Jerez is located in the southern tip of Spain in Andalucia 15 minutes from the sea. One hour from Seville, the city is known for horses, flamenco, and sherry. Robin Graham offers an insider’s take on shopping in Jerez at a flea market. We all love a bargain!
By Robin Graham
Wherever you are in Andalucia, there’s no getting away from history. It raises its crowned head on every other hilltop in the form of a turreted castillo, in every bar where the outlines of Mediterranean flavour are coloured in with eastern spice, in the notes and scales of the alegrias and bulerias; that dizzy brew of Indian, Arabian, Jewish and Gypsy musical traditions that is flamenco. It’s in the names of places and of people, in the many still-used Arabic words, in the olive groves, the oranges and in the vines.
Even in a region so drenched in tradition, however, some places manage to stand out. As the winter sun shines brightly and casts long shadows on the dust – diagonal lines from tree to tree across the sandy square – there can´t be many places as caught up in the past as the leafy little park beneath the walls of the Alcazar in Jerez de la Frontera, on a Sunday morning.
The Alcazar itself was put here in its current form in the 12th century by the Almohads – then rulers of Southern Spain. It very effectively does what every other Moorish edifice in this part of the world does, by invoking the centuries long episode in this country’s history when the House of Islam had a foothold on European soil, and the cocktail of empire, learning, and faith that was to help define Europe and, eventually, the Enlightenment.
Every Sunday though, it’s upstaged by the market in its shadow. We wander amongst old VHS cassettes, batteries of all kinds, antique typewriters and dismembered dolls. The place is busy as the strollers and bargain hunters of Jerez check out hat stands, crockery, crystal glass, and clocks.
At one stall I happen upon an early twentieth century edition of the Arabian Nights with original illustrations, in English. The price is way beyond me but it’s a pleasure to behold. I put it down reluctantly and we saunter towards something more downmarket. We find ourselves sifting through old postcards – excited Spaniards writing from London in the fifties – and personal documents from long gone households; receipts, employment contracts, school reports.
I buy something I can afford – an old board game without pieces that I will frame and hang. These are fragments of fairly recent lives; their grandchildren might be here today, shopping for plates or paintings or second-hand spectacles. In the shade cast by the Alcazar, history’s lens is bifocal this morning, taking in the long view, and the short.