a european pedicure, a cultural experience

a european pedicure

This past summer, after weeks traveling and feeding my soul, and neglecting my feet, I decided to go for a pedicure. A European pedicure, a cultural experience.

Ludmila, was her name. A common name for a Russian woman, but this Ludmila did not look like what the name usually conjures up for me: a big, stern creature, wrapped in nondescript, ill-fitting clothes, with a tattered scarf on her head. Such are our stereotypes, quite pitiful.

There was a slight, ever so slight, but nevertheless palpable social distance between Ludmila and me, because there is a social difference between Latvians and Russians in Latvia. And it was augmented, of course, by the fact that I was not a “local.”

The distances and differences between the pedicure giver class, and the pedicure receiver class, are not quite the same as they are in the U.S.

In Latvia, the chaffing between a group that is still often characterized as the “invader,” and the privileged, and legitimate, citizens, is long-standing, complex, difficult to explain, thoroughly entrenched, and resistant to change.

Is receiving a pedicure a cultural experience?

It can be, if you view it that way, yes. Oh, and although Latvian and Russian, Ludmila and I both look Polish.

So there I am, up in my bed/throne, and believe me that’s what it was, more like a deluxe dental chair than the unsatisfactorily vibrating, plastic monstrosities we have. My feet were at such a height that Ludmila did not have to bend down to work on them, and that was cool, I thought, rationalizing the sometimes questionable luxury of having someone cater to your feet. Here’s an older post about the hidden cost of customer service.

From the moment Ludmila touches my feet, I know they’re in the hands of an expert. No blood will be shed today.

My feet are wearing what I call my “Birkenstock tan,” two wide stripes of white, inelegantly crossing my tan. The feet at the bottom of the table are battered, but I know Ludmila has probably seen it all. I even imagine that she has worked on the feet of Latvian ballerinas. It’s a small country after all, it’s possible.

The one big, notable difference between my typical pedicure, here in my neighborhood in New York, and this one, was that it never involved immersing my feet in water! Rather than the sometimes perfunctory “soak” I get in the U.S., Ludmila would occasionally,

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let’s talk about standing up

standing up

Fearless Girl by Kristen Visbal

Photo by Federica Valabrega


Fearless. Iconic. That’s what the picture of Nancy Pelosi, standing in a room full of men, opposite the president of the United States, pointing her finger at him, is already, iconic. Let’s talk about standing up.

There have been many iconic moments like this involving women recently. In my last post, I talked about women acting. In this case, let’s talk about the act of standing up. From Christine Blasey Ford, standing, hand up, swearing to tell the truth in front of Congress, to Greta Thunberg at the U.N., shaming her adult listeners, to the statue,” Fearless Girl, on Wall Street, hands on hips, facing down the Bull, all iconic. 

Recently, I was forced to revisit a time, more than 20 years ago, when I started a consultancy whose focus was “using the body in leadership.” This was well before Amy Cuddy’s “iconic TED Talk,” where she introduced the whole world to “power-posing.” The consultancy never really got off the ground. But I continue to believe in the power of the body and the intelligent use of its intrinsic power, especially for women.

That’s another thing that women have been denied for far too long, feeling, using, and relishing the power of the body.

Let’s be clear, looking pretty, dressed in a “power suit” and high heels, is not enough. Although Nancy Pelosi, in her solid primary colors, suits, heels, tailored, not “frothy” but still “feminine” style, exudes confidence, that’s just packaging.

If “clothes make the man,” women have always needed much more to be able to stand up, something coming from a deeper place. 

While “fake it ’til you make it” by power-posing in the bathroom before a crucial presentation, and wearing a kick-ass suit at an important meeting, can work, when it’s time to stand up, they’re not enough. Nancy Pelosi understands that. And so do other women and even young girls. I bet Greta Thunberg was brought up to feel good in her young body.

There are exceptions to the rules about women and the use of the power of the body, whose allowed and who isn’t.

