Spanish Chronicles: The story of “peasant shoes”

Espadrilles on top of Wires for Soles

Espadrilles – the chic fabric flats/heels with roped soles that have many summers over taken American fashion scene by storm and revolutionized wedged-shoes across the world. While many know these shoes are originally Spanish, few could imagine that in the early 14th century, these soles started out as being the common peasant footwear. 

Antigua Casa Crespo” it reads, with 1881, clearly imprinted on the plaque outside the vintage, wooden doors. I was in Spain, determined to find an espadrilles-maker and here I was standing in front of the most famous and one of the oldest ones in Madrid.

Espadri-what???

*flashback* 

Me: Elisa, I want to go buy espadrilles!
Elisa: Espadri-what???
Me: You know, espadrilles, Spanish people are famous for making them!
 Elisa: *WTF are u talking about look*

Okay, so no one I knew in Madrid had the slightest idea what I was referring to. Espadrilles were just so popular back in the States, and I figured the word must have come from the Spanish – considering the shoes are from there.

Turns out, history has it a bit different than that. In the 14th century, these flats were first recorded as being made in parts of the Basque Country in the south of France and Catalonia. The word “espadrilles” comes from the French word “espadrille“. The root of the word is “espart” which means the wiry type of Mediterranean grass that was used to form the sole of the shoes.

Yet, as production of the worker/peasant footwear grew in popularity across Spain in the next centuries, Spanish people used their own word “alpargatas” – which means a type of wired-sole sandals. Hence, the complete confusion with my Spanish mate :))

Espadri-how???

So then, how exactly, did the Spanish-popularized shoes come to be known internationally under a French/Catalan-originated name?

Sure, you could say, that it was because these shoes were first made in these regions.

But then again,  it was Cas­tañer – a Spanish alpargatas maker established in 1776  that *quote* propelled the shoes into the world of fashion * when he and his wife introduced the “laid-back glamour” shoes to Yves Saint Laurent.

My hypothesis, since I have yet to find anywhere else, why these shoes are not more known as “alpargatas” is that it was introduced to Yves Saint Laurent – and naturally, a Frenchman (and a fashionable, chic one to boot) does what he does best- speak and keep his “français” , if you will.

espa6

Alpagatería Hunt !

*flash forward*

Once Elisa had determined exactly what it was that I wanted, we were off with her 2 friends Elena and Ana to search for this age-old alpargatas maker or alpagatería, where apparently, Queen Sofia and other members of the Spanish Royal Family have regularly visited every summer.

Antigua Casa Crespo” sits on the quiet but chic Calle de Divino Pastor in the Malasaña neighborhood.  The shop has quite the complicated opening times schedule and hence, it wasn’t too big a surprise that we were greeted with closed wooden doors. After all, this was a summer wear, and who was I to expect anything, wearing three layers of coat, standing outside a sandal-maker in the middle of December?

I’m not going to get to see this shop“, I disappointingly thought to myself, when the bold Ana makes a go for it, as she starts ringing the bell. Much to our surprise, minutes later, a man came running down the street, spills out a series of Spanish, disappears through the door, and seconds and a few shackling of wooden panels later, we were inside the charming little shop.

The generous señor who came to our rescue is Maxi Garbayo – the fourth generation of a family that has been making alpargatas since 1836. Maxi’s great grandfather Gregorio Crespo started the alpagatería and with the tradition of children taking their mother’s surname in parts of Spain, the family business went under Maxi’s grandmother maiden name Garbayo.

In the 1970s, Maxi’s father Martin Garbayo introduced a colour-assorted catalogue for his shoes, and created a craze in Madrid, where alpargatas had always been black and white.

Maxi Garbayo

Alpagatería Future?

I hadn’t a clue what Maxi was saying, through his speed-of-lightning Spanish (not that I would understand normal-speed Spanish either *_*), but I could tell from his tiny puff of laughter that he thought I was just this weird Asian in his shop curious about things like how many shoes he makes an hour or where the cords come from.

You’d think a shop made for queens and royals would be way out of your league, but with 6.50 Euro flats and heels at 29 Euros, the shop is quite the quality bargain for anyone looking for handmade espadrilles/alpargatas.

“Business is getting difficult”, Elisa translates Maxi’s words, “I need to keep prices down because Chinese manufacturers are now making these shoes at mass at half the price, sometimes even less. I can’t compete with that” . 

Maxi no longer makes these shoes and neither do his children, they rather only manage the store. One of Maxi’s siblings still make the shoes, with each pair of flats taking around 10 minutes and heels taking several hours to a day.

