Yesterday was a really fun day. A friend from my building and I caught a bus downtown, and went shopping at Century 21. It is right opposite Ground Zero, and so I saw the site briefly, but I decided not to spend much time visiting it then, as it really requires more focused attention than I could give it at that time. I’ll return there another day. Instead, I spent about an hour trying on one pair of shoes after another. Now quite unlike the stereotype, I do not find shoes particularly appealing. I like to own a pair of sandals, a pair of closed, smart shoes, and a pair of hiking boots. None of them are high-heeled, and all of them are comfortable enough for me to spend a full day in them without cursing them, or my judgement. In other words, I am a sensible shoe shopper. I have realized, however, that my hiking boots are the only shoes I own that will be suitable for the winter, and as they are hardly smart enough to wear with a skirt, or when I’m dressed for work, they alone will not do. So yesterday’s trip was for the express purpose of exploring my available options with regard to cold-weather shoes. While I didn’t buy anything this time, I did get a pretty good idea of what is available, at what cost, and I am fairly certain I know what I will be buying. There is a great pair of waterproof, fur-lined boots with my name on them….
While I may not have anything like the average woman’s passion for shoes, however, I do have a comparable fettish for hats. If they are colourful, quirky, unusual, or just plain fun, I like them. Scarves and gloves come a close second. And Century 21 has all three in abundance! I am not shy to admit that the main reason I didn’t buy the shoes I liked yesterday is because I wanted an excuse to go back to the shop on my own, for a longer time, to try on hats, too.
Anyway, from the shop, my friend and I walked up, past city hall (which is incredibly beautiful, and certainly deserves another visit, and, slowed somewhat by our mutual admiration of downtown architecture, made our way into Chinatown. The bid in Johannesburg to close down informal/street trading that has been going on for some time, is sadly misguided, if Chinatown is anything to go by. The colourful shop fronts, forming an attractive backdrop to the equally colourful street vendors, and the mass of pedestrian humanity that surges around them, make it a very exciting part of town. I have been looking for a decently priced fish shop since I arrived here, and as I haven’t yet managed to pull myself from bed at 4:00 am to make it out to the Fulton Street Fish Market during trading hours, I had encountered only the hideously expensive, rather sterile midtown fish mongers, and the fish counters in the various grocery stores I frequent. In China town, I have my pick. There were so many gorgeous fish shops, with such a massive array of produce, that I could try a different one every week, and eat all semester. And in amongst them you can buy everything from fresh produce to herbs, teapots and chinese fans, to home furnishings and some of the most beautiful clothing…. My companion even got his shoes reparied for $2 by a little man who spoke no English, and was sitting with the tools of his trade under a tarpaulin on the side of the road. We had luch at a quaint little restaurant with linoleum floors and vinyl tables, that served good green tea, cheap noodles, and soup that I’m convinced could cure anything. I had a wonderful mushroom lo mein, and learned, to my great delight, to eat it with chopsticks. My companion had lived for a few years in Japan, and so was more than competent with those unwieldy inplements that have given me grey hairs in the past. I was eating (albeit rather slowly) like the best of them by the end of it. Seems that learning the technique is practically a pre-requisite for anyone wanting to pass as a New Yorker.
We rounded lunch off with a sesame ball each at a bakery down the road from our restaurant. That too was a new experience for me. For the benefit of those who have never experienced them before, sesame balls are deep-fried balls of rice batter (kind of chewy, and very pleasant) filled with a sweet bean paste, and rolled in sesame seeds. It tasted nothing like what I had expected, and was really enjoyable.
I had a French class after lunch (I managed to hold a rather stilted conversation with one of my fellow students), and then dashed down-town for a departmental colloquium, which turned out to be an hour later than usual, and therefore gave me a bit of extra time to catch up on reading before it started. The colloquium was great, presented by a leading phenomonological musicologist who brought to mind a whole lot of half-dismissed ideas I have had at various times for more whimsical research papers linking music with everything from astronomy to cryptography. It really made me want to explore some other possibilities for future research, and got me excited all over again about potential future topics of study that I had put aside when I began to shape my career a few years ago. There really are an infinite number of possibilities ahead of me over the next few years, and that is really an exciting prospect.
There was a full moon making the dark clouds glow, as I headed home, and when it peaked out from behind some of the ornate neo-gothic high-rise buildings that characterise so much of this city, it brought to mind all those delightfully dark 1980s and earlier comic books set in cities modeled after this one. It is beginning to feel like autumn, now, and the whole character of the city is changing. I am really enjoying the contrasts as they reveal themselves.