Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Retail Therapy, San Isidro

We’re on the prowl, raking through an Aladdin’s cave a household goods store that name’s itself ‘Bazar Plastico‘. The merchandise stacked to the ceiling, the shelves crammed full, the aisles size medium knickers wide. We know that we need to replace our beakers, the old ones are condemned, the cracks a petri dish of penicillin bacilli, and anyway, one of them leaks. However the problem with these types of emporia is that they offer up a whole new range of ideas, things you never knew you needed. A plastic box to keep the oats in? There’s a choice of too many colours and sizes. A plasticated tablecloth, could double as a extra ground sheet for the tent, a selection that ranges from fancy to ritzy, classy to glossy but all in flowery motifs. Buy by the metre straight from the roll. Need a replacement screw stopper for your thermos flask? This one comes with a light to aid you in filling your yerba mate by night. Umpteen choices for chopping and skinning, peeling and mashing, fruit and vegetables, meat and dear knows what. Peeling?- Yes… a tattie peeler, the perfect present to add to the loo rolls, for sending the ‘gap year’ travellers on their way. Sewing kits and egg baskets, china plates and butter scoops, wine glasses and chalk crayons, if it’s small, plastic and stackable you’ll find it in here.

I love the eclectic nature of these types of shops. Across the road we stumble on another that falls into this range: the papeleria. A shop that sells all things paper and paper related items. Crepe paper and cartridge paper, paper napkins and paper plates, photocopying paper by the ream. Parcel tape and duct tape, braids and ribbons, ball-points and fountain nibs, inks and paints, string in every colour, strength and length. However we’re on the hunt for writing paper. I need to perform an archaic, antiquated act: hand write, in ink on paper, a letter, enclose it in an envelope, then attach an adhesive stamp. Occasionally I need to reaffirm my iconoclastic, luddite credibility. I can have a jotter in spiral back, cloth back or hard back, ruled, squared or plain, any colour any size, but no, they don’t have any Basildon Bond.. An envelope for the same? Yes, we have plastic, padded and cardboard, but sorry, no paper ordinary. It’s an interesting commentary on just how far society has progressed along the communications expressway. One can only wonder what the great letter writers and essayists of the 18th century Enlightenment would have made of the speed with which the pen and paper has been abandoned.. Lost to posterity are any hard copies that might be of use to future biographers, historians or anthropologists. If you doubt this, consider the fact that the Domesday Book of 1096 still exists, whilst it’s equivalent of 1996 is 80% unreadable, or lost in the ether. Therein lies this strange dichotomy; all this paper yet no one writes letters. This shop is not unique, far from it; we’ve found them everywhere, even in the smallest of towns, places that struggled to serve up provisions for an evening meal. You might wonder how they survive, but any we’ve passed, all appear to be thriving, always with customers coming and going.

The forager eventually finds a suitable card in another shop and I perform my wilful act of rebellious subversion. Which only leaves one final seditious act; a visit to the “correo’, the post office. Like every post office in the world, without any exceptions, there will be a queue, a very slow moving line of penitents waiting for absolution or the chance to purchase a stamp. What might vary from country to country is queue management. In this instance it’s a fairly standard Latino format, collect a raffle ticket from the dispenser and join the lottery to see who get to the glass fronted desk first. Actually the whole affair is disciplined, but should you wish to jump the line, get a priority, a free pass to the front, have a disability certificate - it will save you standing, waiting for three-quarters of an hour to acquire one stamp, as we did. Our ‘penny black’, I call it that as I suspect we could have bought one at auction for the price of sending this letter, is stuck on and posted.

So now we are armed with two plastic cups, a tattie peeler and three new retail experiences. Later, we were to return for the tablecloth so as to satisfy the bus company’s baggage requirements. An interesting interlude for a morning. A whole morning.