15 April 2013

Mercado do Mica

Down at the end of our street, all of a five-minute walk from our house, there is an old-fashioned Mom & Pop grocery store, the Mercado do Mica. Unpretentious as the place is, though, you are as likely to see luxury SUVs as broken-down bicycles parked at the curb. In the line checking out at the cash register, women dripping with jewelry and toting Vuitton bags stand alongside folks digging deep into their pockets for a handful of five- and ten-cent pieces. There are plenty of generic supermarkets in town, but Mica’s, as it’s commonly referred to, is a Búzios institution. Mica’s is a magnet for the Who’s Who of Búzios as well as for the Búzios Who’s Not Who. It is a repository of  Búzios history and a fount of information and gossip about the neighbors. Not much happens that Mica doesn’t know about, even though he sits at the cash register with his back to the front door.

Mica is one of a large number of brothers and sisters of the Mureb family, one of the very oldest of Búzios clans. The Mureb family used to own a huge swathe of our neighborhood of Manguinhos, and the original family, plus extended relatives, are still a formidable presence. Mica’s daughter, Monique, runs the corner video store with her husband, and that’s where we run for the new releases. One of Mica’s brothers, Cilíco, runs a restaurant/pizzaria two doors down, and he’s served up our share of delicious arugula and sundried tomato pizzas. Mica's son, Fabrício, is a dentist, whose office is just a few doors away. Mica’s brother-in-law, Murilo, is our insurance broker, and another brother-in-law, Hernan, is a real estate broker we’ve had some dealings with.

"Here a Mureb, there a Mureb, everywhere a Mureb, Mureb . . ."

Mureb pizza
Mureb videos

Mureb teeth

Nowadays, Mica’s is the first place I go to look for anything. It’s true what people say: he’s got the best prices for miles around. But I struggled with Mica’s for a long time. The market was small, it was dark, it was hard to negotiate. There was too much that was hidden away so that you had to ask for it rather than just grabbing it off a shelf as I was accustomed to doing in supermarkets. People took forever at the cash register, talking, talking, talking. Hey, I wanted to shout, there are people waiting here! Let’s move it! And then, at least initially, there was my own weakness in Portuguese. Cashiers in a supermarket rarely require anything more of you than a grunted thank you or you’re welcome, but at Mica’s you’re expected to contribute something to the endless stream of banter and conversation. I remember one time picking up a bag of Italian polenta, but then, at the cash register, Mica’s wife (who does have a name, though to this day Mark and I call her Mrs. Mica), asked me what I do with this unusual product. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that’s what she asked me, but no way was I able to answer. Couldn’t even rely on hand signals. Just shrugged my shoulders and skulked out, humiliated.

It was after that experience that we stopped going to Mica’s. The supermarkets might have cost more, but at least there you didn’t have to talk to anybody. But we felt very "un-Búzios," and we were wracked with guilt. It’s a small town, you know? We were constantly bumping into Mica at the bank, on the street, in the pharmacy. We were always friendly, but we knew that he knew that we had opted out as customers, even though we lived right up the street. We had to conquer this Mica thing.

Reds, Whites, Rosés!
Arborio, Basmati, Thai!
Finally, about a year ago, we took the plunge. Mark made a formal apology speech. With my much-improved communication skills I’m now blathering to everyone and anyone at Mica’s who wants conversation and even to some who do not. We are back to taking advantage of Mica’s amazing prices on wines. Mica’s is also the only store in town with basmati rice at an amazing low price. It is the only store with cooked, canned chickpeas (as opposed to the kind you get uncooked in a bag and have to soak overnight and boil for four hours the next day). And when you’re in the middle of preparing a meal and you run out of vegetable broth, it’s a terrific thing to be able to run down to the corner and get just that one little item at Mica’s. What could I have been thinking all these years?

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