—————-

Leaving the shop, with my new black alpargatas heels ready for next summer, I start to think that perhaps that was how so many different alpagaterías had died out, purely against the rough competition from cheaper imported counterparts. And yet, at least for this roughly-180-year-old shop, perhaps the  presence of annual royal support and the sheer passion of people for hand-made, traditional espadrilles and alpargatas will keep it going?

Let’s hope so 🙂

Here are more pics of the shop and my Spanish friends! (The pics are not really good quality, since I had only my phone 😦 sorry!)

Plaque in front of Antigua Casa Crespo
Plaque in front of Antigua Casa Crespo
A picture of the original shop in the late 1830s
A picture of the original shop in the late 1830s
Elena, Ana and Elisa inside Antigua Casa Crespo
Elena, Ana and Elisa inside Antigua Casa Crespo
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[UK] Borough Market – London’s Attack on the Tastebuds

Freshly Made Bread and the Wheels of Cheese

A smokey whiff of cajun weaves its way through the crowd of people in front and, instinctively and quite unconsciously, despite your view being blocked, you follow it. Soon enough, you hear the hiss – a hiss that only fresh meat sizzling on a grill could make, and you start to take your first gulp, images of the most delectable, honey-hued cajun chicken like a mirage in your mind. Your pace quickens , your appetite heightens, your eyes widen as there before you, stands a man, never mind who he is, your attention races to his hand, as he offers you a free try of that which has enticed at least 3 of your 5 senses for the past 5 minutes. A tiny yet succulent and rewarding cube of cajun roasted chicken to start you off in what is possibly the gastronomical heaven of London’s Borough Market!

Considered London’s best of food markets, Borough is within walking distance of London Bridge station, tucked nicely next to the Southwark Cathedral, bordering the Thames River. The market spans over a number of sections,  walking through which would take you under these brick-laid railway arches. A few steps from the market and you would be on the river bank, within minutes from Tate Modern, looking over to the panoramic view of London that includes the Millenium Bridge and St.Paul’s Museum.

You could possibly tell, I fell in love with this market at first sight, sound and taste! Yet, the initial, satisfying welcome  would do little to prepare me for the journey deeper inside, as colors and aromas begin to tingle every sense, to the point that my knees start shaking in confusion and excitement of not knowing where to head first. There are over 100 different stalls here, offering everything from a range of UK’s most loved delicacies like freshly baked, golden brown pork pies, Lancashire hotpot or cottage pies to landmark dishes from across Europe and the globe, Turkish delights, Thai green curry, Portuguese custards, Spanish paella, or French raclettes, just to name a few. For the shallow-pocket students, one stroll around the market and your tummy will have been initially satisfied with the range of samples the shops hand out…try not to make the 2nd or 3rd stroll without reaching for your wallet though, as you may get “it’s the ‘eat- and- never- buy’ pack of poor students again”-stares from the stallholders (spoken shamefully… from experience *_*)

The readily-prepared delights of the market might seem easily the best part of it, yet you’ve only scraped the tip of this culinary iceberg. What makes this market stand out is the fact that most of the stallholders are themselves, the people who produce, grow and rear the products they’re selling. Borough, in essence, is the perfect cross between your favorite weekend farmers’ market and an exciting food festival. Freshness and craft are key and shine through as you walk through the lush green of the vegetable area, the aromatic crisp-brown of the bread section or as you sample 20 different types of freshly made jams.And my favorite, the cheese section! – everything from intense bits of roquefort, to wheels of artisan cheese, the diameter of …well yes, a car’s wheel, actually.

The butchers’ corner might be a bit startling for those accustomed to seeing meat only in its fillet supermarket-packaged form, with full pig’s heads, dead hares and fowls hanging about. Freshness, alright :D. I remember just standing in mesmerization of a stallholder meticulously carving for jamon serrano from a pig’s full limb  perched upon a steel-constructed hostler,  as I came to appreciate the care and craft these producers put into their food.  Here is a space where food becomes more than just a commodity, food becomes art, food becomes beautiful and food becomes celebrated.

Digging a bit further, and I’ve come to find that the roots of this market dates back to 1014, when being right off a river source, the London Bridge became a hub of produce trading. A market was found around the 13th century, and after Parliament cleared it out in the late 18th century, producers and growers in the surrounding Southwark area revived it into what it is today – the only fully independent market of London. It’s a true community effort in the making – with stallholders still contributing today to local food-related events and any of the surplus from the market going to the food bank of the London Borough of Southwark. A market, you could say, but beyond that is culture, history and the coming together of an entire community – absolutely fascinating and for everyone out there, foodie at heart or not, a destination not to be missed when visiting London!

