In Cuban shoes

I looked down at my grubby shoes this morning and realised it has been a year since Cuba. There they are – these Italian skate shoes that have spent a year with me walking mainly around Europe but I first met them in Havana. The story of my shoes? After almost a week in Havana pounding the cracked pavements, where tree roots trump concrete laid in the 1950s, with some borrowed running shoes of my sister, I really wasn’t getting many interviews. A good friend of mine in Havana thought it might be to do with my shoes. She explained that a Cuban woman might not have much, but she will always clean her shoes (my friend does this most evenings) and she will always look like she has as much as she does. This is usually because the meagre wages and high cost of things means it’s difficult to come by new things and so when she does, she looks after it and she flaunts it. It was so impressive to see those ladies navigating the cracked paving stones in some serious stilettos and safe to say I wasn’t going to even try, given my mission was to question local gardeners on their socio-ecological memories associated with seed – most of whom are men 50+. So, we made a compromise and enjoyed some rare air-con in a fancy shoe store in Havana old town while we looked for some better footwear. It felt weird actually, buying new shoes there, given that on a daily basis I was getting by on some peso pizza and local taxis, and that they cost me as much as I would have paid here in Europe. But as it turned out, she was right. Once I had these nice little clean green Italian skate shoes on I started to get some interviews. And I would clean them at home in my guest house in the evening, wanting to make a good impression the next day. So here I am thinking about the importance of cleaning shoes, not taking them for granted, and how my lucky little green shoes helped me explore such an amazing city and meet such amazing people. Since then I haven’t cleaned them. Instead I like to think that the red earth of Cuba is still somehow between my toes.

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