September 1, 2017
Last time I was in Madrid, Seseña stopped me in my tracks. The glossy red trim was exactly as I remembered it. Which brought back deeper memories. I had walked into the fabled cape maker with my mother in 1980 or so. She would have been visiting me in Barcelona, but we made a trip to Madrid, which I remember as cold and cobblestony, and dark even under a blue sky, with the exception of so many brilliantly painted storefronts.
My mother bought me a black cape with a red velvet lining, an extravagance that was not fashionable at all, but we both found irresistable. I think the purchase was as much about lingering in that elegant place as it was about the cape itself.
The place was more than a pretty piece of streetscape. It also represented a way of thinking about the things we buy. Part of my memories of the shop have settled into the file about how a coat ought to be made and how it ought to last. And how the people selling me a coat ought to know and relish sharing all sorts of details about the making of it.
Standing outside the shop last fall, I couldn't believe it was still there, and still fabulous. So much about Madrid has changed. But not everything. Now Madrileños are working to hold onto what makes a walk in this city so memorable. Sergio Fanjul, writing this month in El País, names Seseña along with a few other gorgeous survivors—the English language edition can be found here. He points out Seseñas striking website, where past and present mingle glamourously.
The El País piece was motivated by the publication of a new book: Comercios históricos de Madrid by Enríque Ibáñez and Gumersindo Fernández. Their stories of some of the oldest businesses in the capital are not yet available in English, but the pictures don't need translation. It would be worth looking for in Madrid. Perhaps in one of its historic bookshops like Librería Antonio Machado, catalogued here by the ladies at "Madrid y yo"—a nice inventory of unique places in the city.
For an added bit of cognitive dissonance, Madrid's city hall has created a mobile app to help people find the city's most historic shops. I haven't tried it yet... if you download and wander, I hope you'll let me know how it goes.