Sunday in San Telmo

Every Sunday the San Telmo market springs into life and local treasures and trinkets from pretty much every decade over the past 150 years are out on show.

This market has a particularly eclectic and, at first glance, bewildering assortment of objects stacked high and deep – as you can see from the photos. So, should you be looking for vintage plastic toys, intricate silver jewellery and tiny tessellated boxes, vintage metal tins and packaging, authentic gaucho paraphernalia, colourful floor tiles and pretty much anything and everything else, then this is the market for you.

You can trawl away for hours accompanied by a wide range of street musicians and songsters, deafening percussion bands, mournful tango singers and elegantly dressed tango dancers, whilst any number of street vendors will sell you a piping hot empanada, a freshly squeezed orange juice or a mate top up as you meander.

There are the regular eccentric vendors with their purple beards and glittering hair and the odd weirdo such as the guy in full military uniform complete with truncheon who paces the cobbled streets of Plaza Dorrego ready to give anyone ‘out of order’ a piece of his mind. We’ve named him General Galtieri, the infamous general and president of Argentina during the Falklands War – and from his age and demeanour I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover he was indeed a general in the war. We tend to avoid him.

There’s also a sort of informal tango karaoke where a few street musicians strike up a well-known tango song and a passing local, typically an older gentleman, will take the microphone and launch into the most beautiful and (here’s that word again) mournful rendition that captures the spirit of Buenos Aires so wonderfully.

Over the years the market has become one of the largest handicraft and antique fairs in Buenos Aires and has traditionally run the entire length of Defensa, from Parque Lezama all the way up to the Plaza de Mayo. It’s packed with locals and tourists alike and has become a Sunday tradition for us over the four months that we’ve been here in BA.

However, in recent months a stretch of the usually noisy and bustling market running along Defensa has fallen quiet and is now empty of street vendors, other than the noisy protesters who now occupy the street on a Sunday. The city government is evicting some 300 vendors in the name of reordering the street space with plans for ‘European-Style’ food trucks to line this part of the market. In recent weeks though it’s all become a tad fractious with police in full riot gear violently cracking down and forcibly removing the complainants. It’s not something we’ve seen since we’ve been here, and believe me, we’ve seen many demonstrations and street protests that by and large have been noisy but peaceful.

It’s sad to think the powers-that-be (or people to whom the powers-that-be are indebted) are trying to forcibly change the face of the San Telmo market. (According to our landlady Mercedes it’s all, like the constantly, unnecessarily re-laid streets: ‘corrupción’ – Ant) After all, that’s why thousands of tourists flock here week in week out – for its eclectic wares and friendly local atmosphere, not generic food trucks!

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