• No one said it would be easy, hurtling through time and space to research obscure corners of ancient history. The toughest part? I’m a frequent flyer but when not airborne, I log countless miles as a “frequent walker.”
• I try to pamper my lower extremities with foot massages and ankle-deep seawater strolls while beachcombing. The best strategy, however, seems to be outlandish (but comfy) footwear. I do not mean those teetering structures designed by punitive individuals named Manolo or Jimmy. I mean shoes with real soul to their soles. And their uppers.
• My passion really got rolling in 2004, the year I began to fill my fifth passport. After renting a house on the north coast of Mallorca Island, my partner and I had made the mother of all dares. For the entire month, we would walk everywhere; no car, no bikes. We wouldn’t even use the tram that ran back and forth to the beach. Call it dumb luck, but we happened to choose the shoe-happy pueblo of Soller, population 15,000, as our base.
• On day one, we set out from our casa on the nosebleed-steep side
of the valley to explore our new town. Before eating lunch in Soller’s cuddlesome main square, we ambled along the Street of the Moon. My feet were hurting already. Flipflops on cobblestones—bad idea. Thankfully, we stumbled across a place called Ben Calcat—or “Good Shoes,” where we met artisans Maruja and Paco, who crafted classic island footwear.
• All thoughts of lunch and exploration vanished; I got deeply into shoes. My favorites were two-toned, spats-like numbers called “porqueras.” Fred Astaire himself would have killed for my elegant new shoes. Before long I’d ordered five pairs in a rainbow of color combos—in suede or smooth leather. (Fred might have been dismayed about the name. “Porquera” means “pig farmer shoe” in English for reasons that remain enigmatic, since they wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a hog wallow. But I digress.)
• Since Soller is surrounded with phenomenal hiking opportunities,
Ben Calcat also had boots on offer. I went for an ankle-high pair called “patateras” ( “potato farmer boots”) which came in colors rich as pinot, amontillado, and Bailey’s Cream.
• Although the uppers were hand-sewn with new leathers, I discovered
to my delight that both pig and potato farmer models offered a bouncy, comfortable ride. Reason? Their soles were made of recycled tires.
• Finally heeding the pleadings of my now-ravenous partner, I tore myself away from Ben Calcat. But the die (or dye, in this case) had been cast by Soller’s aromatic, leathery offerings. I now became a dedicated hunter of unusual shoes whose common characteristics would be: Comfort. Color. And quirky recycling.
• Serendipity struck within the year. In my own home territory of small-town coastal California, I encountered another gem of shoe fabulosity, an enterprise called Sassy Feet.
• Co-entrepreneurs Margot and Destiny excel at creating one-of-a-kind footwear. Their artistic brainstorming typically begins when a customer brings in a trashed-up but beloved pair of shoes, or a find made at a yard sale. The genre doesn’t matter: high heels to tennies, sandals to slipons all get The Treatment. Like customizing a classic car, these experts give footwear new life and style with fabrics, luscious paints, trims, handmade laces, furbelows and gewgaws.
• The best part? Your born-again shoes can be adorned with talismans of personal significance to you, the wearer. My gladiator sandals, for instance, now jingle musically with the golden “coins” from a necklace given
to me by my late brother–the only keepsake I have of him. After the Sassy Feet treatment, my pair of bland thriftshop pumps became a magic carpet, shimmering with the persimmons and skyblues of a treasured jacket I brought back from India.
• I continue to vagabond to faraway corners, doing on-site research for my books and accumulating “frequent walker” miles at a ferocious rate. These days, however, I’m equipped to go the distance. With panache, no less.
• The magenta-and-black slipons pictured here? Once ho-hum brindle brown, they now hold their own in ultra-stylish Rome as well as clamber capably around Greek temples and dusty archaeological sites.
• I asked Margot Silk Forrest (who’s also an author and professional editor) how she happened to saunter into shoe customizing. Her answer?
“I was painting fabric one day when my Gemini curiosity made me read the fine print on the label of the bottle. It said the paint worked on leather. My mind reeled. Leather? That meant shoes! Purses! So I tried it and fell in love with a whole new craft. I mean, who wouldn’t want to paint their shoes?”
• Margot and her partner in shoe legerdemain, Destiny Carter, also transform purses into wearable art; more at: www.sassyfeet.com http://typepad.glittersweatshop.com
For you central California coast readers, Margot will teach shoe painting at Arts Obispo on November 7. Call 805/544-9251 for details.