Especially if you play soccer, and even if you don’t, shoes will get torn and wear away from sauntering around the neighborhood after school. Uncle Matuszka had a cobbler shop close to the fluid border between Angyalföld, (the now-disappearing working class’s
Land of Angels'') and Újlipótváros (New Leopold Town,” inhabited by middle-class intellectuals of Jewish origin). He spent the whole, long day mending shoes in his street-facing workshop with the help of his deaf assistant. The room was dark—the only internal source of pale light was a single bulb hanging from the ceiling on a wire. When I (P) visited, I always smelled the scent of a mixture of leather, shoe-shine, glues, adhesives, dyes, and cat pee.
Boots in the winter, sandals in the summer. Girls had Japanese leather slippers, and as I just learned from a dear girlfriend from my college years, the white upper part made from matte leather was artificially treated by a piece of chalk.
Uncle Matuszka repaired and restored everything. Broken heels and worn-out soles were repaired. Holes were patched. Blown seams were resewn. His workshop was full of tools, hammers, knives of different sizes, and a variety of nail and tack pullers. There were sewing threads and straight and curved hook needles. There were hardwood lasts—holding devices shaped like a human foot. Nails and screws lived in a metal container. Uncle Matuszka used wooden pins, “pegs,” to attach leather soles. First, he made a hole with the awl, the sharp-pointed piece of steel, then placed a dowel before hammering. As I correspond with my high-school and college classmates (these correspondences became very intensive during the emergence of the pandemic), we all agreed that our minds preserve the cobblers’ small and dark shops as palaces of miracles. We also agreed that it was one place we learned that things should be repaired.