Pregnant moments and wooden shoes

arnolfine
We went as a family to the Bata Shoe Museum yesterday, each of us in our standard black rainboots, small, medium, and large. I was struck by an image of The Arnolfini Portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck back in the 1400s. The picture of the picture is at the shoe museum because of the pair of sandals lying at the bottom left, hard wooden slip-ons that have been unsurprisingly slipped off. I’ve seen the actual painting, too, several years ago at the National Gallery in London, England, which was especially moving for me not only because I thought it was a lovely painting, but because I was pregnant at the time, and I assumed she was too. (She wasn’t, apparently — she was just holding her voluminous dress in such a way as to look big-bellied.)

But back to the shoe museum. The collection spans centuries and crosses cultures. There are red pope’s shoes and shoes made of emu feathers and, yes, even barbie shoes (which put me in mind of my last post and reminded me of how I was always irritated by the fact that Barbie was perpetually on tiptoe and so less real to me). There was also a pair of wooden shoes much like my opa wore for work as a gardener — the museum ones, though, had been worn by smugglers in WW2, and dashed across the border between Belgium and Holland stuffed with rationed goods rather than the straw Opa used to keep his feet warm.

1930s-tuinder-gerrit1

Opa with fellow gardeners taking a load to auction

When we went to Holland to research The Occupied Garden, we were told an amazing story about one of Opa’s neighbours. He’d been tending his garden one day toward the end of the war, when a plane flew over and bombed the tracks nearby. He dove for cover and waited until the chaos had ended. And only when he was walking home in his klompen did he realize his foot was hurting. He wiggled out of his shoe and found his foot bloodied. A bomb shard had pierced through the wood.

Not so long ago I visited with a book club who’d read The Occupied Garden, and one of the members asked me, “Can you tell me if the book has changed you? I mean — I know it’s changed me,” he said, “but has it changed you?” I was flattered and a bit taken aback — but that man’s question comes to me again and again at the most unexpected times. Looking at shoes; choosing fruit and vegetables; watching the leaves of my tulips push out of the tough spring soil.

Below is one of my favourite pictures of Opa — who, by the way, probably never even knew who Barbie was.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Pregnant moments and wooden shoes

  1. Marilyn

    I was very surprised to learn that the young woman in the picture wasn’t pregnant. Those shoes she kicked off look very uncomfortable. Someday I will have to go the the Bata museum. It sounds like an interesting place.

  2. Julie

    What a delight to find your blog! I’ve enjoyed & look forward to future posts. The van Eyck has always been one of my favorite pictures. I, too, assumed that the lady was knocked up, which was part of her allure. That, the thin man’s mysterious gesture, and the tiny mirror in the background, have made me glad to see the piece again here. Also, I like very much your inclusion of photos with your (always lovely) writing.

  3. jim

    Love your blog Kristen! Just spent oodles of time foregoing the pool and dripping with perspiration as I go from story to story. Just love your writing!! And the pictures. N peeking over her Dad’s shoulders is a gem!

    Did you know the mutt in the picture looks like the dog type that monks used as foot warmers? We’ve met several in our travels, the dogs, not the monks, and they are super dogs!

  4. Ho visto diverse volte il quadro dei coniugi Arnolfini alla National Gallery di Londra e, come quasi tutti i dipinti di Van Eyck, mi ha colpito per la precisione dei particolari e per la dolcezza delle situazioni. Si nota nei suoi quadri che lui era essenzialmente un miniaturista e lo si intuisce mella descrizione pulita e incisiva dei dettagli. E sempre emozionante pe me ammirare uno dei suoi dipinti. Nella mia citta ,Torino , è conservato un codice con una serie di sue miniature, ma una in particolare mi ha colpito per la precisione dei particolari e per il paesaggio che rappresenta. Purtroppo è molto difficile vederlo perche, o è esposto in qualche altro museo, oppure , per salvaguardarne la conservazione, girano periodicamente le pagine ed è dofficile arrivare nel museo giusto nel momento in cui è esposta quella determinata pagina.

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