Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column - Let's talk about culture.....and the lost art to make shoes

There is a Shoemaker in Karaoğlanoğlu

Right in the centre of the village on the road that leads up to Edremit and Karmi is a small white house with a sign next to the door ‘Shoe Repairs’. Through the wide open door you can see him sitting at his working table bent over his work… another shoe to repair. Around him are the utensils and machines that are required to repair but also to make new shoes. Kemal Boral is a learnt shoemaker.

I have a deep respect for people who are carrying on such old professions, dying out slowly but surely, a profession representing individual service within society. Where do you still find such services today in our modern times such as a shoe or dress maker, a handyman that used to come to the village once in a while to help repair things around the house, a shoe shiner at the street corner, a tea boy coming over regularly and serve coffee or tea; also, where are the haberdashery shops where you could grub for a certain button you have lost on your shirt or where you could get some expert advice for a pullover you want to knit.

When I enter such a shop to either have a shoe repaired or a dress mended, a certain feeling of trust develops: there is somebody that can help me… In our modern times we rather throw things away because they are made by the thousands and therefore cheap, all one style, made from plastic, a bit like a uniform, there is no longer an individual style to be seen around.

These were my thoughts when I first talked to our shoemaker in Karaoğlanoğlu, Mr. Kemal Boral. He offered me a chair to wait for my turn as there were clients before me, two men from the Southern part of Cyprus, and I realised that my shoemaker spoke Greek with them. They had come to collect one new pair of handmade shoes, in fine brown leather with snake skin up front he had ordered to fit his 47 sized feet; he loudly expressed the pleasure he felt when he tried them on, and he discussed a second pair made from lacquer leather half-finished he would collect a week later. They told me when asked that they had desperately been looking for a shoemaker around the island and had landed here in this small shop. They were obviously very happy. When they left, Kemal showed me a row of other shoes he had made such as some lovely Clark shoes and he mentioned the price for these …about Sterling 40, which is so reasonable for handmade shoes.

We started talking, Kemal and I, and a friend of his, Ulusal, sitting in the background, was translating when necessary. Kemal Boral was born in 1948 in Kavaklı (Ayyorgi) near Paphos and when he was seven years old, they moved to Episkopi village where they actually lived until he was 27 years old, i.e. when they were forced to leave their home to go north in 1974. His parents were in farming.

“When I had finished school my parents sent me to Nicosia/Küçük Kaymaklı where I learnt the profession of a shoemaker starting with shoe repair; that was in 1960.  I learnt the trade but then, when the troubles started in 1963, I had to leave my master and I returned home to Episkopi.”

Nearby was the British enclave of Akrotiri  founded in 1960 after the island gained its independence and there Kemal Boral and a shoemaker named Bayramoğlu started the business to repair the shoes of the British soldiers and staff.

“Does the name Bayramoğlu ring a bell with you?” Yes, it does, today Bayramoğlu has shoe shops all over the island.  “I stayed with him for ten years, and there I learnt to make Clarks, the shoes the British military staff was wearing.”

The year of 1974 came and the Turkish Cypriots were moved to a camp. “Soon the question arose, who would repair our shoes, and so I started to repair shoes for the camp people, together with a Turkish Cypriot named Reisoğlu, a connection that would perpetuate for 19 years after I had come to Girne six months later.”

Kemal was flown out of Episkopi by plane to Adana in Turkey and from there he took a boat back to Cyprus, he tells me. He had married and had already two children who joined him when he came to Girne; all his family was safe and he started a new life again.

“In Girne, I met Reisoğlu again and we opened a shop for repairing and making shoes, it was opposite the Dome Hotel; and since I was a learnt shoemaker, I was the master  there and now taught others.”  The shop still exists today and I remember that I bought a pair of shoes some years ago.

In 1992 the two shoemakers ended a 19 years old joint venture and Kemal moved to Karaoğlanoğlu where he bought the small house we were now sitting in and opened his own shop. There are two old sewing machines, one is a German Singer machine, old trustworthy tools which should actually be shown in a museum.

“Those were hard times we went through in all those years, fighting for survival”, Kemal continued. “I took up another job with Bayrak Television, first as a driver and then as a cameraman; I had bought a movie camera and was doing mainly football events. I did that for five years, and when I came home in the evening I sat down at my working table to execute orders that had come in, to either repair shoes or make new ones.”

Who will take over his business one day, I ask.

“I actually taught my son the business but he is not interested and went to join the police instead; my granddaughter studied psychology. There is no longer anybody of the young ones interested in such a time consuming job which has so little future when you are honest. Our society is fast living and is not interested in quality wear such as hand-made shoes where your feet feel comfortable; today cheap quality is demanded, modern and to throw away without a bad conscience when they are torn or broken.”

I took the shoes I had asked Kemal Boral to repair and they looked like new and would serve for some more years now, and I thanked him, Kemal, the shoemaker of Karaoğlanoğlu, keeping up the old tradition as one of the few learnt ones. I left him with some sad thoughts and a feeling of loss, knowing that we cannot turn back the clock. However, I wonder, if by an unforeseen event, we end up without the comforts of modern times who will then see to it that our feet are well protected when there are no longer any learnt shoemakers?  

Kemal Boral
Kemal Boral

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