That Italian Shoe Thing

My daughter has a shoe fetish, sympathizing whole-heartedly with Carrie Bradshaw‘s need for Manolo Blahniks. Ross herself owns about six pairs of sports shoes – not to run in, but because they’re fashionable (who would actually jog in Pradas?). She also owns various stylish flats, and of course riding boots. She still fondly remembers shoes she owned when she was small, such as the pink and white sneakers with cat faces and, more recently, the pink Converse All-Stars with Spongebob Squarepants laces. At least the pearly violet Fornarinas with the clunky heels didn’t last too long; she outgrew them and gave them away to a friend’s daughter, who stands in awe of Ross’ fashion sense.

I undoubtedly owned some shoes as a child, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Whenever possible, I went barefoot, even on the blistering-hot sidewalks in Bangkok. Yes, they were literally blistering hot, at least for novices. When Julianne moved into the big house up the soi (lane) from us, I offered to show her the neighborhood, including the pool next door that we were entitled to use. “Should I put my shoes on?” she asked (in Thailand, no one wears shoes in the house). “Oh, no, it’s only around the corner.” By the time we got there, the soles of her feet were covered in blisters. I guess mine were too callused to feel the heat.

I also went barefoot at my aunt’s place out in the country in Texas, where the hazards were bull nettles and cowflops. If you had to step in something, cowflops were preferable to bull nettles.

Anyway, growing up in the tropics, I didn’t need much shoeing, and to this day am most comfortable in sandals, or no shoes at all. But, having moved to colder climates, I had to come to terms with closed shoes much of the year.

This wasn’t a huge problem in high school and college, where I could usually get away with sneakers (as we used to call sports shoes). Sneakers were even cool. I remember how impressed we all were with the first running shoes we ever saw (Adidas) in Delhi, around 1979.

But now I live in Italy, where an adult wearing sports shoes outside of an actual sporting event (aside from the odd – very odd – jogger) is immediately marked as an American tourist.

I ignored this for years in Milan, didn’t much care what people thought. My sole concession was to buy a pair of leather shoes for the winter – Timberland hiking boots, but at least they’re black, and a bit more elegant than the classic clumpy boot. I love those boots, and was looking forward to getting back into them this winter.

However, I’ve found that, while hiking boots still have their place around the stables, they aren’t good enough for downtown Lecco. This is a small town where everyone knows, or at least notes, everyone else, and I don’t want to disgrace my family. Well, unless it’s raining.

Which brings me, kicking and screaming, into the world of fashion. It’s hard in Italy to buy the simple “classic” shoe styles that I like and find comfortable; all you’ll see in the shops are this season’s trends. For the last few years, the trend has been extremely pointy. In fashion, what goes around comes around – again and again and again. At school, rooting around backstage in the costume trunks, we once found a pair of very old, very pointy shoes. We took turns clomping around in them and had a good laugh. “Cockroach stompers!” – so pointy that you could easily reach into a corner to stomp a cockroach. That’s what’s in the shop windows in Italy (and on my daughter’s feet) these days.

Fortunately, I had bought a couple of pairs of semi-respectable shoes a few years ago, when square toes were in fashion. I don’t like square toes much more than pointy ones, but at least they don’t pinch my toes together and make my feet look even longer than they already are.

I don’t wear high heels, either. I love the look, but lack the balance. My favorite shoes, and the most comfortable heels I own, are cowboy boots, which Sue and I bought after an epic six-hour search all over Dallas (Sue is the only person with whom I could have survived and actually enjoyed this). They’re dancing boots, mid-calf height, black, with fringe. They’re some comfortable that I used to travel in them, though they’re very noisy on hard flooring – people would turn around in airports to stare.

I will say for Italian shoes that they’re very well-made and comfortable. Other shoes you have to “break in,” which really means that they’re breaking you in – you first develop blisters, and then calluses, where they rub. With Italian shoes, I simply put them on and start walking, and have never gotten a blister.

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