The knife sharpener of Loulé


I’ve been looking for this gentleman for a long time! He is one of a vanishing breed, a roving amolador (knife sharpener) who carries his grindstone on his bicycle. Every now and again I’ve heard him blowing his distinctive tune on a tin whistle, letting anyone within earshot know that he is available. With one exception, he was always just out of reach, and that exception was when I was out walking, far from my knives.

But a couple of weeks ago, I heard him around our apartment and then actually caught a glimpse of him pushing his bike up the street on the other side of the complex. This precipitated a mad dashing about as my wife went sprinting out the door to catch him, while I hurriedly gathered all of the kitchen knives, wrapped them in a towel, threw on jeans and shoes and went racing out after her.

By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, my wife had already flagged him down and he was just setting up. He flipped down his bike stand, looped a leather drive belt from his rear bicycle wheel up and around the grindstone’s drive wheel, and accepted our knives. Then he sat on the saddle and began to slowly pedal.

amolador 9

There is clearly an art form to this, and he is a master. As he pedaled, we peppered him with questions, the first being “May I take photographs?” He laughed and said that he hears that a lot. We asked him how many knives he sharpens on an average day, and he said it varied. “Sometimes, none. Some days, like today, I get lucky.” This day he felt lucky because we’d handed him five knives (and a tip afterwards).

A neighbor stopped to watch, and the amolador remarked that he’d be sure to come through our complex in the future. We hope he does, because after taking our knives upstairs, I tested them on tomatoes and they are like razors. Lovely!

He can’t be making much income, but I treasure the fact that he is still plying his trade. And my ears are always tuned for that distinctive whistle.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in culture, Portugal. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The knife sharpener of Loulé

  1. Fletcher Ian says:

    I truly loved this post. When I was little, we had a guy come to sharpen knives, back when they delivered milk and doctors made house calls, but he came in a van, like a big truck. The set up this fellow has is ingenious. I hope his business thrives. He’s a rare breed.

  2. Jbrandao says:

    Unfortunately they are a dying breed, although, with the current economic crisis, who knows? It had been a good 10-15 years since I had last heard that so confortable and melodious tune they whistle, and now, I hear one almost every week.

    That sound of their whistle is really just a great warm flashback for me. I now live with my wife and son in the flat I originally lived in with my parents and sister until I was about 17 or 18, then my parents bought a new apartment, but kept this one, and now I’m fortunate enough to have a free house (which being unemployed is great!).

    When I was a kid, the amolador would pass through our street usually on sunny saturday mornings, whistling away. Now everytime I hear one I think of that time. It’s wonderful.

  3. Lilaine says:

    When I was a kid, my Dad used to play “Guess the trade(or the craft)” with us (Mom, Bro and I) when driving us down to Mom’s parents in Antibes for the summer vacation. That was a fun way to keep us occupied during the 9 hours trip… And, as long as I’ll live, I’ll never forget that one : “So, kids, this one starts with W and ends with …W”. We all (Mom included) racked our brains, searching, asking questions, and after quite some time, gave up. We knew it had something to do with blades, grinding, pedals, but couldn’t figure out the W…W thing ! When dad finally spilled it out, speaking with an African-like accent “C’est un WémouleuW”, only Mom understood and burst out laughing, ’cause us kids didn’t know yet what was a Rémouleur :

    I believe this picture was taken in Paris, some time ago..

    Since then, I can’t help but smile when anything reminds me of this moment.
    Thanks for making me smile 😀

  4. Kugai says:

    Definitely and sadly, one of those disappearing trades in this modern society of throw away tools, home sharpening machines and ‘Staysharp’ Knives.

  5. JR says:

    This made me miss India. But even there, mobile knife sharpeners are a dying breed, thanks to stainless steel. This flickr photo (not mine) shows the Indian equivalent of the amolador (the chakuwallah):

  6. Ana_ñ says:

    Does he say something after the whistle? Here they used to shout, “el afiladooooor”
    Funny that you should post this now, we were talking about it the other day! And just as Jbrandao says: something that we thought on the verge of extinction is reviving in the economic crisis. They can come on bicycle, on motorbike or on a van with a loudspeaker (for a recorded whistle…awful idea!)

  7. JPS says:

    Here for the whistle:

    • Jbrandao says:

      with more or less a little variation, it’s pretty much that. it’s pretty much the sound of nostalgia for me.

      • oregon expat says:

        I like that — “the sound of nostalgia.”

        There definitely is variation among the tunes, then, because while this recording sounds like the first part of what our amolador plays, it’s only half of a two-part musical phrase. Interesting.

  8. Lies says:

    Isn’t it weird how in this era, where everything needs to be orders of magnitude faster/better/smaller/bigger/… before it is even talked about, it’s the simple things that draw our attention? I really hope we’ll see the return of many of these professions rather than their complete extinction… there is something strangely romantic about them (well, that, and it should make more sense to prolong a knive’s life by sharpening it once in a while than to buy a new knife every so often – although that doesn’t seem to be the case now).

  9. Lies says:

    When there’s a hole in your sock, you don’t repair, you buy a new pair. When the ink cartridge is empty, you don’t refill it, you buy a new printer (it’s actually cheaper, no shit). And when the knife is no longer sharp, you throw it out and buy a new one.

    Yeah… :/

    • oregon expat says:

      I’ll contest the ink cartridge refill statement, because if you buy your own stuff (ink, syringe, chip resetter) it becomes much cheaper to refill. I’m doing that now. But yes, if you’re buying the manufacturer’s cartridges…it really is cheaper to buy a new printer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s