Friday, June 17, 2005

If the slipper fits...

We are sensitive to our shoes. I imagine everyone could take their shoes out of the closet and line the different pairs up in order of increasing comfort. I know I could. My line would start at one end with the pair of shoes that I once bought in America when I found that I had forgotten my best brogues and had to stand up presenting all day long at a conference. Those shoes still have dried blood inside the lining. I don't know why I keep them. I'll never wear them again. I wouldn't want anyone else to wear them either. That would be mean.

Surprisingly, the shoes at the other end of the line are not sloppy fabric shoes. Those shoes are only good for the beach. They do not hold up to a day's walking around town. Rather, it would be a strong leather deck shoe, something with a grip on the sole, a reasonably light shoe, a shoe that doesn't get too warm.

I started thinking about this because, yesterday, I got a pair of shoes back from the cobbler that I had asked him to renovate. They were a traditional style of shoe that had lasted no time at all. I used to go for a lap around the block at lunchtime when I lived in Scotland and within no time, the granite chips in the pavement had worn out the leather soles. I put them away and forgot about them. Then, the other day I found them again and I saw there was nothing wrong with them that couldn't be put right, and since shoes are expensive here in Paris, I got the cobbler to fix them.

'Cobbler' is a bit of an old fashioned word. Now the the person who mends shoes has a desk in the supermarket, just near the checkout. Not like the cobbler my father used when I was young who had a pokey little shop lined, like an odour archive, with different pairs of shoes awaiting collection. A bit like the wizard's wand shop in the Harry Potter movies. Twenty years ago, shoes were an item that never wore out. When your feet stopped growing, you got a final pair of shoes, and it was a bit like getting your second set of teeth. If you brushed and polished them every day, they would last for ever. These days cobblers know that the shoes will not keep coming back. They have to supplement their living with other activities, like cutting keys or making car number plates. Even taking in dry cleaning.

The shoes, when they came back, were almost like new. I suddenly felt taller in the firmly stuck on soles. The heels clicked pleasantly. Even the upper had received a quick polish, though not enough to quite remove the patina of neglect I had given them through the years. Even so, when I put them on, they gave me back something I had lost. They went better with my trousers. They were anonymous. They didn't cry out to be looked at. For now they could keep a secret. A very important secret: this man doesn't brush his shoes.

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