Sunday, August 23, 2009

El Zapa the shoemaker from San Miguel de Allende

In planning my second trip to San Miguel de Allende in 1997 I decided to find someone who could make me a pair of sandals. I drove downtown to the Houston Central Public library (pre-internet days) and researched footwear (calzado) in books about Mexican Folk art and crafts. I copied this black and white photo of shoes from one of those books, took it with me to San Miguel, and looked around for someone to do the job.

The Mercado de Artesanias seemed like the logical place. I found a leather goods shop there and bought a couple of belts, and a quirky pair of huaraches that looked like the ones in the top far left of the photo. The shopkeeper directed me down a side street and told me the guy I needed for custom made shoes was called, El Zapa. He said "You can't miss his shop, it has his name and a big swastika out front." So off I went, and he was easy to find. I didn't know if I really wanted to enter a shop with a swastika sign. It started to feel like a set-up, surely bad things were about to happen. El Zapa turned out to be a very lively, very skinny, very competent shoemaker. He listened to my ideas and told me in 2 weeks I'd have my shoes. Both pairs. We agreed that he would ship them to Houston. We also agreed to disagree about the swastika. He claimed that it was a symbol that predated Nazi Germany by thousands of years, and that they desecrated it, but he was reclaiming it. It's a beautiful graphic to him and why should it forever be associated with only Hitler. I couldn't shake him from that stance. He was a bit curious about a single gal walking the streets looking for a shoemaker, so he offered to show me around for the day. We went to Los Pozos in his black VW Beetle. He talked enthusiastically about healthy eating and munched on a raw cucumber like it was an apple all the way there. He swam in thermal waters while I wandered around the picnic area. Later, back in town, he showed me where he and his family lived, and the progress of his home remodeling. I was looking for that one on one connection with people that live in San Miguel, and I found El Zapa. I didn't have to pry information from him. He talked freely and proudly about his shop, his home, his town, his Mexico. He never came on to me or made inappropriate remarks. I think that we were kindred spirits in that he saw something different drop into his shop that day and he decided to look up from his work and check it out. Later that week, on my way out of town I checked back to see about the shoes and say goodbye. He stopped his work and accompanied me to the central de Buses. He carried a heavy box of tile for me, out of the taxi and into the cargo bin. Spontaneity and kindness, and no humidity. Ahhh...SMA. 2 weeks later my shoes arrived in Houston as promised. No contract, no Visa Card, just cold, rumpled pesos. And a note, with his address.
One of the pairs of shoes was similar to Ked's tennis shoes, but all in brown leather.
The other was a set of bohemian huaraches with a design based on the ones in the top right of the photo. Chepo always admired those sandals on me. (click on photo for leather details)
Today, in our own remodeling mess, I find the photo in a box marked "Mexico". There's no address or note from El Zapa. And the last time I was in SMA, I forgot to look for his shop, with
that damned sign.

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