Thursday, January 19, 2006

Goa's Night Markets -- the End of Shopping Willpower

North Goa is known for its sensory-overload flea markets and, of course, I wanted to see them in living color.

Arpora and Baga host Saturday evening markets and we got on our rented motorcycle with rupees stashed in zipped, toggled and closed pockets ready for the experience. I had even pre-meditated the shopping experience and taken out a bit of extra money at the ATM days before as the fabric in India is so amazing and I wanted to be, umm..., "prepared".

"Yes, please, madame...just looking my shop!"

In Arpora, we found a fairground-type, sandy space aglow with tons of white lightbulbs and Christmas lights, and our eyes, ears and noses awakened to a new level immediately. Bamboo stalls with coconut mat floors were built in numerous, zig-zagging 100 meter lines. Men, women, children of all ages called out to us vigorously to look at their wares...silk pillows with elephants and buddhas in metallic thread, jewel tone saris, hand-carved chessboards with Hindu deities for pieces, sequin patchwork bed covers, sparkly harem slippers, plastic bongs, hand-made clothes, jewelry galore and much more.

"Pashmina, madame? VERY good shawls, madame!"

A band of Indian locals played loudly in the center of the mayhem, covering Bob Dylan, ABBA, Norah Jones and The Who. I'd never heard "Like a Rolling Stone" with an Indian accent
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before and it was something special at 3,000 decibels, trust me! Cooking stalls surrounded the band and offered anything we wanted: smoky tandoori grills, spicy Goan snacks, red banana chips, fresh seafood fried in garlic, Kingfisher beer, Middle Eastern meze plates, Bacardi Breezers, and pizza. Our noses prickled at the perfume of patchouli, sandalwood, garlic, ginger, oregano, liquor, tikka barbeque, marijuana and hot oil, while our eyes smarted from the smoke, colors, glare and sheer overload of it all.

"Saffron, madame! VERY cheap, madame!"

I feel a bit like a robot when I first arrive at a market, walking straight ahead and barely looking in stalls so I can get an idea of what cool treasures are there, constantly parroting, "No, no, no thank you! No, thank you!" I also usually employ big glamour sunglasses to shield my madly roving eyes at daytime bazaars; behind black plastic they aggressively look for good stuff worthy of a closer look and definite vendor contact. However, this night market offered a new challenge! Thus, I worked on perfecting a good "lazy eye" for the night and let it float away into stalls checking out colorful fabric and henna stamps while my other eye and body stayed straight ahead moving about purposefully through the throngs of people and noise with Andy. (who was VERY patient and supportive of me during the shopping endeavors! and, even got into looking a bit himself!) I won't say this technique is flawless, as you do sometimes get caught by some aggressively helfpul vendors who start unfurling bedspreads in eighteen different colors with the speed of light, but as a whole, my disinterest and lazy eye worked well for night shopping. But big, dark, Jackie O. sunglasses and a scowl kick ass for daytime markets.

"Anything 150 rupees!!! Anything, madame! Material, blanket, jewelery, shoes, pillows."

So, leave it to me to find the one Italian lady selling chic couture-type clothes at a night market in Goa, India!!! One stall in at least 300 and I found Francesca from Milano who was inspired by Pucci, Missoni and Versace, and moved to Goa to design with rich local fabrics and have personal pieces sewed by hand in Bangalore!!! Sigh...that is what? Talent, luck, a curse? I'm not sure, but it was a tad costly...and oh so lovely! I now own these two incredible trapeze style, 60's-inspired color block dresses that I adore and could never find in the States. One is silk, the other is cotton and why buy one, when you can get two in vividly different shades? Good thing I was "prepared" by that ATM visit.

