All it took was Eduardo Abril de Fontcuberta telling me that Albacete, Spain’s cutlery museum, was having a special exhibit celebrating the city’s 200th anniversary of being a major knife-making center to convince me to start checking airfares to Madrid. If the subject is Spanish navajas, Albacete is certainly right up at the top of the list!
So, on May 2nd I boarded a Delta flight for Madrid, with plans on catching a EuroRail train from there to Albacete. The second city is about halfway between the capital and the coastal vacation resort of Valencia, with hourly train connections both ways. Problem one, I quickly found most of Spain’s trains now have airport-type security as in x-rayed baggage, metal detectors, and a NO KNIVES policy! And unlike a plane, you can’t check your luggage. I’ve traveled all over Europe on their rail system since 9-11 and this was the first time I had encountered any problems with cutlery in my baggage. It looked like I was even going to lose my Swiss Army before I had hardly started my adventure but, for whatever reason, I discovered the train from Madrid to Albacete didn’t require the same security checks. Two hours later I left the train only to spot x-ray machines and metal detectors on the Albacete departure gate I would need to use three days from then. I actually asked security right then and there if my Swiss Army was going to be a problem going back to Madrid (they had the “no knives” signs up) and was told “no.” Of course, my plan was to return with a lot more than one Swiss Army! Well, I would just have to cross that bridge when I came to it.
As luck would have it, my hotel was only about two blocks from the cutlery museum, so about as quickly as I could drop my bags, I was on my way over. Museo Muncipal De La Cuchilleria (www.museo-mca.com) proved to be a small but very interesting historical collection of locally made knives. Along with navajas of every shape and size, there were many daggers and sheath knives unique to Spain. I noted that a fair number of their single-edge sheath knives would be considered classic clip-point “Bowie knives” if they were found anyplace in the U.S. This especially applied to the, for lack of a better term, “bird cage” handled models, which I’ve seen being represented as American frontier weapons in the past. I guess there is no reason a sailor or other traveler couldn’t have brought one from Spain, but I now have a feeling none were actually made on this side of the ocean.
In more recent times, Albacete was famous in Spain for the men that stood on the city train station platform selling all manner of locally made knives out of canvas aprons worn over their chests. Obviously, this is no longer possible but the traditional profession is celebrated all over the city, including a statue of a knife seller in the main plaza.
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by Terrill Hoffman / Jan 1, 2011