D. Isabel Boto, better known as Isabelinha, is the oldest seller at the Silves Municipal Market. He has been selling here for 63 years, and is now 85 years old.
Today, D. Isabelinha has a bread stand, Alentejo, from Almodôvar. He has regular customers who order bread from him, but he also sells it to others. Saturday is the day when it pays most to come to the market, because it sells “around 150 loaves of bread”. On that day, she even needs help from her daughter-in-law, who has a flower place next door. «I can't do it alone anymore», she confesses.
But D. Isabelinha didn't always sell bread. Before, with her husband, she worked in the butcher's shop, right opposite the door, now closed. «They made queues that even reached the door of the Market. There was always a lot of sales there. And everything was sold. The feet were sold, the skins, bones were sold, everything was sold. Everything was taken advantage of. Bent over, cow hands, all that stuff. The bones were to be put in the pot».
Other times… «People have now become accustomed to only eating the best and the best. And deep down, they only eat junk food,” comments D. Isabelinha.
With a wealth of experience, he comments that «even the meat in butchers is now different. Before, we sold the lambs bought there from the producer, the piglets, the cows raised in the area». Now, does anyone know where meat comes from and how it is raised?
About 28 years ago, he left the butcher's shop, «because it was no longer possible». Large supermarkets were opening, taking away the market's parishes here. I was left with just the bread stand.”
After the remodeling works of the Municipal Market of Silves, D. Isabelinha was one of the first to return to occupy a stall. But he confesses that “I liked it better when the market was old. Now it looks like a little supermarket, something like that… Even the oldest customers and the foreigners who live there and are my clients say that it was prettier before.”
At 85 years old, 63 of which spent working there, D. Isabelinha has already seen a lot happen. And, remembering that «older people came to the market a lot more», he also admits that many of his customers «have already died».
But the big problem, he highlights, are these modern supermarkets that are opening. «There are already so many... There can't be customers for everything, can there?».
Pointing to one of the Market's side doors, he says: «The supermarket they built next door looked beautiful, it was all old. But people go there and don't come here anymore. Parking is easy there. That takes away a lot of customers from the Market».
D. Isabelinha, with the quality of the bread she sells and the right customers, continues to get up every day at 6 am to be there at 7 am. She is still selling.
«So, if someone comes here to make 30 or 40 euros, is it worth getting up early? There are a lot of people out there who don’t do more than that,” he comments.
«I'm here having fun, I'm talking to people. Today I brought crochet but I haven't even touched it yet, luckily I have had customers».
And the arrival of Christmas, can it liven up the Market more? Also, why are there stalls selling crafts and products related to the Christmas season? «People coming for a walk here are encouraging. Then. It’s exciting, but it’s not business,” she responds, very practical.
Even foreigners “come here, see everything, take photos, but buy little. A little bottle of honey, not much.”
One day, he admits, D. Isabelinha will also have to leave her place in the Silves square. But he is hopeful that his daughter-in-law will continue.
Even talking to the Sul Informação, remains attentive: «Look, a little customer», she exclaims, ending the conversation. Returning to the regular customer, she asks, «So today you want a bun with a head, right?».
A little further on, Carlos Lourenço, known as Senhor Carlos, is the oldest fish seller at the Silves Market. «I'm 63 years old and I've been here since I was 20. Well, do the math», he says, with a smile. This one's easy: he's worked here for 43 years.
And a lot has changed. «Before, in addition to selling much more in the square, it supplied fish to schools and nursing homes. Now they have some companies there, they buy cheaper. But they won’t buy better!”, he guarantees, picking up a horse mackerel so fresh that it almost seems to jump out of his hand.
Now, especially in the summer, there are still some restaurants that buy fish. «And there are always groups of friends who want to cook roasts on the weekend and who come here to buy sardines, they already know me». But «it's more in the summer. Now, less fish is sold, of all the qualities I have here».
While the Silves Market was under construction, Mr Carlos enjoyed being in the temporary facilities, next to Fissul. «There was more space there, space to park. The money they spent here, they should have spent there, creating a new market, with plenty of parking,” he argues.
Mr Carlos also admits that the opening of modern hypermarkets, one of them almost right next to Silves square, has stolen many customers. For him, what counts is having old customers: «I'm used to having grandparents and parents and now it's my children who buy from me. I’ve been here for 43 years…”
Further ahead, at the stalls in the center, Luís Marques has been selling there for «around 50 years». «First it was my wife who sold, now, since I retired, I'm the one who comes».
On his stand there are fresh, lush fruits and vegetables, some just picked that morning. «The oranges are from my garden!», she emphasizes, picking up one of them. «This year they are small, because the trees carried a lot. But they’re sweet and full of juice, it’s really tasty!”
That Wednesday morning, there are few customers in the square. «In the summer we still work more or less, but now, with the cooler weather, people come less...», laments Mr. Luís.
