Markets are wonderful places. Markets with second-floor perches especially so.
This market in Sererit, a town on Bali's northern coast, was already buzzing when we arrived before dawn. It consists of a hulking square building bordered by alleys of varying width. In the early morning alleys to the sides and front of the markets are crowded with vendors who sell fruits, vegetables, and materials for religious offerings from plastic tarps laid on the pavement.
At sunrise these vendors are packing up, and by 7am they're gone, leaving in their wake the detritus of wet market commerce: pineapple tops, stray scallion leaves, snakefruit skins, the odd clove of garlic or finger of fresh turmeric crushed under foot.
Meanwhile, the 'back alley' - the lane tracing the length of the market building's rear wall - has come alive. This is where the fish vendors head. From 8 o'clock on this space becomes increasingly claustrophobic. It's exhilerating, alternately standing amidst the whirl of activity and gamely dodging rapidly moving loads of rambutan and sloshing buckets of seafood. We like the confusion - where did that guy with the load of turmeric-marinated tuna go? Did you see that elderly woman's spectacular sarong? She's over there, bargaining for flowers - whoops, no, she's gone.
And then, sometimes, it's just exhausting. Sometimes we see only the forest, when we want to see the trees. Which is why a market with a second, open story that overlooks a particularly frenetic selling area is a fantastic thing.
From up here we see that several vendors, whom I've passed at street level a few time already, are selling krill. I know how Filipinos eat krill, but I wonder what Balinese do with it? And we notice that though these ladies are trading in seafood, they're also hawking the makings for the offerings that Balinese make to ancestors and spirits several times everyday: flowers and green bananas, betel nuts and dried leaf garlands to be hung on altars, even altars themselves.
From up here what seemed, down there, to be utter chaos assumes a certain order. Deliveries are made. Sales are negotiated. Greetings are exchanged. The pace seems -almost - leisurely.
And from up here we have space from which to pick out details: the offerings made by every vendor before the business day starts;
the ingenious way bean sprout sellers 'air' their wares to keep the sprouts on the bottom of the tray free of damaging moisture;
the beauty of something as everyday as a coconut grater.
It's up here, too, that we can explore local a.m. treats, like sirat, the thinnest, flattest possible rice flour 'pancakes', sprinkled with coconut and liberally lashed with liquid gula aren, dark and smoky sugar made from aren palm sap.
A cup of sweetened Balinese coffee on the side, and we're good to go back down below, into the crush.