Friday, September 16, 2011

Beautiful Boots Can Change Your Life

I have an old friend who loves to shop. Needless to say, we have a lot in common. Over the years and through countless shopping excursions, we've developed a kind of shorthand to warn each other off needless indulgences.

"It's cute. But it won't change your life," is how our saying goes.

Walking along the rue du Cherche Midi yesterday, I spied a pair of boots, however, that I was sure would do just that.

I ducked inside the tiny shop to get a closer look. It was a consignment store, meaning only one of everything, so odds were good that the boots (did I say fabulous?) wouldn't be my size.  

Alors, as luck would have it, they were a size 39. Parfait!

I asked the slim saleswoman if I could try the mate as I slipped the black leather beauty on my foot. I casually turned the price tag and my heart began to flutter: Robert Clergerie, "Neuf" (New) it read, right next to the price, a bang up bargain at two hundred euros.

Now, I wouldn't normally consider two hundred euros a bargain. In the realm of clothing and accessories, this would actually be a fairly major purchase for me. Even though I love to shop, I'm more of a bargain hunter than a big spender and most enjoy the thrill of finding a deal on a treasure. In fact, racks and racks bearing dozens of the same item tend to leave me cold. Give me a small boutique filled with one-of-a-kind, hand-selected items, knock off the price and I'm one happy camper, er, shopper.

So, brand new Clergerie boots for two hundred euros? The rationalizations came fast and furious: They retail for four to five hundred. The price was just too good to be true. Even Greg would have to agree. (Wouldn't he?) And what's more, they were new! Never worn! Last season at the very oldest. In supple black leather on a funky wood-esque platform, they were unbelievably comfortable and forget-about-it cool.

No doubt about it, I was in love. They were my latest crush in a lifelong love affair with shoes that had begun decades ago in the closet of my childhood friend, Sara Whaley. Oh how I'd lusted after her hippie-fabulous Korkease bedecked with tiny red cherries!

I'd somehow learned to live without Sara's platforms in the early 80's. But this time, I couldn't imagine leaving the store without those boots. 

And yet.

I pranced around the shop, admiring the boots in the mirror. Appraising looks from other shoppers -- jealous perhaps that I'd nabbed them first -- only enhanced their appeal. When the saleswoman approached and began singing the boots praises, I knew I was really on to something. "Elles sont super jolies, madame. Tres chic," she said, that French magic word. "Une vraie affaire..." A real deal, she pressed, a fact about which I was painfully aware.

Given the deep disinterest of most Parisian saleswomen, her attention was almost shocking. Normally standoffish, often downright rude, Parisian salespeople don't work on commission. They don't give a toss if you buy something or not. More often, in fact, they seem annoyed that you even walked in the store, as if the simple act of watching you touch clothing is just too taxing to bear.

So, was I buying or not? The moment of truth upon me, I thought deeply about boots -- their many joys and practical uses in a rainy walking city like Paris. Two to three pair (four?) would be considered de rigeur. I no doubt had that in my current inventory. Elegant knee-highs to wear with skirts? Check. Chic ankle boots to sport with skinny jeans? Check. Black leather mid-calf boots to wear with...anything? Check. Check. Check.

As I mulled my current collection -- barely yet worn at this, the start of boot season -- my resolve began to falter. Another pair of boots? Paige, are you insane?

Although I've always felt that "bargain" is a relative concept (five hundred is always a good deal if the original price was a thousand), this time I realized I must admit defeat.

Reluctantly, I placed one boot back on the shelf and handed its mate to the incredulous saleswoman. "Vous les prenez pas?" she asked, with an audible sigh. "Pas aujourd'hui," I replied as she positioned the boot back in the window.

Out on the Paris sidewalk, I thought about my old friend and was sure she would have disagreed with my decision; this was a purchase she'd have supported wholeheartedly. But boots or no boots, perhaps this wonderful life of mine has changed quite enough already.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Letting Go" in Paris

My son learned to ride a two-wheel bike yesterday. He's six now, high time for this particular milestone and since this was shaping up to be a week of "firsts," we agreed: He was ready. 

He'd started first grade two days earlier at his new "big kid" school, filled with all the confidence he could muster. After five months at our local maternelle (preschool + K) he had a decent level of French under his belt and a handful of pals also headed to the new school.

The move from maternelle to CP (cours preparatoire, the French equivalent to 1st grade) is a big deal in France, much like our transition from preschool to K. And, as is often the case, it was tougher on the parents than on our excited six-year-olds.

Monday morning, we shuffled into the school, studying the new surroundings where our children would spend so many of their waking hours. It's housed in an old, typically Parisian building with large light-filled windows and a broad polished wood staircase with a scrolled iron banister. Parents and kids filled the courtyard and listened anxiously to the school directrice as she called out names -- the pivotal moment that would assign our kids to one of the two CP classes. 

One by one, Cole's friends' names rang out. "Paul, Colette, Emma, Giovanni..." Preparing for the worst, I gripped Cole's hand and swapped nervous looks with another mother. "Cole Frost," she said finally, leading him into the clutch of his little pals and up the sweeping staircase to their new classroom.

As an American parent, I'm often acutely aware of the differences between me and my Parisian counterparts. But on this day, I felt none of that. All I could see and feel was our common bond -- our intense desire for our children's happiness and how painful it can be to let them go. I shared a brief hug and sigh of relief with another mom as we left the school building. "Bon courage," she said as we parted ways, both trying hard not to get teary.

For Cole, day one was a big success. I got a happy, if brief, account of his day, centering on his excitement about having "his own desk" and two shiny math books tucked in his Asterix backpack. "I have homework, Mommy!" he said proudly, revealing with utter clarity that a new stage was upon us.

By Wednesday (a no-school day for kids in France), we were ready to tackle the bike challenge.

With snacks, water and a pair of pliers in my bag, we pedaled our way through the narrow streets toward the Champ des Mars, the green expanse of grass and wide dusty paths that surround the Eiffel Tower. 

We found a broad stretch of gravel that seemed like a good place to start. The kids busied themselves in piles of fallen leaves while I got to work on the slightly rusted training wheels. I wrenched them off and held the bike as Cole climbed on. 

I steadied him at first, my hand gripping the back of his seat as I ran alongside his bright red Trek. I couldn't help but see the metaphor as he found his balance and pulled away from me. "Let go, Mommy! Let go!" he yelled excitedly as he bobbed and swerved on his first solo ride. I'm trying, honey, I wanted to say. And that's just what I am learning to do.