If there are 4 million people living in Athens, that means there must be 8 million feet that reside here.
I didn't do a formal count, but I'm convinced that there are enough shoes in the shops along Ermou (the bustling pedestrian boulevard that connects the parliament building at Syntagma Square and the Flea Market at Monastiraki Square) to cover each and every foot in the city...perhaps five time over. I'm serious.
As I'm wrapping up my time here in Greece, I've been wondering what kind of gifts to bring home to my family. It only took three days of wandering around acity where modern Athenians worship the shoe god to realize that the perfect gift for Erin would be a pair of sandals.
This afternoon I joinded the millions of Athenians shoe worshippers in the quest for the perfect sandals.
Those who know me well know that clothes shopping doesn't even make it onto my personal list of fun things to do. Retail overload strikes me within minutes of entering a cluttered shop. Racks and stacks make me positively dizzy.
I knew this wasn't going to be easy.
Some of my fellow Fulbrighters had discovered "the sandal man" down in the Plaka area of Athens. The Plaka is an area just at the foot of the Acropolis, north west of it. Apparently the sandal man has custom made sandals for decades from his shop in the Plaka. For two days my classmates came back to the hotel with Cleopatra's and John Lennon's. Just listening to them I could tell.....I was catching the sandal fever. I thought I might try to find the sandal man.
As I headed out of The Electra Hotel, I was immediately pulled away from the destination I had in mind. The sandals displayed behind floor to ceiling glass storefronts along Emou whispered to me, called to me, beckoned to me. No! Not here! I'm bound to pay too much! And how will I know I have found just the right sandals if I don't survey every single pair that Athens has to offer before I buy?!
I told myself to get as far as the Flea Market. There I might find sandals at a price even better than that of the sandal man. And our class had strolled through the Flea Market earlier that morning, on our way for an archaeological tour of the ancient Agora, so I had satisfied that "first peruse, then choose" requirement of the retail hunt.
The Flea Market is a narrow pedestrian thoroughfare with stalls lining each side. Products are displayed and hung on every available square inch of surface area in the front of the stall. In a sense, the Flea Market reminded me of Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. But the Flea Market is considerably bigger and sells everyday goods as well as items considered strictly "tourist."
I refused to even browse at the first sandal stall I encountered. I went deeper into the Flea Market. Finally, a wall full of sandals marked "10 Euro" shouted out to me. "Try me on!" they cried. I politely obeyed their command. But I wasn't entirely sure what I was even looking for; how do you find just the right pair of sandals when literally millions are making their case for your feet?
A block or so deeper into the Flea Market I stopped at another overwhelming display of sandals. A pair of teenage girls were fingering some sandals and were ushered into the shop. I soon followed, because one pair caught my eye. Well, that's a lie. About a hundred pairs caught my eye. Like at every other shop. Heck, I thought to myself. I just need to get these stupid sandals!
"Inside the shop" meant going down a steep flight of stairs into a room no bigger than my bedroom, full of large brown boxes (the kind you'd use when you move) and tables covered with sandals. There were 3 chairs with wicker seats squeezed amongst the boxes. The lady who helped me pointed at one of the chairs then dove into a large box, tossing aside pairs of sandals rubber banded together, until she found my size.
Perfect! I mean, it's perfect that Erin and I wear the same size shoe! I loved the sandals I had chosen for Erin! But as soon as I put them on my feet, I decided they looked quite nice on me. Hmmmmm.....I started thinking that I had just made my original problem (of finding a gift for Erin) more complicated. I know! I'll buy another pair of sandals! Then, I'll let Erin choose which pair she likes better, and I'll keep the other! I pointed to the style that one of the teenage girls had put and was admiring in the mirror. Erin might like those.....
I walked up the stairs and out of the shop with my bag of purchases, glowing with that retail euphorea that accompanies the perfect purchase.
But I am a little worried that the sandals might not be able to stay inside that bag during the next three weeks as I travel through Turkey.