Wednesday 22 September 2010

Our soles

Good grief, it's raining again. We've had such a long and very wet winter, and though there are lots of flowers out, the birds are singing, it's generally warmer and officially spring, winter just can't seem to let go of us. Down south they're having a terrible time with snow and freezing winds, and so many lambs have perished, poor little things. Up here we've got strong winds and rain, rain, rain.

I wouldn't mind so much if my shoes didn't leak. My old faithful winter shoes, the blue ones, the black ones and the brown ones, have all sprung leaks. The cobbler laughed in my face when I took them in for resoling, and I can't replace them because the shops are full of summery sandals. Trying to avoid puddles as I walk, but ending up with wet socks anyway makes me feel as though I'm in a Dickens novel.

Shoes are a them and us sort of thing. Have you noticed national preferences? Like the Chinese preferring to shuffle along in scuffs? Or the universal jandals throughout the Pacific? Or the elastic-sided boots by Blundstone or RM Williams they favour in the Australian Outback?
In Peru it's sandals made from car tyres. The soles are cut to shape and rubber straps riveted on, and they last almost forever. There's no support or precise fitting, of course, which makes it all the more amazing that they're what the porters wear on the Inca Trail, trotting up and down that steep track with its uneven steps, huge loads towering over their heads, while we soft tourists lean back against the mountain to let them pass to go ahead and set up our lunch table, all of us togged up in fancy tramping boots with collapsible aluminium sticks and ergonomically-designed day packs to carry our cameras and snack bars.

And when the sandals finally fall off the owner's feet, they're still not thrown away. They begin a whole new life as, for example, a gate hinge. And we in the west fondly think of recycling as a modern notion.

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