(Uncool) Shoe Stories

As you all know, I have a passion for shoes. ALL kinds of shoes (okay, minus sneakers and boring flats). Got quite a decent collection. However, not a collection in the sense that I place them on crystal shelves, dust and worship them. I wear every single pair as much as possible. I’m a very practical collector – if you can’t use it, lose it.

But bloopers, gaffes and uncool stories I got plenty.

Still remember my first pair with a bit of a heel, like two inches.

Portici, Italy, I was about thirteen years old, relentlessly begging my parents to allow me to wear heels, since ALL of my friends already did (some since they were ten). Not good for your posture, your feet are still forming, etc, etc. Valid reasons, I know now as a parent, but totally insane when you want to look like a sophisticated, sexy woman when you are barely a teen.

Finally they succumbed, purchasing for me a pair of beige sandals with a strap and that much coveted heel, though a block heel that barely raised me to grown-up height.   Good enough for me, anyway, felt like a million dollars. Till I bumped into my cousin, who was a whole year younger than me, and was showing off a higher heel (probably a three) and much prettier sandals, white strappies with colorful flower appliqués, if I remember right.

Get it? She was a year younger than me (so, twelve) and her heels were higher than mine.   Yeah, I was bummed.

But still, I adored my new summer sandals. I kept a sharp eye on the heel, and as soon as they looked slightly worn, I ran to the neighborhood shoemaker and begged him to fix them ASAP and, please, can you make them a little higher? I probably hit his shop six times that summer!

As the years passed, my heels became higher, thick and thin, summer and winter shoes. Short skirts, serious heels, negotiating the cobble-stone streets of my town, the deep, sudden holes, and the omnipresent dog droppings (no curb your dog in those days, and many strays around). Walking down Via Diaz, one of the main roads in town, sharply downhill in some spots, coming back from school, my hefty books tied together with a cinghia (book strap), feeling pretty and sexy, my long hair enjoying the gentle sea breeze. Approaching the usual group of boys lounging on the muretto  (low wall), before the newsstand where I bought my Nancy Drew mysteries once a month. You know, the usual Italian stuff, boys whistling, calling out- bella, che gambe, fermati, dammi un bacio! Ignoring them of course, as I was taught, nose in the air, proud and superior, oblivious to all the racket.

Till I twist my ankle.   Sharp pain, foot at an odd angle, shoe heel broken. Burning red with embarrassment, I lean over to pick up the detached heel, then limp away slowly, nose still up in the air, but tears of humiliation demanding to escape.

Yeah, not cool at all.

Fast forward some years.   My first visit to the US!  Staying in the NYC suburbs, at a far-removed relative’s house.   Super-excited to take the train to the city, all sorts of emotions bubbling in my heart, so much to see and experience!

In heels of course.   Steep black leather mules, quite comfortable (Yes, ladies who doubt, you can be comfortable in heels), running down the stairs to get breakfast. Or rather, sliding down the stairs, mostly on my bottom, as I slip on the thick carpeting I was not used to.  Screams of alarm from the relatives, sure they would have to rush this newly arrived Italian young cousin to the hospital, with something broken somewhere.  Hey, nothing broke!  The resilience of youth perhaps? But that flight down the stairs is not something that I will easily forget. Terrifying!

A bit clumsy. Yes, I admit it, I was then, and sometimes still today. Though I’m much more aware of my steps these days, since that famous resilience is long gone, and I cherish a good sturdy hand rail.

Fast forward once again.   About to get married.  Living in the US, staying with a relative. A patient young woman who suddenly found herself in charge of organizing my wedding.  We toured the malls, running in and out of stores, shopping for winter clothes, since I had left in Italy most of my wardrobe, for travel reasons.   A hip shop (don’t remember where), music blasting, fabulous outfits on the mannequins. A second floor. Up the sleek spiral staircase we go, I bursting with excitement – look at that dress, oh the leather coat, wow that red skirt!  Touching, coveting, pricing with fingers crossed (didn’t have a credit card then).  Back downstairs.  Yep, on my derrière.  Skidding down the spiral with hardly any grace, another heel bouncing off ahead of me, to meet me at the bottom.  My cousin nowhere to be seen.  Actually, hiding behind clothes racks, mortified.   You ok? Let’s get out of here please, ushering me out, searching for the broken heel, You must get some sensible shoes…

Well, I didn’t get sensible, but a pair of well-built wedges, with no possibility of breaking anything.

It has been quite a while since I’ve plummeted down staircases (thank you God, not something I would recover from easily these days), but my days spent with teeth clenched from shoes that are a little too tight, too steep, slightly wobbly (and a slew of Band-Aids) continue.

