transcription courtesy of: markertext.com
A marketplace is the Republic of things (I mean the ideal Republic, of course): the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it is beautiful even if the details are gauche or banal. Thus the Mercato Nuovo in Florence, where every object taken separately is an offense to the spirit’s good manners, while the whole is as flamboyant and funny as a high altar. The Mercato Coreano is not so simple. “Korea,” writes Father du Halde, “furnishes white paper, brushes of hair and wolf tail, Ginseng, gold, silver, iron, yellow varnish so beautiful that anything coated in it appears gilded: the tree whence this gum is distilled resembles a palm: chickens whose tail is three feet long, ponies three feet high, sable and beaver pelts, and fossil salt.” To which I would add, on the basis of my modest knowledge of Korean marketplaces: playing cards which are pleasant-looking flat dominoes, as in Japan, women’s clothing – the short tapestry bolero, transparent and stiff as a chrysalis, and the long, dark-colored skirt knotted at the first swell of the breasts – ribbons covered in gilt letters to encourage longevity, cothurne sandals with incurving prow, blue elephants, pink cats, pens and lamps, old opium pouches modestly called the smoker’s necessary, watch faces strung together like sapeks, flowers… and a somewhat Promethean, I mean aquiline, taste for the entrails of things: the innards of radios, the plexus of an electric razor or the thorax of a lock. Men sit chatting, squatting like the dead in the niches of Mexican cemeteries. And Mexico is not far off: it’s in the white cloth suits, the broad-brimmed straw hats, it surfaces in the tanned faces, in the nonchalance of an eye stretched out in its slit like a hammock at the gleaming crest of the cheek – it’s walking with this peasant (it could be an old Tarasco) who amuses himself scaring groups of people by uncovering, in a single movement, the serpent (though not plumed) that he holds on his fist – it bursts out of just as I frame, when suddenly another figure violently enters the field and bang! – he slaps the old man with the back of his hand, and the latter shies away to disappear who knows where, bringing his serpent along with … maybe for a baby-sitting at Alcmena’s? An instant later the self-appointed lawman had disappeared in his turn, and the people on the street are smiling at me and gesturing that everything is fine now. It all went by as quickly as a forgotten image between two shots, but what I felt there, the way a foot laid inadvertently on a tomb makes you feel the cold of death for one second, was a flash of hatred (so Mexican!). Toward me? Toward him? Blame, shame, fear? A critique of bad country manners, exasperation at my desire for the picturesque while they’re trying to build a modern Korea – or is it just that ophiolatry is prohibited in this town? I’ll never know.
- Chris Marker, Corréennes, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1959.