Joan Mateu

Interviewed August 7, 2017 for Catalunya Barcelona docuseries.

What’s your name?

I, good morning, am called Joan Mateu.

Where were you born?

I was accidentally born in Barcelona.

My parents lived in Montornés, very close to Barcelona.

I had to be born here.

What’s your job?

Right now, I’m a book-seller in the Sant Antoni market.

Now I’ll tell you some historic events, let’s see if you can explain some personal or familiar anecdote. About Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship?

Primo de Rivera’s disctatorship?


Very ugly.

I mean, all dictatorship are ugly.

But do you have any anecdote like… the Second republic, for example.

I don’t have any anecdote.

From me or my family not, they’re from later.

Now we move on to the Sant Antoni market. Could you explain to us its history?

The history of the Sant Antoni market isn’t fully known by many.

It’s something that appeared almost suddenly

with people selling used, old books, that came from many places and made a living out of selling them.

Nowadays a used book is very cheap.

A new book is also cheap, relatively cheap.

They’ve never been so cheap.

A few years ago, they were quite expensive.

Buying the book was the salary of one, two, three workdays, maybe a week or a month.

Nowadays it’s a couple of workhours at most, one hour.

Then, began a popular street market somewhere else in Barcelona, which kept moving.

It had some meeting points in what is now the ‘mercat dels encants’ in the ‘Glòries’ square, it had some times when each was on their own.

We moved from place to place.

Until, around the year 36-37 they began to establish around the Sant Antoni market.

After some years, they were integrated into the Sant Antoni market and that’s about it until now.

What were the events that took place during the renovation of the market in 2014?

Ask that again.

The events that slowed the renovation of the market in 2014.

2014, let’s see.

The market…

The ‘Institut de Mercats’ has the task of managing, of keeping, the markets of the city of Barcelona.

There’s… I think that there’s 43 markets.

Then, what they did was, simple, to take and renovate a market.

That, to take it all apart, to build it up again, leave it all pretty and forget about it.

That’s what was done in the Sant Antoni market too.

The thing is that here it was bigger.

Which are the facts?

The city hall will give you their version, the ‘Institut de Mercats’ also their own,

each of them will say their version.

Bascially, the thing is that there was no money.

Who was Antoni Rovira i Trias?

Antoni Rovira i Trias?

Holy shit, that was the architect, right?

I think so.


That man was the architect [of the Mercat renovation], which was also done by a company where I worked for 17 years, the ‘Maquinista Terrestre y Marítima’.

I’m quite happy, it looks great.

And what’s his relationship with Ildefons Cerdà?

I think they were friends.

I don’t know him that much, as I told you I’m no historian.

Do you know the history of the book market?

The history of the book market is approximately what I’ve told you before.


With the sun, the heat, the ice-cream, cold things do their work and tobacco helps too.

Ask the question again, about the history of the book market.

Is what I told you before.

In a certain moment, people began selling used books in the street here or there.

From here on, people starting joining up until they were integrated into one of the locations where they set up shop, the Sant Antoni Market.

How did the Sant Antoni neighborhood change from the International Exposition?

No idea.

Do you know how the market was during the Francoist repression?

How the market was?

Let’s see, the market [exists] since 1882.

Then during Francoist repression, I’m not sure if you mean physically…?

No, how was the activity inside.

The activity?

In the book market?

About the same that has been since.

I mean, evidently the book market is something that has always been there.

It has its own rules, its own way of working.

Then, during Francoist time it was a place where, let’s say, people went to search for what couldn’t be found anywhere.

Because it wasn’t there, because it was hard to find or because it was banned.

Was there some issues with those forbidden books?

No, not if they didn’t catch you.

What’s the relationship between the book market and the church?

Is there a relation?

Apparently so.

Well, there’s…

There are some men who go to church sometimes but only a handful.

The connections between the book market and groups like the ‘Front Nacional de Catalunya’?

Let’s see,

a bookseller is often someone who reads.

It’s usually someone who transmits ideas.

And they usually relate with people who also drink from these ideas, who transmit and generate them.

