Dispatches from a Cultural Guerrillera

De músico, poeta y loco todos tenemos un poco.

Deborah Méndez Wilson

Deborah Méndez Wilson
Denver Metro Area, Colorado, USA
August 24
Colorín Colorado Communications
I'm a fifth-generation Coloradan whose Spanish/Pueblo Indian family roots run hundreds of years deep in the U.S. Southwest. I am a Westerner, through and through, and can't imagine living anywhere else in the United States. The Colorado/New Mexico territory is my ancestral homeland. _______________________________ I am a mother of two and grandmother of one, but don't expect me to conform to anachronistic, enshrined stereotypes of what a woman is supposed to be or do in the autumn of her life. _______________________________ I am a professionally trained journalist who loves to blog, too. I earned my 10,000 hours while working as a daily journalist, and unabashedly worship at the altar of English. _______________________________ Though English is my native language and I adore it, I am fluent in Spanish because I lived in South America for a decade, and revel in the vibrant, haunting beauty of Castilian and Latin American cultures, histories and dialects. ¡Que viva el Español! _______________________________ Follow me on Twitter: @DebMendezWilson


Editor’s Pick
JUNE 15, 2012 1:01AM

My Little Peasant Feet

Rate: 26 Flag

"Flamenco" (1995) by Spanish film director and photographer Carlos Saura.

Editor’s note: This is an old post. I deleted it a few months ago, but I’m reposting it today in honor of Sally Swift’s birthday ... and in praise of her pretty feet ... even if I don’t know what it’s like to have them. Here’s to you, Sally ...

Last summer, my 70-year-old mother and I sat side-by-side in a suburban cineplex, and waited for the lights to dim so we could be transported back to the political upheaval, provincial prejudices and Southern Gothic of the United States, circa 1960s, in the film “The Help.”

We had propped our sandaled feet on a metal bar in front of our front-row seats, and I stared at the similarities between my mother’s small feet and mine. They were nearly identical: pinkish blocks that ended in stubby toes and pedicured nails. As the movie started, and a rich panoply of Southern characters drifted across the screen, I smiled in the dark, and silently honored and accepted that—along with a short, curvaceous body and large almond-shaped eyes—I had inherited my mother’s pies de campesina or peasant feet.

It was no secret in our family that my mother, my sisters and I would likely never become foot models or ballerinas. Our toes were all nearly the same length. Our feet were so blockish and our toes so stubby that my little brother, John Francis Jr., christened them “Flintstones feet,” and joked that our ancestors must have “kicked a lot of caveman walls” back in the day.

As fate would have it, my beloved late brother was just the first of many males who would stare in morbid fascination at my homely lower extremities. Friends teased me relentlessly about my “Hobbit feet,” and I noticed men casting furtive, sidelong glances at my dogs on beaches, in boats and at swimming pools.

While living in the Caribbean, I kept my patas out of sight, bringing them out only to bathe, swim or windsurf. I lived in pre-revolutionary Venezuela, the land of mythic beauty queens and lost worlds, where the average woman is a bronzed Amazonian goddess—the girl from Ipanema on steroids. Venezuelan women don't just wear bikinis; they live in “dental floss” tangas, tiny scraps of triangles that barely cover their nether regions as they saunter enticingly along tropical beaches.

My short, curvaceous mestiza body betrayed both my indigenous roots, and my distant, circuitous Spanish peasant stock.

Unlike Linda Rondstadt and Shakira, I’ve never been one of those sunny hippie chicks who can seduce men with flowing skirts and bangled bare feet. Unlike Eva Longoria and Eva Mendes, I’ve never been a daring diva in strappy sandals, with finger-like toes that spill over soles and display tantalizing toe cleavage. No, not even toe rings and ankle bracelets can beautify my dogs.

One look at my little birdie feet and you know they were designed for chasing buffalo around pueblos and chalky cliff dwellings, for trekking across miles of high-altitude deserts, for trudging up hard-scrabble mountains, and for plodding along rows of maize, potatoes, spicy green chili peppers and other pre-Columbian crops, with a baby swaddled tightly on my back. They were not made for sexy sandals, dancing, or for propelling Michael Phelps-like through water.

Despite my genetic curse, or maybe because of it, I allowed American advertising executives to convince me that a bouncy strut and loud, decisive footfalls were true measures of hard-won independence, feminine mystique, youthful vitality and all-American sexuality. I internalized their absurd Madmen messages as a 1970s teenager, and spent years investing in shoes that made my feet look slimmer, and made me feel taller, slinkier and sexier. The higher the heel, the narrower the fit, the more powerful I felt. And the more pain I experienced.

It started in high school, where I teetered around in platform sandals and hot pants, and stretched into college, where I corseted my calves in lace-up, knee-high boots I wore under miniskirts and maxi coats. As a younger woman, I pounded pavements on two continents, wearing tight, narrow, pointy shoes and boots. I thought a confident stride could help me power my way to professional success. All the while, I pretended to ignore painful ingrown toenails, shortened calf muscles, sore arches, and weeping blisters. Despite my discomfort, I actually danced cumbia, merengue and salsa on 4-inch heels.

