I recently stayed in Albacete after conducting a week-long workshop on the Art of the Navaja in the southernmost province of Andalucia, in the city of Arcos de la Frontera. Albacete no longer relies on its dwindling cutlery trade, depending instead on the various commonplace industries that abound in all modern cities in the 21st century. Vestiges of its former livelihood, however, can still be found throughout the city if one is willing to look. The best place to start is at the cutlery museum.
Another perquisite of being a World-Class knife fighter is that you often afforded entry into otherwise restricted venues. Alicia informed me that the museum's curator was in Madrid for the day but had indicated that I should be assisted in any way I might ask. The restrictions against photography were waived and -- declining a personally-guided tour -- I was allowed to wander about and explore the various salas of navajas, cuchillos, tijeras, and punales throughout the museum. The fact that the museum was empty during my visit made it easy from my to take my time reading the exhibit's narratives, setting up my shots, and revelling in the design and craftsmanship of the ancient Albacete cuchilleros.
When I finally returned the the museum's reception area I was ready to peruse the dozens of navaja-related publications and select those that would complement my own extensive collection. In addition to the many museum-generated books and publications that the staff generously gifted me, I spent another 200+ euros on books from other publishers, all of them unavailable in the US. As I left, Alicia informed me that their curator, Mariana de Pascual Lopez, would be back from Madrid the following day, and would appreciate my returning then to meet with her.
The next day I met with Ms. de Pascual, who spoke with me of the museum's history, mission, and efforts to protect and preseve the legacy of Albacete's master craftsmen. One of the museum's publications, Navaja, Temido Acero [Navaja, The Feared Steel] outlines how the navaja has become stigmatized as a dreaded weapon of the criminal class. This stigma has been perpetuated by modern media and Spain's modern politically correct society to the point that sales of artesanal navajas have plummeted, centuries-old cutlery shops have closed, and an entire population of craftsmen have had to seek employment elsewhere. The navaja, once carried proudly by every Spaniard as the protector of his home and family, is now perceived as a despicable relic of Spain's lawless past.
Spain, the nation that first brought the concept of honor and self-sufficiency to the New World has now, it appears, become influenced by our New World "values" and adopted our emasculating fear of "anything that might potentially hurt us."
How ironic and sad! Having once taught us what it means to have a sense of cultural pride, the Spanish now tragically emulate our lack of it!
[Visit the museum's website at: http://www.museo-mca.com/]