It’s barely dusk, and it’s barely 10:20 p.m.
Tonight I can see the half moon through the open window and the reflection of the brilliantly lit Tower in the window itself, tilted open to let in cool air and the noisy city.
Today I bought a pair of shoes. I’m a sucker for a nice old man salesman or I probably wouldn’t have bought them. But I couldn’t resist.
The sitting area in his shop was the size of a suitcase, and it was filled with a counter stacked with shoeboxes barricading the cash register, four chairs for fitting – one of which was behind two more stacks of shoeboxes – and two other customers.
The salesman spoke no English, and I spoke no French, including body language. When he pointed to his cheek I didn’t understand that he would follow me and I would point to the shoes in the window that I wanted to try on. His shop partner translated the action, so off we went.
The old man nodded at my pointing finger, took my European foot size with the old-fashioned silver-and-black measuring device, and worked his way into the back, past towers more boxes, where he disappeared for many minutes. At last he returned with a box just for me. I took off my sandals and looked up to take the left shoe from him, but he reached past my hand, took my ankle, and guided my foot into the shoe.
Still bent over, he placed my foot on his thigh and proceeded to lace up the shoe. I felt like a well-cared for little girl.
He repeated the process with the right shoe.
Before he turned to ring me up, he asked me something in French. I’ve yet to advance past merci and bonjour and bonsoir – though tonight I was taught bonsoiré from a fruit vendor, whose smile lit his round, brown face as he held his arms out round and wide, to show me “all encompassing” – so I couldn’t answer the nice, grandfatherly man. Even though his partner translated for him, I still couldn’t answer the question, because I would swear he asked, “What is the population of Alaska?” – and at my puzzled look clarified with, “How many people are there in the world that eat bread?”
I paid the man and thanked him profusely before rejoining my travel mates on Rue Cler – my now- favorite market street.
I have new shoes that hurt my already sore feet – and an utterly delightful memory that warms my heart.
© Copyright 2012, Jane Harkins. All Rights Reserved.