But this is all changing. It's a recent development. I started investing in shoes a few years ago, for example, calculating the color and styles I want to add to my collection. I approach it almost scientifically, observing the other parisiennes on my daily commute and analyzing what works and what doesn't. A geek builds her style with an algorithm, of course. Or maybe more of a heuristic. And that makes it sound like it isn't any fun at all, when the truth is, I find it fascinating. This isn't as expensive as it sounds, either, because I spend more time noticing and reflecting than I do actually buying things -- I don't have that much time to myself to go shopping, after all -- and when I do spend money, I'm much more sure of the result.
I've been working on this for a few years, but it all seemed to gel when I went back to work after Mademoiselle was born, for some reason I can't guess, because it isn't as if I had loads of free time to devote to my new look or anything. Yet for the very first time recently, I've started to feel downright chic when I leave the house in the morning. A couple days a week, anyway.
So, it went without saying that when sandal season rolled around I'd have to do something about my poor, neglected toes. Running keeps me sane, and my feet keep me running (three days a week these days -- twice at lunch on weekdays, once on the weekend), so I realized that I probably should start taking care of them, at least symbolically. No self-respecting Frenchwoman leaves the house in toe-revealing shoes without a proper coat of polish, and as I mentioned earlier, I can't apply polish myself. Lord knows, I've tried. I missed the window of opportunity to learn at age 14, and now it's simply too late.
Luckily I live upstairs from a day spa, or an institut de beauté as they're called here. Neat, with discreet pink lettering on the window, it doesn't look like much from the outside, so for years I didn't pay it much attention. But two years ago, when I was pregnant with Mademoiselle, on a whim I dared take my feet in for what was almost their very first pedicure.
The owner, J, tisk-tisked over the state of my toenails and the mess I'd made cutting them myself. "But I can barely reach them these days!" I protested, happy for an excuse, for once. Now I go in every couple months, and while J spends over an hour making my feet happy, we chat about French cooking. She shares recipes for Basque Cake and clafoutis. After a few visits, I decided I also needed to let her wax my eyebrows -- my 16-year-old nerdy self wouldn't have imagined such a process even existed -- and now they, too, look neat and worthy of a real Frenchwoman (though my husband can't tell the difference.) My Parisian makeover is happening slowly, oui, but surely.
In the meantime, I found out that l'institut is the somewhat of a local best-kept secret. It's very difficult to get an appointment, and a privilege when J pages through her calendar, whispering confidentially, "Let's see what we can do for you, shall we?"
Paris has been enjoying unseasonably warm March weather, and I was almost certain I wouldn't be able to get a pedicure last weekend on short notice. But lo and behold, J snuck me in on Saturday. Then when Saturday turned gray and cold, I walked the fifty feet back to my apartment in flip-flops to avoid smudging my perfectly polished apricot toes, hoping, as usual, that I wouldn't run into any neighbors. No luck. I stepped into the elevator with three stylish twenty-somethings.
"Oh, please, don't let them look at my feet," I thought. I was the embarrassed geek again, standing there with my bizarre footwear. One of the girls looked down, then looked up at me and smiled knowingly.
"It's nice having [J's institut] right downstairs, isn't it?"
I felt -- no exaggeration -- like I'd passed some sort of test. That instead of the elevator floor opening up and swallowing me whole, I'd been vetted for an Elle photo shoot. Not bad for a gal who used to carry her laptop in an army surplus backpack.
(And my feet felt heavenly, besides.)