April 30, 2011. Barcelona
AND ON THE twelfth day, he shopped. After 11 days playing tourist in Spain, I decided I wanted to play shopper instead.
I had one aim at the beginning of the day, and that was to buy the perfect tie. I have this obsession about buying at least one exquisite tie whenever I travel to Europe. It started when I stumbled into a great tie store in Florence a number of years ago. I left with two ties, both brown and black. I still have one of them; the other I gave to a nephew after I made him promise he would appreciate it’s simple beauty and take care of it forever.
I haven’t been as successful in buying beautiful ties abroad since. When I went to Paris, I searched high and low and was unable to find a good tie. I figured out I was just in the wrong parts of town. I was beginning to fear that might be the case here, for I looked everywhere, including some of the most expensive stores in Granada and here, to no avail. And I was nearing the end of the day here (most stores close on Sundays) and I had yet to find the perfect tie.
Here’s my criteria for a perfect tie. It has to whisper elegance and grace. It must not shout, scream or even speak loudly. Like a good child, it cannot draw attention to itself. But once someone’s eye falls on the tie, he will tell himself, “Oh my!” He will move his eyes away from the tie but they will come back and again he will think, “Oh my!”
A perfect tie will say, “I am not, never have been and never will be considered for wearing by Donald Trump, Regis or David Letterman. Clark Clifford may have worn me and James Franco might, but not Tom Cruise.”
A power tie can never be a perfect tie. A power tie is, consciously or unconsciously, an egotistical person’s attempt to assert his manliness. Think about it: what is the first thing you see when you meet a person wearing a power tie? A bright yellow arrow. And where is that arrow pointing? You got it.
Men who are sure of their masculinity feel no need to draw attention to that area of their anatomy.
The funny thing is that I happen to think that ties are stupid. I know many men who feel the same way and never wear one unless they absolutely have to, and then only reluctantly. At work the policy is that we don’t have to wear a tie unless we are meeting someone outside the organization, so I usually don’t wear one, except when I am wearing a shirt that doesn’t look good without a tie. A Houston Post colleague wore the same tie every day and as soon as he got out of work, he’d roll it up and throw it in his glove compartment. I admire guys like that.
Back to the power ties: as far as I’m concerned, all those yellow, pink, light blue, light green and other pastel-colored ties should be rounded up and burned, and they should be banned by a constitutional amendment, or a commandment. Either will do.
I realize that by writing this those people who work with me will from now on look at every tie I wear and judge it, and very likely they will laugh at my choice of ties, and say to themselves, “What a fool we have in Juanski!” But that’s something people have been saying ever since I started writing.
SO, BACK TO shopping. I devoted this entire day to looking for the perfect tie. I went up and down the main shopping district streets, poking my head into every men’s clothing store I walked by. I didn’t find anything close to what I was looking for. The couple of ties that came close to having 75 percent of what I wanted were way too expensive.
But guess what?
I bought other stuff. Here’s a few of the items that I can remember:
A pencil sharpener
A wind-up lantern. Needs no batteries.
Some stick-em labels
Five fine-point black pens
Two sketch pads
A paper fan
A shopping bag.
That’s right: I paid for a shopping bag. It’s a black fold-up (and stylish, of course) job made from some synthetic fiber and it folds up neatly so that I can put it in my backpack so that when I stop at the grocery store on the way home, I won’t have to pay the nickle-per-bag tax.
See? There’s a reason for everything I bought (except for the stick-ems; I can’t remember the last time I used one!). But you have to understand: everything I bought is cool. Stylish. Necessary. They were all in a Japanese store called Muji, which is sort of like The Container Store, except it has cool, stylish things (even clothes).
When I started on this trip I swore I would not give in to the allure of brand new sketchbooks because I must have at least 20 lying around the house, and only a few have more than a few pages with anything resembling art. But once I was in that store, all resolve remained outside.
So, yes, none of the items I bought were necessary. But each was essential in it’s own way.
OK. TIME TO move on. Stopped for a glass of wine on my way back to the hotel but now I’ve had two, and if I stay any longer, I will likely have another. So I’ll finish this later.
But I will tell you that I did find a tie, late in the day. Two of them, at an Adolfo Domínguez store. And they weren’t even expensive. I’m not sure they are the perfect ties, but they come close. I harbored some doubts about them at the store, but when I got back to the hotel, i took them out to inspect them. And they are nice. I am happy. Mission accomplished.