You can stroll through the paved side of Lourdes Park where the iconic church faces the Carrera 13 and with the exception of those shining shoes or selling mobile phone minutes, at any point within 50 yards in every direction from where you stand, people will be busying themselves in doing nothing at all.
Today I decided to get my shoes shined. I call it Lustrar, a word learnt from time spent in Central America but here they say Embetunar. My shoe shine man shows me the scar of a twisted arm from a work injury when he was a day labourer. Since then, he has been polishing shoes, for a period of no less than 34 years. For 15 years this exact spot has been his in Lourdes facing an empanada eatery. I chose this seat and shining station as the lustrador alongside us is obnoxious and often shouts obscenities across the park.
The scuffs on my shoes vanishing, I take advantage of the moment to ask how the business works. He doesn’t pay a daily fee, it’s monthly and the amount is 50,000 pesos. This is paid to shoe shiners’ union. So, how much does he make in a day? The average job, on his knees comes rain or shine, yields 2,500 pesos. At today’s exchange rate (US$1 = COP 2850) that’s less than one dollar. He estimates that most days he earns 20,000 pesos. He is 45 years old. I know the price quoted to me for the “special” product to deal with the peeled leather on my toe caps is high. He has worked for more than 20 minutes on my boots, he asks for 14,000 pesos. He gets 20,000. As I am attended to, an oficinista passes by and asks for the shoe shiner to save him a spot when he’s finished on my shoes. He has his regular clients and you can tell that he is thankful for the return business.
Who knew that there stands a statue of Antonio José de Sucre in this park? As if stripping away a tangle of ivy from a neglected tombstone, my eyes are playing tricks with me as I try and see past the tagged graffiti scrawled over his name on the plinth. I have lived in the immediacy of this church and her monuments for over four years and never once focused on this statue. And while I am superficially aware of Antonio José de Sucre’s place and importance in history, I never knew where he died. In case you are concerned, his death came in a town near to Pasto when he was ambushed travelling from Bogota to Quito in an attempt to save the experiment that was Nueva Granada. This all took place on June 4 1830 in a place known as la montaña de Berruecos near to the town of Arboleda, Nariño.
Lourdes park in Chapinero, my barrio and my new favourite place to have my shoes shined.