09 August 2010

The Artisans of Alcalá: an A-to-Z of trades and crafts

This article is adapted from Evocaciones Alcalainas 45: Artesanos de Alcalá, by Juan Leiva, who grew up in Alcalá in the period immediately after the Civil War. His childhood memories are being published in short extracts in Spanish and in English on the Mi Alcalá blog, giving a fascinating insight into life in the town in the early 1940s. His source for the contents of this article, apart from his own memory, was his fellow Alcalaino Juan Romero Mejías.

Where there is no direct English translation of the name of the craft, I have left the description to provide the meaning.

The Centre for Ethnographic Interpretation on the Calle Rio Verde has a large collection of  items from this period, which you can see through the window.  Occasionally it opens its doors and local people re-enact the past in a "museo vivo" using the equipment housed in the museum.  Underneath the centre is a workshop where local people are using the old crafts to restore furniture and equipment.

Re-enacting the past in the Centre for Ethnographic Interpretation
The Artisans of Alcalá
In the 1940s there were many artesanos in Alcalá. Today there are still people who practice the old crafts, but mainly for pleasure rather than to make a living. The term artesanado once described a social class comprising craftsmen, tradesmen and artists, whereas today it is used for people who make household objects by hand, offering a personal touch in a world of mass-produced goods.

Aechador, ahechador [winnower] : an agricultural worker who cleaned the threshed grain and pulses with a criba or sieve. Every farm would employ an aechador; in Alcalá, the Perea family were dedicated to this trade.

Afilador [knife-sharpener]: a tradesman who used a grindstone, usually pedal-driven, to sharpen utensils and tools. Alcalá didn't have its own knife-sharpener but was frequently visited by Emilio Gallego, who did the rounds of Alcalá, Paterna, Medina and Benalup. He came by bicycle and announced his arrival by playing a type of flute, upon which all the housewives would bring out their knives and scissors for him to sharpen, and catch up with the gossip at the same time.  There is still a visiting knife-sharpener today, but he arrives in a van and the flute tune comes out of a loudspeaker.

Aguador [water-carrier]: Until the 1940s, water was sold by aguadores using donkeys loaded with crates, each containing four pitchers. They got the water from the high, middle and low wells on the Patriste road, a well on the Alameda by the end of Calle los Pozos, the Fuente de la Salada, and several more. The first water-tank in Alcalá was built in 1877 and was in private ownership. Running water didn't arrive until 1942, when it was piped in from El Chorreadero and stored in tanks built over the remains of the castle.

Aparador: These were in great demand, and were found in different trades: for example in shoemaking, they stitched together the component parts of the footwear; in carpentry, they planed and jointed planks of wood to make a single piece; and in agriculture, they earthed up the growing plants in the fields.

Arriero [muleteer]: The word arriero is the origin of “arre” - a popular expression used when leading beasts of burden.  They transported charcoal, cork and other goods into town from the surrounding countryside and at certain times of year great strings of beasts would be seen passing through the streets.

Barbero: People who shave and cut men's hair have, over time, been called many things: rapabarbas, rapista, rapador, Figaro, and the more refined peluquero [hairdresser]. Sometimes the barber also pulled teeth and let blood. Doctors would let barbers handle the less dangerous tasks. It was quite common to be cut by those sharp blades, but the barbers had stones and minerals to stop the bleeding. The profession was often handed down from father to son.

Basurero [dustman]: This term was used both for the people who collected the rubbish and for the place where it was deposited. One such person in Alcalá was Antonio Rengel, who would walk round the town at a certain time each day with his trolley and a broom made out of sticks. He mainly cleaned the communal places; the cleaning of the streets was done by the residents themselves, who would keep them spotless.

Calero [lime-maker]: The calera was the quarry where limestone was extracted, and the calero would bake it in an oven to produce lime, known as cal, which everybody used to whitewash their houses and patios. It was said that lime had antiseptic properties, and disinfected the places where it was applied. During outbreaks of contagious diseases even the churches were whitewashed to protect people from illness.

Canillero [tap-maker]: Maker of canillas or taps to draw off liquid from a cask or barrel. An Alcalá man known as Pepe Canilla sold taps in Jerez, Chiclana, El Puerto and other towns in the area where wine or sherry was produced. The taps were made from birch and boiled in aniline to give the appearance of mahogany. They are still used in the wine industry today.

Carbonero [charcoal-maker]: The manufacture of charcoal was a major industry in the Alcornocales. Teams of carboneros would go into the hills after the harvest was over, to collect the wood, build the ovens, cover them with clay and produce charcoal. This was used as a fuel for cooking, heating and driving steam-powered machinery; it was exported from Alcalá as far as Cádiz and Algeciras, where it was used to fire steamships.

