"Is this really what China is like?" Ayelet (age 6) marveled as we roamed the streets of Chinatown.
It had been a process to get them out of the house. They wanted to bring juiceboxes, to survive the long journey of 5 blocks from our apartment in Tribeca. Merav (age 3) wanted to wear a new dress, because clearly the old one wasn't suitably fashionable, though both dresses were in exactly the same genre and, most critical to my argument, the old one wasn't even dirty! But I caved to her fashionista tendencies.
We were on a mission: to procure fish for a FED dinner that weekend. In my neighborhood, it is exactly as easy to purchase quail eggs as it is chicken eggs -- in fact, on an egg run recently, I found the former first. Chinatown is a gold mine of produce you don't really recognize; cryptic Chinese signs; and eggs you finally find after pushing through a practically impenetrable crowd, at the crazy price of $1.50 for two dozen (says a cryptic Chinese sign. But it was true!)
The Chinatown bustle was alive and well at the fish store. I pushed through with two kids and two juiceboxes in tote. "Hello, hello," I caught a salesman's attention, "Do you have any bronzino?"
The guy, a stocky, weathered Chinese fishmonger, shook his head. "No, no," he said definitely. Then he looked me very carefully up and down and smiled. "Beautiful!" he pronounced. Whether he was referring to me, the species bronzino, or his long lost homeland of China, we will never know.
I turned away. Weighing what to do, I went with the definition of insanity and asked a different fishmonger. And, different results! "Yes," he replied professionally, picking up a couple whole fish from I'm-not-sure-where and tossing them, fins flying, onto a scale.
As the men with knives in the back had their way with them, blood and guts and heads and tails whirling in a maniacal fashion, my daughters' eyes were glued in fascination. After about five long minutes of staring, Ayelet suddenly pronounced, "This is scary."
"Why? They're already dead..." I began, and then, feeling that perhaps this was the wrong tact, advised, "Just look away!"
Meanwhile, Merav had somehow managed to drop her juicebox into the half inch of water running all over the market's floor -- water is generous, it was rather slimy, and who knows what it really was -- and went to pick it up. Before I could stop her, she was wiping said box all over her formerly new and clean dress to dry it off. So much for that. Both girls promptly decided it was time to drink the juiceboxes -- ignoring the hordes around them, never mind the pervasive fishy stench of the place, which personally did not whet my appetite.
The cashier (which took cash only) rang me up at a crazy low price. And that is how we got our fish. And drank our juiceboxes. And then I did laundry. The End.