Searching For Shoelaces In Cusco

The Master of Shoe Repair
About 30 meters from our apartment in Cusco is a local fruit and vegetable market where we bought our produce a few times a week. Next to this semi-covered market on the outskirts of San Blas, is an open-air courtyard with a dozen small shops offering anything from appliance and shoe repair to the sale of spare parts and second-hand goods. The tiny shops blend into the blue walls and terracotta tiles of the courtyard walls and I walked by them for months before I had occasion to stop by and explore.

The first occasion was to stop by for a pair of shoelaces at the shoe repair place. I stopped by number four, named “Shoe Repair – The Master,” and greeted the 50-year old man working on an antique sewing machine while his adult son hammered tiny nails into the soles of shoe. In front of the shop was a hodgepodge of chairs, spare parts, a metal workbench and a large vice. The roofing was terracotta tile extended by haphazardly-placed metal corrugate sheets. Fortunately it was not raining as the downspout – which looked ready to fall at any moment – was aimed directly at where I stood. Inside, shoes were shelved on the wall, strips of leather, wooden heels were stacked and there were a few dozen plastic containers full of nails, tools and parts essential to shoe repair.

After exchanging greetings, the owner, who peered at me through rheumy eyes, politely asked me what I was looking for: “Senor, que busca?” I held up some shoelaces that were dirty and ready to fall apart and asked if he carried any spares. As he told me that he doesn’t normally carry shoelaces, he started looking under piles of leather squares and in the many bins placed beneath the counter. He kept looking, while explaining that the money was in the service of repairing shoes not in selling spare shoelaces. He kept looking and repeated this to me as if to reinforce that he was losing money just by helping me. Just as I thought he was going to reiterate this idea again, he found a pair of laces that looked to be about the same size. While they were just as dirty as mine, they were in good shape so I said I’d take them. I paid him the equivalent of a dollar. Yes, it was too much for pair of dirty shoelaces in the Andes, but I figured I’d paid for the right not to hear him complain again.

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