Dancing Murga in the streets of Cordoba. Photos by Jessica Michele Garcia.
Argentina’s Second City: Cordoba’s Flea Market
When you think about Argentina you think of tango, meat and for sure its capital city Buenos Aires. But fewer people know that, 700km to the Northeast, lies the second largest city of Argentina: Còrdoba
It is often a stop on the way to the North of the country and it is worth spending at least one day there. It doesn’t take much time to have a walk through the Spanish colonial buildings located in the centre of the city. Among them there is the very famous Jesuit block declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.
Apart from this cultural experience you should indulge yourself in paying a visit to the Guemes district. This is the artistic quarter of Còrdoba and you can’t miss its picturesque flea market. It offers good quality products and at the same time you can eat some typical home made food, sit down in one of the many bars in the middle of the fair and learn a lot about the local culture.
You can easily reach it from the main street, which is Avenida Velez Sarsfield. Your referring point can be the big and famous shopping centre Patio Olmos, placed in one of the main crossroads of Còrdoba. Leaving it on your left hand side you take Eugenio Garzon on the right and continue until you pass Belgrano road.
On weekends (Fridays to Sundays) on the corner of Laprida road and San Luis road you will see some stands, the beginning of the colorful market. There you will be offered some pancitos rellenos, that are hot breads filled with cheese and ham for 5 Argentine Pesos each; that is not even one pound. From this point turning directly right you enter one of the many parts of the market.
La Canada is the iconic stream that flows through Cordoba.In the beginning of December 2011 I met Marco at a birthday party. He is one of the craftsmen working in the fair.He recycles materials to create new objects. He had told me to come by at the market the following day, so I could see and experience what he was doing. As a visitor the first impression that you get is that there are different sections in the same fair. Marco confirms that to me and gives me a clear explanation for that.
He has his stands by La Cañada, an arm of a natural stream that has been partly channelled and crosses the city. “I have been working here since 2003 with some breaks in between” Marco tells me. “But people established their first stands around the ’70s by gaining a public space which was once the yard of the big building that was hosting poor immigrants”.
He continues: “During the 1990s there wasn’t great interest in the hand-made objects because the spell was put on the industrial North American products. After the economic crisis in 2001 craftworks gained back importance and new craftsmen needed space to sell their artefacts.
As a result people occupied Laprida road parallel to the original Paseo de las Artes”. In English this can be translated with the path through art.
“This created some collisions with the authorities until an ordinance was granted. To this followed 6 years of peace and in 2008 the part by La Cañada was taken”. Today visitors can walk among this puzzle that took about 40 years to be settled.
Marco is a full time craftsman and relies on his recycled purses and wallets. They are very colourful and practical. The price depends on the size and they range from 15 to 25 pesos (2.5 to 4 GBP). He criticizes purchasers asking for a discount, he says: “You don’t go to the bank and ask to reduce you the gas bill”.
This is his only financial income and he can decide how many hours to work.
Paseo de las Artes
Moving on from this part by La Cañada you will reach an aisle that leads direct to the original Paseo de las Artes. This part is not located on the street but in the yard of the Convetillo. This building is not there anymore. During the ”70s this huge house was hosting the poor immigrants coming from Italy.
Today the market stalls extend through aisles ending in small circular plazas. It is easy to notice that the people behind these stands are all aged between 50 and 60, they are the founders of this place.
I meet a boy who exceptionally is much younger. His name is Inti, a student in the city of Cordoba who helps out his father on weekends. He offers me another point of view about this same flea market. He tells me: “My dad is an authentic artisan who at the end of the ’60s escaped the capital Buenos Aires in order to find a back to the roots life style”.
They have a small workshop where they produce Argentine mates, bowls made of graved squash used to drink the typical national infusion, Yerba Mate.
As many of the local traders their workshop is a family business and they don’t do serial products. Since then Inti’s father still lives of the same workshop.
Many overseas tourists don’t know what a mate exactly is, so Inti often explains the tradition of this practice. I witness while he clarifies this practice to a Canadian couple: “It’s an aboriginal custom and it is mainly the sharing of a hot infusion from the same little bowl.
The art of making these bowls called mate differs from artisan to artisan. My dad uses mainly squash and silver nickel to create the mate. Every bowl is accompanied by a drinking straw, called bombilla. Ours are all made of silver nickel”. For such an object at Inti’s place you can pay up to 100 Argentine pesos (14.50 GBP)
Then you have to buy the yerba mate or mate plant that is the source of the beverage. You can then have it pure that would be bitter or you can add extra sugar even honey if you wish. “I consume bitter mate when I am alone, but with friends then I will have sweet mate” says Inti. He suggests a yerba mate called Hija de la selva.
Inti’s stand lies really close to the bar in the middle of the fair, it is nice to sit there having a Quilmes beer that always comes in a one-litre glass bottle with some peanuts and just watching the people passing by.
You get the impression that everyone in this little world is an artist the workers as well as the visitors, the atmosphere is relaxed and at the same time people are willing to help each other and to share, learn and teach culture.
Therefore as a tourist in Còrdoba it is worth visiting this flea market. It is not only a way to do some local handmade cheap shopping but it is also a jump in a little world full of traditions and local customs that allows you to bring home a great experience from this fabulous city.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From the shopping centre Patio Olmos take the small road Eugenio Garzon on the right, pass Belgrano Road and you are in the artistic quarter of Cordoba.
WHAT CAN YOU FIND
Handmade and original accessories: pursues, belts, jewellery, clothes.
. Antiques and Art
. Plants and flowers
. Local and typical products
. Local home made food
Jessica Michele Garcia left her hometown in Italy about 4 years ago and since has lived in Scandinavia and in Argentina until last April. Now she works as a freelance journalist, tour guide and excursions coordinator in Norway.
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