"Spices, madame! You want spices? VERY good prices."
(sound of man sniffing violently and waving clear plastic packets of bright spices)

After that, one gift, another silk slip dress for $18, and a purchase of seven hand-stamping blocks that the locals use to henna themselves before weddings and festivals (they're all hindu patterns and i can just see them sitting in a big incongrous platter or bowl looking fabulously arty), we were out of cash. So, back on the bike we hopped and zoomed to Martha's Breakfast home where we were now staying (and just loved--the whole family was so kind) in Anjuna, for more rupees and a little "tv" break. There's a BBC show Andy found called "Top Gear" that's about, what else? cars, and it was coincidentally on from 10:00pm - 10:30pm, which gave us enough time to get a secondary supply of money, for him to chill out from shopping and for me to admire my purchases! (somehow, this seems like something we might mention if ever interviewed on how to keep a relationship happy: "shopping tempered by Top Gear".)

"Yes, please?! Looking only...looking is free!"

When we headed off this time, freshly revived and re-Rupee-ed, we ventured to Baga for its night market which winds along the Baga River and whose chaos reflects madly in the dark water, offering even more aural stimulation...if that's even possible. There were only Indian vendors at this one, yet a huge beer and liquor garden, and that somehow blended for potent concoction of mayhem. Tons of local Western Goans moved about, carelessly tipsy and unknowingly smacking you with their long dread locks, tourist Westerners looked about with saucer eyes, open mouths and each carried a plastic shopping bag with handles straining against the inevitable weight of a "this was so amazing and so cheap that i had to buy it!"purchase, while local Indian Goans implored you more seriously to buy their goods. Baga's night market stage delivered a hilarious version of Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" that everyone...lookers and hawkers...sang along to, and after that came a sittar and drumming circle! This is Goa, after all, and it's a strange melange of influences and ingredients.

"End of night special, madame!!! Anything 50 rupees! Anything, yes, please, madame!"

And toward midnight, I saw it. Hanging in the back corner of a stall, poorly lit and located by the beer garden and squat toilet area. Not necessarily the most appealing location, but it was a patchwork swath of material with lime green, sequins, deep magenta, some small gold elephants, and more--all done by hand. "Hmmm", I thought, "this could be it." I sipped my beer nonchalantly and looked from afar, putting on my glasses and pretending to squint at drink prices. I decided I needed to move in for a closer look, so Andy graciously accompanied toward the lion's den.

"Yes, please, sister," said an Indian man with a maniacal grin, blurry eyes, pierced ears and henna-ed hair. "What you see?"

And so the price dance began. My fabric piece is bed cover size, supposedly double-ply silk, sewn by hand in Rajasthan and beautiful. Though the lighting is so poor, I'm not too sure of all of the colors. However, as I held it up to the primitive light bulbs, I was worried I might set something on fire, so I decided to just go for it. The initial price I heard was 4,800 rupees and then down to 3,800, and we jockeyed about the condition of the piece and how much I was willing to pay. I hmm-ed, haw-ed, looked at other things and finally answered the "How much you wanna pay, sister? How much?" question.

"1,800." I replied flatly.

"Oh no, sister!" he said, feigning shock and a near heart attack. I said it was the best I could do, and he came back at 3,400 and then 2,800 rupees. He had more dramatic reactions and I decided that was it. I folded up the fabric, we started to walk, he was comic--and his beer was somehow spilled in the whole process. As Andy and I got about 30 feet away, his crazy orange-red henna hed came to us and he grabbed my hand, "Okay, sister, okay! You take. End of night special. But no money for me!"

So, feeling slightly smug, slightly pleased and then slightly afraid, I returned to his stall. He crammed the fabric into a tiny plastic bag, Andy wondered how we would carry this in India and beyond, and I was happy. As I scooped up my purchase, the kooky seller showed us his spilled beer and implored us with a toothy smile of unhealthy teeth to give him 50 rupees for another beer. Just a little "baksheesh" so he could at least get another beer, since we'd practically robbed him of his fabric.

We laughed, Andy gave him a 50 note, I felt a little adrenanline rush, and we tried to exit Baga's night market. Unsuccessfully, however, as there was one more piece of lovely fabric on the way out. Dammit! After the next melodrama of choosing and bargaining for this pretty piece of sari silk and threads, I was then ready to run out of Baga!

On the ride back to Anjuna, we were perfectly balanced on the motorcycle--a bag of fabric over each arm...

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