Logically, there’s always been a relation.

There hasn’t been a very direct and visible relation.

They have been on a personal level, basically.

The thing is that, of course, you get all kinds there.

But it’s not where all this started.

What sort of illegal books were sold in the market during the Francoist regime?

All sorts.

You want to find erotic books?

To the market.

They won’t be on the front line because it was forbidden.

You wanted to find books about politics about Marx and all that?

To the market.

They wouldn’t be on the front line, but they were there.

If that’s what you meant.

How did the market help protect the language?

Let’s see, language isn’t defended by a market, that first and foremost.

If you wanted to find books in Catalan, which weren’t allowed-

during part of the Francoist dictatorship they weren’t allowed-

if you could find them it was, basically, from people in the market.

Who had a bookstore had them, hidden in a corner.

In the market there wouldn’t be many on sight, but they were there.

It helped in the sense that they physically keep these books alive.

But of course, they couldn’t be kept on sight.

Could you tell us about the libertarian ‘ateneus’?

The libertarian ‘ateneus’ haven’t had much to do with the market.

Yes, well, but if you could tell us something.

I know few libertarian ‘ateneus’.

I don’t have much experience with people who have been in libertarian ‘ateneus’.

My grandfather belonged to the CNT.

But he didn’t belong to any libertarian ‘ateneu’.

And didn’t they tell you anything about being a member of the CNT?

Well, he was a member of CNT but he wasn’t any renowned member, anyone especially known.

He just had his job, everyone had to belong to a trade union, and in Barcelona CNT, anarchism, has had a great push, a lot of strength.

So, logically, he was in the CNT.

I’m happier that he was in CNT rather than he was anywhere else.

Could you tell us about the role of the book marked nowadays?

The role of the book market…

The book market is, let’s say, changing.

It’s changing regarding the ideas, regarding its set up.

We’re trying to change a bit the relation with the city.

For many years, it has been allowed that this market degenerated.

Of course, you think, that’s not good.

We’re not offering a service.

What we’ve been doing for a few years is an attempt to recover the market as much as possible.

Let’s give it the push it should have in Catalan society.

Catalan, well, rather the society of Barcelona and nearby.

It also reaches the Maresme, the Vallesos, the Baix Llobregat

as their habitual clients.

We try to somehow provide this service.

The job we’ve assigned ourselves in the committee is, simply, that it isn’t just a market of old paper as it has been allowed and, in a certain way, promoted to become.

Let’s recover the literature.

Let’s recover the books.

The content.

How was the marked affected by real estate speculation?

This is a question… that is quite nasty.

Let’s see.

Speculation is a synonym of greed.

Greed is very bad.

In Barcelona

and elsewhere in the world.

What’s the issue?

Let’s see.

When they said to build the market again, originally, it was about enlarging it.

Enlarge it downwards, they built four stories downward; they’re already done.

And then, we’d all go back there.

What’s the issue?

A great speculation begins to take place.

The city hall knows it and tells us.

Hey, people, this will be very expensive.

And from here on, out of this interest in tourism, to make it look nice, for all of this, we begin to have issues to go back to where we were supposed to go.

Someone was interested in making Barcelona pretty, postcard-like, and we bothered them.

We bothered them a lot.

The market won’t look good!

The city hall itself is the first one to take down, physically, the aesthetic of the market.

That takes a long time to explain.

It can be explained with the blueprint, but that’s another topic.

But we bothered them.

We bothered them because it wasn’t in their plan to make a pretty book market.

The idea was that we went… that we disappeared first.

Then that we went elsewhere, to Gran Vía or that we went to Raval.

There’s some who say we’re going to the Escorxador park, that we were going back to the outskirts of the market but not inside, and finally that we were going back.

What happens?

The city hall has done some underhand business.

You know politicians, they never tell you the whole story and make you believe that they are your friends while they’re stabbing you in the back.

And in the end, through being stubborn, having clear ideas, not lying to anyone and especially the support we’ve had from journalists, writers, and some politicians,

we’ve managed to go back to the market in the best possible conditions and that our showcase, which is Urgell street, didn’t disappear.

