Thursday, 16 October 2008

Familia Zapataria

Second time at the Zapateria (shoe menders) in Buenos Aires. Fifth time in as many months for the same pair of shoes. Un-mendable, on any side of the world it would seem. It’s been much colder and wetter than I planned for, which, in the ultimate analysis is not saying a great deal. With the usual foresight I packed two other types of footwear – a pair of ridiculously fashionable white Fred Perry trainers and a pair of ridiculously unfashionable brown heel-less sandals. Both of which (aside from their being utterly impractical for the conditions and for the respective reasons above) I don't feel especially comfortable in. The Fred Perry’s in any case already look like two pantomime urchins at the end of my legs and smell horrible regardless of my increasingly fastidious attention to foot hygiene (which rather dampens their ‘of the moment’ appeal – for me and anyone else I imagine). The sandals are conversely odor free and also very comfortable indeed but every time I put them on I can't help imagining myself as an ageing bachelor in a Swedish pornographic film from the seventies (which, I don't know, could affect a small but crucial change in body language and somehow give me away) . I don’t need telling I’m a schmuck. So, in short, the shoes I can’t do without and besides I’m too attached to them to let them go.[1]

I returned to the same Zapateria. It’s a boring story to say why, suffice to say the lady there was not at fault on my first visit. I realized they needed surgery, not a band-aid and, I guess superstitiously, I was happy to go back to the site of a small but happy co-incidence. The woman greeted me with recognition and it was then I realized that the daughter and husband (ie: the whole family) were actually stuffed into this tiny space. They all miraculously disappeared into the half of the shop I couldn’t see and proceeded to perform the necessary work, which became known to me through a series whirrs and grinds and mutterings.

Realising that the task set would entail a good deal more time than my first appointment I took the opportunity to get a coffee from the small bar in the arcade explaining as best I could to the girl at the bar the reason why I wasn’t wearing any shoes. I finished my coffee and, after a fruitless attempt to make any clear sense of the newspaper on the bar, I returned to the Zapateria. As my shoes are being finished by the husband, the lady and her daughter engage me in a bit of polite chit-chat. I tell them of the difficulties of introducing myself as Guy in Spanish using the English phonetics (‘Hello, I am gay’) and my dislike of pronouncing it Guhy with the Spanish. This explained why I had come to use the name Guido on my Zapateria ticket  (it’s close and recognizable enough to be comfortable though naturally, with a spanish name, everyone then wonders why i speak it so badly). The mother then proceeds to tell me a long anecdote from which i managed to glean that she has a cousin who lives in the north called Guido who, it transpires, is as gay as they come. I leave the shop with sparkling new-old pair of shoes and the democratically elected name of Juan.[2]

An interesting post-script to this long and completely inconsequential story is that, when I returned to the arcade a week later (following a fruitless search for a cheap guitar around Corrientes downtown the week previous) I stumbled upon this lovely Argentinean classical guitar in the second hand shop literally next to the Zapateria. It cost me about twenty-eight English pounds with a bag. I have no idea how I’ll manage lugging it around Boliva, for example, but despite the total mundanity of this incident a feeling persists that it is a rather lucky spot  – utterly insignificant in most respects but momentarily significant to me.

[1] Here I must give thanks to the Baskott without whom, in the slightly anxious hungover fog that was my last two days in blighty, I would have packed only the urchins and the swedish pornos .

[2] I would hate for this to be read as homophobic in any sense. It’s a frequently distracting, albeit comic,  misinterpretation of my name and, even if I was gay, I think I might avoid such an admission as an opening gambit to a conversation.

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