Saturday, September 24, 2005
Tonight I was almost run over by a horde of fleeing top-mantas. Or should that be top-mantalistas? They are the guys--mostly Latin American or African—who stand on the street selling pirated CDs and DVDs. They display their wares on a blanket. Hence the "manta," although most often the cloth in question is really a sheet, or a portion of a sheet. No one calls it a top-sábana, however.
Where the "top" comes from is anyone's guess. It is true that the CDs lie on top of the blanket/sheet, but the Spanish only use the word "top" in reference to people like Kate Moss: she is, or at least before she lost her H&M contract, she was a "top model" practicing "top modelismo."
In any case, the equipment used in top-mantalismo is surprisingly uniform: everyone ties two pieces of rope diagonally to each corner of the cloth so that they cross in the center. That way, when the cops show up, the top mantalista can yank on the center knot and pull all his goods into a neat little bundle, the easier to run with. It's a common sight, actually, these groups of young guys tearing down the street like athletic Santa Clauses, homely little sacks tossed over their shoulders. Half the time, they look like they're having fun.