It’s long what I just explained and, without the blueprints, you can’t get it.

Continuing with the speculation topic, could you tell us about what’s going on now in the Sant Antoni neighborhood?

In Sant Antoni, let’s see.

Barcelona has suffered several, what’s the word…

Barcelona has suffered several cases of speculation.

For one reason or the other.

Now, well, the market of Sant Antoni, the neighborhood of Sant Antoni, is in fashion.


Because it’s a hot topic, they doing a cute market, it all looks great.

Of course, there’s the real estate vultures, those who think that they want to become rich with no work, they want to make a pile of money.

That’s known by the city hall, who has and still is allowing it.

What needs to be done?

Well, it shouldn’t be done.

Barcelona receives a lot of tourism, tourism is good.

It’s good for any place.

It allows you to communicate with people, it allows you to be known.

It’s also an income source.

The thing is that stuff done in a rush never work out well.

If a man from, say, London, decides to come visit Barcelona,

what he wants to see are Barcelonese people and traditional people who have been there forever.

To see a Mango, a Zara, they already have that there.

It makes no sense.

An H&M, it’s quite stupid.

Let’s go have lunch, where?

Damn, well, then you’ll want a salad and some bread with tomato.

You won’t be wanting to get into a McDonald’s, it makes no sense to travel for thousands of kilometers to enter a McDonald’s.

Could you tell us, lately there’s been a lot of noise in the media about tourism-phobia.

Tourism-phobia, let’s see.

The media likes to give things names, to tag, that’s all nice, it makes their work easier.

There’s no tourism-phobia.

What there is is too much pressure against the Barcelonese people.

Barcelona is the city of the Barcelonese people.

We are fine with people coming from outside to settle or spend some days.

We’re perfectly fine with that.

What’s not okay is that you are kicked out of your home because it’s more profitable to host a foreigner who is richer.

That’s not okay.

30% of the

Sant Antoni Neighborhood is over 65.

Obviously, they are paying money for their home.

If you raise their rent a 10, a 20, a 50, a100% these people need to leave, they need to abandon their neighborhood.

To abandon their friends.

And those who can stay, they lose their friends.

That doesn’t build city.

That slows down, it messes up the relationship, makes it ugly.

What’s the thing? People end up being fed up with it.

A man from, let’s see, I don’t live in Sant Antoni,

but if someone tells me, turns out that your mother

is being kicked out of her place.

The first thing I do, maybe not grab a gun because I don’t have one, but I’ll curse the world.

All of the Sant Antoni issue is being dealt with by an association,

a something, that’s called defend [???] Sant Antoni, who do it fairly well.

I follow them, well, they have our support as a market.

Because we believe that

the identity of a city is made out of, mainly, the people.

Besides the buildings, besides the way to act, it is made out of the people.

Our foremost friend, client, is the neighbor of Sant Antoni.

What we want is that it continues to be so.

And could you tell us about the history of the neighborhood?

Not much.

Do you know how the book market and its surroundings changed with the ’92 Olympic Games?

It changed?



That’s what they say.

That’s what they say, then let them explain it.

Let’s see, all of Barcelona changed after the Olympic Games.

It changed the paradigm.

You say, did it become a prettier city?

So to speak, yes.

Did it become a city that worked better, with better communications? That too.

Was there a lot of speculation? That too.

Was there a lot of greed when it came to building the ‘Zona Olímpica’? That too.

Of course, it changed the neighborhood.

But the neighborhood of Sant Antoni didn’t change, the whole city did.

Since Sant Antoni is near the center, it of course was

quite affected, but it isn’t…

particularly, I don’t consider it something too grave.

How does, like, the market library is every sunday, right? What happens in the beginning? What happens then? The people watching this have no idea, how does it get started? Can you walk us through the sellers coming in, and how it is set up, and when it opens to the public? Give us the experience of the library from the break of dawn to…

Let’s see,

to explain this it would be much better to do so with images.

About two years ago we made a

short video, about a minute and a half.

It was made by a friend of mine, from my town, Montornés.

He just came several days at different times and filmed.

