October 21, 2011
I’m not a what you might consider a shopper. My usual shopping trips are rigidly set sessions. Carmen, my fiancée would concur. “I need new pants”, I think, so I go buy new pants (stopping in the first convenient shop); but on my recent trip to Spain I had a slight change of heart. Part of this had to do with lots of time on my hands, as well as my love of walking around in unknown places. After the initial few hours I even got into it, and started noticing what it was that was keeping me interested in a pastime that I usually consider necessity rather than recreation.
Carmen and I spent time shopping in San Sebastien, Biarritz, and Vittoria. Narrow streets (with room for pedestrians only!), make up the hearts of the cities. Old buildings house secret finds, with walk in access. Best of all is the wonderful living spaces above the street level retail- a novel concept, or ancient tradition? Either way something that is missing in our own city.
A lot of variety in the store interiors- from the ultra modern to age old classic designs, store interiors speak more about the product concept as opposed to merchandise placement. We had the impression that with a little paint and a few new fixtures, many of these stores could be changed up overnight.
Storefronts varied widely. From the opulent to the understated, store frontages played a large role in describing a market. Shops were often housed in repurposed spaces, and the frontage would integrate pre-existing architectural details (such as stone steps, or century old moldings). There were many businesses set up outside, in front of their shops, showing products right on the street instead of in the windows. A great way to interact without going into a space!
Best of all was the fact that on a shopping trip you also get to see all the nooks and crannies of the old city. A narrow lane would explode under an archway into a huge plaza; a little alcove would be set with a few tables and chairs serving chilled wine to the foot weary shopper.
I probably spent more money in a few days shopping than I would have in a week of travelling, but it was worth it. I have the double advantage of finding some interesting and unique clothes, while at the same time discovering and interacting with a city at an everyday level. Carmen and I met tons of people, shop owners and shoppers alike as we covered mile after mile of labyrinthine streets. I might even consider doing it again…
photos: Everett Kunitz and Carmen Norris