As a gesture toward progress, the ayuntamiento has painted lines and numbers along the gutters of Calle Pilar, dividing the site of the weekly market into designated plots. As a gesture of complete indifference, the merchants have ignored all of this and once again erected their stands exactly as they’ve seen fit. The ensuing riotous assembly marks each Tuesday morning in our neighbouring village.
Of course, there’s a lot of shopping done at these events; above all, though, something is happening, and for many that in itself is an excuse to turn out. There are enthusiastic and rapid-fire conversations over the parked pushchairs and shopping trolleys; despite the chilly weather, various firing squads have assembled on the benches by the fountain; the lottery merchant is doing good trade as he wanders through the throng, greeting familiar faces with a word or a nod. I’m hungry, having left the house without any breakfast, and intent on correcting this as soon as possible.
Unlike the mercadillos in the bigger cities, this is a modest rural affair; in place of the fleamarket fare such as second-hand books, antiques and bric-a-brac, the merchants offer anything and everything that might feed, clothe or equip the camposino and his family.
I’ve already elbowed my way past the good-natured scrum at the fruit and vegetable stalls, and pored absent-mindedly over ironmongery and housewares. “No notes bigger than 20€ accepted” reads one handwritten sign; I’m not surprised, after the Policía Nacional recently raided a village house in a neighbouring locality, seizing several presses and other machinery along with a king’s ransom in counterfeit cash. The best they’d ever seen, they said; and these markets form the number one outlet, with their fast exchanges and no checking devices.
I deliberately keep upwind of the booth run by the pale and coughing herbalist who claims to sell cures for all ills. Not only have I no confidence in his touted remedies, I even doubt the validity of some of the listed ailments; he has plenty of takers, though, and their unshakable faith is doubtlessly more valid than any double-blind clinical trial. At least to them.
Beyond, I have to navigate around piles of embroidered throws and avoid tripping over house plants, rabbit hutches, pallets and children. All that now stands between me and my imminent breakfast is the busiest stall on the market, a vendor of clothing, footwear, accessories and all things a la mode. The stall’s wiry owner is handling the cash and allocating the tissue-thin carrier bags while his burly teenage accomplice – perhaps his son – mechanically booms out his litany of unmissable, today-only bargains.
If the eight-euro price tag were not evidence enough that the tracksuits weren’t genuine, the fact that the sealed bag carried the name of one famous sports company alongside the insignia of its main rival clinches it. Nobody seems to see this as fraud, exactly; after all, I doubt that anybody here in the Tuesday market actually believes that they are being offered the real McCoy. They simply want to sport the right badge. Local newspapers, though, have lately been carrying stern warnings that the authorities in Spain will no longer turn a blind eye to the illicit trade in counterfeit goods. A foot is to be put down, the administration says. An officially-stamped boot is to be … well, officially stamped.
The whole business strikes me as more than a little weird. Off-the-peg designer marques were surely created so that the well-heeled but hard-of-thinking can enjoy their wealth without the unbearable burden of having to form opinions or display any sort of individual taste? Settle for being a ready meal, rather than a dog’s dinner? Were it not so, we wouldn’t have such abominations as the Birkin bag, the Porsche Cayenne, La Cañada, or most of Cheshire. Odd, then, that this depressing form of self-promotion as clueless victim has now become the aspirational goal of a whole underclass, even to the point of feeling the need to fake it.
I suppose there are those who’d label this phenomenon postmodern-ironic or some such gibberish (but these folk are, of course, just members of another sorry class of label evangelist). I just think it’s amusing, if a little sad.
Another group of young, enthusiastic customers are also hanging out by the sportswear, holding up against each other various items of fluorescent velour and comparing opinions in hushed, conspiratorial tones. These are not really fashionistas, but instead seem to believe that having the right logo on their sports gear will be enough to transform them from well-upholstered sofa-surfer to Pilates-honed gym rat without any of that unpleasant sweating business. Bad news, guys: It’s easy to tell an added-ass tracksuit from the genuine article.
I’ve been watching this pantomime for a short while before it dawns on me that everyone is quietly aware of the presence of a couple of Policía Local officers approaching the stall. There’s a certain tension in the air, especially when one of them thumbs through the piled-up merchandise and then summons the stall-holder.
“Are you still pushing those Lacoste copy polo shirts?”
There is a hush, followed by a staccato exchange between master and apprentice in a language I don’t recognise. The seller hesitates, then nods.
“Right … put me aside two XLs, in blue. I’ll pick them up later.”
So much for the jackboot of state.
At least I can guarantee, as I finally head for the cafeteria, that my rumbling, nagging need for coffee and tostada is, without doubt, the real thing.