Bazaar Economy on the Puente del Papa (Pope’s Bridge). Monterrey

Receipt: November 10, 2020

Acceptance: July 14, 2021

Abstract

The aim of this essay is to show the co-participation of vendors and merchandise in the reproduction of particular ways of making and being in the widest context of urban reality. The essay consists of a reflection and photographs taken in the place in which vendors sell their goods. Characterizing this form of trade as a bazaar economy, the focus is on the goods, their type, characteristics and layout, as well as those of the vendors. The geographic centrality of the location of this commercial activity contrasts with its marginality in relation with the economy and the hegemonic discourses in the city. In the same way in which goods find a second or third life here, vendors seem to achieve the same thing by remaining here despite having been discarded by the labor market and other circumstances of life. The essay is composed of photographs taken as part of fieldwork aimed at knowing the dynamic of informal trade in Monterrey. In this framework, these vendors are the simplest and clearest example of the bazaar economy that is then reproduced, in certain aspects, in the hundreds of markets throughout the city.

Keywords: , , , ,

bazaar economy on the puente del papa (pope's bridge). monterrey

The aim of this essay is to show the co-participation of vendors and merchandise in the reproduction of particular ways of making and being in the widest context of urban reality. The essay consists of a reflection and photographs taken in the place in which vendors sell their goods. Characterizing this form of trade as a bazaar economy, the focus is on the goods, their type, characteristics and layout, as well as those of the vendors. The geographic centrality of the location of this commercial activity contrasts with its marginality in relation with the economy and the hegemonic discourses in the city. In the same way in which goods find a second or third life here, vendors seem to achieve the same thing by remaining here despite having been discarded by the labor market and other circumstances of life. The essay is composed of photographs taken as part of fieldwork aimed at knowing the dynamic of informal trade in Monterrey. In this framework, these vendors are the simplest and clearest example of the bazaar economy that is then reproduced, in certain aspects, in the hundreds of markets throughout the city.

Keywords: bazaar economy, waste trade, junk, used merchandise, material culture.


Introduction

The Pope's Bridge1 crosses the Santa Catarina River2 and connects the Independencia neighborhood3 (south) with downtown Monterrey (north) and one of its most important axes, Juarez Avenue. The contrast between both sides of the river is evident. To the south, a populous residential sector, to the north, tall, modern buildings.

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From its origins (century xix), the bridge, originally called San Luisito, has served as a place for commerce (Morado, 1994; Sandoval Hernández and Escamilla, 2010). Until 2010, under the bridge was the largest market for the sale of used objects in the city, "la pulga del Puente del Papa" (the flea of the Pope Bridge). Currently, merchants who joined the commercial maelstrom of "la pulga" continue to set up shop every weekend, and others do so permanently in small, rickety premises located at the foot of the bridge. These merchants are a vestige of the legendary and rickety commerce that has always taken place in this area of the city; they also represent a very peculiar way of practicing commerce, to which this essay is dedicated.

The objective of this work is to show the co-participation (Gell, 1998).4 of merchants and merchandise in the reproduction of particular ways of doing and being in the broader context of urban reality. This means that merchants and objects (commodities) together represent a way of doing and being that cannot be understood separately. The type of goods and the way in which they are disposed of, valued and traded express the way in which those same merchants make a place for themselves in the city or, in other words, the description of the type of merchant presupposes the type of goods he trades, and describing the goods also presupposes a certain type of merchant. The above justifies the importance of showing such a way of being through images that evidence the arrangement and variety of the merchandise, but also the position of the merchants before them and in the sales space itself. Together, merchandise and merchants manifest a place and a way of being in society.

The merchants, the merchandise and the ways of being and being in the economy of the Pope's Bridge are part of the social and, therefore, of what one is in a society. These merchants, far from representing the widespread culture of effort in Monterrey, are part of a society,5 remain on the sidelines, minority and on the edge, even though they are located in one of the most central geographic points of the city to carry out their sales,6 But they do it in an improvised, disorderly, precarious way, and their permanence in the point of sale is already an effort to remain in the maelstrom of the city.