My feet were not designed for dancing blithely through gilded European ballrooms or across stages lit up by footlights—or were they? In the ballet world there’s a name for blocky appendages like mine: Giselle feet. As it turns out, they are ideally suited for dancing en pointe because feet with stubby toes can bear a dancer’s weight better than slimmer feet with longer toes. I’ve since learned that what I have admired all my life are “Egyptian feet,” narrow, elegant fronds with long toes that taper progressively and look amazingly hot in barely-there, spike-heeled sandals, feet that inspire fetishes, feet like Sally Swift’s, dear readers.

To test my Giselles a few years ago I took up flamenco at María Vázquez Flamenco Denver. My teacher, María Vázquez, from Seville, Spain, and her instructors coaxed out miracles from my peasant Spanish-Pueblo feet. I slunk around in sexy flamenco shoes, long skirts and Danskins, and stomped my feet in rhythmic, complex floor patterns. I learned sevillanas, golpes and step-clap combinations, and twisted my hands into heartbreakingly beautiful movements. Under María's tutelage, my hands became palomas, doves in flight, and my feet powerful, percussive instruments.


When I put my left foot forward, arched my right arm proudly above my head and stretched my short torso toward the sky, I imagined myself taller and more elegant, more refined, and less stocky: more like a dancer, and less like a peasant.


I’ve come a long way in trying to make peace with my purposeful, sturdy feet and my low-center-of-gravity body in a nation that sets impossibly high beauty standards for women. My puckish little feet and curves have served me well, and have taken me down many interesting roads.


Now, when I look at my feet, I see my history, my roots and my mother, and I remember where my feet have taken me, and how many roads they have left in them. To that, all I can say is: Olé, olé, Mamá. Olé, olé.

Happy Birthday, Sally. Here's to your pretty feet! (Google Images) 




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I am so honored! And with such a moving, touching post about family, tradition, genes and acceptance. Your last graph says it all. Thank you for sharing this. Really. Thank you. And brava!
Oddball topic Deborah but you've fleshed it out well. What strikes me about this and a couple of other posts of late is the evidence of pressure to look right that is overwhelmingly placed, or at least embraced, on or by women. I can't recall ever having heard any man make any reference, verbal or by conduct, on how their feet looked. I can't say the same for women. While many of them in my presence haven't let our a peep on the topic, several have bemoaned their appearance and a couple have remarked with relief that they were pleased their feet weren't ugly. Yikes.

I reckon I have all the stress I care to deal with in this world. But if I had to add to that how my feet looked plus a host of intermediate things that bridge the gap between feet appearance and, say, sob story denial of benefits decisions, I don't know how I'd cope.

On the larger point I'm probably a culprit. Among my turnoffs are misshapen feet apparently caused by ill-fitting shoes. No problem with the vagaries of the bodies we're born with but to do the equivalent of self-mutilation for pedal vanity, yuck.
oops. there I was trying to figure out some technical details on a different account. It is I who am inspired by this to take flamenco. ha, busted for dinking around with other accounts.
Feet, shoes, dance-- You're faved.

Loved the clip.

We had a "veil" lesson at bellydance class yesterday---I imagine managing a big skirt with all those ruffles within a choreography is just as difficult.
Old Post. Odd Post? Nice Feet.

I remember pretty peasant feet.
Earthen energies get into bodies.
Americans need to walk more bare.
I once said to a cute little darling.
"You have bare feet.
It's too cold for that."
She thought I meant:
She had bear feet.
You have beer feet?
Sally has pretty feet.
I need my nails filed.

You do manicures?
I love the way you see the history of your ancestors in your feet, Deborah! Beautiful flamenco dancing...that class sounds like it was a lot of fun. Happy birthday, Sally! :)
Wonderful essay/story...You are so fortunate to have your Mom. Really well written. Should get recognition as EP. Much praise.

High heels ruined a lot of feet. Particularly the ones with pointy toes. I wore them for years. Sandals and flip flops not so good either. I am going to rummage through my drawer..I think I have a toe ring from my days on Culebra. I will it wear it today....

Most of the wealthy women from Latin America are gorgeous and have fabulous everything. They are pampered and cared for. Toes included. There is a huge difference between wealthy toes and and not so....I think it was always a status symbol.
Still laffing at tantalizing toe cleavage. Never occurred to me to look!
Sally: You were my muse for this post, all the way. You inspired me to rework it a little and repost it. ... Hope you had a great birthday!

Everybody Else: Yes! Flamenco classes are so fun. And, heck, where else can you dance in such lovely shoes and skirts? Word of warning, though. If you have taken salsa or other Latin dance classes, be prepared to have those hip movements schooled out of you in flamenco. Flamenco doesn't involve shaking your hips. It's very much all about the hands and feet. And you really do have to start looking at your feet like percussive instruments. Have fun!

