Monday, April 11, 2011

Il Calzolaio's got soul
I love the sound of real Lucchese Italian.  It sounds like the text book Italian that we learned in our classes -- if you un-tapped a bottle of it in the hills of Tuscany during a wind storm.  I can make out some of the words, but in between those words are other important words that I can't make out due to this lovely lisp-y thing that soundth ath though we'veth entered a wind tunnel. So of course the shoe guy/calzolaio speaks with this mysterious lilt. It's as though he is speaking while simultaneously sucking campari through one of those teeny weeny stirring straws.

He has a tiny, dusty, fairy tale shop (wife who is almost always sweeping included) about twenty minutes from our apartment near Porta Santa Maria and we came to find out that he makes shoes to order! So exciting! I feel a little disloyal because he is not my usual calzolaio who does all the repairs near our house, but I don't think he makes shoes. I have difficult to fit feet that are slightly flat and fall in if I don't wear special orthotic arch supports in my shoes.  Open shoes are a problem for me because the arch supports fall out. I've taken to wearing Fit Flop brand shoes in the summer that have the supports built in, although they come off a little less elegant than what most of the women wear here mostly because they show off too much of my less than graceful feet.  They have new designs with gem stones and a narrower cut that make them look less like crunchy granola Birkenstocks and are great in the real dog days of summer.  But now that we are going to Paris for Easter break, I have been dreaming of a comfortable, acceptable alternative for possibly rainy or brisk spring days. High heels would be entirely masochistic, seeing as they cause spasms of pain in my knees and lower back.  I love fashion almost as much as T does, and, now that flat ballerina shoes are everywhere, I thought that maybe the calzolaio could custom make me a pair with arch supports already built in and criss-crossed elastics in the front to hold them in place without looking too much like little girl mary janes.

The problem is that I understand only about one third of what this large and tall, fuzzy wuzzy wuz a bear man with his curly mop of silver hair is trying to tell me. Add this to the fact that during the six or eight times I have been politely thrown out of his shop, I have discovered that he has made an art of putting off his clients with convincing excuses, all the while making them feel like they ask too much of him. In fact, I've never been there without hearing him tell someone to come back later, but that may well be part and parcel of a calzolaio's life.

Last time we were in, I actually saw the steam pouring out of this crispy blond woman's ears as she tried to stay calm while the calzolaio told her that he couldn't find the brand new shoes that she had brought in to be stretched a while ago and that she very much wanted to wear the following night. Her strongly profiled husband was increasingly anxious as was her poofy little dog, as they both knew that even if she kept her cool with the calzolaio, they were surely not going to hear the end of it if she had to go home without those bordeaux-colored shoes. Meanwhile he was saying something like: "You couldn't possibly expect me to find one little pair of shoes in this tiny store filled with three dozen shoes some of which are in paper bags while people are waiting for me on Saturday morning. Now do be fair." In the end she audibly whistled through her pursed lips as she described the shoes for the tenth time and we all saw a light bulb go off above fuzzy bear's head and he produced a paper bag with her shoes in them that was on a shelf in the back. In beautiful swishy Italian that will always be beyond my reach he murmured something like "Ah, of course, the bordeaux colored shoes. I thought you meant board-toe colored shoes. That would make no sense." Embarrassed chuckle.

If I understood him correctly he used to work with Gucci and Armani in Rome designing shoes and he comprehends the process of shoe design and manufacture as well as anyone possibly can. I believe he also said that he fixed a woman's limp due to the different length of her legs by creating the perfect sole for one of her shoes. I also believe he said that he made eight pairs of shoes for the head of the American Circus. I have no idea, however, when he said my shoes will be ready or why they are not already ready, but I suspect that in the last two months he has not really started on them and that he has also lost the illustration I brought in on how I want them to look. Simple black ballerinas with a black elastic x and arch supports.

Any illusion I had about singing mice and tape measures and precise mathematical equations are now gone, gone, gone.  I admit to still hanging on to a fantasy that these will be the softest most comfortable ballerinas ever and that I will not feel one cobblestone or one of the 1710 steps up to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  But of course you know as well as I do that these ballerinas will never ever be ready by the time we leave next week for vacation.  Even if I bring him a pair of my extra arch supports from NY and a new drawing on Thursday when I suspect he will not be there because of something else he said that I didn't understand. But a flat footed girl can dream, can't she?

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