Riot gear for Africa? Rhinestone cowboy wear? Yep, and more.
Photo illustration by Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Everyone staying at the Kinshasa hotel in the spring of 1997 was, like me, a reporter covering the crumbling of Mobutu Sese Seko's reign. Everyone except a chatty but mysterious American who greeted waitresses at breakfast with "Bahn joor, baby." His accent was so bad, I was convinced it masked a Parisian fluency deployed during shady diamond dealings, or when he reported back to Mr. Mobutu's henchmen about what the foreign reporters were saying about the dictator of what was then known as Zaire (now Congo).
One afternoon, my colleagues and I stood in the lobby, discussing a protest that had gotten out of hand and ended with several journalists being robbed of even their shoes. The suspected diamond dealer glanced at my still-shod feet and pronounced that my black high-tops would be safe to wear to the next riot, because no one would want to steal Chucks.
Let Proust have his madeleines. I have my shoes.
I can be forgiven for trying to make my shoe habit seem intellectual, or at least cool. I take plenty of teasing about it at home. My 9-year-old daughter hides shoe catalogs from me. She feigns fear I'll spend her inheritance at the shoe shop. Hoping to shame me into restraint, she'll tell anyone who will listen: "Mommy has a of shoes." Most listeners probably think that means a closet full of Christian Louboutin heels. They'd be disappointed. I own nary a red sole. My tastes tend more to those high-tops, and not just in riot-ready basic black.