Thursday, November 8, 2007

If the Shoe Fits

One of the domestic chores on our to-do list has been to get Lea's 7-year-old boots repaired. Winter is approaching, with snow in the forecast, and her leather boots had a 1" hole by the zipper. Shoe repair shops are scattered about town, so we put off the task. Shoe repair is a big business for two main reasons: shoes are very expensive and L'viv's cobblestones devour them (especially the heels we wrote about in a previous entry).

The price of goods has been a hot-button issue of late. Inflation is high, but Ukrainian prices have a perplexing inconsistency to them. Some prices are extremely low, such as bread and mass transit. Some prices are extremely high, such as electronic goods. And some prices are about the level of the US. For instance, a really nice loaf of bread costs about 50 cents. The more pedestrian white bread costs about 25 cents. As we have noted in the past, a ride on the tram is 10 cents. The other day, Erik was in an electronics store and noticed Carter's DVD player (or the European version of it). He paid about $85 a year ago in the US. It cost over $200 here. But, a bottle of diet Coke is just about the same as in the US (a 2-liter runs from a little under $1 to $1.25, depending on the store).

Clothing and shoes are goods that cost much more in Ukraine than in the US. So, Ukrainian shoppers try to extend the life of their shoes by having them repaired. Our search for a shoe repair shop that would handle Lea's boots thus seemed like an easy task. Erik dropped in one with the boots (and a pair of her heels which had been broken by the cobblestones early in our adventure). The repair shop could handle the heels - fixing them for $2. But, the boots required a sewing machine which the shop did not have. The next stop was to a shoe repair place near the university. Entering the shop, you could see four workspaces with gruff middle-aged men stooped over boots and shoes, with piles and piles behind them. As Erik waited, a woman asked for her order - the cobbler struggled to find them amid the vast sea of footwear. Mind you, there are no receipts or tags, just piles of shoes. When Erik finally asked about Lea's boots, he was told once again that there was no sewing machine. But, he might find one on Bankivska Street. Off to Bankivska, and a similar response. Go to Knyaza Romana.

Today, after our jaunt to the market, he went to the shop on Knyaza Romana Street. The line was long, and the only option was to wait. As he waited, the line got longer and the crowd grew surlier. People tried to push past each other to stick their heads in the tiny windows in the wall, behind which the masters pursued their craft, to ask if their shoes could be repaired and for how much. The cranky men at the sewing machines generally growled at them to wait in line and read the sign on the wall (a tiny typed price list hidden among the masters' diplomas, various government registration documents for the business, and a Cabinet of Minister's resolution about the shoe industry). This shop specialized in shoe sewing - the sign on the wall warned customers not to even ask about purses or clothes as the shop only sewed shoes. One unlucky soul incurred the wrath of a shoe-tailor by asking about heels. "GO NEXT DOOR!" he yelled, noting that the store that fixes heels was one door down.

After waiting for over an hour, and an especially long time behind a woman having four zippers put on boots (a side note - you have to bring all of the supplies. The shopkeepers just sew), it was his turn. In Erik's version of surzhyk - the hybrid Ukrainian and Russian language common in many of Ukraine's rural areas - he asked if the master could fix the boots. After inspecting the boots, Erik was told that there was a more serious problem than the zipper being unattached to the boot near the sole, so he could not fix the boot. Erik asked him to sew the zipper anyway and was told that the work could not be guaranteed. For 20 cents, the master sewed the zipper back into place in about 2 minutes. Hopefully it will be enough for Lea to last her final four weeks in Ukraine!

1 comment:

Lea's Dad said...

Standing in line for something which cost $.20 to get done just would not fly in the States, yet is a way of life to save those things, like shoes, which have cost a lot in the daily life of Ukrainians. We have too much!

Is the economy such that a shoe repairman may have a masters degree, but have repair shoes for a living? Or was it someone else's diploma?

The Soup Nazi character lives...he is a shoe repairman, sewing only, in Lviv!