The Carvings of My Path
I look down, and I see my feet.
Ten digits, two appendages, on them I stand, and they carry me through the forest, fields and mountains that form my life.
What usually adorn them…these creations without which I could not live, are something amazing, beautiful, an infinite chameleon in shape and form – shoes.
Just another girl with a shoe obsession, you say. And you would be close to the truth.
Except it’s more than an obsession – it’s an adoration, an appreciation, a celebration. I love shoes for not only what they do for me, which is allowing me to walk in relative comfort of varying degrees from place to place, but for what they hold for me – freedom, adventures, my exploration of the world.
Step by step, one in front of another, they lift me off razor sharp rocks, dirty puddles, sticky mud, and burning concrete while I trek through unknown foliages and scale nameless landscapes. Yet at the very same time of shielding me from unimaginable harm, they are the only lining between me and this very earth that lies beneath. They are the truest witness to my trials and errors, my wits and stumbles, my leaps and bounds, my elations and despairs. While I’m alone, walking down the road, they are my silent companion, the secret witness to the formation of the essence that defines who I am. They are my soldiers in travel, one of the great passions of my life, and for that alone I owe them my utmost affection.
But it doesn’t stop there. They also accompany me in my stiller moments. When I’m people-watching in a cafe, reading on a patio, savoring a pint by the bar, or laughing over a great meal with friends, they are there. Quiet friends. Always faithful and unwavering in their devotion. They bid their time patiently beneath the tables, under the countertops, by the swiveling stools, wedged in corners, tangled up with others, sometimes. There is never a complaint. They just observe and absorb. The truest companions could not be more.
I remember how I came to possess every pair of shoes I have. Each a story of its own making. Each unique. I never buy the same shoes in different colors – it’s like buying the same painting in two different tints…unthinkable. I also never go on shopping trips for a specific shoe. I never find them that way. Something always comes close, but who wants a forced companionship? The initial awkwardness never wears off. The pleasure lies in the surprise of the encounter.
I have one pair of red flats, shiny strawberry red, probably some plastic or manmade material, probably made in China, but that’s beside the point because they are the most comfortable and beautiful flats I’ve ever had, and I will wear them as long as I can. I saw them out of the corner of my eye at Green Hills, a huge multi-floors market of stalls in Manila, after what felt like hours of endless assault on my senses. It was love at first sight.
A pair of my tallest strappy heels stands at four inches, a graceful arch, soft leather, an elegant nude shade. The straps snake around my ankles with silky ease and end in a small, discreet silver buckle. I’ve only worn it once, and I have the photographs to remember it well. They made my legs go on forever. I found them in Hong Kong on my last day during a short and hectic three day stopover, after storing my luggage at the front desk of the overcrowded guesthouse I was staying at post moving out of a double room, before realizing that the owner tried to dupe me by giving away my reserved single room and putting me in a closet (an actual storage closet) with a skylight, before wandering the street trying to find a last minute place to spend the night, under the weight of an oversize backpack and three shoe boxes.
Then there is my most trusted summer dolce vita flat sandals that I bought right here in Toronto on Queen Street West, at a place called the Blue Shoe Box. It was a tepid summer day. I just said goodbye to a group of friends after a particularly enjoyable afternoon stroll along Queen st, dipping in and out of cafes and antique furniture shops and stationary stores. No more than a block on my way home did I see them in the window display: white, two thin straps forming a most perfect T on top of a simple leather sole – I knew I wanted them right there. Images of summer dresses, soft sands and wind-tousled beach hair flashed through my mind. They weren’t on sale and they seemed unaffordable. I hesitated in front of the window. Then a voice called out: “why don’t you try them on?” A man from the doorway smiled. I couldn’t, I said, they are too beautiful and probably out of my price range. “How do you know they are out of your price range?” He said. That is true. There was no price listed. “Besides, you won’t know if either or both are true until you try them on.” So I did. And they were perfect. The man turned out to be the shop owner, handpicked all the designs and imported them. He loved them on me almost as much as I did, and gave me a discount. I took them home, beaming all the way. Since then I’ve strolled through the French Quarter of New Orleans in them, ran through the blindingly white sands of Barbados in them, danced all night in them, laughed until I got the hiccups in them, and watched sunrises and sunsets in them. They’ve been put through quite a lot, the poor things, spills and dirt and all, but they’ve weathered well. The white leather has some creases and speckles, but like ring stains inside a tea mug, they hold the memories of times past, and the imperfections only adds to their perfect appeal.
And after all is said and done…sometimes a pair of beautiful shoes is simply to be loved, for no reason other than reveries of what they may bring and times that have yet to unravel. It’s like a Keats poem, a Monet painting, there’s something so vaguely arresting about it yet undeniably breathtaking…a thing of beauty, its loveliness not restrained by the boundaries of our physical senses, and transcends the commonplace reality of life as we know it.
Most of all…shoes are forgiving. The right pair will carry you through good times and bad, through sickness and health, through changes in weight and the silvering of your temples. They don’t pass judgments on the color of your skin or the affiliation of your religion. They don’t care if you are partisan or simply don’t give a damn. They don’t overwhelm in times of glory. And when the going gets tough, they will still be there, silently bearing the burden of your weight and the heaviness of your thoughts, till the good days come back once again.
Eventually, their beauty will fade and their form may fall prey to the elements of nature, but their spirit will not falter. In fact, they become even more forgiving, the insides so perfectly molded to the arches of your soles…like an old friend’s hug. And they will continue to soldier on, until you decide to change company. Some may discard a worn pair of shoes with thoughtless abandon. I, however, know intimately every crevice of those old chaps, and I know that their beauty, though faded, cannot be destroyed by the temporal erosion of time and space, but rather live on in the reveries of the golden days and dark times past, and is forever etched in the carvings of my path that stretches far beyond me into the horizon.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its lovliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing A flowery band to bind us to the earth, Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkn'd ways Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, Some shape of beauty moves away the pall From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon, Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon For simple sheep; and such are daffodils With the green world they live in; and clear rills That for themselves a cooling covert make 'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake, Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms: And such too is the grandeur of the dooms We have imagined for the mighty dead; An endless fountain of immortal drink, Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink. - John Keats, A Thing of Beauty (Endymion)