There is no rush in San Miguel de Allende. In fact, you couldn’t rush if you wanted to, since much of the city is paved in cobblestones, and they’re as fierce as they are picturesque – true stones, river rocks polished bright by time and tire treads. (Mountain bikers are few and courageous here; the spaces between the stones seize fat tires and the hills are precipitous.) The cobblestones are unofficial traffic cops enforcing a leisurely pace upon drivers, rendering stop signs and traffic lights unnecessary (there aren’t any in the centre city, part of the UNESCO Heritage rules). There’s always time to make a left turn even when oncoming traffic is dense; innate courtesy and the rippling cobblestones allow ample time for eye contact; the turn is negotiated; no one fears for his life. The civilized flow is interrupted only on weekends, of course, when visitors from Mexico City drive in, wreaking havoc and snapping you back to the wary attentiveness of big-city pedestrian life. But then the weekend ends, the “chilangos” go home again, and things roll back to normal.
The relationship between women and the cobblestones of San Miguel is fraught; many show up with footwear better suited to the beach than to 6,000 feet of altitude. The cobblestones lay in wait charmingly, silently, the evening light shining on them, for the woman emboldened by a couple of drinks to begin weaving her way home in inappropriate shoes and realizing, perhaps too late, that footwear here is a matter – if not of life and death, at least of twisted ankle and bruised pride.
Some women, the wiser for wear, bring shoes along in a bag to a destination. But this solution is uncomfortable for northerners, since it echoes the ritual of the place they recently escaped, where one slogs to dinner in mukluks and pulls something dainty from a sack once one has arrived. Many more entrust their balance and their fashion sanity to the San Miguel shoe, legendary footwear known in some quarters as the “combat cocktail sandal”, and surely the only brand of shoe to be named for the city that spawned them.
The San Miguel shoe is a shoemaker’s solution for a wife who refused to cave to the sensible homeliness of sneakers, adequate as footwear, but a dismal failure of imagination. Santiago Gallardo Muñiz, a San Miguel native and shoemaker in Leon, fashioned a virtually bulletproof PVC outer sole in a fetchingly feminine shape, added a foam-padded insole and a suede footbed, and bound the result with elastic fabric that comes in everything from basic black to bouncy stripes. Together, the materials steady the ankle, stabilize the foot, and make you as ready for a rooftop cocktail party as you are for a trek out to Colonia San Antonia. Martha, wife of Sr. Muñiz, now presides over the empire that the shoe has spawned. Outside the shop, the many, many women in their San Miguel shoes stride across the city in stylish confidence, the cars slow respectfully at their coming, and the cobblestones bow before them.
story © Dianna Carr image © Francis Tremblay