Saturday, April 01, 2006

Burglars' Market

Though it only lasts for the few hours leading up to prayer time on Friday afternoon, the Friday Market makes up in scale what it lacks in opening hours. It is a market of such magnitude that it even has a part of Tripoli, aptly Friday Market (Souk il-Gima), named after it. It is a market which snakes its way through two kilometres of massed bodies poring through clothes, fake DVDs, alarms clocks, car accessories, fruit and vegetables, goats and camels. There is in fact very little that you can not buy at the Friday Market. It is good market, but not my favourite.
Also open on Friday mornings is the teeming Fish Market, which is in the harbour by the light-house, just across the road from the Arch of Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps it is because of the crush that women do not attend most markets in Libya, though you see plenty of them actually inside the Medina. At the Fish Market, there is so little space between the stalls that at one point, shambling through it absent-mindedly, I found myself surrounded by fish on every side. I steeled myself and prepared to eat my way out through a pile of octopi, when a Libyan stall-owner came to my rescue. Again, this is a fine market, but not my favourite. I am not that keen on fish. Too many bones.
Moving further down the port, in the open air, there is a pet market, although there are only three types of pets available here. There are fish, birds and dogs. For fish, read goldfish, for birds, doves, budgies and parrots and for dogs, Alsatians. In truth, this is an Alsatian market more than anything. What is the relationship between Libyan men and Alsatians? The bond is a string one, though I think they use them more as guard dogs than as pets. When I told Bashir that it was quite common for people to let their dogs sleep on their beds with them, he thought that it was a deranged, bestial idea. Libyans may not allow dogs onto their beds but there they stand, keenly admiring each other's Alsatians, some on leads, others chained to the wheels of cars or kept inside the cars for viewing. A hundred Alsatians of different sizes, though roughly the same shape. For the connoisseur of Alsatians, this is heaven on gravel. To me, they all look the same.
Then, just up the road, there is the Burglars' Market, stuck in the moonlight between the walls of the crumbling grandeur of the Medina and the Bab Al-Africa Corinthia, Tripoli's only 5 star hotel.
The Burglars' Market, just like burglars, only comes out at night. Despite the name, most of the people with their pitches on the ground here look like they can have burgled no more than the dustbins of not particularly wasteful individuals. The Burglars' Market is a testament to hope and a poem of desperation. It is where the things that no-one wants any more are finally washed up. Indeed some of the stuff here is of negative ownership value. Twisted padlock keys without the padlock? One arm of a chair? A scissor? Not a pair of scissors, just one. Half a can opener. So maybe you buy the scissor and the half a can opener and you have a scissor opener. Maybe not. Some pieces of junk which started high up on the possession chain, like broken picture frames and others, like Gulf Air in-flight magazines, which never had any value even before their pages turned so yellow.
However, it is not all rubbish. This is the ideal place to come if you need a chipped vase, have dropped the LG air-conditioner remote control on the floor too many times, need to replace the fan belt on your 1972 Peugeot 405 or are struck by a sudden desire to read a 1947 Longman Simplified English Series Edition of 'A Tale of Two Cities Printed for the U.A.R. Ministry of Education Only. Still, if this stuff has been burgled, then we are not talking about the Sultan of Brunei's home here. In reality, I think that the Burglars' Market is more a place to be pick-pocketed than to actually procure stolen goods. Although I suppose that pick-pocketing is procuring stolen goods in a sense. Evidently though, some of the merchandise at the Burlgars' Market has in fact been stolen. The relationship that people have with thieves is a strangely contradictory one. While so many can virtually shake with righteous passion when declaring their sacrosanct right to protect their homes from burglars, within the same breath they may not find the prospect of buying a cheap DVD player, with no questions asked such an offensive. George Orwell said that people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. Of course he is right, but what he did not add is that people do not always sleep so peaceably in their beds because other people are prepared to pay rough men to break in steal their things. As is often the case with rough men, you can end up back where you started.
I bought a Sanyyoid portable stereo from the market. I asked the young African boy who was selling it if I would be able to pick up the BBC World Service. With a deft flick of the dial he had it, not a perfect reception, but crackling through. But when I got home, it was gone. I adjusted the dial millimetrically on every band but could not pick it up. I twisted it at every possible angle, threw it, kicked it, but still no World Service. I later discovered that I could get the World Service Radio digitally crystal clear through the satellite dish. The Sanyyoid radio went into the bin when it chewed up a Radiohead cassette. For all I now, it has made it back to the Burglar's Market once again. Maybe it will journey to and from there forever, in a perpetual state of infinite return. If so, it will be joined by a perfectly good glass ashtray which cracked when I used it during a power cut and a bedside lamp which worked for all of six and a half minutes. Perhaps these items were not in fact stolen, but a robbery did take place when they old guy took my money for that lamp. Needless to say, there are no refunds and goods can not be exchanged. At the end of the night, when the market has ended, many of the pitches are left behind for the rubbish men.


Blogger vlad said...

I was once in a similar flea market where a local cafe made a killing by charging people a small fee to test their rashly acquired purchases on their socket. In ten minutes of staring, I saw a wood sander almost taking off its owner's fingers, a radio not working, and a hair-dryer catching fire.

12:47 pm  
Blogger Molestine said...

I understood where this place is, I must have passed from there in my early days in Tripoli, but didn't stop. I must visit this place and the Souk El Giuma when I come back from Italy. Today I spent a nice morning at the International fair.

4:33 pm  
Blogger cyberdigger said...

An ineresting idea for the Burglar's Market vlad, although I am not sure if I would interested in providing the service myself.
molestine, how did you spend a morning at the international fair if you are in Italy?

8:33 pm  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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