Although not exactly my area of expertise, I have to mention prostitutes and

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please support me in my attempt to empower you

Uplift by Ferdinand Cacnio

please support me
i made

paying attention

When you grow up an only child, in a family that is a perfect definition of “dysfunctional,” you rapidly become both icily independent and ravenously needy, at the center, of course, is a kind of numbness, a kind of strong, cold silence. But the numbness and silence of dysfunctional “onlyness” teaches and allows you to observe things closely.

In my case, that environment produced in my a quirky ability to be both empathetic and critical, while singularly detail oriented. If you can imagine an itinerant social worker, with a kind of refined sense of right and wrong, in a world where people don’t pay much attention to anything that doesn’t directly concern them, that’s me. 

I admit to both what is just romanticized “independence,” as well as clumsy, and, honestly, pathetic neediness. And I see a lot of need in the world.  

So like many women, I ask, what to do? I ask others to please support me in my attempt to empower you, how can I help you? And would you mind helping me? I’m an imperfect creature though, and most times neither my attempts to help or requests for assistance, work out. Why? 


We hear a lot about “support” everywhere these days, particularly in social media, but also in popular literature, as well as in the “serious” press.

Fifty years ago were people constantly offering so much “support” to individuals, communities, ideas?

Today, it’s all about support, and we do our part. We know that we must support our children in their quest for their individuality, that makes sense. And we support the neighborhood food bank, that’s surely a good thing. We know we need to support teachers in their work to educate youth, of course. We support our temple, or church, and our YMCA. 

It’s when the support is applied to ever larger circles of people, ever more distant from us, and even ideas, mostly vague ones, that support starts to become an unstable structure

empower me empower you

Do you support the “me too” movement? Yes, of course. How? Do you support the people of the LGBTQ communities? Yes. How? How do you support the women in Syria? The troops? Here’s my current favorite “support structure”: “I support women.” It has become as dreadful, as meaningless as the widespread “empowering women.” A sentiment that is hard to define and feel. Define. Feel.

“Let’s start a group to empower newly divorced women.” “We want to help empower women entrepreneurs.” “We empower women to be their “best selves” at any age.” 

Lest you think I’m being heavy on my criticism side, and less so on the empathy, I’m probably as guilty as anyone of supporting, all of the supporting that we are all doing. Perhaps like you, I’m quicker than I used to be telling people what I do and don’t support. And I’m totally into the idea of empowering women and girls!

Hash tag that, thumbs up, smiley face, heart.

Yes, I do believe it’s a kind of

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when the truth eludes you

Detail of a work by Thornton Dial at the Met Breuer

when the truth eludes you

pay up

What do you do when the truth eludes you? When you just can’t get the unvarnished truth, when it seems to be almost hiding from you, when you suspect that there’s actually some truth on both sides?   

This is the situation I recently found myself in, when I got in between a small, emerging fashion brand based in the United States and a small manufacturer based in Nepal. Here’s a condensed version of the story that grew rapidly and became relatively big, fast.

While scrolling through my Instagram feed last week, I came upon a picture of a small group of Nepalese women, holding signs urging a fashion brand to, essentially, pay up.

The text accompanying the picture said that the brand had ordered, received, and had been selling garments on-line, garments for which the women who made them, presumably the women in the picture, had been waiting for payment in full, for a long time.

These kinds of pictures float through my feed all the time and fairly often, I repost them. I don’t do so mindlessly. I read the accompanying text, pay attention to which brand, designer, or manufacturer is being accused of what. I do some research myself, or I make sure I know and can trust those who have, and I take into account how well documented the alleged, egregious behavior is. 

Calling people, companies, politicians, organizations, and even governments out is one aspect of social media I believe in.

“greenwash” it

I believe also that one has to be careful in the way they do the “calling out.” I did, and still do feel fine about reposting the Nepalese women’s post. I have no problem pointing out that too often this is how the business of fashion, especially fast fashion, works and the kinds of things it’s guilty of.

Go to a poor, “third world” country, find a manufacturer who works fast and cheap, don’t ask too many questions about how the women are treated and paid, and you have yourself a “relationship.”

If you want, you can even “greenwash” the situation.

You can tell your customers that every aspect of manufacture is done ethically and sustainably, the workers are housed in nice dorms, in the lovely countryside, the

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