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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Mall on Wheels

The Mall on Wheels

Too lazy to go downtown to shop? Can't even be bothered to browse the shops in the neighborhood? Just wait until Monday and the mall will set up right on your front doorstep. At least it does for me here in the heart of Ruzafa. Every Monday, bright and early enough during these winter months that it is still dark outside, a caravan of vans hauling trailers pull into my neighborhood and set up for the weekly street market. If you miss it on Monday and can't wait a week, you just need to find out where they go on Tuesdays. That would be a few blocks away on the other side of the train station.

I like how they set up practically on the steps of the 15th century church of Saint Valero. I guess the whole money changers in the lord's house doesn't apply to the Monday market. Maybe the priests shake down the vendors for a piece of the action, or vice versa. I can just hear the threats being made, “Nice little church you got here, padre. It'd be a shame if sumtin' were to happen to it.” In the two years I have lived here there have been very few violent turf battles between the vendors. There was the massacre last year when machine gun fire was exchanged between a stall selling baby clothes and another that sells sweaters for hamster-size dogs. We are trying to put that behind us and move on with our lives.

There is a lot of barking at the market. In the words of Malcom X, vendors try to entice shoppers by any means necessary. I find the shouted sales pitches to be pretty entertaining on some mornings. At a stall selling shoes the merchant shouted at a woman old enough to be my grandmother, “Hot stuff, come abuse me.” Another favorite is, “For the love of God, don't pass by without even looking.” Most of the comments have to do with how the vendors are the victims of crimes committed by their customers because the prices are so low.

You can find just about anything you want for your home in the market, as well as clothes, pet supplies, shoes, bed linen, plants, along with bootleg movies and music—compliments of the African immigrants who control this sub-sector of the economy. I get a kick out of the stalls that sell nothing but underwear. I call them the Underwear Hut. You will see a group of middle aged women rooting through a huge pile of lingerie that would make your average porn star blush with embarrassment. In some stalls the clothing items are arranged neatly on hangers or folded in orderly stacks. These are stalls for the filthy rich who are willing to pay as much as 10€ for a single item of clothing. Other stalls simply have huge stacks of garments that you have to burrow through to find what you want. I go to one of these stalls to buy my sportswear for working out or cycling.

At around 2:00 pm the market breaks down, leaving a huge mess in its wake. A city cleaning crew is right on their heels sweeping up and disposing of the refuse left behind. By 3:30 pm the neighborhood is back to normal with hardly a trace of the whirlwind of commerce that was choking the streets only a few hours ago. About all that is left is an errant tissue from a shoe box blowing along the sidewalk.

Today I bought a big table cloth for the dining room (8€), a big flannel pillow case for a meter-long pillow I have on my bed, and a Rabobank team bike jersey for only 2€. Not a bad haul although I have had better days. There is always next week.