Spellbinding shoes | VailDaily.com

Spellbinding shoes

Sarah MausolfVail, CO Colorado
AE Shoes PU 10-20-07

Brenda Himelfarb often wonders about the woman who wore the doll-sized slippers she keeps on her fireplace mantle.The silk booties hearken back to a beauty regimen Chinese women practiced for roughly 1,000 years.About six months ago, Himelfarb began reading about foot binding in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Set in 19th-century China, the novel follows a young girls initiation into arranged marriage and a culture obsessed with tiny feet.Passages describing the footbinding custom troubled Himelfarb.I found it very disturbing, quite honestly, and I couldnt even think about the pain one has to endure, the Avon resident and Vail Daily freelance writer said.In the novel, the protagonist, Lily, withstands the breaking of her toes and arch to achieve the perfect foot pointed, arched and confined to the length of a thumb.Lily explains her motivation in simple terms: All I knew was that footbinding would make me more marriageable.Intrigued by the book, Himelfarb discussed the topic with her husband, Alan Himelfarb, and footbinding was fresh on his mind as he strolled the streets of Shanghai this past spring.A rare findDuring a routine business trip to China, Alan went in search of Lotus Shoes, pointed booties once used to sequester bound feet.After canvassing an outdoor market in Shanhai for an hour, he heard about a store that carried three pairs.The gentleman told me these were authentic, Alan Himelfarb recalled. These were the actual shoes that had been worn by, perhaps it was his grandmother or some relative in his family. They were genuine at least represented that way.Himelfarb paid $100 for a pair and tucked them away in his briefcase.I didnt tell Brenda about them, he said, I wanted them to be a surprise. As he often does after business trips, Alan waited for the right moment to reveal the gift to his wife. She was pleasantly surprised.I couldnt believe that he had found them, Brenda recalled.Embroidered with a colorful flower pattern, the silk slippers fit seamlessly in the couples living room, which she calls our gallery. The space features a wooden table made from a Chinese door, a bench from Mongolia and artifacts the art-loving couple have collected over the years.Perched above the fireplace, the slippers remain a source of curiosity for the couple and a reminder of a controversial custom that has nearly vanished from Chinese society.Arts & Entertainment Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism