Hot Dogs and Leather (Sucre Vignette)

It was my first hot dog in four months. I had it at one of those smallish leather boutique-slash-hot dog joints. You know the place. This one sat just about a block beyond that line where city noise and urban quiet converge head on to produce a peace that’s fleeting but welcome.

I stopped to take a picture of some paint splashed against a wall of a bright white-washed school. The color was a faded aquamarine, its splatter the size and shape of a half-inflated exercise ball. It appeared quite fresh.

Travel changes your relationship to color. In Sucre it was with the ubiquitous white that attempted to wash over and thinly veil four centuries of the city’s largely unfortunate history. The occasional graffiti or simple paint splatter tried to keep things honest.

The graffiti’s white canvas burned from the reflection of the midday sun, producing a hue so fierce that I was forced to turn away – and towards the gaze of a decrepit mannequin suited in dark leather standing guard next to a nondescript doorway. Above the gaunt sentinel was a sign that read Ropa de Cuero, or Leather Clothing; just below and beside it another mentioned hot dogs. Both conspired to lure me in.

To the other side of the threshold a woman sat behind a small counter, one neatly cluttered with a portable heat table, a small television, some condiments, a shelf lined with buns and a display of soft drinks. She smiled.

“Bienvenido,” she said. “Mucho gusto. I hope you’re hungry.”

She pointed at the first of three small tables, motioning me to sit. Two bright orange chairs, one square and one round, rested beside each darkened glass-topped table. I chose the square one. It was comfortable and cold, much like the smile of another mannequin that would stare down at me for the duration of my visit.

Opposite the shop’s entrance was a wide mirror, whose top was lined with fading photos of the dozen hot dogs on offer along with a list of their ingredients. ‘Gringo’ had ensalada chalamade, mostaza, mayonesa y ketchup – sauerkraut, mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. ‘Uruguayo’ was covered with tartar sauce, onions and white mustard. ‘Gaucho’ came topped with potatoes and something called Salsa Golf.  I ordered the ‘Italiano’ which a few minutes later would arrive layered with tomato sauce, onions, and hierbas aromaticas, colors that matched some of the fifteen or so women’s leather jackets that hung on a small rack in a corner not far from my table. Some of them sported pirated Harley Davidson logos. Posters of the bikes were pinned to the wall beside the rack.

The woman was knitting and listening to a soap opera when I entered. After taking my order she switched to a 24-hour news channel which itself was switching between scenes from the Boston Marathon bombings and post-election violence in Caracas. After delivering my hot dog, she switched back to the soap.

As some moments passed she stood briefly to straighten one of two purses on another shelf that framed a Metallica poster, then looked towards me. “Is it good?”

I was brutally honest. “The best hot dog I’ve had this year.”

She laughed, sat back down behind the counter and switched back to the news. The echo of loud pops –gunfire maybe?— was setting the tone for another report from Venezuela when two teenaged boys walked in. Both wore white t-shirts splattered with paint, a faded aquamarine.

 

gaffiti sucre bolivia

Today’s Pic du Jour above –quite likely the only photo published anywhere on the planet today that is set in a combo leather shop-hot dog stand– was snapped in Sucre, Bolivia on 16-Apr-2013.

 

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