Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Who will buy…?

In the film adaptation of Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" there is a magnificent song-and-dance scene based on Bart's number, "Who Will Buy?", depicting the various street merchants of the nineteenth century. Guardamar is one of the few places that still has its own street merchants and the only place to have so-called sarandas.

Saranda refers to both the traditional form of selling wet fish in the street and the special form of net, rather like a flat circular basket, on which the fish are placed. The saranda is then carried on a sort of wheelbarrow that the seller pushes through the streets of Guardamar. Unfortunately, the last saranda maker has retired, so one of the saleswomen has now had to resort to a more "normal" form of barrow.

Just three saranda women are left: Gloria Palomar, Encarnita García and Teresa Carreras. They learnt the trade from other family members many years ago: Gloria has been selling fish on the streets of Guardamar for more than forty years. Nobody shows any interest in following in the footsteps of these women, nor do the women themselves have any desire for their own descendants to do so. The sight of this traditional form of fish-selling is therefore destined to disappear within the next few years. Another part of old Spain will go.

The women collect the fresh fish from the Guardamar fishing quay every morning from Monday to Friday. With their sarandas full of fish that is often still alive, they return to Guardamar, where they call out their wares as they walk through the streets and stand for a while at their preferred corners. They have magnificent voices; they call, rather than sing or shout. Exactly what they call is difficult for the foreign listener to understand: I am sure it is a mixture of Valencian and whatever the local dialect might be, with a bit of Castilian thrown in here and there ("de todas las clases" seems to be a well-used phrase). It doesn't really matter, for everyone knows the sound of the saranda women and its significance: who will buy my fresh fish!

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