Right now, as you read this, someone in Costa Rica—most likely a foreign man—is walking down a street in agony. This man has just bought a pair of shoes from a local zapateria, and the agony is because they convinced him that all would be bueno if he bought the size 44 shoe for his size 46 feet.
This man, exhausted after having visited a few dozen shoe stores, finally relented and forced his foot into a shoe meant for a man with slightly smaller feet. Every step produces a wince and the beginnings of a ripe and bloody blister.
If, like me, you wear a size 46 (12-12.5 in US measurements) or larger, you will be able to relate. The joke is on me whenever I go out to buy a pair of tennis shoes in Costa Rica.
The size 46 on the scale used here might as well be a size 46 on the US scale. I recently went shopping for new sneakers in Quepos, then San Isidro, then San Jose, and on about my 46th try, I found a shop that actually had a pair that didn’t necessitate the employ of a foot binder to make them fit comfortably.
I have had this experience repeatedly over the 25-plus years I have lived here. I have lived here long enough to witness a new generation of young Costa Ricans, bigger, heavier, better-fed than their parents and grandparents; yet seemingly with feet that stop growing right around size 11.
Here is how it typically unfolds:
I’ll enter a shoe store and introduce myself to the attendants by saying that I wear a size 45-46 (“Calzo cuarenta-cinco, cuarenta-seis”). Then I ask if they carry any shoes in that size.
Occasionally they do, but it always looks like something that might have been designed and manufactured in a prison workshop, clunky, ugly, only to be worn while tromping through the mud; a prosthetic device for the podiatrically well-endowed.
I then emphasize that I am looking for ‘tenis’. The attendant disappears into the back room and emerges with several boxes of sneakers, all of which are size 44.
The attendant will often insist that the shoes will fit, even when I hold them up against the pair I am wearing, and it is clear that the pair being offered is smaller. The more aggressive of the salespeople will insist I try it on, as if it will magically expand as my foot enters it.
The salesperson will then walk to the back for a consultation with the cashier and there will be much whispering and looking my direction. No sale is going to be made. There is then some head shaking and an apology—“Lo siento senor, we have nothing to fit your freakish appendages.”
And so, I head out, trudging forlornly from zapateria to zapateria, a reverse Cinderella, a foot in search of the shoe that fits it perfectly. Recently, I have been reviewing the 2022 Patron Saint calendar. A product of the Catholic religion, it includes a saint for each day of the year. There are saints for most every day of the year. There are still some days in need of a saint though.
I am thinking about petitioning the Vatican to make room for Santo Pie de Payaso–Saint Clownfoot– the patron saint of larger than average footed men. There would be feasts, prayers, and commemorative coins—one side a size 11 shoe, the other side a size 12 foot, bloody and covered in blisters.