The Shoe Queen of Le Bon Marché

There is nothing like le Bon Marché if you are rich and beautiful But if you are not rich or beautiful, it doesn't matter. The store is a sort of artificial world with its own rules. Life here is divided into different departments. Sometimes you find yourself in the wrong one but, like Tiffany’s you feel that nothing bad can ever happen here.

Le Bon Marché is always the same and always different, like those postcards of the Eiffel Tower shown a hundred ways. In the sun, in fog, in sunsets, in snow. Its shelves may look different in Spring or Autumn, at Christmas or Easter, but the experience it delivers is always the same.

There are no postcards of the Eiffel Tower in the rain, but it does frequently rain in Paris. And when it rains, you can shelter in Bon Marché, running between the two ground-floor sections with one of their large orange paper bags suspended over your head (it's too short a dash to open an umbrella).

Inside, it's perpetual summer. Customers complain of being too hot and are forced to take off their coats beneath the stencils of artificial flowers which bloom across the walls in midwinter. The orange paper carrier bags are not made for real weather, either. I've found that, once wet, they leak dye onto your hair, your coat, and leave orange stains on pale carpet and floorboards...

It's Saturday afternoon and I've been randomly trying on shoes.


I don't need shoes and I don't have the money to buy them so I don't have to choose practically. I have a hypothetical desire for hypothetical shoes to be worn in a hypothetical situation.

The salesgirl is one of the tiniest and youngest I have ever seen. Even in Paris. She averts her eyes as she slips the perfect shoes onto my feet.

Suddenly they are not perfect. The fine strap that reaches around the back of my heel sticks halfway up the back of that nameless bump of tendon, not high enough up to keep the shoe on.

We unstrap and restrap the shoe. No good. We try another near-identical pair. No good either. I go up a size, down half a size. It's not the size that's wrong.

So I do what any Anglo would do in this situation. I made a self-deprecating joke.

Peut-etre mes pieds sont à faute?

The girl looks at me seriously, sadly, somewhat shocked at this suggestion.

Non, madame, ce n'est pas vos pieds!

She pauses pour reflechir.

Cependant, Madame, ils ne sont a vous.

They're not for me? Don't I have the say in this transaction. Since when did the object decide whether or not it suits the buyer? I suddenly have a vertiginous sensation that the shoes might be the customer, and I might be the purchase.

Maybe they wouldn’t suit me anyway. Perhaps I’m not designed for these shoes, or they're not designed for me. Even when buying with a hypothetical credit card I’ve learnt that in Paris, no matter how much money you have, some things are just not for you.


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