I was recently in Santander, a major port city on the northern Spanish coast. While my kids were waking up in the hotel, my wife and youngest son went out in search of breakfast. Bereft of a map, we wandered in search of some fruit, and some pastries perhaps? Eventually, glancing round a street corner, I spotted what looked like it might be the corner of a market stall. On closer inspection, it turned out we had stumbled across one of the most remarkable food markets I have ever had the pleasure to wander around, El Mercado de la Esperanza, or ‘The Market of Hope’.
The market opened in 1904, and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of iron architecture in Spain, being declared a historic monument in 1977. It is the largest market of its kind in Cantabria, the region of Spain in which Santander sits. Outside the market was a clothes market one had to pass through in order to get inside the building, which had little that was memorable, apart from a very tight-looking pair of men’s briefs with a picture of a large space rocket on the front and the word, erm, “rocket”. I didn’t buy them.
The market was on two floors. The lower floor featured seafood (“mariscos”) and fish (“pescados”), freshly caught from the Calabrian Sea. Shrimps, prawns, squid, muscles, big eel-like things, plaice, salmon, something called ‘bonito’ which I’m not sure what it is but it would take you a few meals to get through one, sardines, and some amazing-looking things that I had only ever seen in fossils. All laid out on ice, stall after stall after stall.
Upstairs was a more eclectic array of food. Fruit, vegetables, an amazing array of cheeses, bread and pastries, meats, cakes, eggs, honey, preserves, huge hams, all manner of pulses laid out in baskets. Rather than the kind of market I’m more used to, that sets up on trestle tables and is gone by the end of the day, this was a permanent market. It was open 6 days a week, all day (bar the traditional siesta break in the middle of the day), and each stall was its own business, each one probably kept within families for generations. There we no empty stalls.
We wandered around, buying a creamy goats cheese, some beautiful flat peachy things that are particular to that area, a bag of amazing greengages that dripped with a juice as sweet as honey, some local brie-type cheese that smelt like the worst teenagers’ trainers you ever had the misfortune to be in close proximity to but which tasted amazing, and some bread. I have been to similar markets, The English Market in Cork in Ireland, St. Nicholas Market in Bristol, and perhaps a couple of others, but El Mercado de la Esperanza blew me away.
The previous day news had reached me that Costa Coffee, the global coffee chain, has succeeded in getting planning permission to open a branch in my home town of Totnes in Devon, a story told brilliantly in a piece in today’s Guardian. Nothing unusual in that you might say, Costa are opening new branches everywhere, every day. What was particular to the Totnes Costa was that nobody wanted it. The ‘No to Costa’ campaign, which Transition Town Totnes was one of the key drivers of, had fought a creative, positive and very high profile campaign against the planning application to turn a former health food shop into a Costa. It also presented itself very much in the context of the positive vision of how our local economy could be that TTT has been working to achieve for the past 6 years, and which will be outlined in its forthcoming ‘Economic Blueprint’ for the town.
Read the rest, and see Rob’s photographs, at TransitionCulture.org