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dalmatian-heels

Dalmatian Spotted Horse Hair, Open Toed Heels

Dalmatian Spotted Horse Hair, Open Toed Heels

Native
July 1997
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Rain was falling from the sky, pounding down onto the streets. I was sitting on the edge of the unmade bed in our hotel room with my friends Nicole, Cornelius and Janice. We had graduated from business school in June and had come down to South America to celebrate. It was morning, and like every morning, we were trying to make our plan for the day. “I want the shoes” I blurted out, “Can we please go back and get the shoes?” Two days earlier we had been out walking in the evening and I had seen them in a store window. I hadn’t stopped thinking about them since. Understanding the importance of shoes in my life, the group agreed that the first activity of the day would be to find the shoes. Cornelius, in his German accent insisted, “I remember where the store is, we will get you your shoes.” So we all layered up and grabbed our coats. I wore my favorite orange dress and royal blue Adidas Gazelles with a wind breaker thrown on top. Off we went.

“This way, this way” Cornelius insisted. Down one road, up another, darting from one awning to the next, trying to stay as dry as we could in the downpour. It was hopeless. Forty minutes into our adventure Nicole and I broke down and bought umbrellas for three dollars. We couldn’t get any wetter, but were comforted having umbrellas in our hands.

It felt as though we had walked all the way to Uruguay. One by one everyone took turns with his or her own opinion of where the store was. “It’s down this street.” “It’s was over by the church.” “Wasn’t it near the farmers’ market?” “I am sure it was across from the movie theater!” We all seemed to have an opinion, a theory, a glint of memory of where the shoes were hiding.

After two and a half hours of searching we weren’t any closer. I was on the verge of tears. Frustration levels had peaked but I really had to have the shoes. The rain was not letting up. The three hour mark had come and gone. We had stopped for a Coke, stopped for a treat, but at this point, nobody was ready to give up. There was still one more part of town to search. Down a street that none of us really remembered walking down before – there they were, perched in the window. The Dalmatian Spotted horse hair, open toed heels with black suede trim and a pencil thin ankle strap. They were even more fantastic than I had remembered. Not quite Carmen Miranda, but almost. In a sign of relief we one by one plodded into the store and sat our wet selves on a bench. I ran up to the first store associate I could find and pointed to the shoes in the window. As I was trying them on, my cold pruned feet shriveled into the spotted shoes, my friends began to look around the store. They picked up every spotted hairy item they could. They found a matching belt, a hair clip and a wallet. As I paraded around the store in the shoes wondering, “Do I really need a pair of Dalmatian shoes?” Cornelius blurted, “Don’t even question it – you are buying those shoes.” I have never been a huge fan of open toe shoes because I never liked people to see my toes. “Maybe I should think about it. We can come back tomorrow can’t we?” I asked. Their faces dropped, each and everyone of them. “You are buying those shoes!” Nicole insisted. “Yes, of course I am.” As they handed me the belt and other accessories, Janice chimed in, “You are getting these too!” I’ve never worn the belt – but I still do love the shoes. I think Carmen Miranda would like them too.

beaded-blue-flip-flops

Beaded Blue Thongs

Beaded Blue Thongs

Ballina
July 1997
Forteleza, Brazil

It was one of those perfect nights when the moon is nearly full. It’s warm enough that you don’t even consider the option of wearing a sweater outside and there are more stars in the sky than you thought possible. We had just finished dinner and felt a long walk was necessary to recoup from too much pasta and too much wine. Far away down the beach I could see some lights down by the sea. My fervent curiosity took over and I told the others that I wanted to find out what it was. Nobody petitioned hard enough to change the plans so off we went. Though the beach wasn’t the most magical and picturesque that I had ever seen, it was still a spectacular evening. There were couples embracing and giggling in the ocean, children kicking around soccer balls, and lots of folks drinking a mysterious drink out of large coconuts (it turned out to be coconut milk).

As we got closer to the light we began to hear a faint sound of music which only drew us closer. When we reached the light we found ourselves at an open air bazaar. Hand embroidered dresses, table linens and miscellaneous ocean motif souvenirs filled that stands. We all kind of went our separate ways and began to explore. I bought a pale green dress with delicate lace trim for my little niece and a simple carved bone necklace for my mom. A few rows down I found the flip flops. Wonderful colors with colorful plastic beads hand stitched to the straps in the shape of small daisies. I was too tired to bargain so I bought them for the asking price. It still seemed like a good deal compared to what I would have to pay in the U.S. for them. Ready to break them in, I put my old plain black thongs into my bag and slid my feet into the new ones. I flipped and flopped my way back to the hotel along the ocean shore. It was a perfect end to another breathtaking night in Brazil.

black-suede-boots

Black Suede Boots

Black Suede Boots

Unknown Designer
August 1997
Montevideo, Uruguay

Everywhere you looked, down every street, in every shop window, there they were – black suede boots. I really didn’t know a lot about Uruguay before the trip, but I soon realized that they must be the biggest consumer of black suede in the world. It was truly amazing. Within moments, Nicole and I knew what our souvenir from Uruguay was going to be.

The whole decision process was much more overwhelming than we ever could have imagined. With so many variations on the same theme, where were we to begin? Did we want rounded toes, square toes, rounded square toes, pointed toes, split toes…. With too many options we headed for a cocktail to get us started. Knowing that Cornelius was going to have a long night ahead of him, we obliged to stop at a casino first and let him have his little thrill. Us girls hastily ordered a round of grasshoppers and Cornelius was on his way to the tables. When our drinks were empty he was nowhere to be found, so we found ourselves with nothing to do but order another round. We were a sip away from polishing those off when Cornelius returned with a smirk across his face. “I won!” he exclaimed and we toasted to his victory. With Cornelius in a good mood we knew he just might be able to endure the shopping task at hand.

We started with the very first store we saw. We looked over every pair and each chose 3 or 4 pairs to try on. Nothing really fit right so we said thank you and moved on to the next store. Again, Nicole and I both picked up a few pairs to try on and suddenly realized that none of them really fit over our calves. “Are we really that fat?” we began to wonder. The problem with your legs is that you can’t suck them in like you can your belly. We tried zipping the boots with our toes pointed, with our heels flexed, you name it – but nothing really seemed to work. “How do women in Uruguay have such skinny calves?” Needless to say this task turned out to be much more grueling that we imagined, but we were insistent that we would not leave the country without a pair.

About 7 or 8 stores later, we found what we were looking for. These boots had some magically hidden elastic that enabled us to zip them closed, albeit with some gritting of the teeth and strained tugging. At this point, Cornelius and Janice feigned interest when we asked their opinions. They were on our legs zipped all the way up – that was enough. Absolutely thrilled with our purchase, we headed back to the hotel for the night.

The next day Cornelius had a surprise for us. With the money he had won at the casino he had bought us tickets to the ballet. All of us girls were thrilled for a fancy night out. More than anything, Nicole and I were excited to have a reason to wear our new boots. We zipped them up (all the way), put on our travel best and headed out for the performance. By the second act I had unzipped mine a few inches and by intermission, a few more. Cornelius had fallen asleep and when we woke him, he decided he would just go back to the hotel. By the end of the performance, I had taken off the boots completely. All circulation had been cut off to my toes and I was miserable. On the way home, I carried them in my hands, and walked back barefoot. How do the women in Uruguay do it?

brown-patchwork-heels

Brown Patchwork Closed Toe Heels with Ankle Straps

Brown Patchwork Closed Toe Heels with Ankle Straps

Apie
August 1997
Buenos Aires, Argentina

I would be lying if I told you that the fact that Madonna was starring in the movie Evita did not factor into my decision to go to Argentina. I have always loved Madonna and if she felt passionate about Eva Peron, I wanted to see Argentina for myself. I wanted to learn as much as I could about this woman too.

After our excursions to the Amazon jungle, we headed south to Paraguay and Uruguay for a few days. Our last stop was Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires we were immediately taken back by how European the city was. It was a spectacular night. The buildings were all lit up and the architecture and history sparkled. It felt so majestic. It was too late to really do anything, and we were all a little tired, but we decided to go out for a walk anyhow.

We had only been out of our hotel a few minutes when I spotted this enormous poster of Evita stuck to a wall. I knew I had to have it. I began to run across the street as my friends yelled to me to come back. “What are you thinking?” “You might get arrested!” I made it across the six lane thoroughfare and found myself in front of the poster. It was even bigger than I thought. I started at one corner and began to carefully peel it off. Miraculously, it peeled off rather easily. In less than a minute I had it all with only a few pieces left behind. There I stood with a six foot by four foot poster of Eva Peron. What in the hell was I going to do with it now? I rolled it up as best I could and asked Cornelius to tuck it under his jacket so that the police wouldn’t see it. He just shook his head and smiled.

We devoted the entire next day to Eva Peron. We went to her grave site, and we went to see the balcony where she (and Madonna) had raised their arms and addressed the people. We then went to the exhibit that my twenty-four square foot poster was advertising. It was a wonderful display of her clothes, shoes and other possessions and pieces from history. I of course focused on the shoes. They were wonderful, all of them. Simple, but very stylish. I wanted a pair of my very own.

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking balcony photos. Everywhere we spotted a perfect “Evita” balcony, we would find a way to get me on to the balcony. I would raise my arms and begin to sing “Don’t cry for me Argentina…..” and Nicole would snap a picture. We could build quite a collage with all of these pictures.

On our last day in Argentina we decided to shop. I was still in search of my Eva Peron shoes and we were all a little full from eating so much meat that we figured a walk would be good for us. We went into so many stores, but I really didn’t see anything that I had to have. Nicole and Janice both found lots of clothes but nothing really seemed to interest me. As they were trying on pants at one store, Cornelius and I decided to take a walk around the block. I dragged him into a few more boutiques but didn’t see much of anything. We went down one more street before heading back to meet the girls and we found them, my Evita shoes, right there in the window. They were brown patchwork leather with a three inch heel. They would be perfect for ruling a country and for dancing like Madonna. Just what I was looking for. Now if I could just find the perfect little ensemble and fur stole to match

black-stilettos-pink-flowers

Black Stilettos with Red & Pink Suede Flowers

Black Stilettos with Red & Pink Suede Flowers

Pool Side
March 2001
Osaka, Japan

Winding amongst the labyrinth of women’s dress shops, tea houses and plates of plastic sushi, there I was in the underground train system in Osaka. With my five year old niece, Daisy, in one hand and three year old nephew, Mac, in the other, my brother, sister-in-law and I rushed to get to our next train. My brother, Derby, was working in Osaka for Universal Studios and we had come to visit him and to be there for the opening extravaganza. As we darted off of one escalator and ran around the corner, I peered to my left and there it was, a shoe store. My Adidas could go no further. We had only been in Japan for a day and this was the first shoe store I had seen. I begged, “Please please can I go in, it will just be a minute I swear!” Paula wanted to look too, so my brother couldn’t say no. My niece rolled her eyes and as a very eloquent kindergartner she moaned, “Oh Auntie Alisa, not another pair of shoes.” “Dear, we are just looking,” I reassured her. I dropped the kids’ hands and went in.

Stilettos everywhere! There was this aura of sparkling glass and mirrors and neon lights and strappy sandals on every shelf. I picked up two or three pairs as my eyes continued to light up, my face was beaming. Certainly I would never be able to walk in a pair of these, but all of the girls in Japan were wearing them. Stilettos, fishnet stockings, tight jeans with 5 inch cuffs, a little jacket or sweater, a shaggy hair cut with orange highlights and the obligatory Louis Vuitton handbag – that was the hipster Japanese uniform of choice. I wanted to be just like them. I found a pair with red and pink suede flower buds affixed to the toe strap. “A work of art” I thought, I must have them. Not speaking a word of Japanese I held the shoe up to the girls who worked in the store and nodded my head eagerly. My brother came in to help translate the size for me. The girls giggled and headed to the back room to find them. Unfortunately Japanese women have much smaller feet than women in the US so an 8 ½ is typically the largest size a store carries. Luckily I am an 8 ½.

I tore off my stinky socks and awkwardly slid my unmanicured toes into the shoe and buckled the dainty ankle strap. “Good God” I thought, “How I am supposed to stand up?” With four inch blades under each heel I gently lifted myself up to a standing position. I can do this. I precariously took three maybe four steps and said, “I’ll take them.” Anxious to get them off of my feet, I sat right back down and handed the girl my credit card. Now all I needed were the fishnets.

vietnam-wooden-sandal

Suede Sun Faced Flip Flops with Wooden Sole

Suede Sun Faced Flip Flops with Wooden Soles

Handcrafted
April, 2002
Hanoi, Vietnam

“You’re staying where?!” my mother exclaimed when I handed her the itinerary for my trip to Thailand and Vietnam. “The Hanoi Hilton,” I told her matter of factly, not thinking anything of it. “We can’t get a room at the Sofitel Metropole all five nights so we are staying at the Hanoi Hilton for two.” My mother shook her head and bemoaned, “You are too young. You weren’t even born yet when the war was going on.” I guess I wasn’t. To me it was just a hotel.

The city of Hanoi sits around a lovely lake. The lake is lined with trees and benches. Kids eat ice cream. Power walkers parade around counter clockwise. Young boys eagerly sell post card and travel books to annoyed tourists. At night the lake is even more beautiful with the moon light reflecting on the water and the lights twinkling in the tree branches. I just loved it.

While researching things to see and do in Vietnam, I read that in the Old Quarter of Hanoi every street sells something different. One street is all motorbikes. One all toys. One all clothes. One flowers. One fruit. And one entire street is devoted to nothing other than shoes. How could I pass that up? After I read that, I knew we were going to Hanoi.

Needless to say, on day one, after finishing our continental breakfast at the Hanoi Hilton, we set out to find the shoe street. Luckily it was just a few blocks from the lake. Shoes everywhere! I couldn’t believe it. I was so giddy and confused – not sure if I should be taking pictures or shopping. Of course every shop owner was beckoning me to peruse his wares. The shops in Hanoi spill out onto the sidewalks so as you gaze down the street you see nothing but shoes pouring out of every storefront. It was sheer bliss.

On one corner I found a wonderful assortment of wooden sandals. I slipped on a few pairs but none of them seemed to be my size. There were three girls sitting on miniature plastic chairs making the shoes right there on the sidewalk. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we both spoke the language of shoes. I held up the soles that I liked and the sun faced t-strap. She sent one of the younger girls off and minutes later the young girl came back with wooden soles in my size. She had me place my foot on the wood and then she made marks where the sandal should hit in between my big and second toes. In a whirlwind she had the drill and hammer out. She constructed the shoe before my eyes while I snapped pictures of the whole process. I would try them on and she would make adjustments. I’d slip them on again and she’d make more adjustments. The last step was to add rubber to the soles. She took a piece of rubber and hammered it into the sole of the shoe and then snipped away the edges with a pair of rusty scissors. Within 10 minutes I had my very own pair of custom made shoes. Not quite Sigerson Morrisons or Jane Browns, but they were fabulous.

A few days later we were off to Central Vietnam. Our hotel in Hue was magical. It was a wonderful French Colonial building with a delightful garden full of songbirds, lush trees and flowers everywhere. Our room was the size of my apartment. I saw that there was a spa so I figured I should indulge. I thought a facial or a salt scrub would be a pleasant treat since I was feeling a little grimy from the unbearable heat. I was a little worried when I read the list of items on the “spa menu.” They included: eye lid wash, ear pick, facial massage…” Hmmmm. What to do? I decided on the facial massage and mask. I slipped on my new sun faced wooden flip flops and headed down to the spa.

