October 31, 2011

Local Vocab: "El Afilador"

There are those city sounds, street noises, that become a kind of urban soundtrack and a distinct background to whichever city or neighborhood you live in. One periodic noise that you might hear in the streets of most Spanish cities is the flute call of the "afilador" (knife grinder). When I first heard it, I thought it was some new kind of street parade that I didn't yet know about. It sounded to me like a magical summoning straight out of a fairytale.

Click to hear my audio recording of the afilador passing by my house

The afilador in Goya's time
When my wife told me what it was, a traveling street vendor who sharpens people's kitchen knives, I was even more floored. That there was still a profession who made their living as a traveling trader or vendor just seemed, well, medieval. And the afilador does have old roots, seen here in this painting by Goya. It seems like one of those professions which should have gone extinct a long time ago, an obsolete occupation. But it's still going here in Spain, and if you hear it, you can run downstairs with your knives and he will most certainly sharpen them.

Nowadays, they often move around the city by bicycle, and in general I hear them pass by my house about once a month. It adds a little charm to city living here.

The afilador today


Erica said...

I had the same reaction the first time I heard it! I was so curious, I had to run outside and ask the newspaper vendor what it was. It seemed very fitting that I was in La Latina at the time...

Nieves said...

A very good post, even with the sound of el afilador as well! Great!

An Expat in Spain said...

Erica, as people here would say, La Latina es un barrio, barrio," so it _is_ fitting that you would experience this typical Spanish neighborhood sound there. It really is enchanting to hear.

Nieves, I was glad to be able to capture the song with my camera's video recorder (and then extract the audio). Clearly I'll need to get fancier recording equipment if I'm going to fully document Spain and all its many charms.

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