Saturday, December 4, 2010

San Miguel de Allende: The City of Fallen Women

San Miguel de Allende is often called the “city of fallen women.” The streets are alive with the sounds of snapping clavicles and cracking ulnae as members of the brittle bone brigade make contact with the sidewalk. Cranky ex-pat retirees regularly write to Atencion, the weekly paper, and post to the local Yahoo group, somewhat ironically named the civil list, demanding to know why the city doesn’t do something about the streets.

Hello! Did you not know before you moved here that San Miguel is famous for its cobblestones, 18-inch wide sidewalks, ski-slope streets, and precipitous stairways? All of them made more hazardous when you have to quickly sidestep the parade of the day or a speeding horse (it has happened!).

It took some nifty footwork to not get mowed down here

This state of affairs has even given rise to one thriving business: the San Miguel Shoe; subtitled, the original combat cocktail sandal. Designed and made by a local cobbler, they look a bit like Ace bandages on rubber soles and are apparently very comfy and perfect for helping you remain upright in San Miguel de Allende.

The combat cockatail sandal

I’m looking forward to eventually getting a pair but don’t need to just yet because I came down here with a suitcase full of Birkenstocks.

Happy feet are important to me.
For my last birthday, a friend kindly invited me to choose a gift from a catalog that she would then have delivered to my house. It was filled with lotions deliciously scented with vanilla and jasmine; glamorous costume jewelry; silk scarves, and useful gadgets. So what did I choose? Why, a vibrating foot bath. It’s a device about the size and shape of a bedpan. You fill it with hot water, plunge your feet in, and switch it on for a pulsating massage. I can’t think of any other choice that would have more loudly screamed, “Congratulations: You’re 60!”
On writing this, something just occurred to me. All my favorite gifts have involved my feet. A few years ago for Christmas, I got this pair of soft bootees with bags of seeds in the bottom that you heat in the microwave. When you slip your feet into them, the warm soles send waves of pure bliss throughout your entire body. I brought them with me even though the seeds are getting a bit funky now from being zapped so often. They’ve come in really handy on these below-freezing San Miguel nights.
Another time, someone took me for a Chinese reflexology foot massage in Los Angeles for my birthday at a kind of a hole-in-the-wall place short on any kind of pampering elements. The masseurs were all elderly Chinese guys who didn’t speak any English and wore hospital scrubs. I suspect they are real deal Chinese doctors, possibly illegally in the US. I picture them living together in a shipping container somewhere,  since the massage only cost $20 for an hour of unadulterated agony and ecstasy.
That’s sort of emblematic of feet: they can bring both pleasure and pain.
On the pleasure front, they dance and dig pleasingly in sand at the beach and look pretty when you paint your toenails. Well, that’s about it for the good stuff.
Then there’s the pain. You’ve heard the adage that says not to judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. If you’d have walked in my pointy-toed stilettos during my 20s and 30s, you’d have thought I was an idiot at best, a masochist at worst. You’d have experienced agonizing calluses, painful heel spurs, cramped toes, and tight Achilles tendons that caused shin splints. Why would I have done that to myself? Well, part of it was because I’m so short and spent years trying to measure up to the rest of world. But also because heels gave me elegant arches, shapely calves, and a sensuous swing to my walk. Mostly it was because I was in my 20s and 30s and was indeed a masochistic idiot.
This madness included the years I lived in London. I became quite adept at running for a bus or walking up and down the stairs to my third floor flat in three-inch heels without breaking an ankle. It makes me laugh when people think those “Sex and the City” girls invented all that. Let’s not forget that in my day your feet were also usually encased in binding nylon pantyhose. How my feet would throb and burn by the time I got home from work or a night out (sometimes experienced consecutively and not necessarily in that order).
Finally, motivated by I know not what — late blooming common sense; a fashion for flats? — I eased with a grateful sigh into comfortable shoes. I’ve never worn high heels again; probably couldn’t anymore if I tried. (Actually, I think this was just a return to my roots. Apparently, I was raised in sensible shoes as you can see below.)

Me at four: a hula girl in Clark's sandals
By then I was living in California and overcompensated by wearing nothing but rubber flip flops and ballet flats in all seasons. Then I developed an excruciating pain in my left sole. I hot-footed it to the podiatrist, who diagnosed plantar fasciitis, a fairly common inflammatory condition that feels like you’re walking barefoot across the rocky floor of Death Valley in July.
“It’s your shoes,” the doctor admonished me. It turns out what I was wearing offered no arch support, heel cushioning, or shock absorption. In fact, a report had just come out saying that flip flops were more damaging to your feet and your musculature than high heels. What! That doesn’t seem fair. I got a big lecture on how I had to wear sensible shoes. He recommended that from then on I should wear only athletic shoes.

Comfortable boots and Amazon mud with my friend, Christine.

I hobbled off with some stretching exercises to do, a prescription for pain killers, and a determination to find shoes I could wear. Many hundreds of dollars and a closet full of butt ugly shoes later, I discovered my dream footwear.
Have you see Birkenstocks recently? Yes, they still make those clunky, wide-strap, buckled, beige clod-hoppers so beloved by die-hard granola-heads (well, okay, I suppose that’s me). But now you can also get cool ones in a variety of colors and my favorites, for dressing up, are silver thongs. They support your arches, don’t crunch your toes, and those cork soles are surprisingly warm, even in cold weather. That’s a good thing since I figure I’m still a decade or so away from wearing them with socks. To be honest, I can’t wait because Birkenstocks and cozy socks sound like a dream team for happy feet if ever I heard one, especially on the streets of San Miguel. But then I haven’t tried those combat cocktail sandals yet.

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