Sunday, April 01, 2012

Old things, new things

AOG, Madrid

There are concepts that make it across the planet in seconds, and others which, even after all the technological advancements, still take for ever to arrive. 

What for instance? Well, in Europe there is something called teletext, which is a rudimentary form of interacting with your television. 

Last time I went to the US, teletext was a bit of a mystery to most people I mentioned it to. 

Ditto for Skype, though I hear that Skype is making somewhat of an inroad into American culture. I think it is taking a while to make an impact since telephone calls in the country, unlike the rest of the planet, and in particular Europe, are expensive things.

So, does America return the favor? Yes, of course, a thousandfold, though to many people, American concepts are just, well, American. 

Like the idea of teamwork, trial by jury, and even cable TV. Or garage sales.

Here in Spain, a country well know for being as prone to fad hysteria as any other Western country these days, old things and the lore associated with them are a bit of a an outsider. 

This in itself is a very American concept, but in the case of Spain, there is a twist. 

It isn't that the Spanish don't like old things. They do. Although not as populated as early as, oh I don't know, Mesopotamia,  the Iberian peninsula's ability to support our species is, by all measures, millennial. 

People have been living here since almost as soon as they, we, started living anywhere. 

The city of Cadiz, for example, a former Phoenician colony, is meant to be Europe's oldest continuously inhabited city, with a history going back over 3000 years. 

Yes, but Cadiz, which stems its name from Gadir, existed at a time when Spain, or anything that looked, sounded or smelled like Spain, did not exist. 

Nevertheless, the people living in Spain these days, including me, are lucky enough that they are surrounded by a lot of ancient rocks, streets, artifacts, and, of course, ideas. 

But I digress.

In Spain, ideas like 'vintage', which they actually refer to as 'vintage', are only just beginning to appear on the cultural horizon. 

And this, for someone like me, someone who has a degree in History and who likes to admire objects from other eras and imagine the world as it might have been then, this is exasperating. 

When I was growing up, if there was something I loved doing was buying old comics. 

Not because they were old, but because by the time I'd come on the scene (read Earth) these things had been here for a while longer, and I hated waiting for a whole month until the next issue came out. 

I devoured things like Peanuts, or the Wizard of Id, or, and this was apparent the microsecond I hit 16 and was eligible to drive, automobile magazines. 

I began to buy Road & Track and Motor Trend like there was no tomorrow. Except that my love for cars extended unto my artistic experimentation, and it was days before I picked up a set of French curves and stared drawing my own automobiles. And I needed inspiration. 

And inspiration was to be found in old issues of Road & Track and Motortrend, among others. 

For me, the ideal Saturday morning was going for a drive with my family to the nearest second hand book store and make my way into the 'Automotive' section. 

There my treasures were laying. Although hardly any issues went further back than early 70s, it was a real treasure trove for me. 

I would get more sophisticated with time, and other magazines and sources of inspiration , such as antique stores, the Salvation Army store and flea markets, would make their way unto my consciousness, but old magazines are still something I find precious as well as intriguing. 

When I lived in the UK, I was very fortunate in that the country has a tradition of charity shops. 

These are stores which are usually run by volunteers and which sell second-hand items (books, clothes, shoes, bric-a-brac) for a good cause, such as the Royal Institute for the Blind, the Red Cross, Charities for Romanian Orphans, or Oxfam, one of the more sophisticated ones. 

In fact, Oxfan was one of my favorites since it often had shops especially geared towards book lovers, such as myself. 

Ah yes... in as far as old things are concerned, London in particular, and the UK in general, were paradise for me.

And then I moved to Spain.

Yes, for all its old palaces, castles and Phoenician ruins, Spanish culture is still not very second-hand friendly. It is still tied to social class. Only poor people would be interested in second hand things. 

So nobody gives anything away publicly. If they do, it goes straight into the hands of nuns, or other charitable institutions, who do NOT have stores where you can go a peruse. 

Oh no; if you are poor, they will give you things, of course, but none of the fund raising aspect, as you would find in the UK, you see.

And as for old things, yes, there are some stores here and there who sell old paraphernalia. But they are difficult to find, and not exactly well stocked. 

Old books are never too far from a collector's gaze, so these are plentiful in Spain. As are Objects d'Art, tapestries, and assorted household decorative items. 

But things like old clothes, vintage old clothes,  shoes or accessories, are not so readily available, something really odd for a fashion powerhouse such as Spain.    

Of course, things are changing. 

Vintage shops are popping up here and there especially in the trendy districts (unlike in the rest of  Western Europe where secondhand shops might be trendy, but are not to be found in a trendy area -London being perhaps the only exception). 

And yes, of course, Spain always did have sort of antique markets operating in one way or another, although these days places like the famous open air antique neigborhood of 'El Rastro' in Madrid, or the 'Els Encants' market in Barcelona, are more geared towards cheaply-made Chinese products and, more often than not, stolen goods, than actual valuable antiques. 

However, the idea, the simple idea of a second-hand store is still anathema to most people here. How far from Tokyo where, we were told, there is, in fact, an entire department store selling only second hand goods!

So this weekend I was to be met with slight disappointment again. 

I read in the paper that there was going to be a  toy car collector's meet in one of Madrid's shopping centers. 

 Images of Hot Wheels, Majorette and Matchbox flooded my mind.

So I went, early Saturday morning, to the appointed place. Yes, there they were, a small army of collectors and passersby taking up a lot of space and not letting me look at anything. 

Yes, I know I was impatient. I am a little, especially when anxious. 

However, as I began to look out over a sea of not-exactly-miniature toy cars, my heart sunk. 

What the hell was this? It was slot cars. 

Ok ok, I'm not racist, people who like slot cars also deserve to live and who am I to criticize their hobby? However, the problem was not them, the problem was the stupid journalist who wrote the piece and didn't mention that bit of information.

I have to say, yes, there was one single, solitary stand, which did cater to my favored size. As per usual, the goods on offer had been in battle. Childhood can be very damaging to a toy car. Bent, wheel-free, dented, paint-scrapped miniatures were there, all lumped in a box, ready for a kind hand to pick them up. 

And I did, and when I saw the state they were in, and the €6.00 they wanted for them, I put them back in their pit. I saw a couple of early Matchbox Rolls Royce models, from the 1950s I think, complete with their flimsy build and smaller size. 

I also saw one of the cars which accompanied my childhood. 
 A yellow, 2 door Mercedes from the 70s with the usual white interior and the black top which, and I just read this online as I was looking for the image, was removable. Something I never did. 

I thought it would break. I was the kind of child who would take care of his toys. But the stand guy wanted €10.00 for it. Sorry, I'm not rich, and I don't have a toy car habit. 

So getting back to the original point, some fads and trends whizz around the world in days. And some take a while to arrive. Like Teletext in the US; Democracy in Arab countries, and second hand stores in Spain.

No comments: