Hidden Error

“If you think I am stepping in there with my studded Marni leather shoes, then you don’t really know me.”

I am looking at the beach somewhere in the south of Spain. The longer I look at the hot sand, the same color of my favorite Nars bronzer, the more I regret not packing more shoes. It was a choice between my suede Chloe espadrilles or a Celine blazer. A tough choice, but Phoebe Philo won, as always. So here I am, standing at the boardwalk of the beach, negotiating.

Alejandro, tan and tall and built with manual labor, smiles at me, the same way one would smile at a clown in a children’s party. Or maybe he smiles because he agrees, he doesn’t really know me. And nor I, him. I met him in a pub on my first night here, and I love how you can still make a connection just by looking at someone. Smiling. The silent, but palpable corporeal language that people have used way before we relied on swiping on dating apps.

“Okay,” he gives, walking back to me. “Let’s go to town and buy you some sand appropriate shoes.”

“Later,” I said, settling on a wooden bench on the paved boardwalk. “Let’s stay here for a bit.”

His brown, rough, angular face wrinkles into a big smile and somehow seized my heart, a dusty organ I did not know still functioned. After years spent with little men with big boats and bigger egos, you just learn how to tune things out. For me, security is diamonds in the vault, Dior shoes in the wardrobe, and money in the bank. Things men my age cannot provide.

Yet here I am, frolicking around with a Spanish carpenter. A carpenter! But then again, I am on vacation in this anonymous town. It’s not Cannes, not Ibiza. Not even the Maldives. I can give myself a few weeks to stop the climb, to have fun, to breathe. When I checked out of my Ritz hotel room, I checked out of my life. With everything I needed in my Rimowa suitcase, I took the next flight of Paris and it lead me to this corner of Spain. I turned off my social media notifications, I haven’t checked my email in days. I imagine letters piling up in my box  at the front desk, strange men in expensive suits knocking on my empty room.

All that is a 2-hour flight from here, and yet it feels so distant. I close my eyes and let the warm sun caress my face, my ears focused on the sound of the waves crashing softly on the shore. I am transported back home. Home home. To a tiny, anonymous island not unlike this coastal town. I think of my mother who made our living through catching fish and selling it in the wet market. Her body frail but unbroken, skin burnt and wrinkled. Security back then meant a calm sea, a basket full of writhing tilapia, and enough firewood to last the night.

I think of one night in particular, crouched in the steady bonfire, eating dinner, my mother prying open a particularly rough-looking oyster and finding within a pearl smaller than a tear drop. She cleans it with the underside of her shirt, and hands it to me. “Always keep the island with you.”

I wonder what she would have thought of me now. Today, I have bigger, much bigger pearls, but I wonder if I still had the island with me.

In town, I stumble into a shoe store and find the owner behind the counter, his hands busy polishing a shoe. Pairs of espadrilles in every shade of beige imaginable lined his store. I land on one in particular, made with a leather in a delicious shade of canary yellow. I put it up and ask for my size. The owner comes back with a brown box, opens it and give me the pair. I try them on. They fit me perfectly. Egged on by the shopkeeper, I decide to get them.

23€. A bit steeper compared to its canvas equivalent but everything is in leather that was sourced and handmade in Spain, explains the shopkeeper. I pay for them, thank him, and wish him a nice afternoon. I chuck my Marni shoes in the box, and keep my sunny leather espadrilles on my feet.

23€. What can I get in Loewe for 23€? Not even a keychain.

I walk back to the town plaza where Alejandro is waiting for me, nursing a cup of coffee in a busy café.

“Happy?” he asks as I approach his table.

“Happy.”

I sit down next to him, feeling all mellow. Maybe because everything here is so slow compared to Paris. This small town seems to be suspended in a bubble, where time is put back into its abstractness. It has no physical grasp on people here. No one ever runs for anything. No one seems to be running late. Missed the bus? Have an ice cream and wait for the next one.  Missed happy hour? It’s always happy hour.

Here, they all live seemingly untouched by the problems and aspirations of the world. An aging lady in a bulky polka dot blouse discreetly retouches her rouge, and I wonder if she ever heard of Jacquemus. There is not a single Hermès bag in sight, and yet the women, and men, are impeccably dressed. Not in trendy fashion per se, but in clothes that make sense to them. You could tell that every choice is deliberate. A red patent leather t-bar kitten heels match a red patent leather clutch. The lavender pigeons printed on an indigo tie relates to the plum-colored suit jacket that frames it.

I sit there drowning in soft, happy murmurs of a language I don’t understand, next to a man I will probably never see again after this summer. I bump my chair closer to him and rest my head on his impossibly big shoulder.

Suddenly, my Net-A-Porter basket filled with shiny things I was convinced I needed seem so far away. Because it is. Here, I have nothing to prove. Currency is how big you smile to your neighbor when you pass her by in the morning, or how much vino you pour into the glass of your dinner guest.

There is sand in everything I own, but I somehow feel more alive.

My Marni shoes, trapped in a brandless brown shoe box under my bed, never again saw the light of sun that summer.

IFA PARIS Fabrice Malard_G2A4151-EditIFA PARIS Fabrice Malard_G2A4201-EditIFA PARIS Fabrice Malard_G2A4230-EditIFA PARIS Fabrice Malard_G2A4262-Edit

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Author: Renee Ultado

Renee Ultado is a writer fueled by glamour, caffeine, tequila shots (sometimes), an unswayed faith in the goodness of other people (always), and the reassuring thought that Mariah Carey is out there somewhere in a rhinestone studded slip dress doing the Lord's work. reneeultado.com

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