The Journey Back to ‘El Jueves’

Rosa Paz Caballero / SELINA GUEVARA

For Rosa Paz caballero, 62, and her husband Manuel Galindo Geneiro, 63, family is at the core of everything they do. From financial stability in Madrid, to scrounging for metal pieces and cardboard to sell on the streets of Seville, to now selling antiques in a historic market for extra money, Manuel and Rosa work tirelessly to support the ones they love.

“We had our kids to feed. It was our responsibility. We would work through the night, sleep three or four hours, and work throughout the day while they were in school.” It is 1978. Rosa, Manuel and their five kids live in a apartment in the Vista Alegre neighborhood, 9 kilometers from the Madrid city center. Manuel joined the National Police Force that same year, after three months of training at the Academy. Rosa tends to the home and her kids, all of whom are in school. The cost of education is daunting for the family who is living on Manuel’s minimum wage of 28,000 pesetas, the equivalent of about 170 euros, of which 10,000 pesetas, about 70 euros, went to rent alone. As time progresses, school dues increase, and as the need for school supplies grows larger, financials affect the entire family. “We could not afford necessities and had to start borrowing money,” Rosa explains, since they are able to open a line of credit at grocery stores, but their life is not sustainable.

11 years later, in 1989, financial hardships arise when Manuel is suspended from the National Police with no pay. Having no other option, Manuel and Rosa decide to make the journey back to Seville, their birthplace. Rosa is from the neighborhood of San Julián, and Manuel is from Triana, on the west bank of the Guadalquivir river. With Manuel’s new driver’s license, Rosa and Manuel decide to take two trips to move to Seville. In the first one, they take their kids. Ángel, 17, Macarena, 15, Rosa, 9, Manuel, 8, María Dolores, 6 and a girlfriend of their eldest son Ángel, pile into an at least 20-year-old, white Seat 124 that they bought used. On the second journey, Manuel and Rosa are transporting all their belongings using a moving track and their own car, but things take a turn for the worse in Ciudad Real, 330 kilometers from Seville, less than halfway through their trip. “The car broke down and we were forced to abandon it on the side of the road,” Manuel recounts. “It left us stranded.” The moving truck continues to Seville, but they are left with odds and ends, including plants and a TV set. “We were able to travel by taxi the rest of the way, but were forced to leave large items behind in the car,” Rosa says, who, together with Manuel, hoped to later return to collect them.

Loli and Ángel sell their Playmobil figures in calle Feria / SELINA GUEVARA

When they arrive in Seville in August 1989, there is no one to help them. “Manuel’s family was on vacation at the beach, but we didn’t know where,” Rosa recollects. “With Manuel’s suspension, money was tight.” They are able to rent an apartment in the neighborhood of Parque Alcosa, in the east sector of city, near its airport. They have no outside support, no money, nothing, except for their kids and one another. Shortly thereafter in September 1989, Manuel’s mother returns from their family’s beach vacation and is able to lend them money, which they use to buy another used car, this time a yellow Seat 133. “To get money, we went from trash can to trash can, from the airport to the city center, 14 kilometers, to collect whatever we could find,” Rosa states. They find and sell cheap antiques, scraps of metal, and cardboard. “The best year I ever had… I worked a lot in order to provide for my family,” Manuel explains. In one night, he collected 1,000 kilograms of cardboard. It is an endless cycle. The work never ends, as Manuel goes back out during the day and looks for more antiques, scraps of metal, and cardboard to sell. When the kids are in school, Rosa helps, too. “With the money we earned, I could make a day’s worth of food, but only for two people,” Rosa describes. “We put our kids first.”

That same year of their arrival in Seville, a friend tells them that he sells antiques and toys at the flea market on calle Feria, El Jueves, and invites Rosa and Manuel to join him at his stall.

“We saw the value in things other people did not and sold the items to those who appreciated their value too,” Rosa says. This created a habit of survival in the family, which continues today. If Rosa or Manuel’s kids, or even grandkids, see something on the street worth value, they will bring it to them. “We wanted to have a humble way of earning money. We needed to show our kids that hard work and perseverance pay off, maybe not financially, but morally,” Rosa explains.

Rosa Paz Caballero / SELINA GUEVARA

They became regulars at El Jueves, which, according to public record, was founded in the 13th century under King Ferdinand III, making it the oldest flea market in Spain today. There was a period in the nineties when the market was moved by the local government to the the Alameda of Hercules, a popular square located just 200 meters away, because of complaints by the residents who lived on calle Feria. However, it later returned to its original location. “The other businesses on the street were suffering due to the absence of the market,” Rosa explains.

Back in 1990, the 13 months of the suspension have passed and Manuel begins receiving disability paychecks in 1991. With a steady income, Rosa and Manuel are able to buy an apartment on calle Estrella Canopus in the neighborhood of Pino Montano, where they currently reside. Their income now supports not only themselves, but their grandkids. “What I couldn’t afford for my kids I now can give to my grandkids,” Rosa says. “There was one Christmas when we were not able to buy our kids anything for Three Kings Day, on January 6, and it broke my heart.” This was the last year where such emptiness existed.

El Jueves not only improves the family’s quality of life financially, but also socially. “The market has an incredible environment. I love the public, and have good relationships with many people,” Rosa says. “With doctors and lawyers, who have later helped me and my family.”

Rosa’s involvement with the market leads her to help create, in November of 2008, the Asociación Mercadillo Histórico Popular El Jueves, which included 139 members, and where she serves as its first president. “The city council was charging us vendors a lot of money to sell,” Rosa  explains. “I wanted to preserve and protect not only the best interests of the vendors and customers, but the history of the market as well.” However, before the forming of the association, there are a series of setbacks due to political parties and government officials who think that the vendors of El Jueves are not trustworthy. Despite negative comments and lack of support from the opposition, Rosa, Manuel, and some of the most veteran and commited vendors in the market are able to form the association with the help of Alfonso Rodríguez Gómez de Celis, Deputy Mayor of Seville from the Socialist Party (PSOE), and implement rules, regulations, and fees, in order to promote a safe, secure, and positive environment. “The market is a space full of friendships,” Rosa says. “We are respected, and we respect people in return.”

Manuel Galindo Geneiro chats with a visitor at the flea market / SELINA GUEVARA

Today, Rosa’s oldest son, Ángel, sells Playmobil with his wife, Loli. He watches the public handle the dozens of characters they have on display. “I grew up playing with Playmobil. Now, it is a business,” he says. “We travel all across the country collecting different pieces, serving at the pleasure of our customers.”

Next to Ángel, among stalls covered by blue and green awnings, and right outside the Montesion Drugstore, Manuel sits in his lawn chair next to his tarp of rellics and antiques. The atmosphere around him is clouded by the smoke of his cigarette, and by the many people who come to greet him. After all, he is now the secretary of the Association. “We still get very little sleep every night, but that’s the way of life,” Manuel says. The wrinkles on his face and large, well-groomed mustache tell the story of over 25  years at the El Jueves market, each day getting up at five in the morning with Rosa, whose glasses glimmer in the sun as she stands behind her red table on the other side of the street.

With her table garnished with religious figures, serving trays, and toy boats laying prominently, Rosa interacts with the public, telling them stories not only of the objects she has on sale, but also those of her own life. “At El Jueves, behind every stall and every vendor, there is a story and there is a family.” •