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Jack Smith

'Tis wise to remember that revolutions, like charity, begin at home, even for the fleet and shod of foot

June 09, 1986|Jack Smith

In disclosing the other day that my wife has at least 50 pairs of shoes, I did not foresee that this minor extravagance might be exploited as a cause of revolution.

"Naturally," I wrote, "50 pairs of shoes are more than any one woman needs, but I assume that my wife has that many because (as a reader had complained) she finds it hard to find her size, especially in anything plain and demure. . . . "

I allowed that the problem was so acute that it had even prompted me to look with more compassion on Imelda Marcos.

But Harry Pace of North Hollywood sees something much more sinister in this harmless self-indulgence.

"No justification can be made for Imelda Marcos to abandon 3,000 pairs of shoes," he writes. "This display of conspicuous consumption during widespread poverty is nauseating. She was this generation's Marie Antoinette.

"This brings up the subject as to why you allow your wife to have 50 pairs of shoes. I realize Mrs. Marcos looted the public treasury to satisfy her vanity but in proportion your wife exhibits the same conspicuous consumption. . . . Why do 10 pairs of shoes satisfy your needs and your wife requires 50 pairs?

"At the bottom of all this is a callous indifference to our fellow man/woman. In France in the 1700s this indifference raged unchecked until the starving stormed the palace, chopped off Marie's head and paraded it around the streets. . . ."

Pace has a point. Considering her much greater wealth, 3,000 pairs of shoes are no more an extravagance for Mme. Marcos than 50 are for my wife.

But I can understand having 50 pairs of shoes. One can indeed wear 50 pairs of shoes. In fact, one could wear each pair for a full week in less than one year.

On the other hand, it would take Mme. Marcos more than eight years to wear her 3,000 pairs if she discarded each pair after one day's use.

I might also point out that my wife never throws anything away. We have lived in the same house for 36 years. That means that she has purchased only 1.38 pairs of shoes per year . Is that extravagant?

Of course, when she figures that out, she'll probably buy a dozen pairs at once, to make up for lost time.

By the way, I don't remember saying that I had only 10 pairs of shoes. Men can be just as extravagant as women. As revolutionary as Pace might be, I think he will concede that every well-appointed gentleman needs at least a pair of brown brogans for tweeds, a pair of white plastics with gold buckle for summer, a pair of white bucks, a pair of brown loafers for brown slacks, a pair of black loafers for gray or blue slacks, a pair of Wellington boots for sporting events, a pair of black patent leather shoes for black tie, a pair of boat shoes for the boat, a pair of Nikes or Reeboks for the gym, a pair of work shoes for the yard, a pair of slippers for the house, a pair of hiking boots, and a pair of blue or gray loafers for cocktail parties. That's minimum.

And it doesn't allow for the gentleman's idiosyncrasies of taste, such as loafers with tassels, yellow sandals, cowboy boots, natural deerskins, wing tips in brown and black, and tap shoes.

But what really annoys me about Pace's complaint is his comparing Mme. Marcos to Marie Antoinette.

Poor Marie Antoinette. That unfortunate creature has been treated almost as badly by legend as she was by the French.

Consider the poor child, an Austrian, born to the splendor of the Viennese court, knowing nothing of poverty, married to the Dauphin of France at 14, only to find herself in the bed of an impotent weakling. Because her husband was unable to consummate the marriage, she could not bear a child, and all France laughed at her.

Could we blame her for turning to the frivolous pastimes of the court? Bored and frustrated, she squandered millions on parties, dress, jewelry and friends, yet she seems to have remained faithful to her ineffectual husband; and when, finally, after seven years, through minor surgery, he was liberated into manhood, and she bore a child, she became a devoted mother.

She was not taken from "the palace" by a starving mob and lynched. Despised and feared by the revolutionary Convention after the king's execution, she was jailed in the Temple, then in the Palais de Justice, with her son and daughter, rejecting a plan of escape because it required her to leave her children behind.

After a merciless two-day interrogation, she was condemned to death by the Revolutionary Tribunal. White-haired at 38, she was taken from her cell, her hands bound behind her back, driven through streets past jeering crowds, and beheaded at noon in the Place de Revolution.

Marie Antoinette is best remembered for her alleged remark, during the bread riots of 1788, "If they have no bread let them eat cake." Historians agree that she never said it. On the contrary, it is said, she gave abundantly to the hungry from her own purse.

I hope, come the revolution, that my wife will bear herself with the dignity of Marie Antoinette, and I hope she has a nice pair of shoes to wear.

As for me, I'm escaping to Brazil in my Wellingtons.

By the way, Pace, I allow my wife to have 50 pairs of shoes because revolution begins at home.

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