Stroll through a market–or wedge your way through the crowd–and meet the buyers, sellers, producers and processors. Smell the guavas or the aged cheese or the shellfish, hear the crack of a machete against green coconut, the cackle of doomed chickens or the sizzle of thinly sliced tubers plunging into boiling oil, and you begin to taste a place. Anywhere–Java, France, Martinique or Santa Monica, it’s a colorful window into what matters locally.
St. Croix has a small and lively market in mid-island every Saturday. There are no large-scale producers–most of the vendors (mostly women) easily fit their wares onto the designated space, a table with short walls about the size of a large coffee table. A few bunches of collards or mixed herbs, a small pile of tomatoes, and a dozen avocados–that sort of thing. There are a few green thumbs in business, selling vigorous little plants in 6-inch pots: oregano, mint, orchids and ornamentals. Some women sell home-made seasoning and fruit preserves. And there are a few monoculturalists: one man has nothing but enormous stalks of green bananas and another, a pick-up truck bed of green coconuts.
Adjacent is the fish market–a picture of bureaucratic irony. There’s a series of concrete stalls with concrete tables shaded from the sun, expressly for selling fish, but for some reason that’s not allowed, so all the fish vendors sell out of coolers under improvised shade. Gutting and scaling take place on decaying wooden tables, decorated lavishly with glittering scales. A couple of 5-gallon buckets of bloody water serve for rinsing knives, hands and fish. There’s even a fish-cleaning set-up in the back of a van. I suspect it diminishes the re-sale value of the vehicle considerably….