‘You’re not the first tourist to be surprised by this’

By: Sam van Royen

 In central Barcelona, there is a huge building with a magnificent, mirrored, golden roof. An architectural landmark. People were constantly walking in and out, one would assume that there would be some type of food court. Unknowingly, you find yourself in the Mercat Dels Encants de Barcelona. A plethora of items, ranging from antiques to textures, are chaotically spread over the marketspace. The smell was stale, yet pungent. Small pieces of a baby doll lie on the dirty ground; a dusty bucket of cogs stands next to three paintings. Remains of a golden piece of cloth are scattered around old DVD boxes of Spanish TV shows.

The entrance was open air, with one old security guard wearing a blue jacket standing on top of a flight of stairs. His hair wasn’t as dark as it used to be and had become the same colour as his poorly-groomed moustache – grey. He wasn’t paying a lot of attention to his surroundings, rather talking to a boxer short vendor on the first floor. Continuing down the stairs, the prejudice towards the market slowly disappears. A large number of people walk around, some know each other, they greet each other and talk about ‘business’ – all at bargain price. The security guard explained that there’s a good atmosphere: ‘Sometimes there is a tiny incident, but it never gets out of hand. Sometimes police patrols through, they know everyone by name. They’re all very gentle. You’re not the first tourist to be surprised by this’.

A lot of people are actually buying products – one buys old radio equipment, the other a not so very luxurious handbag. In a dark corner of the square, an elder lady with a trolley mumbles something to the vendor. At first he ignores her. She rummages through one of the many boxes and pulls out a bottle which is not even half-filled. She indicates with her hand that she was willing to pay a price of 5 euros for this yellow substance; he was having none of it. He decisively shakes his head and looks the other way.

Somewhere else, it seems like a selling point was being shared by two sellers who didn’t seem to have the same age. It wasn’t without quarrels.
‘Hombre no, esta eres dos mil.’
The man was angry at his partner about the value of the product. He picked up a box with items rather carelessly. His partner grabbed him by his grey jacket and shoves him away.
‘Cuidado hombre.’ The elder partner shrugs it off and walks on.

The largest, oldest marketplace in Barcelona has become professionalised. It has a website which lays out a rough outline of the product catalogue, they have opening and closing times. The entire building, roof and all was actually built for them.
A lot of people didn’t look like native Spanish people. The people who were buying things seemed like locals, and some tourists whom had accidentally stumbled across the marketplace. The vendors however seemed to have roots from North-Africa and the Middle-East.

One young Moroccan man called Youssef, aged 17, described his life at the market:
‘My whole family is selling things here. We send my youngest brothers to find stuff or buy things from other people at a cheap price. Then we get here and sell. It’s safe enough to leave things here at night, I didn’t expect that with this crowd.’ It’s a full time thing for him, however it doesn’t pay enough.
‘My dad has another job. So he doesn’t spend that much time here. However, others really depend on it. Everyone really knows each other, we spend every day together.’
At the edge of his selling corner he shows a bunch of shiny pans: ‘it gets less boring when we find stuff like this. This really sells.’ When asked if he’s planning to stay here forever, he took a moment to think – ‘At this market? No. But in España, definitely. We like it here.’

Watch the video to properly experience the market.