A Day at the Tailor’s

The transcendental Mr. Valasquez.

Because I have only one pair of pants that currently fits me despite my recent frappaccino craze (yay unintended weight loss!), yesterday afternoon I hit the backstreets behind my apartment in search of a tailor. I unfortunately can’t afford to buy all-new pants so I must do what the rest of the world does: Get things fixed when they stop working. Very un-American of me. Anyway, being Latin, I like my pants to be so tight I have to lay down to zip them, and the thought of walking around in non-form fitting jeans is just too much to bear.

My search was rather short; within five minutes, me and my pants-stuffed Colombian mochila found ourselves at the steps of a certain Mr. Valasquez, the “clinical tailor” offering “everything from treatment to surgery of clothing.”

Mr. Valaszuez’s shop is located on 20th and 4th, a somewhat dilapidated, graffitied and seedy street characterized by an unavoidable and penetrating seafood smell eminating from the many Pacific restaurants that make their home there. Across from one of these such restaurants (with their plastic chairs and tables and cafeteria-like atmosphere — but that’s another story) in a poorly maintained — but still somewhat charming — colonial-era house. Behind a decrepit wrought iron door, I found Mr. Valasquez sitting behind an unstable, shaky wooden sewing table, in front of a yellowed, ancient-looking Singer sewing machine that sounded as if it was just barely clinging to life. I loved it.

To me, something about the word tailor — sastre in Spanish –sounds very old fashioned and noble. So it was only fitting that stepping into Mr. Valasquez’s shop was like stepping back a hundred years in time. The entire shop appeared to be a mere 8ft x 8ft, spools of different colored thread sitting neatly on his work table, well-worn old wooden cabinents filled with various sewing tools and cut-off pant bottoms of varying colors and decades piled up a few feet high under his work table. And in the corner desk, with a white bushy beard, perfectly round glasses and deep, almost painful-looking wrinkles, sat a silent and expressionless man who I presumed to be Mr. Valasquez’s father. Had Salman Rushdie and Leo Tolstoy had a child, it would have looked just like that old man in the corner.

Mr. Valasquez Sr., I presume.

Mr. Valasquez’s arhaic, formal language matched the old-time feel of his shop. Let me give you a little snippet of our conversation (Imagine a serious and poised middle-aged man with yellow measuring tape around his shoulders, spikey gray hair, a white, tucked-in turtle neck and brown trousers slowly and intently circling me while marking my pants with chalk where they need to be taken in):

Me: Do you think you can take these pants in?
V: But of course, su merced (literal translation: your grace). It is, of course, quite imperative that you try these fine vestiments on so that I may adapt them to your particular anatomy. I will explain to you the methodology I will employ in order to maintain the integrity of these pants while tailoring them just so to your body.

And so I left my clown pants at that little shop on 20th and 4th with the high hopes that Mr. Valasquez will work his magic (at $3.50 per pair) and return to me five pairs of pants that leave everyone wondering how someone like me can manage to squeeze into such tight jeans.

UPDATE: Yesterday I picked up my newly taken in pants. It turns out Senor Valasquez is a bit weirder than I initially thought. He was telling me how he believed he had discovered the secret to human flight and within a few years, he would be flying like a needle through the cosmos. He informed me very seriously that spirituality and positive thinking can make even the unimaginable happen when I questioned his flying potential. The silent, Tolstoy/Rushdie old man was still sitting in the corner saying nothing, and another long-bearded Russian Orthodox priest-looking old man came out of nowhere, giving me a bit of a fright. It felt like I had stepped into a Paolo Coelho novel.

Unfortunately, Mr. Valasquez left one pair of my pants so very mind-boggingly tight that they only made it about halfway up my leg before I heard the very unpleasant sound of a rip. If only he had used his powers of positive thinking at that moment.



Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Colombian culture, Observations, The Urban Anthropologist Files

Tags: , , ,

6 replies

  1. Reblogged this on My (Former) Nomad Life and commented:

    These are the things I sometimes miss about Colombia!

  2. Hehe! He sounds fascinating. Maybe you should go back and talk to him some more, sounds like a great repository for story ideas.

  3. There is something wonderful about small shops where the labor is done manually by craftspeople. I feel this way about bicycle repair shops, too.

    • Me too, I just don’t know if it can survive in a modern day economy like the U.S where labor is so expensive. In Colombia labor is cheap so it’s cheaper to have jeans taken in than to buy a new pair. Here having a pair of pants taken in probably costs almost as much as a new pair (unless you have very fancy pants!)

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