My boots turn twenty this year. Notice the use of “my” in the previous sentence. I did not write “I have a pair of boots that turns twenty this year”. I could have, though. I have more than one pair of boots, including hiking ones. But when I say “my boots”, there is only one pair that counts. My Mexican boots, bought in 1997, end of February or beginning of March after I found out that I had been given my tourist visa to visit London.
Although I have forgotten the month and date, I do remember the day when I purchased my boots. It was a typical winter’s day in Havana with the temperature hovering in the mid-20s. That morning I went to the British embassy in Miramar, western Havana, and after getting my paperwork in order decided to hit the streets of Old Havana, in the east, for a while.
The first shoe boutique in the Cuban capital – to my knowledge – had recently opened on Obispo Street, a pedestrian-only road that was flanked by shops, paladares and crafts business on either side. It was on one of its corners where I first laid eyes on a mahogany-coloured pair of Mexican boots. They were dear, I won’t lie. The fact I cannot remember the price probably tells you how embarrassed I felt at the time at coughing up much-worked-for cash in exchange for such luxury product. The money came from my free-lancing. It was a fruitful period for me; in addition to my interpreting and translation services I taught Spanish to foreign students.
From that moment I put my boots on, winter/spring ‘97 to now, writing this post in the quiet of my house, listening to Beethoven’s Sonatas performed by Daniel Baremboim, my faithful boots have always been by my side. As if to remind me of their longevity, today one of them paid a visit to our local cobbler’s (yes, believe it or not, we still have a cobbler) and it now has its heel glued back on.
James Taylor’s lines “Winter, spring, summer or fall/All you've got to do is call/And I'll be there, ye, ye, ye/You've got a friend” could well have been written with my boots in mind. They are the ones singing the verses. On my feet they travelled to Dominican Republic, Spain (three times), Cuba (twice) and various places in Britain, including Oban (Scotland), Dorset, Cornwall and Woolacombe (England). They have been worn to pedal down the streets of Londontown and I’ve walked with them from Oxford Street, where it meets Charing Cross Road, to Lambeth Bridge via Whitehall and Abindgon Street. I have got hot and sweaty whilst dancing with them on (in fact, that’s how the heel on the right one came off a year and a half ago).
In a world of unbridled consumerism it would be easy to dismiss my unshakeable and unconditional love for my boots as romantic tomfoolery. Well, I’d better come clear then: I am a hopeless, romantic fool sometimes. Only sometimes, mind, the rest of the time I am a romantic with 99% of reality in my head. Occasionally, I tell that 99% to go very far and stay with that 1% that more than makes up for the missing percentage.
Last autumn, for the first time in two decades I looked in a catalogue for a similar pair of boots to my Mexican ones. I guess that in the back of my mind the idea of the inevitable was forming. My old friends will give up the ghost one day and, whilst nothing can replace them, contemplating alternatives did not feel like treachery. However, I got so upset at the thought of losing my dear, old boots that I closed the pages of the brochure in my hands.
|Here's to you, my faithful boots!|
It is strange to think of inanimate objects, like shoewear, as friends. It is normal to fall for cats, dogs and other pets and see our relationship with them in the same light as a friendship with another human being. Yet, to me, the fact that this pair of tough, solid, well-made boots have endured for so long and have made such a big impact on my life is proof that sometimes friends are not of the chase-the-ball kind, or the roll-over-the-floor-while-I-tickle-your-belly type. Sometimes all they want is to be worn. Over and over again. All over the city, the countryside and near the sea. Now, whether you decide to walk over someone with them on, well, that one is up to you. And I certainly am not that sassy.
Next Post: “Living in a Multilingual World”, to be published on Wednesday 15th Marchat 6pm (GMT)