The shoemaker

Modifié le : 2019/07/14

On that day, I decid­ed to take streets par­al­lel to the wide streets of Lis­bon, to see more than the beau­ti­ful paths that the city spreads out to give itself great airs. Life, the one we see each day, prefers alleys, gut­ter dogs and small coffees.

Lis­bon then, even in its cen­ter, may seem desert­ed. Peo­ple go about their busi­ness or are sim­ply not there. There are only the old peo­ple, the munic­i­pal employ­ees and, strange­ly enough, no cats left on the hori­zon. I don’t think I’ve seen a cat in my whole stay. Do they eat them in Lisbon ?

I stole a few shots, leav­ing my cam­era hang­ing around my neck, with­out aim­ing well. The clothes­lines amused me. They are dif­fer­ent from those found in North Amer­i­ca. As they can­not launch them­selves over the back­yards, they walk along the facades and bal­conies, as if they were dizzy.

I missed a nice pic­ture. It was on a street with a steep slope. Not a cat in the lit­er­al and fig­u­ra­tive sense, except a few tables away from a café around which I saw peo­ple stand­ing still. The sun also failed to reach the ground. Only a few win­dows on the upper floors received light. Sud­den­ly, on my right, an old shoe­mak­er, crouched down just at the entrance of his shop, work­ing on a shoe. A real post­card from the 1920s or 1930s, when pover­ty in the Unit­ed States blew its high sandy winds. My reflex was to stop and take quick­ly a pic­ture of him. But I was bare­ly 10 cm from him. He did­n’t seem to have noticed me, was pur­su­ing his slow or use­less task on a shoe that looked as old as him. He must have been 90 years old, his back bent like a tree that had long faced the gusts and waves of the sea.

How­ev­er, I could­n’t stop for more than three or four sec­onds. I had time to observe his shop, no brighter, just as old, just as desert­ed. Obvi­ous­ly, the mess was com­plete. This shop had stopped liv­ing and the old shoe­mak­er was prob­a­bly dying there in front of me.

Out of respect, I walked away. I could have tak­en out €10 and giv­en them to him so that he would allow me to pho­to­graph him. But his atti­tude would cer­tain­ly have changed, I would have bro­ken the moment, or he would not have under­stood, would have closed his door, hid­ing his pover­ty or his non-exis­tence. I don’t know. I did­n’t want him to think I was tak­ing pity on him.

For a good ten min­utes, I con­tin­ued on my way, protest­ing against my shy­ness and fail­ure. I was tempt­ed to go back to see him, then I gave up the idea. All I have left are these words to engrave in a rel­a­tive and ephemer­al mem­o­ry this short moment that had nev­er belonged to me anyway.