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,

between the many steps of the pedicure, use a warm damp towel on them. I was, after all, practically flat on my back, and it would have been impossible to soak my feet.

After my first hot towel, the process began. Ludmila started using various instruments on my feet that were attached to a cart, that I wouldn’t be surprised to see in a dental office, or perhaps at a jewelers being used to polish precious stones, not to use on my well-worn feet.  

At one point I had the feeling that little fishes were nibbling at my feet, perhaps this instrument had been invented to simulate the “fish pedicure?” In any case, it was a pleasant feeling, like being tickled. In any case, I’m all for the fishes.

As I laid there, being nibbled at, I had a chance to gaze at the ceiling and walls. The walls were painted with “sweet,” lady like pictures: a butterfly, a country scene, flowers. This was odd enough, for a non sweet and non lady like woman like me, but hovering around the pictures were the words in Latvian: taurins, zeme, ziedi

The Latvian language is nothing if not poetic, so the words in Latvian were not that odd like they might be in English, like in a children’s book: butterfly, country scene, flowers. 

After the instruments, the nibbling, another hot towel, and a massage with warm lotion, my well-groomed nails are ready for polish; a classic red, we both agree. Before application, Ludmila puts the required “toe spreaders” between my toes. But these are truly the funniest ones I’ve ever seen, and they make me laugh. 

It looks like little pink hearts are dancing between my toes, the kind of hearts you gave your best girlfriend in grade school on Valentine’s Day. And I laugh at the thought.

There’s something sweet and wonderful about the way women everywhere want to take care of themselves. It’s a universal desire, and I think it mitigates the social distances between women. All sorts of universal desires mitigate distances between people.

P.S. My pedicure lasted, and lasted, and lasted. 

angela scott

Shoes! I really need some good shoes, and it’s not that they’re that hard to find, they’re hard to pay for. I’m sure like for many of you, shoes are a mini obsession for me. These, by Angela Scott, are kind of exquisite no?

I’ve been disappointed lately by shoe brands I once thought might fill the gap between “high-end” and just plain, “cheap shoes,” as I once said.

Once again, I’ve had to admit that you do indeed get what you pay for, and I think that you can’t buy a good, well made, stylish pair of shoe these days that cost less than $300. And these above, are more! But listen to me, do we really need 20, 30, 40 or more pairs of shoes?

This is where the notion of quality versus quantity comes in again, you don’t need ever-expanding shelves of shoes.

I will show more shoes soon and include some “vegan” and sustainable brands. For now, remember: The more you own, the more that owns you.


“…’Chanel is making us forget yesterday’s woman, teaching us to walk naturally, by snipping a lock here, the flounces of a dress there.’ Flappers wore thin dresses, short-sleeved and occasionally sleeveless; some of the wilder young things rolled their stockings below their knees, revealing to shocked eyes a fleeting glimpse of shin bones and kneecaps. In Deauville, Biarritz, on the racetracks, in the ballrooms, and at Maxim’s, society women imitated the brisk step and quick breath of the young.”

From Coco Chanel, by Axel Madsen




  • Leslie says:

    So interesting! While in Milano I did get pedicures — but didn’t find them much different than here. Except of course…always red. Red, red, red is what to use. Brighter red in summer and wines in winter.

    And shoes — I learned of a local really-good-quality brand while I was there that has since moved to the States and has opened in Miami and NY. Michele Lopriore. Please investigate!!!

  • Brikka says:

    I’ve had my eye on Angela Scott shoes for a long time and would love to hear if they are as well made as they look. Because they look very well made, not to mention gorgeous, indeed.

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