Getting Laced in Verona

There are many forbiddingly fashionable shoe shops in Verona – many, many more than would seem necessary to serve the ambulatory needs of 265,000 locals.

Of course, this base population of 530,000 well-shod tootsies is swelled by those of the footsore tourist armies that march past the many attractions of the city they call La Piccola Roma –  the excavations of the Palazzi Scaligeri, the opera house in the world’s third-biggest Roman amphitheatre, a swag of churches and museums and, of course, Juliet’s house where the romantically-minded flock to languish a little in the shadow of her balcony, then scrawl their names over the walls with fat felt pens.

It is a beautiful, quiet, romantic city, but the subject of this cris de coeur is far more down-to-earth.

On our last day in Verona, my darling had decamped with her fluent Italian (and the credit card), leaving me to my own rather puny devices. Hmmm. How to use this little portal of opportunity? Preparing to launch myself on the misty morn, I was lacing up the much-scuffed Docs when – blitt! – the left lace broke. Oh well, in a well-heeled town of wall-to-wall shoe shops, getting something as prosaic as a shoelace would, I thought, be a snap.

Quickly noting that there was nothing remotely resembling a lace in the room, I threaded a thickish rubber band through the eyelets of the laceless shoe, and strode with a spring in my step into the strada.

Finding myself at the Arco della Costa, beneath which dangles a whale’s rib of enormous proportions, I dallied, willing it to fall on me. Legend has it that the suspended bone matter will drop from its great height – at a Newtonian 9.8 metres-per-second – upon the first ‘just’ person to walk under it. Hardly just desserts, I would have thought. However, in many hundreds of years, it has never fallen, even on the pates of passing popes and prelates. And it didn’t change its sullen habit for me.

At the first 19 shoe shops I attended… the salespersons laughed tinklingly at the very idea that a shoe shop might also stock spare parts and could offer absolutely no suggestion as to where I might buy said laci.

A little miffed, I walked into the Piazza delle Erbe for breakfast. Over my second Caffe Americano (long black, to us), it occurred that I didn’t know, indeed had never been tempted to know, the Italian word for ‘shoelace’. As I paid, I summoned virtually my entire Italian vocabulary and addressed the sloe-eyed siren who took the money: “Scusi signora,” I indicated the ‘lace’ of my right shoe, “Come si chiama… questo…?”

Frowning at the brutish inelegance of my jury-rugged left shoe, she sniffed: “Laci per scarpe.”

At the first 19 shoe shops I attended, including a Bata (not a notably sniffy brand), the salespersons laughed tinklingly at the very idea that a shoe shop might also stock spare parts and could offer absolutely no suggestion as to where I might buy said laci.

Desperate and becoming a little achy in the left foot department, I ventured farther and farther down the fashion food chain until I found myself in a shop called Sanitas. Here, two sensibly-sized elderly ladies waved about large items of extremely heavy-duty corsetry and animatedly discussed various styles and weights with the infinitely patient young woman behind the counter. Averting my eyes from such indelicacies, I panned across an almost surreal array of pinkish doovers of distinctly rectal appearance jauntily displayed against a backdrop of squashy unmentionables largely fashioned from elastic webbing and rubber buckles.

As I prepared to flee this fearsome fetish-orium, a very old man appeared from the back of the store. He looked at me inquiringly and I glumly reiterated my laci line. Whereupon the young lady behind the counter imperiously told the codger: “Papa – Cappelletti!” Which I took to be the name of yet another shop.

Almost twanging with the desire to be of use, the old man sprang from behind the counter, took my elbow, steered me from the store, and proceeded to propel me through an intestinal twining of narrow back-streets and horse butcheries until we reached, finally, a small, ashamed, anonymous shop. At which he pointed with a triumphant: ‘Laci per scarpe!”

I thanked him and bounded inside with beating heart to buy at last what had taken me nearly four hours to find.

Arriving back at the Hotel all’ Antica Porta Leona, late but fully laced, I found Luisa sorting through what looked like 30 or 40 stylishly designed shopping bags, each burstingly a’bulge with merch.

‘Where have you been?” she inquired pleasantly.

“Shopping,” I replied.

“Anything interesting?”

“Uh…no, not really.”

John Box is a writer who resides in Carlton, Melbourne.


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