by Laura E. Alvarez
“I must have some shoes that need repair somewhere!” I call from under a flurry of flying shoes as I rummage through the shoe basket. I don’t really do this, but I definitely have that feeling sometimes when I think I need to go see Alex, the shoe repair man. This outing is a cross between Portal to Oaxaca and Mandado a McCabe’s. A shoe repair definitely counts as an errand or as the higher “mandado”. Alex’ is also a portal. Not to Oaxaca, but to Michoacan.
Oh, Michoacan. My dad’s parents came from Michoacan during the Mexican revolution. Because it was so long ago, I do not have a connection with family in Michoacan. On the other hand, I grew up visiting my mom’s family in the state of Tamaulipas, from which she came in the sixties when she married my dad. On one of these visits to Tamaulipas, my brother and I, probably around age 19-21ish, decided to make a trip to Michoacan because we were curious. We visited no family. We were like any other tourists in the capital of Morelia, an idyllic colonial town of cobblestoned streets and plazitas. It hailed in the middle of summer, we ate Mexican pizza, I learned what cafe con leche was in portales amid hanging ferns, and it ended with me getting sick. But that’s just me on any trip to Mexico. The usual.
All of this lead up is just to say that I lack and have hankered for more of a connection to my father’s side of the family in México. The desire to know more about this part of my heritage has lead to my one time addiction to the telenovela, Morelia and to my interest in hanging out at the shoe repair shop… of course!
You can pass by Alex’ on a hot stretch of properties on sunny, touristy Main Street, just a couple blocks from the beach, and not even notice it. Not even notice it, like a Muggle passing by The Leaky Cauldron in a Harry Potter book. The vintage sign and dark windows beckon one in who tends towards the road less taken. Once inside, the mountains of sewn leather and shoe boxes (Well, it is a bit like Ollivander’s Wand Shop!) threatening to topple, make me feel like I am in a cozy forest of shoes. It reminds me of playing in my dad’s crowded garage as a child where I would find relics from World War Two.
I usually busy my eyes with all the shoes left and never picked up, old paintings, and who knows what as I wait for Alex to find my shoes or take my shoes. I always get the feeling as I wait that this time, truly it will be all business, different from other times. And then, just when I think that’s it, that I will leave with no story, it begins. Oh, it can be so suspenseful, this whole “story or no story”… but, there is always a story.
He segues into it so sneakily. I still get tricked sometimes. Don’t see it coming. One moment he is commenting on the needs of my younger son’s style and footwear, the next it is 1984 and he is being asked to buy his own sons Reeboks, and then suddenly we are in 1962 or who knows when, and he is walking around the plaza in a small Michoacan town in one direction with the boys, the girls going in another direction. A girl, drops her shawl, he picks it up, and okay, now we are in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, for sure.
Some of my favorite stories involve food. Oh, listening to food stories by people who grew up in Mexico… one of my favorite pastimes. Even if it is in English, food stories with real Mexicans are flowery and poetic because most likely, after all these years, the person is translating from Spanish in their head when they talk about the wonderful food their mother made them in Vera Cruz or the Yucatan or wherever they grew up. The translation is always so lovely and edible. On one of these trips to the shoe repair I ended up traveling through a portal straight to a beach in Michoacan where I could practically taste the ceviche. I listened to the story about Alex’ childhood, but it was me who was sandy and hungry, sitting on a rough rock under the palm trees in my 1970’s homemade bathing suit, with ceviche juice running down my front… It’s a portal, after all.