Carpintero basto [“rough” carpenter]: An essential tradesman in a town based on agriculture and livestock like Alcalá. He made carts, wagons, racks, ploughs, yokes, pitchforks, barrows, panniers, pallets, frames for supporting goods on the backs of animals, beams, floorboards – all made of wood grown locally.

Carpintero de blanco: Carpenter who makes tables, chairs, benches and desks.

Carpintero de ribera, Carpintero de calafate: Someone who makes, repairs and caulks the joints on small boats.

Carpintero fino, Ebanista [cabinet-maker]: A carpenter who does fine detailed work, using a wide range of specialist tools. The word ebanista comes from the same root as ebony, a rare and precious hardwood used for luxury items. The Barea brothers, José and Juan, who had a workshop near the Fuentes de la Salada in C/ Ntra Sra de los Santos, and Francisco Diaz Rodriguez, were famous ebanistas in Alcalá.

Carretero: A carpenter dedicated to making carriages, carts, wagons and other vehicles towed by animals.

Cedacero [sieve-maker]: This job was a real art. To winnow properly (see Aechador above) you need a good sieve, or cedazo. Joselito el Ceacero had a workshop in C/ N.S. De los Santos. He would start his work by searing and tanning a piece of goatskin, which would be used for the mesh. Once dry, it would be perforated more or less finely depending on the grain for which it was destined. It was made without the use of a mould or template, and it might be decorated with artistic patterns, such as stars and suns, using a hammer and punch.

Dornillero: A maker of wooden bowls, known as dornillos, used to prepare gazpacho. The teams of workers in the fields would also use this term to describe the person who prepared the gazpacho. They would pound the ingredients – stale bread, garlic, onion, tomatoes if they had them – in the bowl and add water, oil and vinegar. These bowls are still made in Alcalá and used for gazpacho which is served chilled in summer, and hot in winter.

Escoba still in use today
Escobero: Someone who made and sold brooms, or escobas. In the countryside round Alcalá there is plenty of good material for this purpose – palmito leaves, or flexible twigs such as buckthorn - which are tied to the end of a pole. The broom-makers earned very little because practically everyone knew how to make their own. There were many types but the most common were household brooms and those used in the stable yards.  

Esquilador [shearer]: One who sheared the fur, fleece or wool from animals. He would then compress the fleece and pack it into a sack. The word esquila is also used for the bells worn by the animals to stop them getting lost. In Alcalá there was a shearer known as "El Raspa" [the Scraper] and he liked to draw figures – fish, birds etc – on the hindquuarters of horses.

Estibador [stevedore]: A person who sorted, packed, loaded and transported goods, such as charcoal or cork.

Forjador, Herrero [blacksmith]: One who forged red-hot metal using hammers and tongs. They made all kinds of tools and agricultural equipment as well as decorative wrought iron work. There were a number of excellent smiths in Alcalá, including a gypsy family headed by Sebastian Monge, “El Cuco”. When he died, one of his sons stayed to work the forge in Alcalá, while the other, Antonio, went to work as a smith in San Fernando. One of Antonio's descendants, José Monge Cruz, became a world-famous flamenco singer known as Camarón de la Isla.

Herrador [farrier]: A blacksmith who specialised in shoeing animals – horses, mules, donkeys, oxen. This was a very important job and there were two in Alcalá. The trade is now in decline, but it is maintained in the Army and the stud farms for pure-bred horses.

Hojalatero, Latero [tinsmith]: There were many tinsmiths in Alcalá. Simple vessels made of tin plate with a handle were commonly used for drinking water, coffee and other beverages. They were very useful, and there was a saying “Eres más apañado que un jarrillo de lata” (“you're more useful than a tin tankard”). But the tinsmiths mainly concentrated on making measuring jugs, milk churns, funnels, and cruets for oil and vinegar. They also did repairs if the vessels started leaking.

Hortelano on market-day
Hortelano [market gardener]: One who grows fruit and vegetables to sell. There were many huertos in Alcalá, especially along the banks of the Rocinejo river. Smaller plots were (and still are) found in odd corners of the town and people still sell their produce on street corners or to bars and restaurants.

Lañador [crockery repairer]: This trade did not exist in Alcalá, but every now and again a man known as El Lañador would come to the town and announce his presence with a little trumpet. He would repair crockery and earthenware containers using metal staples or cramps. Such containers were found in every house: pitchers, jugs, earthenware jars, soup tureens, salad bowls … The broken pieces would stay together perfectly with the staples.