Oh yes, so worth it, people.

Noi che ballavamo i lenti…

8 maggio 2017

…abbiamo intensamente vissuto l’ebbrezza e le vertigini dell’amore.

Noi che avevamo il muretto, il tennis club (o dietro le quinte del teatro parrocchiale), invece dei social, e potevamo sfiorare amici e innamorati, sorridere alla luce dei loro occhi che c’incendiava l’anima.

Le feste in casa, le luci attenuate, la musica che ci accarezzava, ma sempre attenti alla porta per qualche genitore sospettoso.

I lenti, amici, i lenti. Che non esistono più.

Vogliono sfrenarsi col rap e l’hip hop, ‘sti ragazzi, imitando scimmie e robot, concentrati su passi e saltelli, distanti l’un dall’altra, chiasso stonato, sessualità cruda e sfacciata, ma vuota, insipida.

Certo che avevamo i nostri balli veloci e divertenti, noi, ma si alternavano a quelli per cui si andava alle feste o ai circoletti.

Non vedevamo l’ora, noi ragazze innamorate (anche se solo dell’amore), che il disc-jockey du jour mettesse su una ballata dolce, strascicata, innocentemente passionale, e i ragazzi ci guardavano in un modo diverso, timido ma intenso, e sentivamo il calore tenero delle loro mani un po’ tremanti sulla vita. Le scintille si confondevano con le parole e con le voci intime di artisti che neanche immaginavano quante storie stavano creando.

Uno spazio piccolo e affollato, ma noi due eravamo gli unici. Il nostro universo era solo la musica, la penombra artificiale e la pelle che sussultava tra gioia e abbandono. E non capivamo neanche che stava succedendo, tanto ingenui eravamo.

Sbocciavano così, quasi per caso, le storie, i sogni, le speranze del forever che sembrava tanto possibile, allora, ma che, naturalmente, forever non era.   Perché così è la vita.

I lenti.

Quando le canzoni finivano troppo presto, e noi non volevamo lasciarlo andare. Le frasi sussurrate all’orecchio, annuivi anche se non sentivi, ma contava solo il suo fiato sulla fronte e i corpi sciolti e fluidi sulla pista, passi semplici, quasi inesistenti.

Quel benedetto batticuore.

Come si balla un lento, ti chiedono, dove lo impari?

Si sente, il lento, ti trasportano la musica, il desiderio riservato e la forma più pura della felicità.

Bello questo brano di Concato. Calmo, delicato.

E non capisci perché piangi.

Balliamo un lento?

The River Knows

Sacrifice is overrated.

Like, you did all of this and then you get a sharp slap on the face. Who cares, might be the response. So what, your choice. Nobody asked you.

No, nobody asked you.

Does it come natural to cancel yourself and elevate others, for the sake of love in all its manifestations? Probably not.

But women (at least mothers) instantly annihilate themselves in order to smooth the path for those in their heart, accepting, even welcoming, the present status as the doormat.

You cease to exist.   No desire, wish, passion, dream, lands in your mind and prepares to develop wings. They just dissolve – perhaps excruciatingly slowly – till the haze of their ephemeral passing becomes only a memory you instantly reject.

Beat me, kick me, enslave me, and I shall be silent.

Your existence is to be fulfilled by serving.

Your tears (the few that remain) need to be concealed, silently present only in the darkness of the night, or in an empty house. Or to blur your vision when you drive along familiar roads that only reinforce, with their powerful memories, the validity of your pain.

Suffering is beautiful, no?   It makes you worthy.

The pursuit of happiness doesn’t apply to everyone. Some have a more legitimate right to it than others.

Yes, sacrifice is overrated, but you allow your lifeblood to flow, generous and eternal, a river of love that expects no gratitude.

Go on and endure, you earthly saint, accept, allow, give, damn it, give till you’re sucked dry.

The world is indeed a valley of tears.

At least for some.

Enjoy the honor.

The Tale of a Bag

There was a time when a bag was just a bag. Just a vessel to carry stuff in, and nobody really paid much attention to it. Women would usually have two, a black one (or brown) in the winter, and a lighter one in the summer, white, or perhaps made of straw. And those two bags adapted gracefully to every outfit. No obnoxious designer labels dangling from the straps, no huge initials crawling all over it, no forbidding prices that made you feel guilty for owning it.

A bag was a bag, just had to be made of good leather and be functional. Cell phone pocket? I think not.

Voilà! I have one of those, over forty years old, owned by my mother, passed on to me. Vintage gold. When nobody knew what vintage meant.

