“But I must get more shoes the next time we are at Comme Il Faut!” The whine in my voice crept one octave higher.
“Just look at all the tango shoes you have! Twenty pairs? Thirty pairs? Some of them I haven’t seen you wear in ages! You go to the milongas wearing the same two pairs all the time! What is it with women and their shoes? (Or, Tangueras and their Tango Shoes?)”
I sighed. “My dearest Man Yung, this goes much deeper than “women and their shoe obsessions”, or even notions swirling around “retail therapy” or “shoe retail therapy”.” I stared imploringly into Man Yung’s eyes and grasped his hands in my hands - eyes welling up, anime-style. “How can I expect you to understand? Every since we have been together, we have been living in bliss. An endlessly ecstatic “Happy Ever After”. How can you possibly understand then, that the story of every tango shoe romance inevitably ends in tragedy – or at the very least, a tragi-comedy?”
Cue to the weepy violins (or, twangy country and western guitar noises) as we launch into Irene’s presentation of
Heartbreak... in my Tango Shoes
To all the Tango Shoes I’ve Loved Before
“The Never Meant to Be”
I was already thinking about you before I stepped foot into Comme Il Faut, March 2008. A perfect pair of low black stilettos – for those times I wanted to look elegant and yet be taken seriously. The little black dress of the milonga… for my feet -
And there you were! Smoothest, whispery midnight black satin… sparkling rhinestone buckle… you would glitter mischievously while I danced and yet add gravity to every step.
But alas, you were too small. The saleslady insisted that you will stretch out, no worries.
Lies! all lies! You came home with me but every step in you was agony. A second more and I would need an emergency bunion operation.
We were never meant to be.
“The One Who Got Away”
No self-respecting tanguera would have missed any of Jennifer Bratt’s adornment videos. Perhaps it was the flagrant adornation that mesmerized some – but for me, it was the shoes.
Love at first sight – the purple, green and violet iridescence sandal straps were like the colours of the shimmering wings of a dragonfly flittering oh so briefly above a secret pond in secluded garden in a crumbling Italian Villa once owned for centuries by the descendants of the Borgias (the ones who did not poison anyone or try to put a transvestite Pope on the papal throne, but rather, lived off the fat of the plunder accumulated through the treachery of their ancestors, and pretended to be English and sat around languidly philosophizing about the works of Henry James while drinking high tea and eating cucumber sandwiches)… but I digress.
I emailed Comme Il Faut. “Do you have THESE shoes?” I sent a screen capture.
The Reply: “So sorry, this model is a limited edition and we sold our last pair just this afternoon. However, you may be interested in this other pair… it’s neon lime and fuschia!”
I let out a scream that was more blood-curdling and more echo-ey than the one in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
Because it wasn’t just a scream. It was a “Shoe Scream”.
“You are swell, but I’m on the rebound. Let me introduce you to my best friend”
Once upon a time the only tango shoes I got were made-to-measure. They measured my feet – and the first pair of shoes appeared to be made with those measurements.
But the second, third and fourth pair were increasingly made “not to measure”, or perhaps to some fantasy measurements more suitable for Tinkerbell than a normal sized Toronto Tanguera. Ouch!
When Comme Il Faut finally came to town they were my salvation. However, I was on extreme rebound from all those circulation constricting “made to measure” shoes – I wanted plenty of space in my new shoes. Or perhaps my feet were just swelling horribly on a semi-permanent basis. In any event, instead of buying a pair of seven’s… I got a pair of eight’s. In four-inch heels.
They were so pretty! Alternating gold and pale blue metallic sandals... hello there, did you just step out of a Grecian Urn?
Happiness only lasted long enough for the cheque to clear. When my feet de-swelled to normal size I looked like a ten year old kid trying to walk around wearing her mother’s high heels.
It was too late to return them. But my best friend came to the rescue.
“Those don’t fit you huh? I’m an ‘eight’. This way I can wear them and put them to good use… and you will still be able to see them when I wear them at the milonga! And you’ll have my eternal gratitude. What do you think?”
I smiled sweetly and handed them over.
And secretly plotted to push her down the stairs.
“It’s Not You… It’s Me”
When the ladies of Comme Il Faut bring forth stacks and stacks of boxes of their most exquisite designs, I stand in great peril of “shoe beauty overload”.
I regress to the mental level of King Kong. WANT. ALL. OOHHHH…. SPARKLY. SHINY!
I end up buying a sparkly, shiny pair in sapphire blue. With butterfly peephole fronts. Narrow. Pointy!
It was a recipe for disaster as I, like King Kong, was born with gi-normously wide feet. The narrow bits squeezed. The peepholes pinched! This butterfly bit!
Not too long ago a little way up the evolutionary ladder, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great to the nth degree grandparents were very dexterous and swung from tree to tree, gripping branches and hanging vines with meaty, muscular hands and feet while thumping their chests and hollering jungle calls. Accordingly, the physiological makeup of my feet required above-average toe wiggle space… to allow me to grip the floor in a similar fashion to execute a pivot.
As I relegated my butterflies to the back of my closet, I could only wistfully regret… that it was not you… it was me.
“I Really Like You… But I Wish You Were More Attractive”
If you dance three to four nights a week with a partner who does a hundred times more steps than the average tanguero, the number of steps taken within a three year period is tantamount to walking from the earth to the moon and back again… twenty-two times!*
* At least that’s what it feels like to me!
