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Dreams in red

Almaty (Kazakhstan) Green Market, Zhibek Zholy Street (map)

Saturday, 27 June 2015

The colour red dominates Зеленый Базар, the Green Market of Almaty – and nothing of that is changed by the green signs hanging above the various sections of the market to help customers with orientation. Even the bit of green lent to the scene by the nicely arranged watermelons alongside the pyramids of apples and cucumbers cannot detract from the fact that here in these massive halls it is unambiguously about one thing: meat.

The shades of red in this butchery appear to be unending. There’s the pastel pink shimmer of the semi-transparent veal dangling like sexy underwear from metal frames painted deep red. Equally coquettish and swinging gracefully in the sweetish-smelling air is the bleached orange of the lungs. How heavy is the carmine red of the bovine hearts, how dramatic the earth red of the lamb livers, and how clear the coral red of the spleens. There is also the wan greyish-pink of the pig heads, which look quite satisfied in death, as if they know that they will make people happy – for instance, with their flank in light Siena or their bacon in rust and white. There is the dotted brown-red of the more than one metre-thick meat boards on which whole carcasses are cut with mighty axes – utensils like those out of a museum of archaic war culture. Particularly tender gleams the violet-brown dark-red of a mutton kidney that in wait of a buyer right next to a bundle of cash. The only thing more vulnerable appears to be the powder-pink veal testicles that a saleswoman, dressed in traffic signal-red trousers, holds up to examine in her hand. The red aura of her culottes competes with the hue of the blushing-red tea and coffee cans that are being trundled through the gangway by a fat old woman – like a mobile bar for the saleswomen to whom she serves the drinks in large paper cups.

One observes the finest gradations of red at the stands selling horse meat. The predominant colour here is the maroon of the hanging clumps of metre-long rib-racks with a big chunk of fat at their tips. These giant chops still show the form of the horse, from whose flanks they have been sliced out, so well that one can almost hear the clatter of its hooves. Beneath that lie, in geranium-red, the enormous roasts of leg; next to it gleams the vermillion of the neck chunks, from which the Kazakhstan national dish, Besbarmak, is most probably cut out – and in-between sit cognac-red – actually almost black – clumps, like dried-up witnesses from another time. There are metre-long rosy sandy-brown shrunken sausages, probably small intestine. Next to it, arm-long and equally plump competitors gleam in a dark brownish, strongly-marbled plum red. And, at almost all the horse-meat stalls one can see women stuffing long strips of meat and fat into the thin skin of colons. One young woman even plays the fool while doing so: as men are slinking past her stand she begins to tenderly stroke the dark pink-olive brown skin of her Khazy sausage – and to saucily roll her eyes in innuendo.

Everything here is hand-made, in fact: one sees neither meat cutters nor sausage machines, neither electrical saws nor carving-machines nor vacuum-packers. Even the weighing scales are analogue, at every stand the same monster is firmly screwed on. There are also no cooling machines and no display cabinets –as customers like to touch the meat before they make their decision. Everything looks very clean nevertheless and the place smells fresh: of slightly dried blood, of fat and metal.

Bordeaux-red is, lastly, the colour of the apron donned by the market’s saleswomen and salesmen – who far outnumber the customers here. That allows one or the other of the staff to take a short nap now and then. Between small mounds of coins, rind, and pig-ears, they rest their heads on a clean towel and take a break from the frenzy of the Green Market. One cannot tell into which worlds the sleep carries them – but, without doubt, they dream in red.

See also

  • A fat cornered experience related to this Episoda: Kazy from Kazakhstan (Horsemeat sausage from the Green Market in Almaty)
  • Episoda – a broadcast for Santa Lemusa (Introduction)
  • Biography of Peter Polter

First Publication: 24-7-2015