Found it in my closet, while doing a bit of spring purging (are 16 bags too many?).

Brown and tan leather (okay, now I would define it ‘cognac’), intricately woven by hand by a master craftsman working in a dark little room, off a medieval alley in the heart of old Naples. Day after day, with his needles and thread and hides and fabric, weaving his life, all of his years, into beautiful, unique pocketbooks and gloves, molding the buttery calfskin into exquisite, high-fashion pieces, even though he, the humble pellaio, didn’t even know what high fashion meant.

All in a day’s work for him, producing lovely item after lovely item, waiting for the ladies to come in and bargain with him over the already reasonable prices he offered.   One of those ladies was my mother.   “Mi servono dei guanti ”, she would announce at some point. “Andiamo a Napoli”. Thus my father would get behind the wheel of the emerald-green Simca, and haul us all to the leather-workers neighborhood, a street in Naples dedicated to this ancient craft.

Sure I was bored, a young child with zero interest in fashion, but my mother walked briskly through the lively alleys, determined to find the little hidden shop where her favorite pellaio operated. While my father waited somewhat patiently in the car, because sure as hell he wasn’t going traipsing through ladies’ shops after my mother.

The heady smell of leather would wrap around my senses the moment we approached the shop.  Comforting, welcoming, luxurious.

My mother blissfully breathed in the scent of beautiful things, tried on several pairs of gloves, all so supple and yielding, a second skin that would soon become the only one.   Then she would examine the bags, all so different, since each one was made as its own entity, and perhaps (if it was needed) choose a new one to take home, soft and kind, ever-present companion of her busy days.

It’s a bit faded, this ancient purse of mine, the slow decades having marked their presence on the materials, but it’s still beautifully elegant in its simplicity, pregnant with history, a traveler, like me, from a land of sun and passions and fragile dreams, weary, but hopeful still of what’s to come.

I hold it close, accept its limitations (my Smartphone will be sitting on top of the wallet, rub against my keys), caress that leather and all its tales, pull up the still sturdy zipper and wear it with love and, yes, awe.

When All Else Fails, Think Shoes

Cole Haan Nude Pumps

Because it doesn’t matter if you think material.  “Material”can save your life.

Focus on what warms your heart, even if for a moment.

Sometimes people leave you stranded in your agony.   Must grasp the thread of hope that only the little things offer.  Feel the softness of the leather, be in awe of the sleek, elegant design.  Pure, understated class.

Wear them, feel the power, the confidence, burst through your body.  Allow the worries to fade away.  Even if for just a minute.

In that minute you can conquer the world.

Quando il fiume si arrabbia

3 marzo 2017

Freddo oggi.  Un vento da paura.  Lo sento quasi spostare la macchina, mentre mi avvio verso la stazione ferroviaria.

Marzo a New York. Un mese strano, imprevedibile. A volte c’è quasi tempo da spiaggia; poi, il giorno dopo, arriva una leggera nevicata.

Ci si abitua.

Oggi il fiume Hudson urla.  È furioso. Le onde schiumose sbattono contro gli scogli del molo, l’acqua è azzurra perché lo è il cielo. Il sole splende, tanto che devi coprirti gli occhi con la mano quando guidi, l’aletta parasole non basta. Ma fa lo stesso un freddo cane.

Riflette forse la tempesta che ti si accanisce dentro.

Gli anni passano, invecchiamo, più o meno bene, diventiamo dei grandi saggi, ma dovrebbe servirci a qualcosa, ‘sta saggezza.

La vita è adesso, come dice il nostro amico del tempo che fu.

Toglietetevi le maschere, tristi pagliacci, guardatevi nello specchio della verità, e aprite il cuore.   A quelli che contano.

La famiglia originale è forse la più importante.

Come l’amicizia antica e vera.

Tutto il resto non vale un cavolo.

Come è arrabbiato il mio fiume, accidenti.

The Exhilaration of a Sunny Day in January…So I Bake

A glorious January day in New York.16195780_1354008367992515_4399115493143266945_n

The sun is warming the land and our hearts, easily melting the remains of snow scattered on our lawns.   The air is mild, gentle, the sky is an intense blue, smiling down on our earth, bursting with the promise of new hope.

The birds are settling, once again, on the trees’ bare branches, tentative, quivering with the fresh joy of a new beginning. Could it be? Early spring for us all?   Perhaps.

In the heart of dreary winter, a winter that has lasted for longer that we ever expected, this break in the dark scatters the thrills of rebirth, as we all leap toward the future that looks gloomy no more.

