Walking around a bustling Sunday market in Santoña, on the Cantabrian coast of northern Spain, I couldn’t help but think of the Bob Dylan song Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather.
In the song, a wanderlusting traveler writes to his distant overseas love from the shores of Spain, asking if he might send her something special from afar – ‘either from the mountains of Madrid, or from the coast of Barcelona.‘
The far-off lover replies wistfully, claiming that all she wants is for him to return safely back to her arms: ‘there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love .. There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin’ .. Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled, from across that lonesome ocean.’
After a few more exchanges, the song ends with the pair growing apart over time, and the woman deciding that maybe she ought to ask for something special after all, while she still has the chance: ‘And yes, there’s something you can send back to me … Spanish boots of Spanish leather.‘
Love memoirs aside, the point of the story – as I walked through the bustling open-air marketplace – is that I felt an all too heavy sense of disappointment gazing at table after table of imported, Chinese shit.
Clothes, toys, trinkets, tools, cookware — the market had everything you could imagine, but none of it was authentically Spanish.
Naturally, the small town of Santoña is far from the only guilty party when it comes to this ‘market infidelity’; even Turin’s Porta Palazzo – Europe’s largest open-air market – is filled with similarly cut-rate, imported trinkets, as are just about every ‘local’ street market I’ve happened across in the past several years, regardless of location.
Of course, this is a rudimentary portrayal of the global marketplace in its current state; a market driven vastly by the dirt-cheap labor and low production costs of Far East manufacturing plants. Trinkets of all sorts are produced by the millions, loaded up on massive trans-oceanic cargo ships, and delivered to ports across the globe.
So what does this all mean for the contemporary traveler looking for quality, authentic, locally-made goods at reasonable prices? If one were so inclined to search for them, how would they even go about finding their own Spanish boots of Spanish leather?
For a salty killjoy like myself, the situation is a gloomy prefigure in regard to the future state of global travel; the allure of journeying to a foreign land is already being well watered-down by online resources like Fodor’s and Lonely Planet, to the point where one can discover the innermost secrets of a place without really ever having to step foot there.
No matter how you look at it, it’s a shame; the fraudulent ‘local’ market on the streets of Santoña is just one example of many that point to a world falling short on authenticity, romance, and the exotic appeal of far-off lands — fundamental ingredients which have driven the wanderlusting spirit since the dawn of man.
Mark Twain once said, “the man who is a pessimist before [the age of] 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little.” This, coming from a man whose formative years took place in the mid-19th century. God only knows what he might’ve had to say about a dismal 21st century world, where authenticity has all but been run to the slaughterhouse.
The bottom line is, unless you’re fortunate enough to have the genetic disposition or world outlook of the Maharishi, fending off cynicism in today’s world is no small task. For us pessimists, it’s like having to walk down a mile-long potato chip aisle in order to get to the produce section at the grocery store; we might be aiming for those organic fruits and veggies with our good-natured intentions, but fucking hell is it hard not to stuff our faces with the fake, processed, coma-inducing junk food along the way.
That being said, if I’m going to reference a Bob Dylan song as a platform to my own bitterness and acrimony, I suppose I could just as easily rebut the whole harangue with reference to another, completely different Dylan classic – The Times They are a Changin’.
In this one, the Nobel Prize winner warns that we must evolve and adapt with the times if we’re to avoid sinking like a stone into a sea of oblivion, cynicism, and contemporary irrelevance. While it’s difficult to decipher how we might go about adapting to a beautiful, diverse world that’s being robbed of some of its most romantic virtues, it certainly doesn’t do us any good not to try.
One might correctly maintain that Spanish boots of Spanish leather will always be out there – it’s just that we might have to dig a little deeper and look a little harder to find them.