by Amy Menchhofer
Sidewalk merchants are an inherent part of Madrid life. The top manta vendors offer sheet after sheet of DVDs, sunglasses, and bags. Late night Sol sprouts folding tables tempting the temporarily buzzed with a jolt of energy in the form of a bocadillo (roll). Gypsies sell fruit on the street corners. And there is, of course, the mother of all street bazaars – the Rastro. The market appears on Sundays and holidays and offers everything you can imagine within a few short, crooked city blocks. Some people adore the Rastros’ ambience and make it a weekly adventure. Others can only muster the energy to go when friends and family come to town. But whatever your Rastro-views may be, it is an essential stop if what you’re looking for is art.
Be it posters for a recently-arrived expat or original paintings for that perfect souvenir, the Rastro’s “art street” has what you’re looking for. Wander up Calle de San Cayetano and you’ll find all manner of artwork, from still-lifes and cityscapes to mosaics and lithographs. As you stroll along you’ll find a pencil sketch of the Plaza Mayor for 3€ next to an original mosaic of the Virgin Mary that will set you back 600€ and will barely fit on the Metro. What makes the purchases even more special is that because you frequently buy them straight from the artist, they sometimes have a story to tell. Years ago when I paid just 40€ for this pair of paintings, I also discovered that the artist dedicates himself solely to painting scenes from Cevantes’ Don Quijote in the hope that foreigners will learn to share his love for that story. It worked, since we bought six different paintings from him.
So next time you are looking for art, give the museums a rest and wander the Rastro.
Metro: La Latina / Tirso de Molina. The Rastro is on Calle Ribera de Curtidores and surrounds. Art street is Calle de San Cayetano. See map below: