From fetish to flip-flops

This is a sad story. Very sad. It’s about my shoes. Make sure you have tissues.

It is said that Imelda Marcos , wife of the deceased Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, owns more than 3000 pairs of shoes. That’s a number with 4 digits. I am not even coming close to that, mine is a 2-digit number, but high enough not to mention the exact amount. That said, my collection is stagnating, against my will.

My extravaganza is not even half as extreme as Imelda’s. But, I like beautiful things too. In nature, words, art and clothes, but also shoes. I used to buy them a lot. As a matter of fact, I used to travel to Barcelona regularly, because that city has an amazing shoe offer. Spanish quality, different styles and affordable prices. But there were other cities where I bought shoes: the orange crocodile leather shoes were from Berlin, in Porto I bought cowboy boots, in Hong Kong I got myself a pair of brown mocassins with a blue tip and a pair of purple high heeled boots in Ghent. Dries Van Noten, Chie Mihara, MoMa. Just to name a few.

Shoes are more than things to cover your feet. They play a role in what kind of person you are that day or what kind of impression you wish to leave. I remember, quite a few years ago, I was teaching a series of language classes to Polish truck drivers. They were a rough bunch and not easy to ‘tame’. I strategically chose to wear the high heeled purple boots, just to scare them off a bit. To make myself look indestructible. Not sure if I ever did, but the truck drivers treated me with respect. Teaching in one of the financial corporations in Brussels implied wearing ‘a little black dress’ and stylish small black boots, no heel, but with red laces. Yes, red.

I can go on for a while, about my peculiar shoe choices for particular situations, but I will not. Because sadly those times are over. 4 years ago I moved to the tropics and that was the beginning of the end of my shoe fetish.

I was optimistic and I took some of my favourite shoes to Thailand, but after a few months, they were wasting away. Mold, humidity and extreme heat killed the leather, the soles. It killed most of my shoes.

The first few months, I was looking around in anguish. The tropical shoe uniform seemed to be Crocs (occasionally spotted with socks) or plastic ballerina shoes. I was mortified. There I was, with my fetish, on a continent where everyone was wearing plastic shoes. And flip-flops on every occasion!

My parents didn’t allow me to wear flip-flops when I was a kid. It would deform my feet because of the lack of support, they said. That’s probably where my repulsion for flip-flops comes from. It’s like saying no to vegetables when you’re living at a vegetable farm and you’re eating porridge every day. It does the trick, keeps you going, but goodness me, are you treating yourself badly or what?

I hate flip-flops. I hated flip-flops. I got myself a pair after one year in Thailand (I resisted that long) and started wearing them every day. Every damn day! On flip-flops! What a degradation. And worst of all, I started liking them.

About half a year ago I moved to East-Africa and things worsened. I didn’t bother bringing too many shoes and the ones I brought are dust, mud and dirt-proof. It’s not like I am going about in my gum boots (not yet, but it will be the case when the rainy season starts), I still have a couple of high heel pairs, one of which is pink. Just for the sake of nostalgia. But I am flip-flopping around. Every goddamn day.

Moreover, because of the dust, my feet are constantly looking filthy. Even after brushing them in the shower, the dust is stuck in the pores. Forever. I still paint my toenails, but no longer because I want them to look colourful, but to cover the black dust that resides permanently under my toenails.

I became a flip-flop woman and I am not proud of it.

I hope that one day, I can get back to my old me, proudly being a shoe-addict. When visiting Belgium, I open all the shoe boxes and I look at my shoe collection with feelings of love and pain. I silently shed a tear.