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Side Streets Are Full of Handcrafted Wares

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i> .

A short distance from the high-rise department stores and trendy designer boutiques on chic downtown shopping streets, old-town Madrid’s traditional shops are filled with handcrafted merchandise made according to old techniques.

Many of the shops are in the vicinity of Plaza Mayor in a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and alleys lined with old buildings.

This is an area in which to savor Spanish ambiance and flavor and in which to find merchandise with distinctive Spanish character.

Official Store

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Artespana (Plaza de las Cortes, 3), about 19 years old, is the Spanish Ministry of Industry’s official handcraft store. It offers traditional and modern items. A spacious and attractive showroom displays a wide range of merchandise from furniture and home accessories to gift items.

Among them are ceramic pitchers ($8) with typical blue, yellow and white floral patterns, hand-blown glass vases ($40 and up), carved wood chests ($1,000 and up) and roll-top desks (about $1,300) as well as unusual mirrors encased in folk-art frames (about $300).

Leather bags in the form of hand-sewn hunting pouches, small ($75) and large ($250 and up), are attractive buys.

Additional Artespana shops are at Hermosillos 14, Gran Via 32 and Don Ramon de la Cruz 33, but the display at Plaza de Cortes is most appealing.

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Cecilia de Lozano Munecas (Sevilla 2) specializes in antique dolls. The collection contains dolls made in Italy, France and other countries as well as in Spain. It’s a small, old shop with antique cabinets and shelves filled with intriguing dolls, each with a distinctive personality and costume.

Expensive Porcelains

The most appealing, with lacy, bow-laden clothing and delicate features carefully hand-painted on pretty porcelain heads, are from the 1800s and 1900s and cost thousands of dollars. More affordable dolls, 30 to 50 years old, are charmingly outfitted as sailors, flappers and clowns, and cost $20 and up.

Capas Sesena (Cruz 23) has been making traditional Spanish capes since 1901. Photographs of Pablo Picasso, Liberace, Andres Segovia, Luis Bunuel and European royalty, all wearing Sesena capes, line his walls.

Although the popularity of these capes increases and recedes like the tides, they are very much in vogue now. Beautiful, romantic and practical, they’re made of a special soft, durable and comfortable wool felt that can be dressed up or down and worn as a light wrap or double-wrapped for warmth.

A variety includes capes with collars or hoods, shoulder or waist-length self-shawls, silver clasps or buttons, embroidery and two-color reversibles, at ankle or knee-length. Colors from black and brown to magenta and vermilion. About $300 and up.

Gourmet Grocery

Casa Paco (Puerta Cerrado 11) is a gourmet grocery. Canned goods and preserves, including figs in rum ($10) and dates or plums in wine ($7) can be taken home as gifts.

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Casa Paco also has a fine selection of excellent Spanish wines, from Marques de Caceres (Rioja, from $7) to Vega Sicilia (Valladolid, limited production from about $140 per three-quarter bottle).

The boot makers at Hijos de Garcia Tenorio (Bolsa 9) celebrated the shop’s 100th anniversary in June, 1987.

Although the shop is cluttered and dusty, its workmanship is unsurpassed, particularly riding boots. Hijos de Garcia Tenorio, which patented its own designs in 1932, makes men’s and women’s boots and walking shoes in traditional styles that have varied only slightly over the years.

Only 50 or 60 pairs are made to measure each year. They are handcrafted of Castilian leather and are worn by a Spanish princess (Christine de Bourbon), American actor Tony Curtis and most of Spain’s matadors.

Riding boots cost about $500 to $700, and bullfight boots about $900. It takes weeks to make one pair of shoes.

Four Generations

Casa Hernanz (Toledo 18) has been in business for four generations, making and selling rope-soled espadrilles in heavy canvas in a variety of colors.

The espadrilles are made in sizes to fit everyone from infants to Big Foot, but they are not recommended for toddlers. Depending on size, they’re $4 and up.

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The shoes come in several styles, including those with straps that wrap around the ankles ($8) and others that are lined for greater comfort ($14). The shop also sells cute espadrille key rings ($3), and rope and canvas for do-it-yourself buffs.

Munoz (Cava Baja 12) is a tiny shop founded in 1819 that handcrafts old-fashioned wine barrels ($60 to $70), tap barrels ($100 and up) that sit on counter tops (great for making your own wine vinegar) and wooden buckets with metal bindings that can be used as planters.

Next door, in a postage-stamp-size store, Manuel Lopez (Cava Baja 10) handcrafts wood and brass objects, including sieves of various sizes, bellows for fireplaces and attractive small cages.

Conde Hermanos (Filipe V 2) constructs guitars for flamenco or classical music. The staff is friendly, and it’s quite common for the help to break out in song when some minstrel wanders in to try out an instrument. Finished guitars (about $200 and up) stand at the ready for strumming, and the shop takes custom orders.

Kitchen Wares

Alambique (Plaza de la Encarnacion 2) is a kitchen shop with many contemporary cooking accessories as well as a supply of hand-woven baskets ($15 and up), old-fashioned glass flasks with stoppers ($2 and up), wine flasks ($3), cork-lined ice buckets ($15) and coasters and hand-turned wooden plates and bowls.

Antiqua Casa Talavera (Isabel La Catholica 2), founded in 1901, is a ceramics shop decorated both outside and inside with antique tiles from the 18th and 19th centuries.

In addition to a variety of tiles ($2 to $9 per tile), the shop sells decorative and functional ceramic wares from Talavera, Toledo, Alcora, Seville, Granada and other ceramic-producing areas of Spain.

Also at Talavera are wine jugs ($8), tableware (sets of dinner, dessert and soup plates are $22 to $44, individual soup bowls are $3 and up, dessert plates are $5 and up, and dinner plates are $8 and up), ceramic canisters for sugar, rice and flour ($9), egg cups ($2) and overhead candelabra ($55, by special order that is filled within two or three months).

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing .


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