high, pointy, clear plastic shoes were exactly at eye level from my
position on a low seat in the shoe shop. I watched, riveted, as the double
image in the mirror-the wearer of this exquisite high-heeled
vamp-meets-Cinderella creation-stepped forward and then stopped in front
of me. I looked up slowly as the pieces and parts came together -the
shoes, in long slender feet, joined to perfectly toned waxed calves,
moving up to enviably slim hips and torso, long neck, long face, stubbly
chin, bright cloud of hair, shimmery eyes. Stubbly chin? I looked again-no
real hint of Adam's apple, breasts (are they real?), skirt disguising
gender. He, no, she, was making perfect sense. "That fit is perfect
on you but the green won't go with everything. Would you like to try it in
yes, taupe," I said, hoping taupe was beige and not some outlandish
colour. He was the best shoe salesman/woman I had ever come across. I must
have tried a dozen shoes, decided on buying the first pair I tried on, and
then changed my mind about it after walking in them for a few steps
because they felt uncomfortable. Still he/she was all understanding.
"We women have to be careful," he/she said, "not to feel
pressured to buy things that we will hate later-because that leads to
depression." That's when I knew she was a woman at heart, even if she
grew afternoon shadow. "Yes," I replied, looking severely at my
husband who was impatiently crossing and uncrossing his legs with the look
of a man who would rather boil his head than shop with his wife. "We
women understand." She shot me a look of pure happiness as I walked
out. I had acknowledged that she was a woman.
Miami for you. It's an American city that I have resisted visiting for
years thinking it sterile (malls, malls, malls), artificial (the plastic
surgery industry), built on vapid consumerism (Mickey Mouse, for God's
here I was, actually enjoying myself in South Beach-where, from a
distance, it was impossible to know if someone was 16 or 56, man or
woman-where secondary organs were simply clay to be cut, enlarged,
injected, flattened, where people could wipe out traces of their genes
with this hormone or that.
liked the buzz. In this place every man or woman was free to be
themselves. If you felt like a woman trapped in a man's body, that could
be fixed. If you felt like a man trapped in a woman's body, well, that
could be fixed too. If you felt old, that could be fixed. Nobody batted an
eyelid at the sight of sixty-something women in mini skirts lining up to
go into a club with twenty-somethings. If you felt like a freak, there
were plenty of others to keep you company.
know it's a huge place-there must be pockets of problems-unemployment,
poverty, incompetence-but each city holds out its badges of governance.
unfortunately, is often filthy; quaint historical buildings razed for ugly
business places, highways flanked with garbage instead of trees.)
skyline is Miami's badge-high-rises are painted and placed in line with an
overall modern aesthetic that is pleasing, but more crucially it gives you
a sense that the people who govern here are serious planners. Politicians
managed the image of their city down to the placement of a crane, enforced
strict building codes and hired professionals to keep it looking good. No
builder could raze a beloved art deco building down to the ground and
build ugly flats here. No exceptions, not even for Donald Trump. If this
was an indication of the level at which politicians were required to
perform, at the efficiency with which the city was run, the people here
were doing okay.
indicator: in a supermarket a little pouch labelled "Need a
penny?" was placed near the cashier, for people who needed or had
spare change while they paid for groceries. Can you imagine what would
happen to that pouch here? It would be permanently empty-raided either by
unemployed youths, pensioners, women, men who regularly have to choose
between sardines and milk. And it wouldn't be enough. No, a pouch like
that, in this country where 400,000 live below the poverty line, would be
sad. And then there was the survey that showed that of all the American
cities this was one in which immigrants were in the majority. So no-one
was a minority.
didn't realise until I was on the way home that the eagerness and the
friendliness of the people had everything to do with the prosperity of the
city. They were the little cogs in this well-run city - every smoothie
sold, every dollar turned, adding to the overall prosperity.
in to get some running gear and the guys in the shop are all runners.
You're flat-footed? No problem. "Just step on this treadmill ma'am,
so we can do a thirty-second recording of your running style. Okay, try
this one. Doesn't work? Try this-it should give you more support."
People clearly want and have to be the best they can be-shoe-selling no
of all ages and races, Trinis among them-16 to 80-spend all their time
trying to charm you-people selling smoothies, and hairbrushes-they ask you
where you're from, they expertly assess what you want and try to get you
to buy it and in the process you feel as if you've made a friend.
so after four days of this kind of perfection, I'd had enough, was ready
to leave, to plunge once more into the chaos that we islanders have come
to expect and are addicted to.
if there is one thing that Miami taught me it's that you can pull apart
and change an entire human body so it looks nothing like the original, and
you can smile because you need to sell, but silicone never stopped anyone
from expressing their real, vulnerable selves to you, and service is not
servile, but can be just another way of touching another human being,
participating in another life.