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July 04, 2012, Wednesday

A dying trade?

Some time ago I fell flat on my face in İstanbul. It was not a good experience. In my desperation to save my glasses and my computer I ended up bumping my forehead so hard on the pavement that a cartoon bump sprouted immediately.

 I can’t say that it’s the first time I’ve tripped here. There was, for example, the occasion on the path leading up to the Military Museum in Harbiye when my skirt flew over my head to my infinite embarrassment. Like a cat, I usually respond to such incidents by trying to pretend they didn’t happen. I’m fine, I’m fine, I assure people rushing to assist (except in Siirt where, when I slipped on the mud, passers-by merely looked on aghast because culturally it was a little tricky for a man to offer me a hand up).

On this occasion, though, I’d taken such a knock that even I knew that I would have to sit down for a bit while people rushed to me with glasses of tea (not much use) and a packet of frozen peas (much handier for soothing a battered brow).

Anyway, this was also an occasion when it was no use me ranting and raving about the state of the pavement because actually the cause of the trip-up had been the state of one of my sandals, whose upper section had parted company with the sole, making it much easier for it to catch on the slightest irregularity. So last week I duly took myself on a visit to the shoe-repair shop in Nevşehir.

Remember those? Waiting for someone to glue the sole back to the upper, it struck me that shoe-repair shops are becoming as much of an endangered species here as they are in Britain as incomes rise and more people can afford to toss out footwear that no longer makes the grade. That probably accounted for the grumpy expression on the face of the repairer. What’s wrong with this yabancı, I could almost see him thinking, that she has to come here?

Actually, it could have been his working environment that had induced the bad mood because his dingy little shop seemed to belong to a vanished Nevşehir, along with all the old houses that the municipality has swept away in favor of increasingly sky-scraping monstrosities. To the wall were tacked dog-eared notices warning that the shop could take no responsibility for items not picked up within 15 days, and advising customers to show respect for the workers that rather made me wonder about the nature of his clientele.

In the corner a small television of the non-plasma variety pumped out a “dizi” (soap opera) that no one was watching. The floor was bare boards with no rug to cover them. In another corner an old Singer sewing machine stand had found new use as a table. A doorway had been bashed into the next-door property and through it I could make out piles of shoeboxes with sample merchandise lined up on top. They were all men’s shoes, all sharply pointed, all shimmering black.

But then memory stirred. Of course shoe repair shops haven’t actually died out at all. No, like everything else they’ve simply migrated to the Forum Shopping Mall where you can get your heels done while you shop at Kipa. I think I’ll remember that next time.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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