How to tie your shoelaces in Buenos Aires

If it hadn’t been for Señora Zapato, as I’ll call her, I’d have thought what happened to me yesterday morning even more bizarre. As a back drop to my with the quasi-foot fetishist, I met Sra. Zapato the other day as I was striding down the street minding my own business. A vaguely elderly and immaculately dressed woman (Sra Zapato), stopped me. I assumed she wanted to ask me for directions: it happens to me wherever I am, from Lisbon to sub-Saharan Africa. I must be an undercover chameleon, and somehow manage to look like a local even when I haven’t the slightest clue where I am. Running total of misguided requests for geographical assistance on Buenos Aires: three. Misguided because, despite my numerous qualifications in geography, I have a very limited sense of direction and often get lost myself. The doorman in my apartment block here says he is going to put on arrow on the wall because I keep turning the wrong way when I get out of the lift. Ironically though, I’m often able to help the dislocated strangers.

Sra Zapato didn’t need to know where she was going. Instead, she said something to me in a very civil tone, undoubtedly polite, but inexplicable. When I continued to look blank – I was listening out for a street or place name to hang the hook of my groping Spanish on – she gesticulated firmly at my feet until I eventually understood that she wanted me to tie my shoelaces. They weren’t undone. They just didn’t meet her standards of safe neatness and had too much trailing lace, which was clearly causing her some concern. I thanked her and went to move on, but she wanted to watch me tie my laces tighter, so like an obedient child I propped my feet one by one on a doorstep in Calle Peru and retied my laces under her piercing inspection. It took several goes to get it right, but when they were done to her satisfaction, she gave me a big thumbs up, an endearing grin, and went on her way.

An unusual one-off, you’d think. But well-done laces may well be a national, or at least a Porteño, preoccupation. Yesterday morning, having dropped off my washing at one of the many local launderettes (¨Don’t forget to come back today, because we’re closed for the bank holiday on Monday¨- these places don’t mess around, your washing is in, whirled, tumbled, and out), I was scurrying along to one of the equally numerous, ploddingly connected, internet cafes. Impatient to hook myself up to the IV line of gmail, I overtook a young man on the pavement. As I brushed past him, he inadvertently trod on the back of my shoe and it half slipped off. I shoved it back on and shrugged off his apologies. He carried on talking but my mind was already composing an email to my estate agent and I was barely listening. Yet the guy was being very persistent about something and I realised that somehow part of his phone charm had fallen off and become lodged in my shoe. He wriggled my shoe off and reclaimed it. Odd, but fine. That wasn’t the end of the episode though. Oh no. Like a salesman in a child’s shoe shop, he crouched on the ground, doggedly relaced my shoe, and then, despite my bewildered protestations, pulled off my other shoe, tenderly replaced it and then retied it securely with a firm double knot. I felt like a bemused modern-day Cinderella, in scruffy Skechers rather than glittering glass slippers. My shoes now both tightly and symmetrically laced, he stood up, said goodbye, and walked off.

So unless you enjoy strangers fondling your feet in the street, make sure you lace your shoes carefully if you visit Buenos Aires, as sloppy lacing clearly offends the fashion sensibilities of the Porteños!

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