He edited it all and it was a sort spot…

Well, it’s too long for a spot and too short for a report.

That explains from the moment when the street is completely dark, completely empty,

how the first carts arrive, how the first booksellers arrive, how they set the books up.

And then the whole mess that goes on during the day.

Later, a movie producer, Rius de Tinta, made a small feat…

Well, they made a feature about the market and is explained quite well.

How does the market work?

Let’s seen, nowadays

we’re in a provisional market.

We’re in the middle of the street until the works on the Sant Antony market are over.

How does it work? Well…

I think that around 4 or 5 in the morning some people from the construction come, put some fences and don’t let anyone through,

don’t let cars through.

Around 5, just after it,

begin to arrive the first booksellers.

Each arrives at a different time.

Usually, nobody bothers anyone, all of them…

between five and nine everyone get there.

Everyone has his own schedule.

Everyone has his own clients, everyone adapts,

has been adapting with time, let’s say, to their surrounding in the market and their clients.

There are articles that people arrive late to buy.

There are articles that people arrive very early to buy, so you adapt.

How does that work? It’s what I said.

There’s nothing in the street, you get there, put some stuff,

the tables, start setting some books up,

you tidy everything up and after a while, half an hour or two hours, people begin to arrive.

Our attendance maximum is between eleven and one.

You can’t walk there.

It’s a show, it’s fantastic.

I’m on a corner and I like a lot to often stand up,

take a look and think, damn, that’s pretty.

It’s, let’s see,

you go to any marketplace and see that in the corridors there’s people,

but they aren’t full, people don’t bother each other.

I like that, love that, because you can’t even move.

There’s a lot of noise.

Not noise from cars, there’s noise from people who are talking.

It’s fantastic.

How do you live St. George’s day?

St. George’s day? Well, this year it was on Sunday so it was just another Sunday.

On St. George’s day, if it’s not on Sunday, the usual, everyone builds their stall how they want.

Of course, not in the market.

Catalan culture has endured much oppression for centuries. Is this going to do what Franco could not do?


Honestly, not.

Let’s see, technology is technology.

Just that.

It’s a means.

Many new words come in, especially from English? That’s true.

We have adopted some of them? Yes, true.

But you say, technology hasn’t taken Catalan down.

My phone is in Catalan, my mac works in Catalan too,

there’s no problem there.

On twitter I talk to everyone in Catalan, I say no,

there’s no problem with technology.

And have e-books affected you?

A lot. A lot.

Let’s see, the e-book…

These books are also digital, you move through with your fingers.

The leaves are turned with the fingers, they’re digital too.

Let’s see.

But they don’t run out of battery.

The others do.

Has the e-book affected us? It has affected us.

We mainly make a living from used books.

Especially books that aren’t found or are hard to find, discontinued books.

It is, let’s say, our forte.

You’re looking for a book, you go to the bookstore, they place an order on the publishing house, it is discontinued, it’s impossible to get.

It can’t be found, you can find it in Sant Antoni.

Someone is sure to have it.

Maybe not in the market, but surely in their bookstore,

their warehouse, wherever.

The tough thing, sometimes, is to find them.

Did it affect us?

Let’s see, the e-book is hugely stupid.

Sorry to say so.

A year ago I was at a fair and a lecture with a couple of writers told me that, let’s see, the thing is that

the publisher forces me to publish on paper and

to upload it on the net.

After a couple of hours after the first book has been sold, there begin to be copies everywhere.

Why would they buy the paper or digital book?

They don’t need to.

That they make drms, that is, protections, so that the file isn’t shared everywhere?

There’s always someone able to tear it down and upload it everywhere.

Whole or by bits.

You go on google, ask for any book, and well, download as a pdf.

Okay, great.

What’s the issue? The publishing house is the first to be working against itself.

It’s easy, I find it dumb.

Over 20 years ago they gave me my first, what’s the name, an iPad[?],

I’m not sure if you recall this word now so technologically old,

and it was a lot of fun.

A lot of fun but it was useless.

I’ve had several tablets, now I have the iPad which is what you’re supposed to,

and I never managed to read anything in them.

