After the blazing sun and the “effort” involved in walking up Rocafuerte street from the Arc of the Queen, I reached the San Francisco Marketplace. As I went in, a plaque from 1893 reminded me of the year this place, the first market in Quito, was launched Today, over a century later, it is the first touristic marketplace in the city. San Francisco was, and is, a pioneer.
I began to walk down the first aisle. To my right, I could see nine Ancestral medicine stands. Several women standing at the gates bragged about their abilities, “I make the best flower petal bath”, “do you need a cleanse?”; “would you like a lucky soap?”. I remembered that I have always believed that there are places to which no invitation is required, and this is one.
I found Emperatriz García sitting next to an improvised shelf where she organizes the leaves used in her rituals. The smell of chamomile and mint filled the air in the small room. There were also artichoke leaves, hierba de angel, marco, borage, rue, urtica and elderberry.
“I am the third generation in my family to have this trade”, Emperatriz told me, setting aside a washbasin where she made Chagrillo (a mixture of flower petals) for bathrooms, while she stood to welcome a family that was in need of her services. Fright, the evil eye, bad air, negative energies and even stress, are some of the ailments that Emperatriz heals through the use of her hands and prayers to the Holy Trinity.
“Sacasales”, “Macumba”, “Señor de la Justicia” (Lord of Justice), “Llama clientes” (Client caller), “Estudiante” (Student), “Contra hechizo” (Counter spell) and the popular “Sígueme, sígueme” (Follow me, follow me), are some of the names of soaps and perfumes in the window shop, which guarantee health, wealth and love. Intense colors, suggestive images and ingenious names are a good formula to convince, or at least catch the attention of skeptics like me.
A mother who carried her son in her arms waited to be seen by the healer, who with a simple look confirmed her diagnosis: evil eye. “I know that’s what’s wrong with him because he has a small, tearing eye”. She took several handfuls of chagrillo and scattered them over the boy’s body while she sprayed him with Narcissus perfume. The aroma filled the room and broke everyday boundaries, awakening my memories…
Finally, she draped a necklace made of “chímbalos” around the boy’s neck to protect him.
For a more effective “treatment”, a “cleanse” is recommended on Tuesdays and Fridays, which according to the “matrons”, are holy days.
This experience connected me to the essence of the city and its intangible heritage. Emperatriz is but one of many healers, artisans and craftsmen that show that preserving these trades is more than a challenge, it’s a wonder. This is, without a doubt, an experience every Quiteño, chagra (Andean peasant) and tourist should live.
Place: San Francisco Marketplace (Vicente Rocafuerte y Chimborazo)
Written by: Isabel Oñate / Picture: Francisco Veintimilla
The forms and tags of the magical soaps and lotions.
The aroma of herbs such as: Lemon Beebrush, mint, eucalyptus, chamomile, Flower of the Andes, smooth amaranth, Lemon balm and Narcissus perfume.