Source: Borough Market’s Main Website

(Check for opening times on this site as well! )

Enjoy my “Snap It!”s around Borough!

A map of Borough Market
Panoramic view from Borough Market’s side of the River
Olive Salads and Spanish Paella
Yummy delights from the Borough Market!
Portuguese sweets!
A smoke-free market, and a snap of the veggie section!
Butcher’s – Fresh, Indeed!
Poor Hares and Fowls – Jamon Serrano shop

[Stop n Shop] Velvet Vintage Retro Trash Fashion – Hanoi

A dress from Velvet Vintage Retro Trash Fashion

I’ve never been one to know much of or be able to write about shopping or fashion but if you happen to be Hanoi, looking for a unique and timeless sway to your closet, do check out my pals’ Velvet Vintage Retro Trash Fashion collection. The name gives you a gist about what it all offers…unlike clothes mimicking the vintage effect out there, these are actual vintage pieces, truest to its sense, in the fact that yes, they are second-hand, age-old, amazing-quality, rustic and at times, haute-couture, brand-name pieces. The girls who take charge, Joelle and Virginie , respectively from Lebanon and Quebec, Canada have hand-picked the pieces, both clothes and accessories from a wide range of markets mostly in London and Paris and other places across Europe. The whole operation isn’t quite settled yet, as they’re trying to tidy up a nestling adobe for the shop in Hanoi. Yet they have successfully launched the first collection and are about to come out with a second in the next week or two. J and V are awesome expats to chat with and have definitely taken those first steps at addressing the ever-thirsty-minded concerns of vintage lovers out there. Here is their website with pictures of the first collection: http://velvetvintagefashion.tumblr.com/ Show your support! It’s fashion, it’s recycling to the purest, it’s a time capsule that has chic written all over it…(dig my PRing?)

Above is the dress I had gotten from the first collection, which I absolutely adore and also re-modeled here for J and V as their August Velvet Girl. Check out the Velvet Girls in vintage fashion and tell me if I should get that second dress: http://velvetvintagefashion.tumblr.com/thevelvet%20girl If you’re wondering about the backdrop, it’s the Love Chocolate Cafe, which I’ll blog about in a Cafe Comfort session soon enough…if u have the hots for chocos, this is heaven in Hanoi.

On a side note, I’ve chopped off half of my hair and so no longer will be able to pony- tail as seen in the picture. Besides the fact  that I now look like a 7 year old to many (why? I don’t know, people’s eyes are infantizing?) , the 2-minute-shorter showers feel like a blessing, no combing necessary (I’m a bum, you don’t sayy…), and voila, out of bed, swift of hand, and there you have it, my pre-school hair-do! (literally, to some…)

I am so so soooo dreading work right now, the weather is horrid (okay maybe it’s not that bad…but summer stinks) and I am stuffed, congested, sick and sleepy and yes, I complain too much. Mucho love! I sleep!

[Hanoi] The Good, The Bad, The Fav, The 1000th

*** Good buy of the month: L’Occitane’s Pure Vegetable Lavender and Shea Butter Extra-Gentle Soap

Yes it may be a mouthful but it’s delightful. See, I’ve never been a big soap or skincare product maniac to begin with. But, I was just strolling around waiting for a movie, and the L’Occitane shop drew me with its fragrance like a moth to a flame. After quite some sniffing and label-reading, I picked this up and I’m liking it a lot so far. Very soft, moisturizing and aromatic to the skin. Oh and yes, extra-gentle too, as the title implies.

Now it might just be advertising for the gullible few like me,  but I like the fact that the soap is fairtrade, made by and sold to support women in Burkina Faso. The women’s group that works with these products has grown from merely 100 to now 12,000, l’Occitane claims. Apparently, according to tradition, only women are allowed to touch the fruits of the shea or karite tree, which are considered “sacred”. They crush the nuts of the fruits and grind them into the shea butter that we know. As you can imagine, I overwhelmed myself with L’Occitane’s traceability videos to all of the ingredients they use. But it’s great because despite learning so much about knowing where your products come from in college, it’s really hard to actually sit down and find out in real life.

