Finding My Happy Place at a Barcelona Flea Market

February 17, 2015
Finding My Happy Place at a Barcelona Flea Market

One day after my husband, son, and I moved into our Barcelona apartment, I found myself alone with the kid. My husband’s best friend was celebrating his birthday at Octoberfest in Munich, so I was starting off on my own.

Our flat came furnished, although the kitchen things were spare. I looked around the kitchen as my kid deposited hot oatmeal onto his lap, wondering how to nest. We’d chosen the apartment for many reasons, not least of which was the private courtyard and playground in the back and the beautiful view of the mountains and the sea from our terrace. And I fell in love with the sixties design–herringbone laminate floors, groovy flower tiles, and real wood-paneled walls. One room, my office, had walls lined entirely in cork.

It was time to turn our apartment into our home.  Yet, everything I could possibly need sat in a storage space in the United States.  It was my mother who suggested a trip to a flea market. “Make it fun,” she said.

“A flea market, of course!” I thought. A quick perusal of my Rough Guide revealed a giant one within walking distance of Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s famous chapel.

Finding My Happy Place at a Barcelona Flea Market

The flea market is called El Encants Vells, and it is enormous (four levels). I walked through the ground floor as men laid out their wares on sheets, everything from pottery, postings, vacuum cleaners, children’s clothing, jewelry, sewing tables, copper cookware, door knockers, intricate tiles, municipal signs, art supplies, books, records, hammers, and golden loops of various sizes.

As you climb up the ramp to the higher floors of the flea market, the items move into more organized stalls, though many of these spill out onto the ground. Delights can be found there too, antique toy cars, clocks, hats, oil paintings, screwdrivers, juicers, bedsheets, bolts of fabric, luggage, magazines, and army fatigues. With my kid asleep in his stroller I walked the length and breadth of the building, holding relics from my new country’s past in my hand and contemplating their narratives.

I love being able to touch something that somebody who is now dead touched, something that they loved or didn’t.

I love many different objects for various reasons, but the things I love best are old. In fact, I love being able to touch something that somebody who is now dead touched. Something that they loved or didn’t. The aura of old things is something I cherish even more now that so much occurs in the digital world, an exchange of data from one brain to another that remains untouched by hands.

Finding My Happy Place at a Barcelona Flea Market

These things were different than what I would find in an American flea market, because this is a country with its own way of doing things. I became acquainted with its systems by looking through its debris. This is how we cook and sleep and love. These are the things we give to one another. These are the books and the music displayed on our parents’ shelves as we grew.

I loaded up the stroller with things I needed, finding my real ambivalence about purchases to be a useful tool for haggling. At the coffee shop on the first floor, I ordered a bikini (grilled ham and cheese) and a cafe con leche. The waitress treated me brusquely but cordially, like I was a person who belonged right where she was. Like I was not a tourist. Not a spy, only a hungry woman with her child and a stroller heavy with treasures.


Have you traveled to Barcelona, Spain? How was your trip? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Photo credits for Finding My Happy Place at a Barcelona Flea Market by Ilana Manaster and unsplash.

About Ilana Manaster

Ilana Manaster left the United States for the first time as a junior in college, when she took a semester off and travelled around Europe. A writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine, Reading Out Loud podcast and elsewhere, she moved to Barcelona in 2014 to raise her kid and finish her novel.

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