Dancing Shoes in Barcelona
When warmer weather comes along, I look forward to the change in my wardrobe and, particularly, to my shoes. I am always so happy when I can pull my espardenyes out of the closet. I always try to keep a pair at hand. They are my dancing shoes from Barcelona, Spain.
Some years ago, I spent ten months in Barcelona. I lived with a Spanish family on the fourth floor of a large and light apartment on the corner of Calle Valencia and Calle Aragón. The tall windows in my bedroom opened out onto the street below and two small balconies provided a place to stand and watch the people and the traffic. Though I hardly spoke Spanish six months before I got there, I spent that summer in Aberdeen, Scotland, going to the library and practicing and listening to fluent speakers, slowly building my vocabulary through a learning program. By the time I arrived in Barcelona on the 24 hour train from Paris, I knew enough to ask a taxi to take me to that corner.
The following week, I walked everywhere I could, trying to soak in this Mediterranean city. And on Sunday, I made my way down to the Cathedral square, listening for the church bells. Instead, I found a small group of musicians, gathered on the Cathedral stairs, playing a very specific music on woodwinds and brasswinds. Before them, on the stone plaza, groups of human circles slowly moved, hands joined in the air, feet pointing forward and back following the rhythm of the music. At times, the circle bounced up and down as one as the music gave the command. As men and women alternately joined the circle, they would put all their valuables in the middle, divesting themselves of their purses and wallets and coats and jackets. That circle made by hands was obviously sacred. I could feel, that in those steps and in that music, the dancers were remembering both the beauty and the grim stories of their history.
I discovered that every Sunday morning I could go down to the Cathedral square and watch. Once or twice, I joined in, held my partners’ hands and slowly started learning the intricacies of the footwork. Mainly, I could tell that, for those who danced, the Sardana (as it is called) put into life the emotions that one holds for one’s roots. You could feel the hearts beating together to the rhythm of the feet. And those feet wore those famous dancing shoes. How could I not buy a pair and carry that heart home with me?
Ever since those days, I have always had a pair of espardenyes in my arsenal. Fortunately, I have had friends going or I have been able myself to go back to Barcelona. And I never fail to buy a pair when I’m there. Lately, I stop in at a store in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona called La Manual Alpargaterra, where they continue to make the shoes by hand. I often like to look at the full shelves and soak in the atmosphere before I place my order. I’ve also learned that there are different styles for different regional cities. So these days, I have a pair of black ones and a pair of red ones. And, each time I strap them on, I carry with me both the pain of a people and the lightness and heart of that dance. Happy summer and happy dancing to you!