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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Italian Shoes

My history with Italian shoes dates back to my teen years when I bought a pair of four-inch stiletto sandals in Rome. Within the first week, one of the heels broke, teaching me a life-long lesson: shoes could be fickle.

I did not possess an American mentality when it came to shoes, that’s for sure, that comfort was everything. On the other hand, prevalent and pulsating pain was uncalled-for, too. Some shoes simply required a gentleman’s assistance, a strong arm to steady over cumbersome cobblestones, which is probably the reason why so many European women shall arm-in-arm through the city stradas and squares.

“Italian women!” an overweight American woman muttered, looking me up and down near the Forum. “I would never wear shoes like that!”

I bit my tongue and refrained from telling-off our clunky, white-sneakered sister, that I felt exactly the same about her choice of footwear.  My husband and I chuckled to ourselves.

Italian cities were made for walking. Italian shoes were made for lounging. Like everything else in Italian life, the juxtaposition created an interesting tension.

Such realities gave rise to successful slipper vendors in Venice. At least, I considered them to be velour slippers touted by every vendor near the Rialto Bridge. These were the multiplied steps that would bring all but the strongest to scream in pain for soft scarpe, after having hoofed it for hours all around La Serenissima.

My own moment of tired tootsie truth came not once, but twice, in Florence. This Renaissance city was worth the walk, in my estimation, no matter where one was headed. Take a seat at a cafe’, enjoy a cappuc or gelato, and let the feet revive for a few minutes.

But this day, Benedetto and I did the unfathomable and reserved a walking tour for early the next morning. We would be exploring the history of Firenze’s hillsides and hamlets. Then it dawned on me, that this might be more of a hike than I imagined.

“And how far would we be walking?”  I inquired.

“Si`-si`, it will be some distance,” the director assured us, “several hours.”

“But we won’t be hiking up to San Miniato, or anything like that¦?” I asked pinpointing the highest hike that I could conjure.

“Si`, you will be going to San Miniato!”

With that, the fate of my feet was sealed. There was no way that this Mohammed was going up that mountain in these shoes.

“Benedetto,” I gasped as I hurriedly hobbled down two flights of stairs and wondered how the next morning would bring me up the mountain without any cable cars close-by. “I need walking shoes!”

“On to San Lorenzo,” he agreed.

The market would meet my needs. I envisioned something simple for the strenuous stroll on the morrow. But, alas, the Venetian slippers were not to be found in a Florentine market. I considered cheap Chinese shoes, or even a Morroccan pair with upturned toes, and that’s when my eyes fell upon a perfectly fabulosa pair of pointed tennis shoes.

Buttery-soft leather slipped onto my tired dogs, making all the difference. Up and down San Miniato I hiked, pathways of pine needles hushing and cushioning our ascent. No problema.

Then one day, we heard of the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum on the fashionable Via dei Tornabuoni, part of their retail establishment, but tucked away and known by few, and frequented by designers and art students by means of a tiny, back elevator, big enough to hold one American or three Italians-! In recent years, the museum has moved to the basement level of the same palazzo, but it features the work of Signor Ferragamo, shoemaker to the stars, beginning in 1927 and ending in 1960. His wedge heels, gold, silver, and multi-colored shoes were trendsetters for decades, and a delight to the eyes today.

Thrilling fashionistas of any flavor, the more I considered visiting, my uppermost thought involved:  what shoes to wear. Near the Ponte alla Carraia, I mentally assessed how many steps it would be from our place to their place.

I couldn’t count that high.

And so, when in Rome, or Florence, do as they do, I reasoned: wear comfy walking shoes to get there, and do a quick switch on the street, in case anyone would be “looking” when I arrived to such an august institution. I nearly laughed aloud, when we entered the museum and saw art students everywhere for the most part, in well-used sneakers. At the exhibits, I learned of Ferragamo’s custom-made shoes and his lifelong quest to create the most fashionable and pain-free shoes possible.

A combo made in heaven.

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