When leather meets the art of Pepe and Isabel

As I sit here writing this I am looking out at the mountain range. A cool breeze is blowing in through the open window. The fig tree below is slowly growing up towards the second floor of the house. I hear the background noise of people on their way home for lunch, a car stopping to drop someone off, a door closing, a voice across the road. And then, it’s back to silence.

This quiet village is where Isabel Garcia and Jose Luis Bazan, otherwise known as Pepe, make magic out of leather. From the narrow, cobbled street you would never know that behind the big wooden door of the white washed building two artists are busy creating works of art with leather. Their taste for something a little different is obvious in the pieces they produce. Their eye for quality is reflected in their designs. A lamp, a wall hanging, a colourful bowl; elegantly designed products that any table or shelf would be proud to display.

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I love to take guests here during the writing retreats. The element of surprise as they walk into the entrance to find a leather workshop reminds of the first time I visited the May Patios in El Puerto de Santa Maria. You would just never expect a workshop to be here. There’s no sign post, no neon advertising light, not even a name outside the door. The surprise as you cross the threshold into a world you’d never expect was there.

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A visit to the workshop

There’s also the pleasure the guests experience as they pick up the leather goods, run their hands over a beautifully crafted bowl that looks like it could be made out of wood, and communicate with Isabel. They ask questions, warming immediately to Isabel’s lovely nature. Isabel has English lessons twice a week in the village and each time we visit her, she understands more. She looks at me for clarification when she hasn’t understood something. And then the communication is like a tennis match with each side looking from me to the person who has spoken and back to the person who receives the message as I translate.

Pepe sits in the background tapping away on his next creation, always ready to answer a question about the leather or how he has made something. Apart from the fact that the products are designed and handmade locally by this husband and wife team, there’s something special about their work. Yes, each one is unique, beautiful and of high quality but it’s more than that. They have a love of nature which is reflected in their work but their work also carries their personality. It holds their passion for their art.

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Last time we visited with guests, Sheryl brought her own bag as it needed repairing. She discussed it with Isabel.

“This part needs stitching. Can you do it?” she asked.

Isabel ran her expert eye over it. She pulled it this way and that way examining it carefully.

“Yes, of course. It won’t take long.”

“How much?”

Isabel didn’t want to charge Sheryl for the repair. “It’s nothing,” she said. “It will take me five minutes.”

Sheryl attempted to convince Isabel of the value of her time and experience. Isabel shook her head dismissing Sheryl’s protests. These small acts of generosity are a natural part of Spanish business.

Whenever we bring guests here, inevitably, someone leaves with something. It’s difficult not to. A unique, handmade leather bracelet as a present for someone special, an eye glass case or an exclusive handbag in a colour bold enough to brighten up the winter days back in the U.K.  Often the writers buy something as a thank you present to themselves. Time has been well spent in coming on the retreat.

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Isabel looked around for a box to put the goods in. Soon they will be going to the Christmas Fair in Sevilla with their leather goods and most of their work has already been individually boxed ready to sell. Despite the protests she insisted that each item has its own box. I smile. It’s a sign of their dedication to quality. She then carefully wraps the gifts up in paper. Another delight of Spanish shopping, having your parcels individually wrapped as part of the service.cuencos

Over the years Pepe and Isabel’s company, Artenazari (now renamed Jose Luis Bazan), has won many awards for their work and prizes for their unique pieces. Recently they were awarded the opportunity to work with the prestigious company Loewe who make luxury leather goods. As a result, their work has been displayed in many places including Paris, Milan and Tokyo.  You can see more of their beautiful handmade leather goods here.

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Isabel and Pepe when they featured in Oficio y Arte magazine

In the afternoon I got a message from Isabel to say Sheryl’s bag has been repaired and I can collect it after her English class. If only I’d managed to get a photo of the look of delight on Sheryl’s face as I returned her bag to her. Isabel would have loved to have seen it.

 

 

Why I love shopping local on retreat

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As a retreat host in Spain, I provide a welcome pack for my guests. In reality, it’s not just a welcome pack. It’s a lovingly thought-out and carefully planned display of fresh and scrumptious goodies waiting to be tucked into. It adds a wow factor for the guest and provides me with an inadvertent opportunity to build relationships.

