By James Killin
To describe El Mercat as the heart of Valencia’s Ciutat Vella, the muscular hub of the Old City, would belie its own venous intricacies. Its centrepoint is, naturally, the lustrous Mercat Central, but stray down any path and you surrender to an egalitarian irregularity, by which you might just as easily stumble upon a sun-dappled gothic church as a lean alley of ossified and putrefying domiciles. There is at once a vibrant spring of potential and a macabre magnificence, but it is only too easy to romanticise such decay at a time when Spain– and the Valencian Community in particular– struggles in the throes of la crisis.
In such circumstances, new ventures must work hard to gain a foothold. Making sure your obliging friends and family visit often is one way to keep the register ringing, but one must be careful to achieve this without seeming exclusive. Another is to hold daily open-air concerts in front of your café during the hectic weeks of the Falles festival, and it doesn’t hurt if the local presses come by and give you some coverage, either.
I didn’t so much find El Columpio (“the swing”) as I did observe it germinate, flower and flourish. When I arrived in Valencia and made my home around the corner from the Mercat, the space that is now the café was dimly shuttered, staring blankly out at the lush walled gardens of the neighbouring La Llotja de la Seda, a UNESCO heritage site. Walking past it every day I saw its bare interior take shape, with encouraging alacrity and industry. Its hand-painted wooden furniture and decoration, on a fresh green and white colour scheme, posit the interior as a cool alternative to the dry stone of the fifteenth century silk hall across the way. Its best tapas offerings replicate this palette, and include silken cuttlefish with a garlic and herb dressing, and a cremoso de aguacate so delicately invigorating that for months I forgot the English word for aguacate (it’s “avocado”).
Its menus have diversified greatly since I was last there, and it’s wonderfully satisfying to know that, as a project of love and ambition, El Columpio has stayed afloat in what is currently a rather torrid economic environment. With each visit the welcomes are warmer and more enthusiastic, the food more adventurous-original proprietor Vanesa had a penchant for sushi- and the prospects brighter. El Columpio is no barometer of recovery or of the Ciutat Vella’s rejuvenation, but it is a delightful benchmark for conviviality and fine, light eating.
About the Writer:
James is a freelance music writer and editor. As a student journalist he interviewed Israeli human rights lawyers, world famous hip hop artists, and a local cafe owner who had built an unauthorised awning. He is passionate about Palestinian politics, French philosophy, and Spanish football. He has been violently ill in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, and hopes one day to do the same in South America.