The first thing you notice is the smell. Or rather, the smells. Plural. A hundred at once, flooding your nostrils without permission. it’s fresh bread. No, wait . . . fresh fish. Shellfish and trout. You don’t even like seafood but still, you are drawn in by its aroma. Hot tamales and barbacoa from a Mexican food stand poke at your tear ducts. Gyros and seasoned lamb tickle your taste buds. It’s warm and inviting. you didn’t know that smell could be so colorful, but it is.
Sound is next. Hundreds of voices climb over the stands and around the corner to where you walk, completely unawares. High and low, loud and soft. Some ask questions, some answer. Some harass and some condemn. Many query and poke and prod and laugh, searching for a meaning few can apprehend. It is quizzical and hearty, full of humor. You hear footsteps and clatter. The sound of grills sizzling, gulls chirping, paintbrushes splashing, and rain boots sloshing across the earth. It’s loud and quiet all at once. There is a peace in the chaos.
Then, once you see it, you understand. A wave of contentment washes over the feeling of uneasiness that plagued you before now. The booths stand haphazardly, crookedly against one another, using their neighbor for support. It’s wildly colorful against the dull gray sky above, and the people are just as vibrant. Skin so dark it looks almost blue contrasts cheeks so pale they could contest the moon. Leather and freckles with lines and creases that tell stories.
You take shelter from the misty rain in one booth and are overwhelmed by freshly cut wood, carved into beautiful trowels and walking sticks. Another contains handmade figurines with skeletal faces wearing the frilliest of dresses. Silkscreen sweatshirts, glass blown jewelry, ceramic mugs, and caricature portraits. There is magic in the hand that inks the Portland skyline. There is tenderness in the mind that molds such intricate tapestries.
In this place you find a sliver of hope. There’s a world in this snow globe market remains untouched, forever preserved. A community of people different as they are similar. You can see it in their tongues that speak different words and dialects. In their hearts that search for trinkets as unique as they are. There is a home here. It is safe. For a moment, everything disappears. Shoulders brush and prejudice crumbles. Fingers hunt and anger dithers. Cash is exchanged and so are you.
In the end you buy a blanket. You eat some curry, and you walk away. As your feet trod along the rain-soaked cobblestone you barely notice that you are heavier suddenly. Clouds invade your mind and mucks up reality. You lose the color, the vibrance, the sound. You slip back into a human mentality.