Thursday, 23 February 2012

Little shoes (Παπουτσάκια)

Children quickly grow out of their shoes much more quickly than their clothes. I knew my son needed new shoes, but not because I had seen the holes in his old ones. Up until last week, he had only one pair of shoes, which were close to a year old. So he really did need another pair of shoes. The made-in-china boots that we'd bought him on sale (21 euro) from a large shoe warehouse in Hania came apart after a week of being worn. We stuck them down twice with super-glue, but in the back of our minds, we knew that those boots could not really be classified as a decent pair of second shoes.

Unlike little girls, little boys don't always tell you they need new shoes. They don't always realise that having holes in your shoes is a not a good thing. Sometimes, they get attached to the comfort that a pair of old shoes offers, even if their socks get wet (which is how I realised that there were holes in his shoes). Little girls don't need to wait to feel the discomfort. They will have the finger pointed at them, or more likely, down to their shoes, by other fashion victims, who will say: "Look, your shoes have got holes in them!" and they'll come straight to mummy and daddy and tell them that they need new shoes.

Shoes are not really a top priority in my house because both mummy and daddy in this house know that their mummies and daddies grew up with no shoes. In fact, yiayia doesn't have a pair of shoes, only a pair of slippers and a pair of muddy old shoes with holes in them that she uses for the garden. When we mentioned to her that she needed a pair of shoes, she insisted that she didn't. "I never go anywhere, I am always at home, and if I go into hospital, I won't need shoes there," she answered. Her first pair of shoes, like all my children's grandparents, came when she was nearing her teens.

We now wear shoes because everyone else does, and we don't always mind if our shoes are old, as long as we have something covering our feet, because it looks more civil. Greeks are not like Kiwis, where people like to walk barefoot in the street after work before they go to the pub, or even at work like one of my maths professors at university, who came to the lecture theatre barefoot (right throughout the year). And in Greece, there are appropriate shoes for the appropriate time of the year, so another of my lecturers in the TESOL department would have looked quite out of place in her jandals (that was her only pair of shoes throughout the year). Wearing shoes in Greece is not necessarily about making a fashion or lifestyle statement; it's all about appropriateness.

Although it is a priority to wear shoes in Greece, it isn't a priority to wear shoes without holes in them. Priorities these days have to do with preserving our health (especially in this cold winter that we're having), eating healthy food (which has probably helped us to preserve our health), keeping safe and out of harm's way (like not entering areas where protest marches are scheduled to take place), and paying our bills, so that we don't have to feel threatened by having our communication and electricity supplies (aka in Greece as OTE and DEH) cut off. Priorities differ among us, but this kind of lifestyle has suited us so far, and surely I can't be so special that I am one of a small minority who lives like this in Greece. After all, only about one or two hundred-thousand Athenians thronged the streets on that fateful Sunday when Athens was razed. The other four million or so citizens of Athens were presumably keeping out of harm's way.

Last week, we found some time to go into town and buy some new shoes. It was cold and wet; umbrellas don't do much for you on narrow streets, like those in the commercial heart of Hania. The rain was coming down too quickly and heavily for the drains to cope, and we all got soaked as we tried to avoid the puddles, especially my own feet; despite the heavy rains we have had in Crete, I still buy very cheap shoes which I know look fine at an office job, but in essence, they are not appropriate for walking around in wet weather.

We had a few problems finding a good pair of shoes for my son because we were looking for them late in the sales period, which meant that the most popular sizes and colours had run out. Finally, we found a store that offered good sports shoes (this is what most Greek kids wear to school, except the girls whose parents doll them up in their grandparents' and godparents' presents) at reasonable prices. My son could choose between a lace-up and a scratch pair; he chose the latter (for obvious reasons, as lace-ups mean more work), at a cost of 45 euro (his old shoes - the same brand, an almost similar pair - had cost 50 euro the previous year).

The next day, when he returned home from school, I asked him if his new shoes were as comfortable as his old pair.

"Yes, these ones are really good," he said. "They even keep my feet warm."

Now that he knows the difference between his old and new shoes, I wonder if he will remember to tell me when he needs a new pair. If this happens, I also wonder whether I'll be in a position to buy him a new pair of shoes when he needs them. At the moment, it doesn't look that way, unless I change the order of my priorities: first I buy new shoes, then I pay my electric bill - or simply convert our savings account into a current account.

Right this minute, Modern Greece is a tale of two cities, or rather, two camps:
What most people don't care to admit is that this crisis is survivable. I know this, because I know what I'm worth. I'm sorry to say, but not all my fellow compatriots do.

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