Sunday, May 15, 2011

At Her Feet

When asked to name a product they associate with Colombia, most North Americans would respond with coffee, or emeralds or with “the fine Colombian,” celebrated by Steeley Dan in Hey Nineteen. While not so appreciated as the big three, Colombian leather goods are among the world’s best, and a bespoke shoe fitting on a recent trip to Bogota brought a brief glimpse of how fine craftsmanship survives there.

My friend Paula needed a new pair of little heels for those dressy occasions in her life. She remembered from a previous trip to Bogota that one of her friends had recommended a store on Carrera 11 that makes shoes from the sole up on short order. But where was it? Without a name we were reduced to window shopping or using a generic description, “una tienda que fabrica zapatos de ocasión.” These words brought blank stares, assurances that no such store existed, or, on one occasion, directions so unlikely that we ignored them. It turned out that our problem was having turned east on the 11, when we should have turned west. There it was, Calzado Corrado, number 82-00.

This is not your granddaughter’s shoe store, nary a flip-flop or canvas top in sight. Instead, behind a locked, glass door (“only to keep the drunks out,” we were assured) a small showroom arrayed several shelves of elegant pumps and bags. Despite their conservative stock, the Corrado maintains a loyal clientele. While Paula and I were addressed anonymously as “señora” and “señor,” the other patrons were greeted by name and, often, with hugs and kisses. The store's prosperity is also the result of its cobblers' skills. "They can fit anything here," a male client told us in perfect English.

Paula quickly located a model she liked and asked to try it on. Nothing in stock fit perfectly, but by trial, error and measurement, the saleswoman determined that an 8.5 length with a size seven heel was what Paula’s foot required. “And we don’t have one,” she assured us in a way that sounded like a dismissal. When Paula explained that she wanted made-to-measure, the saleswoman seemed dubious that a week would be sufficient to make the shoes properly. I began to suspect that the fix was in and that an offer of rush service for a fat fee would be the next thing out of her mouth. But no, the next thing out was a call up a stairway off the right side of the showroom and the descent of a man authorized to speak for the production side of the business. He looked at the shoe, at us, at the saleswoman and said “sí podemos.” Then another man from upstairs, wearing cornrows and black Puma athletic shoes, measured Paula’s foot and suggested that we return for a fitting in two days.

I had completely missed the significance of the upstairs/downstairs architecture of Corrado until we returned for the fitting, and I situated myself on a bench next to the stairway. From that vantage, a rapping and tapping—like Poe’s Raven—was unmistakable. The workroom was upstairs in a large sunlit space filled with leather, shoe blanks and cobbler's benches. Subsequently we had a series of consultations with a Geppetto look alike who explained, in terminology beyond my vocabulary in either English or Spanish, what they would do to make the shoes fit just right. So it was a segregated shop, with the women downstairs and the men upstairs. But the results are great; right, Paula?