Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Collectors search for rare finds at city's leading antique market"

(Published January 26, 2008 in The Guadalajara Reporter)

It is a leisurely Sunday. The sun and breeze blend sweetly as I stroll down a car-free Avenida Juarez among families holding hands. I am on my way to the stretch of Avenida Mexico between Chapultepec and Americas, where around 100 antique sellers have set up shop for the last 12 years in a market called the “Trocadero.”

This is a tianguis like no other – with no publicity, says the market’s coordinator, Armando Boyzo Nolasco – and the unique finds draw hundreds of people from all walks of life. The spread of paintings, jewelry, books and memorabilia are laid out under tents and umbrellas. Without the verbally assailing vendors you might find at the San Juan de Dios market in downtown Guadalajara, it makes for easy browsing.

I begin at the east end of the wide aisle, beneath the lady of liberty with her hand outstretched toward the market like an auctioneer announcing her wares.

Coming up on my right is a plain tent and a bearded man with thick glasses. He has set open on a table a bulky notebook containing rows and rows of collectible coins. Despite being unversed in coin history, I flip through until I notice a crate of labeled National Geographic magazines, similarly systemized with labels coordinating to the collector’s roster. My eyes light up and I select a few editions from the year I was born.

The collector pitches me a set of old encyclopedias in English, but I walk on. An elderly couple sits wordless under the shadow of their tent next-door, and Pedro, one half of the pair who looks
as dusty and historical as the paintings he sells, rises only after I prompt him.

What Pedro sells, among other antique art odds and ends, is retablos. I point to one and Pedro dusts off the small sheet metal square painted with oils, which roughly depicts a man kneeling at bedside, looking to a little blue virgin etched in the right corner: “Virgin de Zapopan give me health money and love thank you very much [sic] – Rodolfo Gutierres 1935.” The prayer, painted in childish black letters, floats over his head like cartoon script.

Pedro offers a retablo at 225 pesos. He tells me the art form is an important part of Mexican history, each painting a personal expression of gratitude to a life-saving virgin (others illustrate near-death experiences with a crocodile, a shark, and an amusement park ride called the “Hammer”).

There are piles of fantastic costume jewelry, new and old, which tempt me to fool with the dangling clip-on earrings and silver broaches like I’m sneaking through my grandmother’s armoire. I wade through collectibles like old Coca Cola ads, Cantinflas movie posters, a Marlboro cigarette machine and toy cars. A vendor sells goods collected by a traveler named Anthony Piraino: swords, horseshoes, cast iron door-knockers, furniture, and painted boxes.

Along my way I overhear a woman explaining the purpose of a gourd and perforated metal straw to her friend. I am curious too, so I introduce myself to Pauline VanHavere of Chapalita, who relocated from the Canadian province Saskatchewan last March. She is backpacked and amiable, and shows me how yerba mate is steeped and sipped from the Argentine tea bowl. I wish Pauline and her pal luck and move on.

My favorite find is on the west end steps: it is a specialized bookstand, a relief after shuffling through used book miscellany all day. Ramon Alvarez Rodriguez’s books are all about Jalisco history. He has guidebooks from the ’70s for English-speaking tourists, books about various neighborhoods in Guadalajara, and most interestingly, he sells entire bound copies of rare and important pieces of Tapatio literature, such as “Guadalajara de las Indias” by Jose T. Laris.

I leave feeling like I’ve walked into another era, or at least deep into someone’s attic. I read postcards from Lucky in Grand Rapids to Negrito in Guadalajara, looked through the lenses of a Hawking’s double meniscus camera collector Patricio Acevedo handed me, and read about children being lifted from the rubble of a deadly earthquake days after I was born.

Nolasco puts it well: “We are successful here because of the memories people have about things they’ve kept and the sentiments they have for old times.” The good old days can be visited at the Trocadero every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.