Today we are talking about repairing or recycling clothing. Please join the discussion, sharing your experience and ideas for staying stylishly up-to-date--while minding ecology and the economy.
une fermeture éclair (fair-meh-tyur-ay-kler)
Des semelles usées, un talon cassé, une fermeture éclair de sac coincée... Avant de les remplacer, vous pouvez confier vos chaussures et accessoires à un cordonnier. En plus, vous soutiendrez une filière au savoir-faire de plus en plus rare en raison d'un manque de clientèle.
Worn out soles, a broken heel, a purse zipper that's stuck... before replacing them, you can entrust your shoes and accessories to a cobbler. What's more, you'll be supporting a trade that is more and more rare owing to a lack of clientele.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Last week the winds picked up here in Bandol, sweeping out the warmth of summertime. Though our seaside environment benefits from an extended season--or un été indien--my feet don't seem to know the difference: mid September now and j'ai froid aux pieds!
Time to put away the flip-flops.... Rummaging through the floor of my closet, looking for close-toed shoes, I discovered a few possibilities for fall: a pair of pseudo Mary Janes (not sure about the style), Converse hi-tops (hand-me-downs from Jackie, the interior lining is as holey as Swiss cheese), a pair of high-heeled dress boots--so cheap the talons are two different sizes (no wonder the markdown), a pair of black boots from the 90s--and a pair of black ballerinas from the same decade (I now wear the latter as slippers--so will have to rule these out as a possibility. Once sportswear turns into loungewear it's hard to sport the items in public again. Know what I mean?).
I stared thoughtfully at the eclectic pile. Tucking my flip flops into a shoe box--it seemed a little sorting might reveal some new possibilities. I spotted my loafers. Yes! Slipping them on I had a look in the mirror and realized, once and for all, I will never have that look of relaxed elegance: my ankles stood out beneath my pant legs, and the brown leather shoes were dull. Maybe a good polish would take care of that?
Studying the motley crew of shoes, I now saw a workable set of possibilities for autumn. What's more, I remembered a pair of brown leather boots (those ought to take care of these ankles!) that would round out the collection.
In the cellar, I sorted through a box of shoes, finding the boots at the bottom. Pulling them from the tangle of chaussures, I was disappointed to see they'd been sorely twisted--their new shape resembling a curled crevette! I slipped them on, hoping to straighten out the toes, but when I tugged at the worn zipper it finally broke.
More than a broken zipper, I noticed how worn out the soles were. There was no use procrastinating, it was time to buy a new pair of bottes. But the last time I went shopping in the area, I found the shops unwelcoming and the prices even more alienating. I was only having a bad day, it wasn't the fault of the commerçants. But seeing all the merchandise, I wondered: how can anyone afford to dress these days? My mind still lives in 70s prices--maybe that is why everything seems so expensive these days. I am fortunate to be able to replace my shoes, but I feel terrible for those who don't have the same privilege.
Studying the worn boots, it seemed I could squeeze another season out of them--I needed only to visit the cordonnier! An added incentive of visiting the local cobbler was the satisfaction of not adding to the dreaded pile--the universal garbage dump, or the landfills, that gets harder and harder to breakdown as time goes by. I can't bear to throw out another pair of shoes when I picture heaps of discarded chaussures all across the land--choking landfills with leather, plastic, and shoe glue. I wish I'd always thought this way, but I am a late-bloomer when it comes to recycling. It's only in the last 5 years that our household has installed boxes for glass, metal, plastic, clothing, batteries, and "small electric units" (our grocery store collects coffee machine, electric toothbrushes, and the like). Before that, we made an effort here and there, but were discouraged by the lack of follow-up (our village's recycling system, at the time, was hit or miss).
Boots in hand, I entered our town's cobbler shop and soon realized why people are not so motivated to extend the life of their belongings: because it can be costly to do so! There in the tiny shop, as I waited for the cobbler to finish mending a pair of sandals, I noticed the finished items on the counter, waiting to be picked up. A pair of high-heeled sandals had a receipt tied to them: 26 euros for the repair work! I began to calculate: at $35 dollars one could almost replace the dainty pair of dress shoes.
Ah, but les bonnes affaires coûtent cher! I remembered an old saying I once learned from a very wealthy French woman: Good deals cost a lot! she said, as I accompanied her shopping in Cannes. It's true, and I've witnessed the principle here at home where my husband delights in showing me his latest 19 euro steal. I zip my lip, knowing that in one more season I'll be sweeping those falling-to-pieces shoes into the dustpan, along with rest of the pile up on the doorstep. Some deal!
Back at the cobblers, I set my boots on the counter for the cordonnier to inspect.
"I'll need a new fermeture éclair...and it looks like the soles are shot...anything you can do about the leather?"
I watch as the shoe repairer notes down some double-digit chiffres: 16.... 12.95... The amount increases when I decide to go ahead and have the second zipper reinforced, just in case.
When the cobbler hands me the bill I'm lost for words, so he speaks for me: Est-ce que ça ira? Will this work?
I guessed it would have to... After all, what was the alternative? I could buy a new pair of boots--for twice the price (given the you-get-what-you-pay-for wisdom, mentioned above) or I could prendre soin, or care for my own boots. The price to do so was alarming, but in the end I was paying less than I would otherwise.
I hoped to be making the right decision, and in the time it took me to reply to the old cobbler, my eyes scanned his tiny shop. In addition to shoes there were several bags waiting for repair (this is where old Mr. Sacks, Jean-Marc's beloved sacoche, was mended). I remembered, now, Jean-Marc mentioning the ancient cobbler "You've got to meet this character!" Jean-Marc had said. I wondered now, just how many years had the cobbler been here? Were they even training cobblers these days? Wasn't it a dying trade?
As I stood there, hesitant, a few more locals walked in, dusty and worn shoes in hand. The cobbler greeted them by name and I gathered he had a few supportive clients. One more couldn't hurt.
* * *
To comment on today's story, click here. I would love to read about your experiences with caring for your own things, and your thoughts on sustainability, supporting local business, or whatever you feel like sharing.
Extra credit.... Teachers, please share the French Word-A-Day blog with your students, to help increase their vocabulary.
j'ai froid aux pieds = my feet are cold
un talon = heel
la chaussure = shoe
la crevette = shrimp, prawn
la botte = boot
le commerçant = shopkeeper
le cordonnier = cobbler
le chiffre = amount, sum
la fermeture éclair = zipper
prendre soin = to care for, to take care of
In Ways to Improve Your French: Listen to music!
Zaz's album. Debut album from one of France's greatest recent success stories. Seemingly out of nowhere, newcomer Isabelle Geffroy (AKA Zaz) ended up topping the charts in France for over two months with this debut album, an engaging blend of Jazz, Soul and French Pop. With singles like 'Je Veux', even non-French speaking listeners will be enchanted by Zaz's voice. Order it here.
Join me on today's virtual tour of the village of Comps-sur-Artuby. These photos were taken in 2001.... The pictures are very small, but you can still get an idea of the breathtaking environment.
If you missed the recent photos tours, check them out:
What has this old post office become? Some people in France live in converted chapels, others in ancient bread ovens (large architectural structures as big as a baker's), so the idea of moving into a post office shouldn't be so surprising.
I believe this building is called un hangar, or shed.
* extensive pronunciation exercises including supplementary help based on poetry, proverbs, familiar sayings, historical quotations and humor
* A guide to French pronunciation expressed in the phonetic symbols of the International Phonetic Association (IPA)
I hope you enjoyed today's story from the shoe repair shop, or cordonnerie. To comment on today's post, or to send in a correction, please use the comments box here.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety