I’m the sort of person that doesn’t function too well of a morning. Ideally in my world, there should be sort of central locking device on all hot, sharp or dangerous household objects that doesn’t spring open until I’ve had at least three cups of strong coffee.
Last week I attempted to iron a delicate shirt before work and failed to notice in my befuddled state that I had the iron on the linen setting and that the shirt was literally melting before my very eyes.
Back in England I would have had a slight tantrum and thrown it in the bin. In an age of £5 supermarket toasters and clothes that cost less than a cappuccino, nobody bothers to get anything fixed, darned or fiddled about with anymore but here in Barcelona, the city is full of tiny hidden shops that do just that.
A few years ago the strap on my leather bag broke and after chatting to a helpful pensioner in the street in Gràcia, I was directed to a secret doorway I’d walked past a million times before and never noticed. From a handwritten sign on the door I learnt that it was open for a grand total of 2 hours a day (closed all day on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, throughout August and on national holidays) and even then they only opened if they really felt like it.
Once I’d squeezed myself past an army of old ladies buying buttons and oddments, I found a dusty old shop that looked as if it hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. Ikea it was not. From behind a long wooden counter, the staff delved about in row upon row of drawers, filled with buckles, fasteners and other bits and bobs. For the old-fashioned price of €2.50, my bag was returned to its former glory by a man who must have been getting on a bit when the Spanish Civil War kicked off. It was a delight.
With this in mind, last week I scoured my new neighbourhood for someone who could resurrect my shirt. I found Teresa, a plump lady with a wicked smile who works out of the back of a dishevelled shop in Sant Pere. Without so much as a raised eyebrow at my ironing capabilities, she produced pins from a little pin cushion worn on a Velcro strap around her wrist, devised a couple of clever tucks and promised to have it back to me the next day in exchange for €3. True to her word, there it was the following day, good as new. Clearly having deduced that I was a woman prone to pre-noon calamities, she gave me a wink and told me to pop in whenever I needed her.
Call me old-fashioned but I love these quirky little shops that lurk in Barcelona’s backstreets. I like a good counter and parcels tied with string. I feel exotic wandering past the tobacconists with a bread stick tucked under my arm. I think more men should wear aprons. And if you’re interesting in learning a language, there’s really nothing better than a good morning’s haggle at the market.
Thanks to rent control, Barcelona’s property developers will have a long wait to get rid of some these antiquated old ‘ma and pa’ stores. Primark may have opened its first shop here but for now the Catalans seem quite content with fixing what they already have rather than getting their hands on mountains more stuff. Happy as I am to have somewhere to buy cheap socks, I hope Teresa and those like her stay in business for many years to come. I fear I may need them.