Two weekends ago, my housemate Irene and I were in the living room. It was about 60º F (15º C) and sunny, so we opened the door to the terrace. As we did so, I heard a strange, lilting melody coming from the street below.
A few minutes later, I heard it again.
“Eso tendría que ser el móvil de alguien, no?” (“Is that someone’s ringtone?”) I asked Irene.
“No, no,” she replied. “Es el afilador de cuchillos.”
“El afilador? Qué es?”
Irene, who’s from Zaragoza, explained that el afilador de cuchillos, or knife-sharpener, is exactly what he sounds like. Well, almost. He travels around town, usually on a specially outfitted bicycle or motorbike, playing his melody on a harmonica or pan flute. When customers hear him, they bring their knives and he sharpens them on-the-spot. Most of their regular business comes from fishmongers and butchers who prefer to have el afilador to come to them, rather than having to take their knives elsewhere to be sharpened. In short, el afilador is like a more practical take on the ice cream truck.
Irene also said the tradition of el afilador is dying in Spain. It’s slightly more common to see them in small towns, but, overall, they’re disappearing with each passing year.
Antonio practica una tradición que está desapareciendo lentamente. Es un afilador, un oficio que también se está esfumando de muchos otros países, como por ejemplo, Chile, Argentina o Venezuela, donde ya casi no se escucha el típico silbido que anuncia su llegada.
Él cree que es uno de los cinco que quedan en Madrid.
Antonio is part of a tradition that is slowly disappearing. He’s a knife-sharpener, a trade that’s also dwindling in countries like Chile, Argentina or Venezuela, where it’s almost impossible to hear the typical melody that announces their arrival.
He believes he’s one of the five left in Madrid.
The article is in Spanish, but I highly recommend the video at the top of the page, whether you speak the language or not. It gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the afiladores — and the centuries of tradition that support them.