Three pairs are the target: something black, something metallic possibly pewter, and something electric blue. She wants me along because she knows I am ‘Little Miss Decisive’ and that with one glance I will say things like: ‘No, impossible to clean’ or ‘No, put them down you’ve already got orange and purple stripes’ or ‘No, completely ghastly… don’t do it’. I know it will be a quest of utter torture for me since I don’t have a budget that includes tango shoes, but it’s always good to know what the options are just in case I ever make any money… and so I can help other friends to find what they want faster, and because I know it will be fun.
My own tango shoe history is very brief. After buying one very plain pair of black ‘shipped from Argentina and ridiculously expensive’ (at the equivalent of $600pesos) shoes in London in 2006, I bought six pairs here in Buenos Aires in 2007: each pair cost me $300pesos which seemed cheap at the time. I really only dance in three of them. The other three are of the ‘impossible to clean’ variety, or of the ‘pretty but back strap feels too unsupportive’ variety… these add a rather cool decorative touch to my apartment, but never touch the dance floor. I have learned from my mistakes, all $900pesos of them… and my last was a quite beautiful shocking pink and acid lemon/lime pair bought in November 2007 and so far worn once. Today I cannot afford to buy tango shoes, punto. Really, I have to wear all the shoes I have, including my mistakes, until they die… or at least that is what I tell myself as we plan our little mission.
We decide on three stores: Neotango, Comme il Faut and Greta Flora.
Neotango is our first stop. I’m personally not too keen on their shoes: they don’t seem to fit my feet, but G. has had great success with a black and white pair she bought last year. We enter and see the exact same black and white design and, to my eye, much of the exact same designs in general as they had over twelve months ago. But, we do find a decent pewter metallic pair and the available heels at either 7.5cm or 8 .5cm are both options for G. who prefers her shoes slightly lower than I do. The price is $380pesos. While G. pivots with poise in front of the mirror, the pal of a male customer strikes up a conversation with me: he likes my British accent. When I turn round his friend is dancing a tango with my friend right there on the carpet. Then bugger me if the shop manager doesn’t dance with her too. Ah, some things never change… she always did get the dances. At least this year I can join in the castellano conversations… we all have a laugh together, but we leave without buying.
Next we head to Comme. We are the only punters and so to my delight I have the pick of the velvet sofas. The manager remembers us and is I think, impressed with my ability to ask questions in castellano about the state of tango tourism in the present world economic environment, and the currently falling number of tango tourists: which she confirms. She corrects my pronunciation repeatedly: she is not so keen on my British accent… but I am proud that I understand most of what she says. In fact I am so engrossed in the discussion of economics that I fail to give G. any attention at all. Out of the corner of my eye I notice that she is pivoting slightly frantically in front of the huge gilt-framed mirror in a pair of cool greens. ‘Nice,’ I encourage. They fit the original plan (well sort of close to electric blue…) and so go in the ‘possibles’ pile, along with a pair of black and gold. So far so good. But then, what always happens in Comme happens: they bring out the box, open the lid and although the shoes are not remotely what you were considering… your heart is lost. And this time I cannot believe my eyes, because the glittering prize lying nestled in the tissue is the exact same shocking pink and acid lemon/lime shoe that I bought almost a year ago. ‘It’s the last one we have,’ the assistant explains, and it’s in G.’s size, of course. I try to whisper, ‘impossible to clean,’ and ‘ankle strap too narrow,’ but I know it is too late: shoes have already fused with feet, are lost in pivots in front of that mirror, and are ‘SOLD to the girl from Los Angeles’ for $360pesos. Well it could have been worse, some of the shoes in there this week are rather OTT ‘bling’ and cost $450. And dear G. is ecstatic, which in the end is all that matters to me. ‘I’ve loved those shoes ever since I saw a photo of yours,’ she enthuses as we emerge into Arenales, ‘And they only had one pair left, and they were in my size… ‘
I smile at my darling friend. At this point, exactly where are we with the black, pewter and electric blue plan? Mmmmm, shocking pink and acid lemon, that’s precisely where.
Greta Flora is our final stop. Now I have seen these shoes on another friend’s feet and know that they are gorgeous and different so I am excited. It’s a bit of a trek to Villa Crespo and by the time we get there we are in a rush, so we have to make it quick: 20 minutes only. Not enough. Again we are the only customers, this time in a tiny space high up in an apartment building. There are some exquisitely made shoes, many with the beautiful signature flower, but it’s a bit complex: only these designs in your size, the heel size you want, in these three colourways etc. We need some time to take it in and we do not have it. The heels are thicker than the Comme stiletto style I normally like, but somehow the shoes manage to carry off elegance: I love them. In here we do encounter a black pair and a turquoise/green pair, both ‘possibles’ for G. at $330pesos each (other styles are I think more expensive). I actually try some on myself, because I adore that flower… very tempting, but fortunately I feel that my big toe is spilling out the front, which saves me. We learn that the shop is moving in a couple of weeks, to a more central location (good news) but we make a date to return to the current venue on Monday when we will have more time. Decisions like this cannot be rushed. We leave without buying, but I am pretty certain G. will when Monday comes. I am slightly nervous of going back in there: I suspect I will try on a few more pairs…
So, this little tango tour has taken us two days (with various other missions along the way), we have one pair of shoes that were not on the shopping list, but we have possibilities for the pewter (Neo), the black (Greta with flower), and the blue/green (Comme and Greta with flower). I have found out that spring 2008 prices are in the region of $330 to $450pesos, that even Comme who has a traditionally fast turn over are still selling some of last spring’s styles, and that Greta Flora will be moving location soon, so beware of trekking out to Abasto without phoning first.
The good news is that I kept my credit card in my pocket. Comme-wise (always my weakness) I still like a soft brushed gold pair with a double length wrap around ankle strap… these have been available on and off for a while, but they are luxury-gorgeous and of course probably of the ‘impossible to clean’ variety. But apart from these nothing came close to grabbing the ‘corazon’ of this little tango dancer. I decide firmly, on the bus home, that I would only buy the same patent leather style I have already, and then only if it came in black again: mine are horribly stretched across the toe bar after eighteen months of constant wear and yet I still love them.
I’m a bit shocked at how practical I have become: but I guess that is what happens when you turn from tango tourist into tango immigrant, and at the same time the world economy gets turned upside down: you learn fast that your tango shoes have to last.
Ah but then again, if I’m honest, I do find myself secretly hoping that G. might drag me back to Comme for the green shoes, because as I fall asleep with tango heels on my mind, I can’t quite forget the lustre of soft ‘oro’. And let’s face it, they do say when world financial markets are in chaos there ain’t no safer place to put your cash than into gold…
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