, mandarins, apples, spinach, squash. . . . A myriad of color and freshness for a fraction of the cost in Colorado. This stuff is not coming from long distances, and it is not chock full of preservatives. Eat it quick, and go back the next day for more. I buy tasteful green and red peppers and eat them raw, as much as I want. Our family gobbles small red plums with abandon. Not worrying about the prices is one of my favorite perks of living here.

Surprisingly, (to me, anyway), our little corner grocery is actually cheaper than Walmart and the other large supermarkets for fruit and vegetables. Similarly, the best prices for baked goods are the local bakeries, the best, cheapest meat is the butcher on the corner, the tastiest pasta is always found at the fresh pasta shops you find every few blocks. There are small businesses everywhere that are not, it seems, being run off by monstrous chains. We make a trip to a larger store once in awhile but these trips are a pain; the lines are long and slow. Cashiers, in fact, are all seated as they work.

In Colorado, I was annoyed by having to drive every time I needed something. Shopping by foot, buying only what I can carry in my nylon bag, feels right to me; it appeals to my ideals of living simply, of exercising more, of feeling less chained to a car. In the U.S., I tend to feel overwhelmed at Walmart and other super stores, by all the available products, the prices, the people buzzing around, the size of the store, in which it can take a person a good twenty minutes to find their friend if they get separated. I imagine Americans probably save some time by getting most of what they need at one giant store. I doubt most of us actually save much money, however; I usually left stores with more than I intended to buy. Our corner market, with its assortment of the necessities, like pasta, flour, bread, milk, spices, soap, is a relief.

At the small counter, the clerk writes down the prices of my items, and quickly adds them up in his head. Does he realize that this is the 21st century, that cash registers have been around for a while? That there’s more efficient ways to do things? There are many complex reasons why, in Argentina, time often DOES NOT equal money. One of our greatest tasks is to learn to live with this, for better or worse. Shopping, happily, stacks up on the “for better” side.