Upon arrival I was led into a small bright room. I climbed up into my appointed chair and leaned back. This sweet young woman came over, said hello, and immediately began to slap my face. Yes, for twenty minutes she slapped me. A little rubbing around the nose and then, whack! I was certain that I would wake up bruised the next morning. Then she thumped on my head, pulled at my hair and pinched my ears. Yikes, I was paying for this? (Luckily only $3) I couldn’t wait for the mask to start. It didn’t really hurt but it was just uncomfortable and I really just wanted to laugh and I wanted someone to see what she was doing to me. There was even more pounding followed by more slapping. Finally the cheap fruit smelling peel off mask was applied to my tired and tortured face and eventually peeled away. Without a moment’s hesitation, I popped out of my chair and flip flopped back to the room as fast as I could. No more spa going for me.

black-velvet-flip-flop

Thatched Flip Flops with Black Velvet Trim

Thatched Flip Flops with Black Velvet Trim

Unknown Designer
May, 2002
Patong Beach, Phucket, Thailand

“Remember to tell that boyfriend of yours that the most beautiful women in Thailand are men!” — Gene

I was utterly overwhelmed by the carnival of “hostesses” and drunken boys and Thai vendors hawking their wares. The merchants blurted out, “Madame, take a look – Madame, over here!” in my direction. I gripped Steve’s hand as he led me through a crowd of strangers. The sidewalks were overflowing with fake Rolexes and sculptures of elephants, buddhas and naked ladies. The smell of raw seafood filled the air and blasting sounds of Aerosmith and Bush permeated the streets. Walking down the main street in Patong Beach around 11:30 pm on a Monday night was a carnival unlike any other I had ever seen.

In front of every bar was a line of Thai women prowling and scoping the passers by, waiting for red faced sailors to capture under their wings. The boys were easy prey. The higher the heels, the more I questioned the sex of the “hostess”. In such a drunken haze I wonder if any of the young officers would be able to tell the difference. Probably not until it was too late. Perhaps at that point, it wouldn’t matter.

We had arrived in Phuket on the previous day and had spent all of our time at the fabulous Chedi resort. With a virtually private beach, we simply bathed in the sun, frolicked in the warm, clear ocean, and dined at the scrumptious pool side restaurant. It was peaceful and serene. We had our own bungalow just steps form the sand. Steve enjoyed his Cohibas as we spent the evenings strolling down the moon lit beach. Blissful and so romantic. We hadn’t a clue of the mayhem and revelry that was going on just a few miles down the shore.

After an hour in Patong Beach I knew I needed an escape. Certainly a little shopping would provide a break from the go-go dancers. Amidst all of the faux Fendi bags and postcards, there had to be some shoes. The supply was limited, mostly fake Nikes and cheap plastic sandals. I certainly didn’t need a pair of those. What was I going to do? I was on a mission. I couldn’t leave the island without a new pair of shoes.

After spotting a vendor of interest, Steve took my hand and led me down a small alley. Steve had become so enraptured with the whole bargaining progress that shopping had become more about pride than anything else for him. He didn’t want to be ripped off, like the other gullible tourists. As he bargained for a silly statue, I roamed the other stands for anything of interest to take home.

All of a sudden, I found them. Rattan flip flops with black velvet trim. The woven straw reminded me of our beach front “hut.” Miraculously they even had a pair in my size, and they were only a few dollars. I quickly handed over a few thousand dong and rushed over to Steve to show him my stellar find. “Look honey, shoes that will remind me of our bungalow at the The Chedi” I enthusiastically beamed as I held out my latest find. “I hope you didn’t pay more that a dollar for those,” he quipped.

With our purchases packed away in my tote we headed down the street one last time. The hostesses were dancing on the tables now. The faces of the young sailors and older overweight bald men seemed to become even redder than the last time we passed. Too much sun, too many shots, too much sin. And too much noise and revelry for a girl like me. With my new sandals in tow, we climbed back into our quite air conditioned car for our short trip back to bliss. I just hope the rest of those folks woke up as happy as I did the next morning. Somehow I doubt it.


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