Juan's World

Guitarist, Composer, Writer, Publisher

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Guitarreros de Madrid

Luthiers and guitar shops in the Spanish capital

On my trip this August to Madrid, I decided to spend some time visiting a few of the city’s guitar shops and luthiers—artisanal guitar makers. I’ve visited Spain and Madrid several times previously, yet seven years had transpired since my last visit and I had rarely endeavored to visit classical or flamenco guitar makers there. August is arguably not the best month to visit Madrid—a majority of the residents have fled the oppressive heat of the city for vacations at the beach or abroad, and the inhabitants that remain are not inclined to work much, so while shops such as the Corte Inglés or Zara are promoting rare sale prices, many smaller boutiques, restaurants, and other businesses have irregular hours or are closed for the month. On the other hand, while tourists are in abundance, the fact that the populace has abandoned the metropolis leaves Madrid’s streets, cafés and bars relatively deserted.

The guitar in Spain, it goes without saying, is as ubiquitous as bulls and bullfighting. When we refer to the “Spanish guitar” today it can mean both the classical guitar or flamenco guitar; though similar in some ways in construction, the latter generally features a lower action, with strings sometimes “buzzing” against the frets, and a width, or bout, that is typically narrower than its classical counterpart. The early development of the guitar had perhaps as much to do with Italy as Spain, and of course today superb classical and flamenco guitars are made in every corner of the world. But it’s easy to associate the classical guitar primarily with Spain, and with Madrid in particular, which has been the heart of Spanish guitar making since the mid-eighteenth century.

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Chocolate Express

I arrived at the station in the nick of time, as usual, relying on my watch running fast and on the train granting me the favor of arriving five minutes late. Thanks to both, my watch ahead and the train delayed, I had enough time for a cup of coffee in the station’s café. It was empty. The man behind the counter wiped the stainless steel surface with a rag. He worked slowly, gazing attentively at his image reflected in the metal, as if his life depended on it. I’ve been catching the train every Friday for nearly two years in this very station, drinking a last-minute coffee in this very bar, with the same man wiping the counter for lack of anything better to do. By now we could be friends, of a sort, but we aren’t, and both of us are content with the mutual dislike that unites us. He’s a man from the North, used to dealing with cows and not with people. And I appreciate that. That he doesn’t ask about my family or mention the weekend’s game. That he gives me my coffee like he feeds the livestock. I couldn’t abide by anything else after a tough week on the job, one I do for the money and nothing else, just as he’s a waiter without it being his calling.

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Chocolate Expreso

Llegué a la estación con la hora pegada, como siempre, confiando en que mi reloj estuviera adelantado y que el tren me hiciera la cortesía de llegar cinco minutos tarde. Gracias a ambas cosas, el adelanto de mi reloj y el retraso del tren, pude tomarme un café en el bar. Estaba desierto. El hombre detrás de la barra pasaba la bayeta por el mostrador de acero inoxidable. Lo hacía despacio, mirando con mucha atención su imagen reflejada en el metal, como si en ello le fuera la vida. Llevo casi dos años cogiendo el tren cada viernes en esa misma estación, tomándome un café urgente en ese mismo bar en el que el hombre siempre limpia el mostrador a falta de otra cosa mejor que hacer. A estas alturas podríamos ser amigos o algo parecido, pero no lo somos y a los dos nos satisface esa antipatía que nos une. El es un hombre del norte, acostumbrado a tratar con las vacas y no con las personas. A mí eso me gusta. Que no me pregunte por la familia ni comente el partido del domingo. Que me dé el café como se echa de comer a los animales. No podría soportar otra cosa después de la dura semana en ese trabajo que hago sólo por dinero, igual que él es un camarero sin vocación.

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