There are also not many “excursions for foreigners, who always pass through here. When there are excursions, they always take a little something as a souvenir».
Ilda Elias sells handicrafts she made herself at the Silves Market, on a stand that imitates a cart, prepared by the Parish Council, the entity that manages the structure.
Before, I sold at Christmas markets, but since the market opened renewed, I accepted the challenge of being there every day.
Today, he admits that «there are fewer people in the Market, but also because these are different times. I've been living here for 40 years and 40 years ago we only had the square, the square's butchers and a supermarket. Now there are hypermarkets of all brands there, it has nothing to do with it!”.
His crafts are bought by both Portuguese and foreigners. But Ilda says that they “recently haven’t been buying much either, they also have problems in their countries… after the pandemic, so, it’s been a disaster…”
Her hope is that Christmas will bring more customers, especially because Ilda Elias has crafts adapted to the season.
Further ahead, on another similar bench, is D. Odete Martins, working on a job. At the stall, she has ready-made pieces: individual baskets, suitcases and carrycots, all braided with palm leaves that, she confesses, she collects from the field herself. «They also sell there from the Spanish, but a mãcheínha It costs 30 or 40 euros and doesn’t give me anything.”
D. Odete has been selling her crafts at the Silves Market for half a dozen years, since she retired from working at the Archeology Museum. Before, he only dedicated himself to crochet and cross stitch, but, when he retired, he decided to try his hand at the traditional endeavor. «I saw my mother and grandmother do it, back in the day. And I decided to try it, I've always been good at doing things with my hands». And that's how she started selling her pieces at the Market.
D. Odete is one of the sellers who, on Wednesday last week, received from the hands of the president of the Parish Council (Tito Coelho) and the director of the Vicentina association (Aura Fraga) a beautiful dark blue apron, with the logo of the Algarve Regional Network of Local Markets, in which Silves is included.
She was also one of the first to taste the original Carrot, Orange, Fig and Ginger soup, which was the snack of the day, offered to customers and vendors in the square, by chef Mário.
A Regional Network of Local Markets in the Algarve, which already has a website, a brand and its own identity, bringing together 18 markets from eight municipalities in the Algarve, is coordinated by the Vicentina development association, which established numerous partnerships to carry out this project, financed by PADRE – Action Plan for the Development of Endogenous Resources, integrated into CRESC Algarve 2020.
The objective, as highlighted by Márcio Viegas, president of Vicentina, is «find alternative ways to bring people to markets», whether with concerts and musical performances, exhibitions, tastings and show cooking, or with other initiatives, as has happened in Silves, with Mercado Fora d'Horas.
As part of the launch of the network, the Há Petisco no Mercado initiative is also taking place! «We asked the management entities in each market for their representative product», explained Beatriz, one of Vicentina's technicians. In Silves, in a market managed by the local Parish Council, the product chosen was orange… which gave rise to a tasty carrot, orange, fig and ginger soup. «Everyone is enjoying it!», guaranteed chef Mário.
However, the snacks served free of charge to visitors, vendors and other market operators have included cockle patties, horse mackerel, xerém with black pork, fig tartlet, goat cheese and almonds, fennel salad with orange and fig, black pudding cone with pear from Monchique… Everything you can taste and cry for more.
After, last Saturday, there were snacks at the Sagres and Vila do Bispo Markets, the initiative will also take place at the Moncarapacho Market, in the interior of Olhão, this Wednesday, December 6th, at the Almádena and Espiche Markets , on Saturday, the 9th, and finally in Aljezur, on the 16th.
In addition to the usual shopping for fresh and local products, between 9:30 am and 13:00 pm, in any of these markets and dates, there will be delicious snacks to try…for free! And, even those who hadn't thought of entering the Market are quickly infected by the enthusiasm of a fun couple of giants, who, megaphone in hand, encourage the most indecisive.
But initiatives are not only promoted abroad. On December 16th, the Silves Parish Council will promote, in the city's Market, «a shared dinner, to which we are inviting producers and traders. We’re all supposed to be here at night, hanging out together.”
The shared dinner, as mayor Tito Coelho explained to Sul Informação, has yet another objective: solidarity with the most needy families. «It also aims to raise food to donate to the parish, which will distribute it to people in need. It's just that there are many, many requests for help».
Meanwhile, until the 8th of December, in the central atrium of the Silves Market, a nativity scene is being set up, with «large unique clay pieces, made by a craftsman». On the day of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, a national holiday, the nativity scene will be inaugurated.
«It will be another attraction for people to come to the market», argues the president of the Parish Council.
«We need more young people to come to the market. Older people already attend, but we need to renew customers. The renovation of the building helped, but we need to create points of attraction here». One of them is the nativity scene, but more will follow.
Although sellers are discouraged by the lack of customers, there are those who don't give up. Let D. Odete say this: «these things are good for promoting our Markets! We need more initiatives of this kind to have more people here!”
Photos: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação