El Rei de la Magia, around the corner from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic, bills itself as Spain’s oldest magic store. It was founded in 1878 by the great Catalonian conjurer Joaquin Partagas, known in his time as the King of Magic. Visitors pass through the shop’s ornate ruby-red facade to discover shelves and display cases brimming with curios: playing cards, wands that spout flowers, interlocking metal rings, backward clocks, joke candy. The shop makes some of the items on site, including its famous Milk Bulb Trick, in which the performer pours milk into a paper cone, causing it to disappear and then— presto! — miraculously reappear inside the bulb of a lamp.
If you buy a trick, a magician will whisk you behind a black curtain to demonstrate how it works.
But El Rei de la Magia will only sell you a trick they think you can pull off. “We do not sell everything to anybody,” said Sara Fernandez, one of the magicians there. “Only what we know you can do and will use.” When I visited, I saw her transform blank white paper into money while an eight-year-old boy in a cape watched. “I would like this,” the boy said, steepling his fingers. He asked his mother for some money to buy the trick, then followed Fernandez behind the curtain to receive her wisdom.
A few minutes later, he emerged, exultant. “Now, the secrets are mine,” he told his mother. He swirled his cape and bowed, having suddenly found himself, like so many travelers, on an unexpected stage.