A red-topped giant waded through the crowd of shoppers waiting for the market to open.
Indians and gringos in the big Indian’s path scattered like sheep giving way to a blue heeler.
The big guy was barefooted and wore a llama lava lava (size Xtra large). A red clay cap covered his head, announcing that he was Colorado, a member of one of The Amazon Basin’s many riverine tribes.
His appearance evoked an image of Yao Ming, the Shanghai-born hardwood sensation recruited by the Houston Rockets.
Like the crowd he dispersed, I waited to enter the market. Vendors there sold native crafts, fruit and vegetables. The red-headed Yao Ming’s crowd clogged the market’s entrance.
I took note of the address - the corner of Una Via and Pepsi Cola. A stroll around the block did nothing to unclog the broad aisle through the scores of booths. When the crowd finally began to drain down the aisle, I slipped past gawkers and took long strides past the serious buyers to reach the corner where a half-dozen Indians (none of them Colorado) sold raw food from several booths - papayas, bananas, coffee beans and little reddish brown potatoes, no bigger than golf balls.
Yao’s crowd was shopping for who knows what. I knew exactly what I wanted - French fries! I also suspected that there wasn’t a single fry between where I stood and Miami.
I bought a small sack of small spuds and drifted back to Una Via and Pepsi Cola and caught a bus. I ditched my pitiful potatoes just before boarding the American Airlines flight to the States.
My fast food craving faded but returned when I found myself standing on American pavement, sniffing the air in search of salt and grease. Looking for McDonald’s in Miami!
Salty, greasy tatter roots set my taste buds vibrating in Ecuador but back in Montana a landscape smeared with mud and snow changed the channel of my primal hunger. I had remembered my Dad planting potatoes on Good Friday.
An aroma of Yellowstone Valley loam and vegetable mustiness drifted across the garden. Good Friday! The anniversary of Christ’s death on Calvary. The day Harry Clawson would plant one hill of spuds. In the little hamlet where we lived and ate potatoes, it was commonly known that potatoes planted on Good Friday would be ready to eat when peas filled their pods.
The delight of new potatoes cooked in cream sauce with tender peas was also commonly known.
Dad never planted more than a single hill of Good Friday potatoes. One hill was enough, enough for a mess of new potatoes and creamed peas. Any less would obviously not serve. Any more would risk a loss larger than necessary in case of a late frost.
Who coined the word “spud?”
Mario Pei, who was born in Rome, Italy, and emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1908. By the time he was out of high school he knew not only English and his native Italian but also Latin, Greek and French but could wing it in 20 languages and spout a few words of 100 others.
The world’s greatest linguists and scholars called him a “polymath.” This gave him confidence, enough confidence to make up a story about a group of soreheads who campaigned to have the potato barred from Britain. Pei wrote of this organization, labeling it the Society for the Prevention of an Unwholesome Diet.