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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Moonbeam drawer, Shoes

Shoes to shine

Shoes from Argentina, sitting on chair

Here we are again, pulling open moonbeam drawers late at night, wondering what we will find.

This is an odd one: shoes. Rounded heaps of shoes, all of them shiny. These are all the shoes that we were never allowed to wear because we might scuff them, as well as the shoes we shined with clean old sock-rags and a great deal of pride. Dig a bit deeper and we find the shoes we paid someone else to shine—so bright that we had to hide them from attacks by dangerous dust mites. The shoes that said loudly: "adult".

"Shine" is one of those magic words we learn early. Stars shine, mother's smile shines, Grandfather's bald pate glows, my first new front tooth shines, and if I'm lucky my first fancy shoes start out shiny and stay that way. Mine were a pair of black patent leather ones with a skinny strap, topped off by socks that folded over neatly with lace trim on the cuffs.

photo: FlyingVisit

My legs were so short that it was easy to see my reflection in the toes of those shoes, just a gentle little bend down that way.

That's how I remember them, on the ground. But I was photographed button-eyed, sitting on a sofa with two legs stuck out in front of me, waving those bright black shoes for all the world to see.

Wearing them was like having a personal amusement park with me, one with funny-house mirrors in which my distorted face could be stretched a hundred ways.

One of life's hard lessons, if you are a girl, is learning that maybe you can have it all, but there is a price to pay. You can't wear shiny shoes into the world and keep them bright. And if you don't wear them into the world, no one believes you have shiny shoes. Later I had a pair of t-strap shoes, with an extra bit of shininess, which provided hours of entertainment in church while adult voices droned. I could straighten the t, make it crooked, see how far I could push the vertical bit to one side before my older sister began to slowly, discreetly, pinch me.

Shine, sadly, is hard to find now, at least on people's feet. The world is no dirtier or dustier, and people probably like a good party as much as they used to. So I wonder where all the shine has gone, and why. The one exception seems to be men's dress shoes, which they wear to work. I think these survive because it's one of the few things an employee can really feel he has control over. When the boss is disparaging, rub your toe hard against your pant leg, keep your head down and smile at yourself.

Maybe shine is a nuisance unless you pass every day through Grand Central Station in New York where (I hope) you can still buy a good shine. I moved to Paris a few years ago with not quite enough money in my pocket to feed myself and the first month I found myself cleaning house for a bourgeois French couple whose regular "help" had suddenly disappeared. I dusted the ring of 12 Louis XV gold-leafed chairs that stood like sentries around the rim of a large, slightly frayed and worn antique French carpet. It was a hostile room, with no other furniture. I closed the doors on this formal sitting room and moved down the hall to clean the tiny, dimly lit kitchen where old hens stewed in a pot next to a pile of half-price brussels sprouts.

I was instructed to clean a lineup of shoes that were worn and patched and worn and patched again. Nay, not clean, but shine until they glowed. They, too, seemed hostile until I realized they were fighting a losing battle, trying to maintain a certain patina that did not match the family's fading fortunes.

Without being able to point my toe to the moment, all of our lives grew a little duller one day, for shine went out of fashion and mostly stayed out there. I won't confess to peeking in other people's closets, but I feel confident stating that most people have messy shoe cupboards, with a few old tins with caked shoe polish in a faded plastic bag, and piles of soft shoes that never did shine and never will.

It would take a strong individualist to buy a pair of sparkling new mary janes and wear them. Like many women, I suspect, now and again I give way instead to an impulse to buy totally impractical shoes that let me dream a little (of long legs and the ability to dance all night in high heels), and to remember first loves. These shoes don't embarrass by out-and-out shining, but when I look down at them, from a long way up, there is a subtle glow.


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