I’m sorry.

I just can’t.

I like to turn pages, to smell the paper.

It’s not the same that light shines on you that light going inside you.

It’s great to do spectacular things, but not to read.

You need calm.

What that does is to overstimulate the brain, it makes me nervous, I don’t like it.

We gather you’ve met many Catalan authors. Are there any authors that have thanked or cited the influence of the mercat on their development as a writer?

If I know any writer that is grateful to the market?

Let’s see, when…

just after last summer gave up its ghost, it was when…

Let’s see, our natural client is someone who reads

comic books, who likes reading postcards, who reads books

of one kind or the other, doesn’t matter which.

But our usual client, the common one,

natural, is someone who writes

in a newspaper, that writes books, that works with ideas, with stories,

with feelings.

When during the end of last summer we started to notice that they wanted to kick us out,

they were the first to stand up against it.

It started to appear day after day in newspapers, also in short notes, in long features.


It was in fashion.

It was a very pretty and curious time,

and also quite difficult for us, because

appearing in newspapers meant that people remembered we existed

and we couldn’t fit.

It was so noisy.

That is, lots of people came to the market to look for something

and had to leave empty-handed because they couldn’t even reach the stalls since it was so full.

So, I’m ever so grateful with them, I’ve been thanking them, one by one, as I could

all of them, all those who collaborated.

And they did it, simply, because it came from deep inside them.

It’s where they’ve grown up.

It’s there where they have sucked in all the ideas that society couldn’t grant them.

That’s it.

Different subject. Can you tell us what a typical Catalan meal is?

The meals?

The typical ones?

Well, besides bread with tomato,

which is a poor people invention.

You must already know that bread with tomato [came from] when many years ago they would make bread to last the whole week, after four days it began to get stale and you needed to put tomato and oil to make it go down.

Of course, so it’s a combination

that tastes good and that’s it.

Typical dishes…

Let’s see, I’m not the right people to talk about this.

I love, what’s the name of that Aran dish, from the Vale of Aran…

Aranese stew,

basically because you put it to boil on Monday and by Sunday you’re finishing it.

I’ve lived alone for many years and that was great for me.

Every day I heated it up, put some extra stuff and it was quick.

Catalan meals…

Paella isn’t a Catalan meal.

It is though the different rice recipes there are.

Paella isn’t so because it is said that it comes from Valencia.

Would I say that Valencia is part of [Catalonia?]… I don’t know.

I don’t want to get involved in this because there are too many interests.

More Catalan dishes…

The famous sea and mountain, which is mixing up mushrooms with fish and meat.

Seafood, basically.

What else is there. Black rice.

On the side. Fideuà.

There are some who said it is Valencian and some who say it is Catalan, I say let’s not get involved.

What else, give me a hand here.


The trinxats.

Let’s see…

All around the Mediterranean, the food is quite similar. Very similar.

Everyone does it their own way.

You’ll be giving it a name here and in Italy, where they do the same or very similar,

has a different name for small stuff.

There’s something very famous, called pizza,

that have been made here since forever.

It wasn’t a guy in the USA, it was something traditional that was making some dough, although not circular,

but you put on it basically the same.

You’d put the tomate, the cheese…

the legumes you want. Legumes, sorry, the vegetables.

Meat, ham.

I’ve known it since forever, when I was a kid I’d go

to my grandmother’s house, let’s cook ‘coques’

and we’d do enough for a week.

Then I discovered that the same, but round, was called a pizza, I was like, yeah okay, that’s nice.

It’s very traditional.

The nails, but I don’t like them.

I pity them.

There’s many people who like them.

What else…

I just don’t… you’ve caught me off guard here.

We could find a shit ton of them, but you say…

let’s see, there’s lamb ribs.

Yes, that’s quite traditional, but it’s no special idea that isn’t done anywhere else in the world, quite the opposite.

Wherever there’s lambs, people eat ribs.

Anchovies? Escala’s anchovies are famous because they are crafted with great care.

But well, there’s also anchovies in the Cantabrian Sea.