Top mantas to Bárcenas: toss the blanket or run with it

I found this pasteup this morning in one of my favorite art-strewn walls on the border between the Raval and Sant Antoni. Anyone who spends time in the tourist-heavy areas of the city will recognize this ever present character of the Barcelona landscape. Maligned by retailers and busy pedestrians, object of curiousity for tourists, target of harrassment by bored street cops and fodder for the populist demogogery of xenophobic politicians, these men are known locally as “topmantas“. The term is very colloquial and difficult to translate, but literally could be something like “blanket peddler”. These men are usually undocumented sub-saharan African immigrants who find themselves with little choice but to hawk pirated CDs and DVDs or knockoff designer products from the tops of blankets (hence the name top=top and manta=blanket). They are normally seen in large groups travelling on the metro or running from the police, like the young man pictured. It’s worth mentioning that they have an ingenious way of being able to move quickly in case of approaching police officers. In this picture, you can see that there is cord attached to the four corners of the blanket which can quickly be yanked up into a bag, eliminating the need to gather one’s wares before making a run for it.
These days however, a much more common phrase to be heard related to the “manta” is “tirar de la manta” (literally, pull or toss away the blanket), which roughly means to “blow the whistle” on some type of scandal. In this case the scandal involves the ex-treasurer of Spain’s ruling party, Luis Bárcenas. Here he is in one of his more famous public appearances. It’s alleged that for over 20 years Bárcenas managed an underground accounting scheme which funneled illegal cash donations to the pockets of politicians at all levels of the party heirarchy, including the President and members of his cabinet. Bárcenas was recently sent to prison without bail and has just recently started to speak, thus “tirando de la manta“. I don’t know what lies under this blanket, but I’m sure that it’s much more dangerous than some counterfeit Gucci or a bootlegged Justin Bieber.

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