One tends to have many “Mentos moments” when they’re a transient being. And yes, mostly pertaining to matters of footwear. For Giulietta, of the half-Italian bent, the problem seemed to be that the shoe numbers in Europe were either always a size too small or a size too big from what she actually needed. This was, in part, why she so frequently lusted after America, where they offered 8 1/2 as an in between option for her needs. There was, alas, no such thing as “in between” in Europe, where it was all extremes of discomfort (even when one was supposedly paying extra for “luxury”). She ought to have been accustomed to this by now, spending so many of her formative years in Italy, where the height of needless unpleasantness was championed throughout the land. Whether this meant riding in a collective taxi that always miraculously seemed to park right in front of a church every time it invariably paused for an indeterminate period until traffic could move once more or waiting two hours in the middle of the day for any business to reopen for service again during the hallowed lunch period, there was no shortage of inconvenience in that place she wanted desperately to shake everyone who was an outsider their strange delusions of.
But no one could understand that Italy was not a milieu of magical and whimsical refuge so much as a hub of the utmost banality to be dreaded at all costs, most particularly if you had family there or were living in a state of poverty that could not at least afford you some amount of relief from having to deal with “average” day-to-day existence, which was to say, if you did not have the capacity to tool around the Amalfi on a boat and only interact with people in a hired hand capacity, then just fucking forget about your preconceived notions of the country.
Maybe it was thoughts like these that led to the bad karma of losing a shoe to the mean streets of Lisbon. Marika recommends Seaside to Giulietta, it’s the closest thing, she insists. She is, by the way, the 46-year-old Portuguese Uber driver currently being entrusted by Giulietta to take her to a shoe store. The ten euro sandals she only just bought yesterday broke somewhere between Rua João Oliveira Miguens and Rua das Fontainhas. That was the problem with walking everywhere, with an adamant refusal to take public transportation for fear of an imminent terrorist attack. In no position to argue while sporting a foot that had been blackened and perhaps infected by staph in her attempt to make it somewhere, anywhere that sold shoes without relying on use of a car, Giulietta concedes easily. She silently thanks God she is not in Southern Italy, where Uber doesn’t even exist. According to Marika, Uber has been in Lisbon since 2014 and people–not just tourists–love it. What the non-tourists do not love, she admits, are the tourists. Just one of many factors that have caused the accelerated changing shape of a town she fondly remembers as quiet and pollution-free. But then, that’s the thing about proper adults: they are always remembering things as being better in the past than they are in the present. It’s part and parcel for the natural embitteredness that comes with being forced to reconcile that you are not young anymore. You have to make those younger than you feel like shit for having their youth, that even if they have supple skin, they still don’t know what it’s like to live in a better time, to experience proper and rightly debauched salad days as a result of society’s sudden and mass oversanitization. Plus, the supple skin goes more quickly now thanks to that constant and unwavering thick film of pollution.
Giulietta didn’t press the issue with Marika, who seemed just as resigned as everyone else to accepting the unstoppable fate of losing the city they once knew to an ilk of people only just “discovering” it. Giulietta couldn’t offer much in the way of empathetic consolation either, for the small town she inhabited in Italy would never risk being overrun with expatriates gushing annoyingly about how cheap it was, making the local residents feel, essentially, like shit that they shouldn’t be just as invigorated by the price points that they themselves struggled to make ends meet with. Instead, Giulietta remarked that it appeared as though every city in the world was suffering from the same problem as of late: this reconciliation of what it was with what it had become. It had never felt quite like this before. Sure, there had always been constant complaints of places like New York not being “what they were,” but, by and large, there was a collective consensus of losing something fundamental about these former untapped havens (Mexico City, Zagreb, Budapest, Lisbon, etc.) to a genre of being that “didn’t get it.” Maybe it was because the genre of beings taking over never could “get it,” what with being raised on a steady diet of artificial intelligence. How could they understand anything like tactile and tangible loss–the very thing that was occurring in all these metropolises?
So all Giulietta could say was, “Well, I’m living in a time warp in Italy if it makes you feel any better.”
“Ah yes, the Italians are crazy,” Marika agrees. She doesn’t further elaborate on why she thinks Italians are crazy, because there is no need to. They simply are.
As Marika continues to muse about the city she no longer recognizes, Giulietta begins to feel an alarming throbbing sensation centered on the area between her big toe and second toe. Afraid to look down lest she discover a sight as unbearable as the sensation, she tunes out the now highly vexing musings of Marika and her formerly beloved Lisbon. The broken sandal still affixed as best as it could be to her foot, Giulietta tries her utmost to remain calm as she gradually unwedges the sausage-like in its swelling hoof from the shoe. In the moment as it is about to break free from the broken, beaded bands, Marika lurches the car forward, sending the shoe flying directly into her cheek, a wallop of a kick with no foot attached to it. “Oh meu deus oh meu deus!” she screams, at once wishing that their intimacy had stopped at light chit chat as opposed to this impromptu acceleration into unsanitary bodily contact (even if it was detached bodily contact).
In her horror and the split second distraction, the car crashes into the steps of a fountain across the street from, finally, Seaside. She turns back to glare at Giulietta, looking from her purple and blue foot and then back up to her either blanched or red face (it was a toss up between the two colors whenever Giulietta got embarrassed). Unthinkingly, she bolts out of the car, a blue Renault, hoping to avoid some sort of international incident through evasion. Giulietta kept a fake name on file for Uber for just such potential occasions. Sans one sandal, she runs, the cobblestones tripping her up with their unevenness and errant glass shards. Surely, this was not going to heighten Marika’s opinion of the city improving with the current breed it was attracting nor of Italians as being anything other than crazy.
As for a new pair of shoes, Giulietta settled on a pair of ill-fitting high heels at the first store she came across. They were a size too big. But if they weren’t that, they would have been a size too small. There is a metaphor somewhere in there for finding the right “unchanged” city to live in nos dias de hoje.