*** Bad buy of the month: The squishy yellow chicken toy

Courtesy of SpoilUrPets

The lack of a proper name for the bad buy of the month expresses how disappointed I am with it. The story needs to start with my dog. I have 2 dogs, one of whom is a “slightly” chubby…okay, no, I’ll be honest, overweight sausage-looking german shepherd named Sparky. In an attempt to get Sparky “fit”…

1. Plan A; I tried walking him. See, we have a yard so Sparky has never been outside of the house for a walk, ever, throughout his entire nearly 10-year doggie life. His initial response: “Oh cool, yay, I get to go outside”..and then “Shitt..what is that string you’re putting on me, I wanna go homeee”…Result, no I didn’t walk the dog, the dog walked me ..back home.

2. Plan B: I tried cutting down on his food. Maybe I overdid it, but Sparky was moping around life-less after just the first day of diet, giving me “I’m whining and dying” glimpses..my mom got anxious and interfered with two bowls of doggie treats…mission fails but Sparky was relieved 😐

3. Plan C: I tried buying a toy. Google tells me ” You should play with your dog, buy him a toy, he’ll be so excited and will be active whenever you play it with him”. Yes I’m gullible, and it’s google, don’t we all at some point put google on a pedestal? Anyway, this is where I spend an hour, trying to find the perfect toy in Hanoi for good old Sparky. By the 3rd petshop I went to, I found the “one”…an elastic, defeathered (not a word, but you get me), yellow chicken…and it makes a squeaky sound everytime you press on it. With much excitement and anticipation, I bring the toy home, and take it out of the bag. Sparky already took a step back…I squeaked the toy thinking it’d get him into the playing mood…Squeakkk…His tail just dropped like a rock, his face pure “WTF” mode……Squeakkk (shouldn’t have done it the 2nd time), he turns 180, and runs like the wind into his little doggie house…Yes, the squishy yellow elastic chicken scared the living day-lights out of my 50-pound german shepherd. The chicken is now decoration in my room…I couldn’t leave it out in the yard either, because Sparky freaks out each time he sees it….Horrible buy. Btw, the picture is purely descriptive, the chicken doesn’t look like that but that’s how a normal dog should react to the chicken toy, no offense Sparky.

4. Plan D: None yet…

*** Favorite things as of now

– My Nikon 35 mm 1.8 lens: Twas on the wishlist last month. C got it for me and it’s abso-stunning!

– Hue imperial food : I’ve never been to Hue, but I got to taste some at a shop in HCMC and the dishes are definitely wow-ers, very intricately made, decorated beautifully. Note to self: find a place in HN to eat and take photos / save money for Hue trip 😀

– GRE flashcards: got these from a friend, little bit heavy to carry around, but it’s interesting having that feeling of studying again

– MAC Studio Sculpt Concealer: If you said this to me a year ago, I would have had absolutely no idea what it was. Work has taught me a thing or two about having to do your own make-up and this has been a life-saver. Great and easy for covering up on face.

*** The number 1000

If you happen to be in Vietnam, there is no way you haven’t heard the phrase: “on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of Thang Long -Hanoi”. The day will be this Oct.10th, so the hype is present on every corner of the streets, every shop, every show on TV, every single project, every person…and no, not just in Hanoi, but across the whole country. Working in the news, I get really frustrated. As much as this is such a grand day for Hanoi, my hometown, I don’t understand how saying everything is related to the 1000th anniversary of Thang Long – Hanoi makes things better. For example, Construction of a bridge in Can Tho —> this is in honor of the 1000th  blah blah. Man writes book in Ho Chi Minh City —> this is in honor of the 1000th blah blah, Temple opens in Central province —> this is ..1000 blah blah.

Better yet, the number 1000 has been taken way too literally. This past Mid-Autumn Festival for example, a newsline read : ‘1000 poor children given Mid-Autumn Festival in honor of the 1000th anniversary of Thang Long -Hanoi’ . Remember, no more no less, that 1001th kid can kiss this celebration goodbye, and if you’re not poor, goodbye to you too! Next headline: ‘1000 gold-plated dragons make Vietnam Guiness Records’ …welll, duh, it’s not like some other guy will be siting around, trying to make more than that number of gold-plated dragons. Next headline: ‘1000 turtles on display and for sale at Botanical Gardens’, ‘1000 eggs with written calligraphy shown to public’, ‘1000 dragons on Bronze drums’, 1000 this, 1000 that, millenial celebration, grand ceremony, Hanoi’s big day, dragons, turtles, and then more dragons.Oh goodness, please make it stop… Don’t take it so literally!!!

As for the vibe here in Hanoi, it’s getting more crowded everyday, and there have already been warnings to hotels not to take any more reservations. I’m getting scared, crossing my fingers that I won’t have to go outside on Oct. 10th./.