The entrance to the market opens its arms wide, and invites you in. As you approach, the tide-like movement of bodies, the explosions of color, and the mixes of savory and fresh smells take you by the hand and pull you closer, enticing you to explore. The fare available at this market is for more than just your stomach; it is a feast for all the senses. Deep brown-speckled fish cozy up with rows upon rows of gray-and-white clams. Rainbows of fresh vegetables are set up next to sparkling baskets of candied fruit. The greasy smell of sizzling sausages wafts between the booths. All around are the sounds of conversation: greetings and goodbyes, exchanges and decisions, and laughter and exclamations. Together, the voices of locals and tourists alike culminate in a roar above the vendor stalls, and echo off of the cavernous metal roof that shields the market from the bright Barcelona sun.
This is La Boqueria market in Barcelona, Spain. As a semi-sedentary fixture of the city since about 1200, La Boqueria market has always been an integral part of daily life in Barcelona. According to the official website for La Boqueria, the market originated as a small fruit and vegetable market that stood just outside of the city walls. Farmers from the countryside came and sold their produce, and urban city dwellers came to the market for access to fresh vegetables. Because of its location just outside the city walls, the market acted as a liminal space between the urban and rural where differing lifestyles could interact over the exchange of food. Overtime, as the people of Barcelona spilled out of the city walls and expanded the urban landscape, La Boqueria pretty much stayed where it was rooted. Roads were cobbled and buildings were erected (and torn down) around the market, and through it all, there La Boqueria stayed. However, it wasn’t until 1826 that the market became an officially recognized institution by the captain general of Catalonia. After that, permanent infrastructure like gas lighting and a metal roof were installed to the marketplace to update it into more modern standards. According to La Boqueria website, the present vendors at the market are third and fourth generation salespeople for their family’s vendor space. For these people, life at La Boqueria presumably came as naturally as life at home. It was a space where traditions and skills were passed from parent to child, and networks of relationships were created amongst neighbors and friends, and between sellers and shoppers. Working at La Boqueria would surely have the effect, as would any profession, of shaping the identity of market vendors.
The everyday experience of La Boqueria market – in all its sensual richness – can be contrasted to typical experiences at American supermarkets. While “individualism, self-service, and efficiency epitomize the supermarket shopping experience” (Black 5) in American supermarkets, La Boqueria and other European markets can act as social spaces that promote the forming of relationships with others. The supermarkets of America do not elicit any sense of place or identity – the same exact market can be replicated in hundreds of towns across the states, with little to no differentiating factors among them; they are uniform. La Boqueria, however, is unique to Barcelona alone. As a structure, it is an identifying marker of the city itself. In addition, it acts as a social space where the identities of vendors and shoppers alike can be created.
The social interactions that occur around food in La Boqueria market are a true marker of everyday life. As Thomasina Miers writes in her article, Eat, shop, gossip; Chef Thomasina Miers savours Barcelona’s famous food market, La Boqueria, “At the Boqueria people eat, shop and gossip together doing what the Spanish excel at, living life well and enjoying a sense of community.” At La Boqueria, people can take time to mingle with their neighbors and create memories, all over the exchange of food.
Experience La Boqueria — Even if you cannot understand Spanish, this clip gives a great view into the lives of the vendors of La Boqueria:
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