Friday, 6 January 2017

Mad about shoes - Katrinski

To dance tango, you need good shoes'. Well, as a man of a certain age I am not too sure about this, but I can reveal 'that happiness is a perfectly made tango shoe'.

Its 3 pm here in Buenos Aires and we stroll for the 39 colectivo. Strolling is what we do best in 33 degrees of hot sunshine, keeping to the shaded side of the street, and waiting in the shadow for lights to change. Today it is not a long wait. As expected, two nos 39 arrive together. Why is it that buses bunch? Then we set off, both drivers playing cat and mouse with the bus queues, for no discernible reason, sometimes stopping, sometimes not.

We reach Santa Fe - one of Buenos Aires' busiest and longest roads, now taking two way traffic, so long as you are a bus, a bike...or a taxi. We sit near side and watch the streets slip by as we travel west on the grid. Our destination stop is Coronel Diaz 1502, although today we alight in Santa Fe just after the crossing. It is now a 6 minute walk to our destination here in Palermo.

Stephanie presses the bells in turn, and from one choice comes a voice from the first floor balcony. "Stephanie, is that you?" She steps towards the kerb and looks up to see Katrin, a tall, elegant Swede lean from the balcony. Within moments the door is opened and we hug.

Previous readers of my blog will know all about hugging. Kisses and hugs are ubiquitous here in Buenos Aires, and it matters little whether or not you know your 'hugee'. All that matters is that you do it and mean it. Hugging with feeling. Women, men and both. It is as natural as saying 'good day' but more enchanting.

We mount the cool stairs to the first floor that Katrina shares with other small enterprises. A right, then a left brings us to her room which overlooks the street and is flooded with afternoon light. For a shoemaker, it is surprisingly neat. White boxes pile against the walls, and shelves show specimens of a dozen styles.

Katrin Urwitz started life as a theatre makeup artist, but was seduced first to tango, then to Buenos Aires which she has been visiting since 2007. Seeing tango shoes that collapse within the season, she decided to make them herself, giving rise to the Katrinski brand - handmade shoes for the discerning tanguera. That said, Katrinski is famed for flats - the perfect flat shoe that combines comfort with style. Women say that once you have worn Katrinski's you will never be without a pair. 

Her neat but strong hands reveal her art as a shoemaker. She undertakes almost all of the processes herself, crafting shoes to fit particular feet. She glances down at Stephanie's size 38's, knowing immediately the size, the shape, the fit, and those little idiosyncrasies that make the difference between an adequate shoe....and heaven. "I will cut the right shoe slightly higher to capture the small toe", she says, missing nothing; and glances disapprovingly at my clumpy MBT's. 

Today, Stephanie orders two pairs - a pale rose/bronze pair with closed heel and t-bar for tango; and a pair of red vintage shoes for 'Twinwood'. The third pair - of course - Katrinski flats, for walking the streets of Buenos Aires in style. These she receives in a perfect Katrinski bag; she will have to wait 3 weeks for the rest.

We pay, and leave. Leaving Katrinski's is like parting from a shoe fantasy. We descend to the street and walk three blocks on Charcas to the coffee shop 'Pharmacie' known for its coffee and pastries. Our pavement table against the rubber tree gives sufficient shade to sit in comfort, whilst watching the portenos of Palermo walk past with their dogs. Stephanie hugs her Katrinski's and smiles.


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