Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Satin Mules

The story is strangely familiar but not often told: a woman falls in love with a shoe. Not a practical shoe of sturdy brown leather, a loafer or a hiking boot, but a beautiful shoe, its heels rising to an uncomfortable height, its fabric delicate and easily soiled, its color evoking feeling--the red flame of a flamenco dance, the pink of dreamy girls dancing the ballet, the sour yellow of hard candies savored in youth.

My friend, Meg, described by her partner as a "feminist fashion plate," has a passion for beautiful shoes. She plays accordion in a punk polka band, writes original music scores, and has her own theater company. Meg's closet is filled with a fantastic collection of shoes, many of them stiletto heeled in Mexican turquoise, Chinese red, silver sequins, kelly green patent leather, leopard spotted fake fur, to name a few. She has strappy sandals, iridescent tennis shoes, and boots that rise up the length of her thighs. Meg has even written a musical with a tap dance number in which the dancers perform in front of flashing projections of shoes singing "shoe box, shoe box" instead of "shoo bop, shoo bop."

For a long time I didn't understand Meg's shoe fetish. I'd heard of women going crazy for shoes a la Imelda Marcos but I had never, until recently, felt my own passion surge for a shoe. I have always chosen my shoes thoughtfully, buying well-made brands to support my back. In matters of style I've paid attention to current shapes and textures--pointed or square toes, shiny or matte--acquiring perhaps one or two pairs a year to update my wardrobe but keeping my purchases on the sensible, versatile side. My shoes are inevitably black or brown, low-heeled, tailored.

But last week I spotted a pair of red mules--backless high heeled slippers made of richly embroidered satin. Perhaps it was the generous cut of the fabric over the top of the foot or the slight point of the toe, but as I slipped the mules onto my feet, my mind filled with images of exotic, sensuous worlds. I saw rooms with Moorish archways and Persian rugs, their air perfumed by hookahs sending up sweet, delicate puffs of smoke. I saw lush-bellied women in silken harem pants, eyes rimmed with kohl, bodies swathed with scarves, gold bangles jingling softly upon their wrists. My imagination traveled to a glittering affair in a Venetian villa off the Grand Canal, masked partygoers laughing gaily as ladies’ frilly dresses swept across marble floors.

I must have stood long in those shoes, lost in my reverie. It was abruptly shattered by the inquiry of a sales clerk.

"Do you need some help?"

A moment of reflection on the dull status of my social life told me that I'd probably never have occasion to wear the mules, and the practical side of me, which tends to be quite bossy, said a firm "no" to both clerk and shoes.

But later that evening the satin mules crept into my thoughts. They had touched that part of my brain and heart where memories of exquisite and impractical objects I have loved are stored. In that gallery of memories gleams the brushed gold Italian heart that my mother hung on a thin chain around my eight year old neck, making me feel like a princess. Also there reside the many dolls that my father collected for me in his travels around the world, a virtual U.N. that somehow disappeared with my childhood. And there rests the memory of my mother in a sexy, red Chi Pao or traditional Chinese style dress, her slim waist cinched tiny, her lipstick and hair dark and glossy under the lights.

The next day I returned to the store and, without hesitation, purchased the shoes. The satin mules fed my eyes and my imagination. They provided an unmitigated pleasure in a complicated life. And that is how I managed to fall in love with a shoe.