a wandering woman writes

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Saturday Shopping

Today I headed to do what I almost never do, in any country -- shop on a Saturday afternoon.

I have a wedding next week in Sevilla, however, and while by some miracle I managed to find a both dress and a seamstress who could alter it (on one quick Friday night outing), I still need jewelry and shoes and a handbag and whatever other perfectly matching accessories I may run across if I hope to even come close to Española wedding chic...and my days are numbered. I leave for Sevilla Friday afternoon.

So today I headed out through the Plaza Mayor to Calle Toro, one of Salamanca's busiest shopping streets.

Calle Toro was packed with shoppers and walkers and folks simply out for a paseo on a bright sunny spring day by the time I arrived, about noon. I had to dodge groups of two and three and four, many accompanying a stroller or two, to make my way down to my favorite shoestore while cutting back and forth across the street to give something to the street musicians (today a bagpiper, a talented violinist, and the 2 regular accordionists, plus a new accordionist I haven't seen before.) I doubt they made much this afternoon; it was hard to hear the music over the din of the crowd. I have grown to love the roar of a Spanish crowd flowing down one of Salamanca's narrow streets, voices rising, hands flying, cheeks meeting as friends greet friends. The wave of sound bounces off the walls of the sandstone buildings on either side and spreads down the connecting alleyways and in and out of the open doors of the bars along the way. You can't help but be swept up in the energy, and you soon find it's a crowd in which all is forgiven: You're bound to come dangerously close to bouncing into other people as they swurve and cut and stop suddenly to check out a store window - but nobody seems to mind, even when the chaos leads to collision.

The roar was another story inside the stores. Sfera looked like it had been hit by a hurricane. By the time I arrived at Zara, it was 1:30, dangerously close to closing time (2 pm), and the shoppers were in full panic mode. I have never seen people who enjoy shopping quite as thoroughly - perhaps the word is viscerally - as the Spanish. They don't necessarily always buy a lot - although the Zara checkout line wrapped around the whole first floor by 1:45 - but they crowd into stores, pick things up, carry them around to show friends or see next to another piece, throw them into other bins, and reach over you, around you or through you to get at the miniskirt hanging by your head. Shopping in Spain is physical activity. I often feel the lack of good(???) old American "personal space", but never more than in a store. Any store, any day.

Although I'd say the true center of Spanish shopping is the escaparate (store window.) It's not unusual for a merchant to display more stock in his windows than he keeps inside the store. And the window is often larger than the store, as I discovered when I tried to find my perfect shoes as the 2 o'clock deadline approached. Thinking there must be something for me in a zapatería (shoestore) with 3 huge windows stuffed with shoes (although not in my chosen wedding color), I ventured inside in only to find myself elbow to elbow with 10 or 15 fellow shoppers in a store the size of a small California walk-in closet.

I didn't find my shoes or bag, although I did pick up the perfect bracelet to match the broche the dress seller talked me into on Friday. Looks like I'll be hitting the stores again during the week, when, hopefully, I'll be able to navigate my way to the handbags without arousing my Don't Fence Me In American claustraphobia.

By the time I turned toward home, it was almost 3, and the streets were silent except for the chink chink of glasses in the bars, as Salamanca flowed indoors for the Saturday comida.



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