March 8, 2012
This is an excerpt from THE PROVIDER describing the famous Grand Central Market in Los Angeles in its heyday. The market still exists.
Excerpt from THE PROVIDER
In 1928, two-and-a-quarter million people lived in Los Angeles County. It was the fifth largest city in America and growing. “Is anyone left in Chicago?” Rosa asked. The new immigrants and former immigrants followed each other to places like Boyle Heights on the east side of Los Angeles, arriving with addresses and settling down next door to each other and across the street, in old stucco and clapboard houses with the signs in the window advertising “Room and Board,” or in tiny apartments with wall beds and kitchenette facilities and the smell of cabbage. They found used furniture for each other, and they told each other where there was a job opening somewhere, where there was a need for an extra man. One told another and even a man who knew only odd jobs could fare well. Many of them congregated at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles to do business and connect with their own kind. Here, under one roof of mammoth proportions, sprawled an indoor bazaar of food stalls where hundreds of people from a multitude of nations daily milled through its corridors and twisted aisles, raising the tumultuous insistence of countless languages, and as many aromas of foods. The Market not only served as a center for finding anything and anyone, but most of all it served those burgeoning entrepreneurs who were trying on the American Dream. The Italians looked out from their food stalls where cooked pasta hung from high strings like laundry. The Greeks planted a flag above their stalls where they sold feta cheese appetizers made by women in the back behind dark curtains the size of aprons. The Chinese sat quietly at their tea booths that smelled of jasmine and ginger. The Turks talked fast and sipped thick coffee almost as black as their eyes out of tiny cups. The French carried newspapers under one arm and long breads under the other while cigarettes dangled from their lower lips. The Scandinavians stretched their long pale arms over ice beds, setting out fish in jars and filets of smoked fish. There were men in swarthy moustaches arranging jars of olives, sardines, and mustards; others sliced huge labs of cheese from large wheels; butchers laid out headless chickens with long necks and customers pointed to the ones they wanted. In some stalls people with pink faces sold pork tails and tongues and hooves and ears; and next to them dark-skinned women wearing flowered scarves and oblivious to faint hair lines above their upper lips sold dried apricots and dates, prunes and raisins. Fat women wiped traces of whipped cream from their mouths and smiled behind pastry trays; and entire families in their circular stalls sold warm nuts, carefully measuring small quantities on tiny scales with miniature scoopers and then shoveling them down into little bags where oil spots instantly appeared. There were chocolate concessioners adjusting and stacking dark creamy mounds on rectangular sheets of white paper; and there were fruit and vegetable hawkers calling out their wares behind tilted boxes of apples and apricots, strawberries and lemons; and old women with stained fingers sitting in flower stalls, snipping thorny stems. The mixing of sights and smells of fresh food lying on ice or marinating in sauces, pressing into purees, sizzling in frying pans, popping up in hot ovens, steaming in broths, rotating on spits, bombarded and baffled the senses. And customers bumped into each other, into friends and enemies and strangers, as they turned around this way and that, into faces of every color and eyes of every shape; and their multitudinous languages sailed through the air, bouncing off of each other, the hollering, the hawking, the jabbering of Babel. Here was the center of the world, and the crowds shoved through, carrying shopping bags by handles, the immigrants and natives, hustlers and pickpockets, sitting momentarily at small tables for a cup of coffee, a Danish roll, or a liverwurst sandwich, a bowl of chowder, a shrimp salad, some Polish sausages, Vienese eclairs. Their eyes darted in search of friends. And at the Russian concession, the Court of Piroshkis, people gathered at two small tables to drink tea and munch on doughy cylinders filled with meat and potatoes and onion.