They are four-inch-tall, rhinestone-studded confections. And they were probably a mistake.
And yet, I regret nothing.
I found them in a boutique near Piazza Navona, as the rain fell on our last morning in Rome. I saw them in the window, and stopped abruptly. The way romantic leads do in Hollywood movies. I stopped, I stared. The rain fell.
I walked in, never taking my eyes off them. The girls working in the shop spoke to me in English. I answered in Italian. This was all second nature to me: ask me to delve into Italian after a few months of neglect, and my words unravel slowly as I contemplate each one. Tell me to purchase shoes, and the words dribble off my tongue like a native. These phrases I exchange with the shop girls were never learned; they’ve always been with me.
I try them on in a size 37, and ask the price. 115 Euros, which seems like a steal.
“Does that include a sales tax?” I ask, and before the girl can answer, I continue: “Nevermind. I want them, so it doesn’t matter.” (And no, they did not. There’s no such thing in Italy – only VAT. I need to move there.)
They are engineering marvels, and near flawless in their construction. Despite a tottering heel, I am able to glide across a room smoothly. Suddenly, I understand how Italian women navigate cobblestone streets in stilettos. For years, I assumed it was a gene I had failed to inherit; now I know – it was simply a pair I had neglected to buy.
I try to imagine the outfits I will pair them with, the smug response I will give to people who inquire where I got them (because surely, someone will inquire, right?). And yet I feel like they are too much: too expensive, too glitzy, too impractical.
I feel like they were a mistake.
They are not the shoes of a travel writer. Travel writers needs shoes that accommodate orthotics. They needs shoes that will go well with the single pair of khakis and two (two!) denim shirts that they packed. They need flat, practical, designed-for-walking-if-you-can-actually-call-them-“designed” shoes, and will fight for hours on the Rick Steves’ forums as to their merits.
And yet I bought them anyway, unable to leave my mother’s homeland without them. Not only because I had never met their equal in the states, but because they were Italian. I wanted them not just because of their loveliness, but because, weirdly, they made me feel like I fit in amongst people to whom I am normally a foreigner. Like I was somehow connected to all the things I was about to leave behind. I was taking my ancestry with me, gently folded in tissue paper inside a shoe box.
They are not the shoes of a travel writer. In this respect, they were probably a mistake. But they are lovely and fierce and quintessentially Italian. And so I regret nothing.