El Afilador de Cuchillos, a Remnant of Old Spain

An afilador in Madrid. Photo credit: Bicicletario.com (Click image for source page.)

An afilador in Madrid. Photo credit: Bicicletario.com (Click image for source.)

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.

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