Free and light I feel, young and powerful. I close my eyes and surrender to the caress of this Janu

16143757_1354277441298941_494074107817948250_o
Almond Paste Cake

ary sunshine, linger in its welcoming embrace.

Yes, the sun also rises and conquers the fears of the darkest night.

16143639_1355193891207296_4318033511360530590_o
Pappardelle with Sausage Ragu’

Bursting with energy, I pull ingredients out of pantry and fridge, exuberant. Which cake should I make, Apple, Almond Paste, Pound, chocolate? And my pappardelle await the sausage ragù that is in the works, because the good parmigiano I got, the golden olive oil and the desire to cook with renewed joy and relief.

Oh what a magnificent January day it is, summer in winter, fresh air to sweep away the decay of old, dirty snow.

The world is alive again.   Live your life, you good people, raise your eyes to the sky and marvel at the splendor of deep turquoise, limpid and pure once again.

Christmas: The Joy, the Madness

img_4804
The most famous Christmas tree in the world, at Rockefeller Center, NYC

I wish I were a child.

So I could enjoy Christmas in its simplest, purest form.

The closing of the schools, the colored lights popping up all around, the wreaths, the panettoni in the shop windows, Christmas decorations for sale everywhere, the presepi vendors, with every possible statuette to add to you ever-growing crèche.

The sharp chill in the air, bundling up when going outside, heavy tights, maybe even a hat (Well, I grew up in Naples, so this was as cold as it was going to get, no need for snow boots, though chic leather boots were wonderfully appropriate).  The smell of winter, roasting chestnuts, the lively fresh fish markets ready for your Christmas Eve dinner, the skinny Babbi Natale wondering the busy street, smiling for pictures with hesitant img_4801children.

The house afire with scarlet poinsettias, which nobody knew were poisonous, and nobody cared to inquire.  The majestic Christmas tree arriving on Christmas Eve, just as we kids were losing all hope, laboriously trimmed by my mother when we went to bed, and sparkling in all its glory on Christmas morning.

The dozens of delectable treats gifted by my father’s many friends and colleagues, ALL of the Neapolitan Christmas sweets of our dreams, delivered personally at our front door, huge wreaths of honey-glistening Struffoli, trays of the glorious Pasta Reale, almond pastries enrobed in flawless fondant; spicy, chocolate-covered Mostaccioli ; a beautiful and elegant Cassata, circled by a supple and img_4803delicious green ribbon of almond paste, rich with ricotta cream scented with cinnamon and vanilla.  Cases of Neapolitan salame, Auricchio provolone balls, sharp and tender, dried figs and baskets of whole nuts..

Watching television programs, silly and old-fashioned, featuring ancient Laurel and Hardy comedies, which we kids found unbearably funny, to the point of falling off a chair laughing (me, yes, I know hard to believe, considering that there isn’t much I deem ‘funny’ in these pragmatic days).

My mother frying img_4805up some tortelli, delectable little jam-stuffed dough bundles, dusted with powdered sugar, traditional from Modena, the only dessert she made, since all the others – classic, traditional and magnificent – were conveniently delivered by the greatest home bakers of our town, including the nuns of the nearby convent/orphanage/ school of Our Lady of Lourdes..

But the tortellini, well, those were being meticulously hand-shaped by my mother, hundreds of them, perky and uniform, lined up in plates that were then placed on every flat surface in the house to dry.  No Christmas without tortellini in broth was acceptable, and we could never get enough.

Cozy in our flannel pajamas and hand-made wool bed socks (yes, by my mother, who knitted in the dark while watching television), we lucky children would go to bed with our perfect visions of sugarplums brightening our innocent dreams.

Now, well, it’s a whole different tune.  The endless baking to15235722_1304462176280468_1633769514450993402_o be consumed casually and quickly, expected always, as if little elves populated the kitchen in the wee hours and produced a whimsical pastry wonderland.

All the gifts you wish to buy for those wonderful people in your life, and straining that tight budget, hoping that perhaps the spirit of Christmas will ease the pain of the after-the-holiday mail delivery.

The hours that are never enough, fending off exhaustion, cursing yourself for not having more spunk and energy after a full-day of work, living nights of a thousand worries and fears.

But here I am, playing magic elf in the kitchen, braving the stores, the cold I hate, pushing forward, determined to make this Christmas happen once again.15272314_1296545833738769_2820909459958049186_o

And yes, of course, I will place baby Jesus in the manger at midnight on
Christmas Eve, quietly, when everyone is asleep.  He will just be there in the morning, miraculously appeared, sweet and gentle, with his chubby cheeks.

Yes, it’s all right, Christmas will always be wondrous.