Books for Everyone!

Mid-May 2021

And The Espadrilles

In my opus, THE DAWN, the heroine, Camille, wears espadrilles for gardening. Her use of these shoes is historic, and practical, not merely fictional. Once I’d permitted my character, a heroine, no less, to engage in such fun foot fashion that’s also functional, I went on the hunt for espadrilles — real espadrilles.

And, after a 10-year quest - of chasing windmills through Spain, - I found them!

These shoes come from Spain, and they are made with Spanish hands. According to the promotional literature of this company:

Castañer shoes and Castañer boots evoke a playful and fun attitude to your wardrobe. Castañer’s wedge sandals, from a reasonable 5 cm to a dizzying 11 cm, are mostly wrapped in hemp rope as well as these unusual materials: woven straw, rattan and wicker.

I purchased the sensible and non-dizzying height of 3-1/2 inches, or 8.89 cm. Not only do I walk easily and happily in these shoes, but, if I need to run, I can hop-run, using baby steps.

Baby steps has been the key to success for this phenomenal family of artisans.

The history of the espadrille is perhaps better known to me than to most of the American gals who purchase these shoes, and who then complain, online, and elsewhere, that they cannot use them to hike or walk long distances.

The espadrille is not a cross-trainer!

It’s always a sad but comedic moment for me whenever I read online reviews that display the appalling lack of knowledge, common sense, and even minimal understanding of every-day, time-honored items that, for whatever reason, have become bizarre new-fangled oddities to younger consumers, mostly of the American variety. The entire concept of tradition is a bewildering thought to the rootless jackanapes who honor not time nor anything of true value that endures and becomes timeless.

The American version of glaring ignorance, as expressed regarding the most commonplace and archetypal things in life, takes on a smugly insufferable elitist air:

If I do not know about it, then it is not worth knowing! It cannot possibly be of any value whatsoever to anyone of my genius and superior virtue.

The history of the espadrille is well worth knowing, and is of enormous value and virtue to any woman who seeks a working, and playing, acquaintance with feminine fashion; to any gal wishing to display elegant style and classic flair; and to any American who wishes to partake of some fundamental facts about a country that forms the larger portion of the Iberian Peninsula: Spain.

In 1927, Luis Castañer and Tomas Serra founded the Castañer Company, principally as an outgrowth of an espadrille workshop. This shoe style and the family business date back to the year 1776 — a year that is also of vital significance to Americans.

During that momentous year of 1776, Rafael Castañer, the first maker of espadrilles, was born. The kingdom of Spain, at that time, was performing a cost-benefit analysis as to whether or not to enter into this bloody revolution of the English colonies. Spain was, to use the modern phrase, conflicted.

The Spanish monarch and his ministers undoubtedly believed that their more than able assistance would vanquish the enemy, England; and that victory would thus lead to the independence of those United States of America. That result, independence, for those 13 colonies, was not in the best interests of Spain. That nation, according to the French minister in Madrid in 1779:

“regards the United States as destined to become her enemy in no remote future.”

I am always in awe of how the Spanish of yore viewed any foreign territory, country, or policy in terms of either quick plunder or potential enemy-status. Amity, conciliation, compromise, concession, even accommodation, did not appear to have been uniquely Spanish attitudes toward foreign entities. It’s an admirable stance. I like the cut of that jib. Not quite aggressive, but pragmatic, and passionately so.

Spain eventually decided to aid this fledgling nation that was pathetically pitiful in terms of a fleet: the United States had not one single heavy warship. The joint mission of Spain with France to grant aid to the United States was weighted by the prospects of future land deals, and sealed by private deals that left America out of the bargaining room at the summer palace at Aranjuez.

The sad reality, at that time, for the U.S.A was their crucial need to equalize the balance of the naval debt in this fight for freedom from Great Britain. That Anglo-Saxon empire, on which the sun would never set, possessed 90 warships. France had 64. With strategic calculation, King Charles III of Spain thus tossed into the support satchel the remainder of the warships needed in this military naval fight.

King Louis XVI and France could not prove victorious in the American Revolutionary War without the help of Spain; and the United States could not become an independent and sovereign nation without the aid of those two reigning European powers. Alliances then, as now, were forged out of pure necessity, and out of that necessity was formed the future of a free world.

The world of Spain was one in which the shoe company named Castañer has very proudly and productively spanned across four centuries, right up to today. Those 245 years have not all passed by in freedom and with prosperity for this shoe manufacturing family. There was, in 1936, the Spanish Civil War. That watershed event has been considered by many Spanish poets, writers, and historians (who wish to be poets and writers) as the breaking point in terms of Spanish national pride, confidence, identity, or sense of national self, along with other virtues that always seem in short supply, or which appear to have dwindled over the decades.

Looking back, I suppose any nation can point to a cataclysmic episode or epoch and opine that THAT calamity was the one that put the kibosh on the benevolent fate of the nation. I usually disagree with that viewpoint, but I understand the reasons for any patriot believing that his country lost its mojo due to a bozo in-charge of the country, or because of a consequential war that divided the classes, or the masses. Presently, Bojo is in the process of losing the mojo for the Brits; but I’d say that a decade, or two, of his predecessors at 10 Downing Street, lost the national mojo in much more major and blaring and treasonous ways.

For the Castañer Company, the Spanish Civil War was almost disastrous for this capitalist venture. This family business was nationalized, which is a most nasty development for any free enterprise, but those shoes were of vital military value. The Republican Spanish soldiers wore espadrilles on the front lines of a war that grew to involve more than just Spain: the Fascists in Italy, and especially the Nazis in Germany, used this internal violent struggle to ostensibly support the Nationalist cause. Those foreign soldiers thereby become battle-hardened, and battle-ready, to engage in World War II.

Spain maintained some form of neutrality during that world war, although in history and in THE DAWN, the Pyrenees between France and Spain formed the gateway to freedom for countless and uncounted Jews and other persecuted individuals in Nazi-Occupied and Vichy France.

During the post-war era, specifically the 1950s, this shoe company was forced to deal, and compete with the march of industrial progress. The new process of vulcanization to harden natural rubber led to different forms of footwear, most notably, the chirucas. Perhaps the modern American groaners complaining about the espadrilles failing the trekking test ought to invest in those hiking boots.

By the 1960s, the Castañer Company was a private business once again, and had included the next generation, Lorenzo and Isabel. They were attending a trade fair in Paris, when who but Yves Saint Laurent, he of haute couture fashion design, saw the splendid shoe. He promptly ordered a pair of high-heeled espadrilles. That style would have been of the dizzying height, and the first of its kind. Gardening in high heels had not yet been attempted throughout the centuries of Castañer espadrille experience.

The Castañer Company and the designer espadrille thereafter took off as a fashion footwear enterprise. And the espadrille was no longer a shoe for humble peasants, the country folk. The lowly espadrille became high fashion, a luxury item that now commands a price deserving of the exquisite quality of footwear made in Spain by Spaniards.

The new style is not all that new, although the advertising copy states that Castañer has “reinvented the espadrille, a 200-year-old item, and kept it fresh in a time when everything seems - ‘so 10 minutes ago’.”

I won’t be doing any gardening in these beauties. As a woman of the country, I’ve opted for a strictly fashion use of my Castaner espadrilles. Regardless of my footwear choice, J’aime la terre !