I went through a period where I refused to dance in any heel higher than three inches. In fact, I went through a shoe buying phase in which I cruelly rejected any shoe offered tantalizingly by the ladies at Comme Il Faut unless it fit precisely into my height criteria.
On one desperate buying spree, I ended up with:
"A perfect blend of Comme Il Faut beauty with comfort!" I proclaimed.
The problem was that the heel height and styles made my ankles look thick… stocky… abominabley… turnipy. With Comme Il Boats at the end of them.
After recovering from the speechless shock of seeing myself wearing these shoes in the mirror at a weekend milonga, I made up my mind. “The only way I’m going to wear these shoes again is if someone turns out all the lights and it’s so dark that no one could see my feet,” I said."The Out of My League"
Although my fairy godmother left me a series of pumpkins rather than ball gowns, glass coaches and a stab at Prince Charming, she was never at a loss for advice about dating.
"Don't ever date anyone who is more than a head taller than you. Or Alain Delon."
I was resistant at first. Why should the dating elite be barred to me? I may not be a looker - or even all that intelligent or interesting - but what about "The Truth About Cats and Dogs"? Didn't the homey girl get the guy in the end?
"Honey, I know you're smart enough to know that you ain't no Uma Thurman - but you've got to realize that you ain't no Janeane Garofolo either."
Still unconvinced, I marched into Comme Il Faut and demanded the highest, most extravagantly beautiful pairs of shoes that they could find.
I got these:
I was determined to look fabulous with you on my feet. And fabulous I did look - not only did men whistle, women whistled too as I strutted across the floor in your four-inch heels...
They don't know that we have a pact. "Fairy Godmother was right. You are way too high for me to dance in! Let's go out once or twice a year and we could pretend to dance a tanda or two so that we can see and be seen. I realize that the 363 other days of the year you are cruising on your private yacht in the sunny Mediterranean, sipping champagne with a supermodel on each arm - but no-one has to know."
“We would love each other… if you weren’t already in love with someone else”
I really loved these shoes. Man Yung took one look at the satin quilting and the red and black grosgrain ribbon and instantly thought... Chanel!
“Audrey Tatou could wear these in the Chanel commercial and they’d look fabulous!” he said.
I wore them to Sunderland. To El Beso. Danced with the milongueros! We made a delightful duo.
Returned to Toronto and found... someone else was wearing the EXACT SAME PAIR. AT EXACTLY THE SAME MILONGAS THAT I WENT TO.
She also happened to be younger, prettier, thinner... and looked even more incredibly wonderful in the shoes than I could ever, ever, in a million years...
"Where could I find a flight of stairs at this milonga steep enough for someone to fly off - by accident?" I asked innocently.
"You are hot...but you give me no sense of security"
Whenever I wear my blue disco-ball metallic snake skin and suede strappy sandals, I get nothing but compliments - and also strange questions from fellow Toronto Tangueras.
"I was just looking at your beautiful shoes," a Tanguera said one fine starry night at the most popular Toronto Friday milonga. "It looks like they are hanging to your feet by just a thread. Instead of a heel cage, there's just air! How could you even dance in them?"
"Oh, these old things?" I said. "It's not that difficult really, it just takes getting used to."
Yeah. Really. Man Yung claims that when I'm wobbling along in these beauties, it feels like he's dancing with someone else!
Or perhaps even dancing someplace else.
As usual, Man Yung was helpful and encouraging. "You list side to side so much when you dance in those shoes, it's like I'm in a barrel on the high seas during a hurricane. Look at the bright side - all the money we save by not going on a Tango Cruise will always be better spent on whiskey and cat kibble."
My first pair of Comme Il Faut that actually fit! I know you were modest - in colour, design and heel height - but we still always managed to turn heads.
Together we experienced some of our greatest joys, and helped each other through the lowest lows - like the time you flew off my foot while I was dancing a milonga. I barely felt the embarrassment, we were in it together, you and I - and, as they say, "Love means never having to say you're sorry". I slipped you back on like nothing happened. How we laughed about it afterwards!
Looking back, it was the beginning of the end. You became loose. Bits of you started to fray. Our togetherness became a strain - you started to wear down. Even though you never so much as looked at another woman, I could tell we were drifting apart.
We tried, in vain. The shoe guy redid your insole, your outsole, your heel. "It would be like brand new!" he promised.
You were never yourself anymore. But every time I go to Comme Il Faut, I think of you and "The Way We Were". And end up with boxes and boxes of blue shoes... just because they reminded me of you.
"And that's the end of my story," I said, three days later.
"GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAL!!!!!!!" Man Yung jumped up in the air and yelled a whoop-de-doo while pumping his fist. "Arsenal won the the game 6-0!!!!!!!"
"Are you even listening?"
Man Yung paused, looked at me, and blinked. "Oh, sorry..... you kind of lost me 72 hours ago."
I had a vision of impaling him through the forehead with the stiletto heel of my least favourite Comme Il Faut and then running off fugitive-style with all my shoes to Canada (Whoops, wait, aren't I already in Canada?) But I kept my cool.
"Can I buy more shoes the next time I go to Comme Il Faut?"
"Of course you can, my dear - just grab me a beer from the fridge, will you? The Chelsea versus Wigan game is going to start in fifteen minutes!"