If you know me even a little by now, you know that I am the kind of woman who spends her summer traipsing around Jerusalem either in the most basic of the basic of the basic pair of flipflops (the cheapie rubber kind you can get at the gas station), OR a pair of sky high sparkly strappy sandals (Mamilla Mall, thankyouverymuch — because I have yet to find a gas station that sells high heels. Just saying.)
In fall, I might mix it up with a simple ballet flat. Definitely brown cowboy boots when the rains begin to fall. Sometimes a cute (faux) crocodile skin ankle boot. Maybe nude pumps — very business professional, which IRL I am not.
But never in this incarnation of my adult life have I worn sneakers. Sneakers are too sensible. They have zero whimsy.
I like to hold the extremes — feet on the earth in my flippies, head in the clouds with my heels.
There is absolutely no middle of the road for me in the summer.
Same with Jerusalem. There is no middle road, here, too.
The sky pounds the pavement from on high during the long hot days while we slog along the street, our faces puce with heat, our tempers just as red. There’s no time for patience, no break to take a breath — because, even inside when the air conditioner rattles like an old man on his death bed, these are only pockets of relief while outside waits, hot hot hotter than a dragons maw. but then when night falls, the wind whips in from the desert — with a tail as sharp and swift as a scorpion’s sting, it rattles the windows, it shakes the sky.
Tempers flare. Bump into the wrong person, and you might just spark a wildfire.
So that’s where we are right now in summer. I’ve got my flipflops and my heels, but then I saw a photo my spectacularly fashionable stylist friend Jennifer of Pretty Things Styling posted online where she’s wearing these quirkly little sneakers — a phrase I never in a million years thought I’d think, let alone write. But there they were — a light beige, chic AF, with a little O on the side. ARO — for those who are interested.
This was a new feeling for me. I had never in my life — at least not in THIS version of my life — taken a second look at a pair of sneakers. But there they were. Legit adorable.
So, then I did something ELSE I don’t think I have done in this version of my life: I looked down at my feet, which, truth be told, WERE a little tired from frolicking around the Old City in my strappy sandals. I thought about all the living I had put them through — the walks in the fields I used to take when I lived outside of Jerusalem, the barbed wire fences I’ve climbed, the roofs I’ve walked across, the waves that have crashed over them. I thought about the weight I’ve carried in my arms — the people I’ve loved, the people I’ve lost, the babies I’ve grown and physically carried, the steps I’ve taken from one life to the next.
I thought about the exquisite highs I’ve seen while soaring from the top of tall mountains. And I thought about the devastating lows that almost buried me forever in their gruesome cemeteries.
Maybe my feet need a break after all. And maybe these sneakers will help me find the middle road.
So I wrote to Jennifer and told her I was low-key obsessed with her shoes. She told me where to find them — in an array of ice cream colors — each delicious, from cherry vanilla, to coral, to pistachio, to periwinkle, to your basic neutrals like cream and chocolate brown, to lavender, and tangerine. The website alone made me salivate.
The next day, I had a pair on my feet. A cheerful, yummy raspberry sherbet pink for those who are interested. I FREAKING LOOOOOOVE walking in them. I don’t need to grip the ground with my toes when running over slippery stone. My ankles don’t make me wobble like a drunken flamingo, either. I’m must me — a me I rather like, in jeans and a tank-top, maybe one of those bodycon dresses. I’m just me, walking down the street in my brand new pink shoes. Just like that children’s book, Pete the Cat. (I love my pink shoes, I love my pink shoes.)
And on Thursday, my pink shoes and I hit the pavement on Jaffa Road. While it isn’t quite summer in Israel, the weather didn’t get the memo that it’s still late spring. It is hot. A grey, thick kind of heat. Tempers are even hotter. Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem in general aren’t the most patient group of people, but these days with tensions risings along with the thermostat, people are on edge. To be fair, we are always on edge, but during summer, we are REALLY, REALLY on edge.
There is no middle road here between the extremes in summer, and some days, it feels like the whole damn city is going to explode.
But my pink shoes and I were on Jaffa Road — my pink shoes, along with about 17,000 bags of various absolutely necessary items, plus my purse, plus this trolley thing I was pushing along with a ginormous box I picked up at the post office, plus my iced coffee, PLUS my phone wedged between my shoulder and my ear, while I literally talked to no one, but didn’t have the wherewithal to put my phone in my purse after finishing a conversation with my therapist about how I’m feeling more balanced these days (I love my pink shoes, I love my pink shoes).
But it was hot. And my skin prickled. And I was tired and on edge too, from the long, hot day. The light rail train whooshed by. Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” blared from one of the kiosks, because apparently my time machine worked and it’s 1993. A baby screeched. Too many people. Too many things. Too much stimulation, too much static, too much white hot sun baking down, too much too much TOO MUCH, and my noisy mind couldn’t take it.
And then worlds collided.
I bumped into another woman. She looked to be around my age, wearing a hijab, also carrying several bags. We knocked the wind out of each other. My phone flew from my shoulder. Her bag of groceries tore, and several cans of tomato paste clattered to the ground. More noise. More static. More overstimulation. And now a mess on Jaffa Road.
Now you probably don’t know this about me, but in general I’m a patient person. But when it’s hot (which it was) and I’m overstimulated (which I often am), I turn into a ferocious creature that’s part velociraptor, part libertarian, and mostly snake. I hissed. So did she. We both recoiled — vipers ready to strike.
And as we bent down to retrieve our items, we saw it at the same time: we were wearing the same pair of ARO shoes. She in her long black dress, me in my skinny jeans and tank-top. The same pretty pink ARO shoes on two pairs of feet that have each walked such different paths, but were same same, together in that moment.
A sweet cool wind blew down Jaffa Road, and for a moment the heat lifted.
She smiled. I smiled. We helped each other pick up our items.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “It’s been a day.”
“Yes, this weather isn’t easy,” she replied. “Inshallah, I hope we see better days, soon.”
And just like that, we smiled again. went our separate ways — I headed East, she headed West, rocking our pretty pink shoes holding the balance for the afternoon in the middle of Jerusalem.