90% of us get up each morning and go to work. It's the same down here in the Amazon except work is closer to the earth and water. On my morning walk I encountered a Senora laying fishnets in a lagoon, and paused to ask how long it would take for a catch. 'Return in seven hours,' she replied. I did, as she was yanking fish caught by the gills and fins from the 25 meter net line, on soda bottle floats, laid close to shore and nearly touching the muddy bottom of the lagoon. Her husband was off weeding their acre yucca garden on higher ground.

She carried only one equipment aside the net, a 10 gallon basket that the day's catch filled with fifty fish of 7-22" length from about ten species. The largest looked like a tiger with fins that she said was doomed for ceviche, a Peruvian recipe for raw fish marinated in citrus juice where the juice coagulates the fish proteins, effectively cooking it.

I wanted to follow it to the supper table. She tossed the gulping fish into the basket, saying it had been a good day, and I helped lug it a kilometer to the dime motorized canoe taxi that departs hourly for a ten minute putt to the Modelo Market of Iquitos. Then we took turns balancing the 40 lb. basket on our heads up 100 steps to the marketplace to look for a spot.

Another fish vendor invited the senora adjacent onto the sidewalk, eyeing the catch that wouldn't compete with her own while drawing more customers, and my companion threw a rice sack to claim a sidewalk square. The market bustles in late afternoon selling everything under the sun. She started cutting off the sharp dorsal fin of each fish that picks the customers' hands as they smell and fondle them for freshness, but we had been followed by anxious buyers wanting first grabs, and a couple sales were made before the rice sack and blood hit the pavement. Then sales were brisk for ten minutes, until the excitement of the new 'fish' on the block dissolved, and she happily jingled the change in her apron. The big ceviche fish went for $8, the nearly two-dimensional spineless Palmetto delicacy for $4, and the remainder at $1-2 each.

She will sell the batch over the next two days, at a lesser price tomorrow since it won't be put on ice overnight, and on the third day will sell them for peanuts to the salty fish vendor down the sidewalk who'll slice, salt and sell them for the next two weeks. Her take for the batch is about $50 which is a windfall.

I got so hungry watching the direct marketing that I went out for a fish dinner, now knowing that they're marked up 20% by the street table merchants and 200% by the finer restaurants.





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1 Comment so far

  1. John ( other John ) on August 18, 2014 4:19 pm

    I read this, the other day:

    I hope I can share a modest, possibly comparable efficiency of work:

    (if I fail, may it be a sad lament in contrast to the comparatively idyll of simplicity you describe?!)

    I grew up by the sea, and as a boy marveled at the markup, when we could drive down to the boat yards and enter a shack and pick up fish for a fraction the price any place else. So I got taught about overheads, as a lesson in how the zeros got added on for a pound of halibut. But I quickly suspected there were two multipliers of then input cost, to be summed: the first a function applied to the overhead, the second applied to the niceness of the establishment selling onwards, and I believe that holds sound, as a compound to get the final price.

    But I noted one more thing, about our local fishmonger, who I envied for being shut and done for his day long before I returned home from school: he had his customers trained also, to rise early to get the catch. I argued my dad over this, because he’s say the man had to be up at four, but we often could collect our fish as late as six thirty or seven, so surely the fishmonger could fill his supply also, if the quality was reliable (it was not a highly competitive scene the informal fish markets that worked out of shacks on the shingles down our way), so I figured he could push it and make a five hour day. My pop, being a believer in hard work in a puritanical fashion, was angered by the idea, but the fishes were presumably the same , come dinner time, and no fresher for being bought earlier in the day, so I figured it wasn’t a bad business to be in, done by ten or eleven and the day still yours. I figured maybe another hour spent reconciling the till, washing out, and bartering produce with any local butcher or baker, but if you can make it at all, six hours is a fair deal in life.

    What has put paid to the idea of retiring and running such a store (forgive me to riff off your other post a little) is there has been a triple whammy hit to small coastal towns, such as where I was born: England has had unprecedented immigration, creating demand for property and loosening planning laws, so stores got rezoned to make way for profitable homes or small condos, leaving the small store on residential street a rarity*; ZIRP or our version of it has pummeled retirement savings and income, affecting the kind of towns like my home town disproportionately, and the stores that tend to be left, are often in vacant strips, suffering from a malaise of improbably high tax demands, bad planning or positioning, and urban decay. All the nice spots, where you’d find a very local community served by just a few stores along their home stretch, were the fist to get converted, the argument being there was plenty supply elsewhere, downtown. But typically, by the time you’ve gotten to where the center or strip of commercial property is, you’ve driven past a Safeway, and they just can’t compete, not when in town parking is a favorite extortion of local municipalities. (without a grid layout, having a sole arterial road and hence a natural prime position for a supermarket, is common)

    However, if you were prepared to buy a property you could live in, above the shop, as they used to be, and get the front rezoned back to commercial use… it’s just not so appealing as a investment, then, unless you have a love of a community that satisfies you to serve.

    (anecdotal data, but I spent a morning Google map driving my old town, and my theory that shops in nice neighborhoods had been long since bought for conversion held true)

    *this has always struck me as very poor municipal planning. You invariably get small community streets plugged with traffic the more, and for the other reasons cited, run down town centers become havens for the listless or down and out, or just bored kids. Reading my old town’s newspapers, a reason given for the cost of parking, was the additional policing burden they posed. A unfortunate negative spiral effect, the whole of this striking me as so inept, that my civic mind gets curious who benefits. This is a town that managed to spend some ten million on what turned out to be a few thousand square feet of prefab, yes, prefab, “conference center”, blighting the appearance of a pretty public park. I just last week unearthed my pop’s last turn at campaigning solo to avert that, which he’d managed on several occasions with about a decade interval.. he never put it on any of his pamphlets, but the notes are full of which hoteliers had a vote on the council, or councilors who held interests in construction contractors… sadly there’s never any rebate for such systematic costs imposed by vested parties. In theory, there is, see Dame Shirley Porter, who was billed a good few million as a rebate demand for, among other misdemeanors, gerrymandering Westminster City Council. But you probably have to, like her, incur the wrath of someone in particular power, for the rebate law to be applied. It’s a interesting possibility, that in theory councilors can be billed back for their misuse of public funds … I must sometime look up if they haven’t repealed that.. I should note that this pokey prefab “conference center” was built right next to existing extremely capacious facilities. But I better be done my digression already.

    I forgot, sorry to belabor it all, but I hazard many small stores cannot afford the health and safety regulation explosion, and the tall poppy factor of being a rarity in a small town (and a outsider, even if returning) would attract make-work attention. I suppose, too, that since the same narrow streets feed only one arterial road, you might not get a commercial rezone, because now the traffic all has to flow to get any kind of shopping done (Brits are not big on weekly shopping, and elderly ones less so), it would be argued you cause a obstruction.


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