Molinero de Aceitunas [olive-miller]: The precious oil from the olive is made by crushing olives in a mill. The oldest such mill in Alcalá was that of “El Chirri”, who worked in the Pajarete mill.

Molinero de Trigo [miller of wheat]: There were many flour-mills in and around the town, as wheat was and still is widely grown in the area. A popular walkers' trail today is the “Ruta de los Molinos” from Patriste, near the campsite, along the course of the Rocinejo river into the mountains. Mules were used on this route to transport the wheat to the mills and the flour back to the town.

Paredero [dry-stone wall builder]: One who specialised in making stone walls to mark the boundaries of the fields.

Partera [midwife]: A woman who assisted at a birth. She would be much sought-after, being of great importance for all families. In the 1940s there was just one, María Ulloa. People respected her as if she had the hands of a saint. She was very experienced and would help anybody in need. Almost half the town passed through her hands. These days there is a street named after her.

Piarero [drover]: In those days, when there was no other means of transport, livestock was driven to market on foot. They went along special drovers' trails to Jerez, Sevilla and even as far as Valencia.

Pocero: Someone who dug, maintained and worked on wells. It was said that you needed a certain intuition to detect the presence of the water and sink a well in the right place. People who had this ability, known as water-diviners, used a sort of pendulum which moved when there was water underground. There were two brothers with this ability in Alcalá, named Armario but known as Los Canarios.

Practicante (medical assistant): A person who, because of their experience and inclination, would administer injections, provide first aid and advise on medical treatments for minor illnesses. Later on it became a proper profession known as ATS (Asistente Técnico Sanitario), requiring a formal qualification. One of the most well-known in Alcalá was Don Narciso, followed by his son Juan Romero Herrera. They were both excellent at their job and they cured as many people with their words as with their treatments. They would call from house to house giving advice, prevention being better than cure.

Romanero: Someone who maintained a romana, a portable hanging balance used for weighing goods. All types of vendors would use them, but these days they have been replaced by more accurate and convenient types of measuring devices.

Segador [reaper]: You knew the crop was ready to harvest when you could no longer crush the grain with your fingers. When the cornfields were ready, in June, Portuguese workers would arrive to work in the fields around Jerez, but in Alcalá there were many good reapers.  The job would take them a couple of months, whereas today it is done by machine, in a fraction of the time.

Sillero [chair-maker]: In Alcalá there were two brothers, called Atienza. They had a workshop in the Calle de Enmedio where they made chairs and stools using the wood of the adelfa (oleander), with seats made from rushes. These traditional chairs are still widely used today but they are made in factories.

Talabartero [leather-worker]: Someone who makes and repairs saddles, bridles, halters and other forms of harness for horses, and  other leather goods. There are still a couple in Alcalá today, but they are known as guarnicioneros.

Tornero de madera [turner, lathe operator]: Although nearly all carpenters used a lathe, the tornero was a specialist in this equipment. An Alcalá man called “Diego el Tornero” was a famous craftsman in his day. He moved to Cádiz to seek work, and to demonstrate his skill he promised to match the best turner in the workshop by standing opposite him and doing the same job in reverse. When they had finished, Diego had made an identical piece, much to the astonishment of the professionals.

Tratante [dealer]: One dedicated to the buying and selling of livestock, cereals, dwellings, and all manner of other goods. Many of them were gypsies. A good tratante had the ability to negotiate deftly between buyer and seller, leaving both parties feeling they had got a better deal than the other.

Velonero: Someone who made and sold oil-lamps. These were made of metal, comprising a well for the oil, various tubes through which passed the wick, and a metal screen to augment the light. A velonero came to Alcalá each year from Cordoba, announcing his presence with some jointed metal plates that gave off an instantly recognizable sound. The children would rush out to meet him because as well as lamps he brought little figures and other objects made of metal that shone like gold.

Yesero: One who works with yeso, or gypsum [calcium sulphate dihydrate]. A yesería can be a shop or factory that sells yeso, or produces objects made of yeso mate, or plaster of Paris. In Andalucía there are many examples of Moorish art made from it. Yeso blanco is used to plaster and whitewash the walls of houses, and is also mixed with cement to delay the setting of concrete.

Zapatero [shoemaker]: One who makes and repairs footwear. These days they might be known as a remendón [cobbler]. There were also the curtidurías or tanyards, where you could buy pieces of leather to make or mend your own shoes. There were many zapateros in Alcalá at one time but these days there are none; people would rather buy new shoes rather than mend their old ones.

A glass or two of vino is essential while repairing shoes

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