Monday, June 28, 2010


Nineteenth century literary accounts left to us by British and American travelers invariably record Albacete as the source city for navajas, sheath knives, and daggers. Although the city's reputation was based on the quality of its fighting steel, it was by no means the only venue that focused on the manufacture of navajas. The first chapter of the Manual del Baratero, in fact, lists the many other cities throughout Spain that were similarly dedicated to the production of small edged weapons. Today, Albacete's industry is primarily rivaled by knife manufacturing from Andujar and Santa Cruz, both of which also produce decent fare.

One could argue, however, that the premiere cutlers still reside in Albacete. Since I was going to stay there for a while. I decided to search out a cutler by the name of Sarrion. Sarrion's name is legend, even in the US, among connosieurs of fine navajas. I first heard of him ten years ago from Maestro Ramon Martinez. The Maestro had visited Albacete a decade or so prior and -- though not being a navaja stylist per se -- sought out Sarrion and acquired one of his formidable weapons. Maestro Martinez suggested that if I ever found myself in Albacete -- which is not at all near to my usual haunts in Andalucia -- I look up Sarrion and consider his wares. I said I would.

While everyone in Albacete seemed to have heard of Sarrion, the maestro cuchillero, very few knew if he still produced knives or was even alive. It was only the fact that the citizens of Albacete are very friendly and helpful that hept me undaunted in my search for this legendary knife artisan. In time, my persistence was rewarded.

At number 20 Albarderos Street, located two blocks from the cathedral, I found the Fabrica de Cuchillos Bienvenido, or the Bienvenido knife factory. [Yes, Bienvenido does mean "welcome" but it is also a common first name; and no, it was not an actual factory on a main street, but a factory outlet. The Spanish don't distinguish.] The proprietors, Bienvenido Gonzalez and his father, were very helpful in providing an extensive background on the current state of affairs.

As it turned out, Bienvenido has Sarrion as a neighbor. He informed me that while Sarrion is still alive, he recently retired due to advanced age and personal health complications that I cannot expand on in this post. Sarrion has two sons but neither is interested in carrying on the famiily tradition.

Bienvenido happened to have two remaining Sarrion navajas, which he was willing to sell me as part of a larger navaja purchase that I was making. The navajas, which I couldn't pass up, bear Sarrion's name engraved on the left side of their blades.

When I asked Bienvenido what the best way was to get back to the historical parador where I was staying, he smiled and told me that Sarrion's old storefront was right on the thoroughfare I would take to get back, the Avenida de Murcia. I could see it on the way.

Ten minutes later and halfway back, I found the place, now locked and neglected after years cutlery service to navaja aficionados. Its yellow sign, however, was still resplendent against the clear evening sky, persistent in letting the world know where it was that the retired cutler had once plied his time-honored trade. The Universe does indeed provide...