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Rosa Paz Caballero , 59, recounts her life growing up on Feria Street , home of the popular El Jueves flea market , where she makes a living keeping a centuries old tradition alive.
“How much for that ?” a customer asks.
“25 euro ,” the woman standing behind post number 93-95 responds, as she watches the customer examine her antique items.
“How about 15?”
“I can do 20, but that’s as low as I can go,” the seller responds.
“You ’ve got yourself a deal.”
This type of interaction is a normal occurence for Rosa Paz Caballero, one of the vendors at el Jueves flea market in Seville. She’s been working at the market every Thursday since 1989 and is a member of the association The Popular Historical Market of el Jueves (Mercadillo Histórico Popular del Jueves), making Rosa a vital contributor to the salvation of this commemorated weekly event.
Located on Feria Street in the Casco Antiguo (Old Town) district, the market began in the 13th century, and is one of the oldest and most historical in all of Europe. It was originally reserved for craftsmen, carpenters, and painters. Today, however, vendors sell antiques and secondhand goods every Thursday morning and afternoon until lunchtime.
Rosa Paz Caballero was born in the neighborhood of La Macarena and grew up near el Jueves. “My childhood took place in and around calle Feria,” Rosa says. She was baptized on Feria Street in the parish church of Omnium Sanctorum, attended Grupo Escolar Cervantes on calle Becas and had her first communion in San Lorenzo church, all within a few hundred meters of one another.
When Rosa was nine years old, her house collapsed, forcing her family to spend a few months in a shelter built in the old work camp of Los Merinales, until they found an apartment in the outskirts of the city. They moved to the tower blocks development of Polígono de San Pablo, which was built by the Municipal Housing Authority and far removed from the sounds and scenery of old calle Feria. “And here, my childhood continued,” she says.
Rosa married and moved with her husband to Madrid for 15 years. He then became sick and had to retire. Thus, Rosa returned to Seville and began to work at el Jueves to support her family. “I started to sell things at the market so that my five children could have an education. So we returned to our origins, to calle Feria,” Rosa remembers.
At this time , many residents thought the market was a disturbance. “To prepare for Thursday, the vendors arrived Wednesday night doing what they needed to do, setting up their stations, making a lot of noise, and standing in the doorways of the peoples’ houses. Because of this, all of the neighbors opposed the market,” Rosa says.
Due to the constant complaints , the market was moved a few streets westto the dusty esplanade of the Alameda de Hércules. However, the sales declined because the market lost its appeal for many customers. So it returned once again to Feria Street.
Although El Jueves successfully returned to its original setting, neighborhood residents still resented its presence. In addition to residential complaints, the city council charged vendors large amounts to sell their products. Rosa and other vendors decided to form an association in order to protect and prevent the market from disappearing, “We wanted to protect not only the market, but the vendors as well,” Rosa explains.
Forming an association proved difficult for Rosa and her fellow vendors. “We got a lot of kicking from all of the political parties. They did not want to meet or welcome us. They called us communists and thought we were a bad group of people,” Rosa states. Eventually, the group received support from the Socialist Party (PSOE), and Rosa and other members created a more formal organization, known today as the Popular Historical Market of Thursday, where Rosa was president for almost three years.
The association allowed for the creation of more rules to improve the market, such as stricter regulations on parking, vending, and cleanliness. There are meetings throughout the year in which people discuss suggestions on how to improve el Jueves. “Now everything is under control, but we still want to improve because our market is the oldest and most preserved one in Seville. We want to keep it this way,” Rosa affirms. “We want our achievements to last. We have worked very hard to get to where we are today. People don’t realize or recognize this. I want to save the market because it’s tradition.”
All of Rosa ’s items are secondhand and generally antiques. She explains that if someone asks her the price of something, she tells them and tries to provide them with any information she knows about the object. “The experience and interactions with the people is what’s important. At first, I was shy but now it’s the opposite. I like to converse with the people that ask me questions.”
Bargaining is an important aspect of the vending process. “There is always the battering and haggling, but there are some items where I won’t budge because they were expensive when I bought them. This is the way we deal with the public. Sometimes you can bargain with me, sometimes you can’t,” Rosa explains.
She says that El Jueves is an essential part of Seville ’s history , but is also a way to help low-income families. “If someone does not have the money to buy something new, they can come here and buy it secondhand. I benefit, they benefit, and we all benefit.”
For Rosa , el Jueves serves as a place where she can go to relax and escape the stresses of everyday life. “I love what I do. When I have a lot on my mind, I can go to the market and all of those problems go away,” she says.
The tradition is alive at home . Two of Rosa’s children have started selling items like toys and flamenco dresses at the market. “I am opening the door so that they can make an honest living. They know that tomorrow, if needed, they have a place for them: my vending table.”