The circumstances of the merchants and merchandise of the Pope's Bridge, and especially the commercial activity they carry out, bring to mind Clifford Geertz's (1979) idea of the bazaar economy. For him, the bazaar economy refers to a system of social relations centered on trade, where the market is an institution and a relational space in which, more than economic balances or the accumulation of profits, what matters is "the possibility of remaining" within the "complex system of relations".

In the bazaar space, far from capitalist-type commercial logics, merchants, rather than seeking economic or social recognition, seek permanence, as if, like the merchandise they sell, they were looking for "supplementary lives" (Peraldi, 2001: 9). Thus, in the bazaar, goods can be sold by the piece or by the hundreds, at a different price depending on who wants to buy them, and they can "return almost indefinitely, at different stages of their life" (Peraldi, 2001: 19). Thus, more than being an economy, the bazaar is a way of life, with a ethos which is based on a certain morality and valuation of work, adventure, travel and stability, different to the ethos industrial that privileges pragmatism or "the abandonment of oneself at work" (Peraldi, 2007: 10). Understanding this ethos allows us to understand the dirt, disorder, breakage, incompleteness, instability, fragility and precariousness of the merchandise itself, of the merchants themselves and of a way of doing commerce; and allows us to think of the activity of selling on the Pope's Bridge as a place assigned by force of being discarded by the labor market or by other social restrictions, and as an opportunity to be or continue to be within society.

"Harvest" on the Pope's Bridge

In the city of Monterrey, on the east corner of Querétaro Street and Ignacio Morones Prieto Avenue, in what can be considered one of the gateways to the popular Independencia neighborhood, a group of mostly elderly merchants sell used goods. In general they are machines, various tools and plumbing and electrical spare parts, from screws to drills, from a gasket to a polishing machine. In addition, they sell cell phone chargers, cassettes, frames, VCRs, shoes, hats, porcelain ornaments, toys, coins, personal accessories, clothing, remote controls, electrical appliances, household appliances, tin crafts, compasses, skates, discs, and other items. lpThe list would be too long and always inaccurate. All the objects are used and old, most of them have some defect, have been rebuilt, are incomplete, dirty or about to lose their use value. Disorder reigns in the premises. Several of them deserve to be described as pigsties. Outside, the merchants remain a good part of the day sitting on some old rocking chair or bench and chatting, or simply waiting for time to pass. Customers are scarce.

At the same crossroads, but on the west side, is the Díaz Ordaz market. Founded in 1979 (Sandoval Hernandez and Escamilla, 2010: 169), it houses several shops selling food, some furriers, beauty salons, a well-known seller of old records, and a well-known seller of old records (Sandoval Hernandez and Escamilla, 2010: 169). lp. Many of the stores are abandoned. Although it is called a market, fruits and vegetables are scarce there. From this area you can access the southern end of the Pope's Bridge. In this place, known by any inhabitant of this city, several sellers are installed that, either on a board, a box, a briefcase, a cloth, a small devil or directly on the ground, place their merchandise. They do so only on this section of the bridge because for several years the municipal administrations have applied the criterion of preventing commerce on the bridge, under the argument of obstructing pedestrian traffic on the public road. Such a policy, which in this case is applied to an emblematic pedestrian bridge in the city and located on two of the main avenues, is obedient to a morality that judges the activity of informal commerce as something negative.7 Like their colleagues described in the first paragraph, practically everything sold by the merchants installed at the southern end of the bridge are used items, except that here tennis shoes, shoes, t-shirts, shirts, watches, rings, cassettes, pirated or original format movies predominate. CD, Beta or vhsThe sellers of these items are: battered electronic devices, toys, key rings, old coins, junk and, in general, objects that have been discarded, forgotten, lost or stolen. Those who sell them recovered them from a garbage dump, found them lying around by chance, exchanged them for other objects, or stole them at some point. These are items that, thanks to these sellers, seem to cling to a second, third or fourth life (Appadurai, 1991; Anstett and Ortar, 2015).

None of these merchants expressly offer their merchandise to the vendors. Here you don't hear the cries of "bara, bara, bara" or "llévelo, llévelo, llévelo", so common in Monterrey's tianguis; rather they remain seated or standing next to the items they have brought to sell. Eventually they move their stall following the shadow of the bridge's suspenders. Silence and solitude prevail in this particular sales scenario.

