Saturday, 11 June 2016
Lost in Translation
El Corte Ingles is, roughly speaking, the Spanish equivalent of John Lewis. Though it was probably not the best place to start looking, I went to the department store chain's Bilbao branch in search of some authentic rope soled espadrilles. A helpful man in the men's shoe department looked a little confused, then directed me to the third floor, saying I should ask for espadenyes. Espadenyes is the Catalan for espadrilles. Use of the name in Catalunya was first recorded nearly 700 years ago but they are also traditional footwear in the Basque country. When I inquired on the third floor, a woman server looked blank. So I asked the receptionist at a hotel where I had been staying. He also looked blank. What goes on, I wondered. Hadn't these shoes - once worn by peasants - been made by some shops in the Spanish Basque region for a century or more. Surely they hadn't yielded entirely to the trainer and the flip flop? The receptionist went to ask a colleague. Enlightenment dawned. I should ask for alpargatas, he explained, and Googled a shop in the old town where I could get them. Now, the briefest of research after the event reveals that Basque emigrants to Argentina took the shoes with them and it was there that the third alternative name was coined. The shopkeeper on the Calle Somera knew exactly what I wanted, prodding them a range of colours. These days the rope soles are reinforced using some synthetic material but they are as near as damn it to the real thing. Sometimes, of course, they are kept on with lacing around the ankle. I read that these were made fashionable by Lauren Bacall, who wore them in the 1948 movie Key Largo, and enjoyed a revival in New York in the 1980s, after Don Johnson sported them in Miami Vice, when a pair could fetch nearly $500. Now one of my sons tells me they're "on trend" again. Call them what you like, mine are just for slopping around in. I bought one pair in black pair and a second in cream and they cost me, at the current exchange rate, the extremely unfashionable total of £16.