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Part of a welcome pack for one
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Part of a welcome pack for two guests

Of course, I could just pop into a large supermarket, saving myself time and effort. I’d do the shop all in one go, picking up things off the shelf and throwing it heartlessly into a trolley. I’d walk around under the artificial lighting, feeling tired, while I breathe in the particles from the air-con. I’d rummage around in the fruit section trying to find stuff that’s not rock hard and won’t go off as soon as I leave the store. I’d maybe exchange a word or two with the checkout staff, jump into my car and be on my way. Easy.

But would I enjoy it? Would I build relationships?

The answer to that is no. My clients would miss out on the best possible fresh food, thus dampening the wow factor. And, I would miss out on the local shopping experience.

Shopping Local –  Pain or Pleasure?

For me, one of the pleasures of food shopping for the retreats in Spain is the effect it has on the senses. Going to the fruit market is a feast of colour, smell, taste and entertainment. Smelling the fruit and selecting the fresh pieces you want is just no comparison to picking up a plastic-wrapped product that will go off in your fridge not long after you get it home. In the market apples smell of apples. Freshly picked oranges and lemons get sold by the kilo

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When we get to our favourite stall, Bella and her brother give us a hearty welcome. They ask us how we are getting on as they haven’t seen us for a while. When I explain about the retreats, they tell me about a company in their village who do cycling tours. I immediately see a connection. They promise to get the name and phone number.  When it’s my turn, I check my list and Bella starts to fill up our bags. Local plums, soft and juicy, get passed out to us to taste.

I ask for some watermelon.

“Which variety?”

I hesitate.

Bella quickly picks one up from the table behind the stall. She chops it up and offers us a taster. She moves onto the other variety, slices it and offers it to us to compare with the first one. By now, my mouth is watering with the fresh goodness.

I choose the one I think my guests will like. It’s a lovely red colour and refreshing in the heat.

I’m inspired by the display and warm to the array of colour. A lot of work and thought goes into setting up each day. I’m under no pressure to buy any of the things I’ve tried. I’ve been asked to enjoy the fruit, to taste how good it is. And, then the decision to buy or not is mine.

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I can’t see the type of lettuce I’m looking for.

“Don’t worry, we have some in the store room.” Bella asks her brother to get some.

“This is from Ubrique and these are organic,” she tells me.

I’m touched that she remembers my taste for organic. She hasn’t forgotten I like to buy local products and that I appreciate organic food. I ask her how much the tomatoes are. The organic ones are better value than the mass-produced ones. I’m pleasantly surprised and order two kilos. A kilo of lemons goes into my bag next. They are fresh off the tree and smell incredible.  No wax in sight.

Someone new arrives in the queue and asks about the plums.

“Are they ripe? Do they taste sweet like the ones I bought last week?”

I tell her that I’ve just tried one and it was wonderful. Bella passes one out for the client to try.  The lady smiles at me and nods in agreement as she savours the sweetness. She asks me where I come from and then tells me her nephew works in London. We have a short conversation. She’s interested in what I do. Bella joins in.

I have so many bags by now that even with the help of the other half, it’s going to be hard work carrying them back to the car. Bella asks me where we’ve parked.

“That’s too far to walk. Bring your car to the door and when you arrive we’ll come out with the bags.”

I shower ‘gracias’ on her. She waves me away with a cheery ‘de nada’ (you’re welcome).

She has customers who shop there every day. She treats me like one of them. In all fairness, I might have been asked if I needed help packing my bags in the supermarket, but nothing quite beats this personal touch, taking my car to the door and having the bags loaded into the boot.

Bella’s brother has been talking on the phone whilst Bella was serving me. He hangs up and passes me a slip of paper with a name and number. It’s the cycling company. He has called a friend to find out the name for me. Fruit shopping-cum-networking.

I have spent a large chunk of the morning getting to the market, parking and talking to people. But, I wouldn’t swop it for the world. I have been served by a person who has taken an interest in me and not tried to rush me through the queue as quickly as possible. I’ve eaten fruit and had five-star treatment. They have even worried about how I would get my shopping to the car. I have some pesticide and wax free fruit.  I have built relationships without even realising. These people are a generous source of information. They have passed on a name and number to me with no strings attached. Who knows? Perhaps one day they’ll pass mine on to someone else.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done business whilst out shopping in the community. Last time that happened, I was at the butcher’s. But, that’s another story.

And, best of all, I’ve had a whale of a time.

This post first appeared on http://europeancoachingretreats.com/