On weekends other merchants join the contingent and set up shop in the same area or at the foot of the stairs at the north end of the bridge, on the east corner of Juarez and Constitución avenues. These thirty or so men challenge the status quoThey dare to engage in informal commerce and sell used articles practically at the doors of the luxurious Liverpool store, inside which, in an air-conditioned, clean and musical environment, the merchandise is offered in an orderly manner, many of them with brands of companies known worldwide; there, customers are attended to by employees uniformed in tailor suits.

As if that were not enough, the Pabellón M building rises majestically across the street: 50 floors, heliport, convention center, hotel, offices, shopping mall, auditorium, among other facilities, make up the complex's offer. It is advertised on its website Web as "The new urban center of Monterrey", under the slogan "Here begins the future".8 That novelty and that future seem to greet their weekend neighbors, the traders of used things, waste or leftovers (Debary and Gabel, 2010). They, and these, do not represent the future, modernity, cleanliness, legality, formality, bureaucratization, order, connectivity, adaptability, change and efficiency of the "modern" world and "its" economy. Rather, they seem its antithesis in the form of an "analogous" existence (Leonard, 2009) that represents something that was. The contrast is evident. Thus, the goods, the way they are displayed and the very presence of the merchants visually present themselves as a "local clutter" (Peraldi, 2001: 13) in the midst of which, or through which, one can find "unique" and "wonderful" (Debary and Gabel, 2010: 123), very specific, old, discontinued items or ones that can be modified to give them a new use. Here, plumbers, electricians and masons who work on their own find parts of a tool they want to repair, or bits and pieces to rebuild a discontinued device, but also collectors and the curious discover in wonder a lost item, or the memory of a past that is no longer contained in a materially empty or unusable object (Debary and Gabel, 2010).

Objects turned into commodities, as well as those who sell them, cling to an existence. Selling here, rather than a way to accumulate profit, is more a way of being in the sense of occupying a place. The sale of discarded, reconstructed, salvaged, stolen or used items assigns a place and offers the opportunity to be within society.

Conclution

In the framework of a society that sometimes seems bent on turning certain existences into waste (Tironi, 2019), the act of selling of the merchants of the Puente del Papa appears as a way of clinging to their social and individual existence. It is no coincidence that almost exclusively in this case it is the elderly, retirees or former workers of some trade or job who trade there. This way of being is objectified in the leftover merchandise, fabrics, tarpaulins, crates, little devils, clamps, ropes and other utensils used to set up the place of sale. Together, merchants, merchandise and utensils manifest a "differential regime of alterities" (Peraldi, 2001) in a world dominated by commodified relations. The alterities that enter into relation here are multiple, but at the same time they are only one, that which relates the economically and socially unequal and which is manifested in the fragility, eventuality and marginality of the merchant's sales space, in contrast with the architectural majesty of a 50-story building, or with the comfort of an air-conditioned retail store.

The merchants of the Pope's Bridge are the finest and clearest expression of the essence of the bazaar economy. The permanence of their goods on a piece of cloth, a canvas, a board or directly on the ground; the characteristics of the goods (used, defective, incomplete, dirty, or new but cheap and almost disposable), and the almost non-existent possibility of commercial success summarize a way of being, being and remaining that deserves to be highlighted only for itself, without qualifiers, because achievement, success or accumulation are nothing more than arbitrary constructions of what has been socially designated as what one should be or should pretend to be in a commodified world. The person of the merchant and the object quality of the merchandise they sell, rather than being treated as a category within a legal framework, are what the genuine observer's gaze should be directed towards.

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Efrén Sandoval Hernández is a research professor at the Northeastern Headquarters of the ciesas (Monterrey). He is a member of the National System of Researchers level 1. His work deals with "border economies" in the region of northeastern Mexico and South Texas. His most recent publication is (2020) "¿Por qué la gente compra fayuca en los tianguis de Monterrey?", AlteritiesIn 2019, he coordinated (together with Martin Rosenfeld and Michel Peraldi) the book La fripe du nord ou sud. Global production, cross-border trade and informal markets of garments used in the textile industry.és (Paris: Éditions Pétra / imera / ehess). He has been a professor in different national institutions, and has received funding for his research from national and international institutions.

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