Abra: LOL. It is an oddball subject, but I'll bet you there is not a woman on earth who hasn't wished for prettier feet. And the ones who have them, like Sally, are so blessed.

Pandora: I think you would enjoy flamenco. I had to give it up after I suffered a bad ankle sprain, but I've healed and I think it's time to get back to it. Just so you know, though, those foot patterns are really complex, and you have to have good hand/foot coordination. But the shoes and skirts, sigh.

V.Corso: I get you. ... A lady I did flamenco with was a belly dancer, too, and she was one of the best in our class. The rehearsal flamenco skirts are not as ruffled as the ones in the video. If you haven't seen Saura's "Flamenco" film, I highly recommend it. The music, dance, costumes and choreography are stunning.

Art: See!! That's what I mean. We women are obsessed with our feet, and your friend's reaction to "bare feet" proves it. No woman wants to be known for having "bear feet!" ... Thanks for your artful comment, as always.

Clay Ball: I love, love, love that flamenco choreography in the film "Flamenco," too. ... You ought to give it a go! Flamenco, that is.

Ande: I hear you. I was always amazed at their beautiful shoes.

Matt! You mean all those women wearing slinky shoes haven't captured your attention? Google "toe cleavage" and see what comes up. ... :)
Liked this very much. And congrats on the EP.
To all the ladies thinking of taking flamenco classes: Go see Paco Peña and his flamenco dance troupe if they perform in a town near you. They are well worth the price of admission. You can see their performances at YouTube, but those videos don't do justice to seeing this troupe perform in real life. Both the men and women dancers are unforgettable. You won't be sorry!
I swear I don't often cuss much.
I picking berries with bear feet.
I have tourist feet. I walk very slow.
My duck-feet flap. My toe gets stub.
I stub my big toe. I have drop foots.

I use to wear silly drop-foot braces.
The 2- device had a spring-gadget.
The foot that hung low was pulled.
Army issued it t me free of charge.
It had wing-tips with steel springs.
threw that in the Potomac River.
If no milk for corn flakes? 'Pepsi'
Go great in Sugar-Frosted Feet.
No eat pig or frog feet for Grub.
My lower limb feet get Floppy.
I no win Beauty contest Never.
huh . . .
I'll go back outside. I miss it here.
It's better than vacation in Sheol.
Maybe we go Bare Foot Together.
I intended to say:`
My son was in the Fort Collin Fire.
Maybe he walked on hot ash coals.
Friends who showed Hospitalities.
And he saw their Home Burn Down.
We never know. I'll never tease `Gin.
Once I saw a woman with Pink Crocks.
I (still) thought they were called `Flops.
I used the old word for 'Flip-Flops' Huh.
She seemed insulted. I thought She Cool.
You'd think I was gawking at her Cleavage.
Boanerges1: Thanks, I never dreamed this would garner an EP. You just never know! :)

Seer: But it's true! ... My husband sings that silly folk song that goes something like this:

Great green globs of greasy, grimy gopher guts,
Mutilated monkey meat
little Dirty birdie feet.
french fried eye balls boiled in a bowl of blood
and thats what I had for lunch and it was good.
(Source: Wikepedia)

Now THAT's oddball!
Art: You put the "art" in "artist." ... You never cease to amaze me with your poetic responses. They can't even be called "comments." They are way beyond comments. ... Thank you! ... I'm sad for your son's friends. The wildfire has been devastating. Hope he's OK. ♥
I have Flinstone Feet too! Flat too and too padded .Delightful essay on feet and Flamenco.
Thank you so much for re-posting this! My husband plays trio-style music and has gotten me addicted to the Flamenco sound...How beautiful to see the movements that go with it...Everywhere those little birds!
Wonderful post. This is a rallying cry for stubby feet everywhere. Take off those shoes, put rings on your toes and dance!
Fernsy: We Flintstone gals have to stick together!!

KC: How lucky you are! My husband plays classical Spanish guitar, and I make him play La Malagueña for me all the time. How do you think he wooed me? ;)

JL: You made me smile! You don't look like a girl with stubby feet, though. :)
I have the peasant feet, too, and yours are way prettier than mine!
What an unusual topic for a post but a worthy one. Your feet look pretty to me.
Okay, senora, the real me is back and before tending to my feet, before taking my feet out there to meet people in my new town, before regular dancing, let me say this was terrific, and yes, flamenco sounds like it will be just the thing.

I'm so glad you wrote this, and glad to see so many people responding. R for real, as in spanish. You da reina.
I've never read such a deep reflection on one's feet. Personally the best thing I can say about my own feet is they've been around, a lot, and look like it. [r]
All -- That photo above? Those aren't my feet!! If my feet were that pretty, this essay would never have been written. Those feet are probably closer to what Sally's feet look like. Believe me: Mine are pretty homely. OK. They are not monstrous. But not pretty. :)
Wonderful story! My daughter is a professional flamenco dancer, living in Madrid. I never get tired of the tablaos, the Sevillanas, or the necessary trips to Spain for costumes. Ole!
Try the Ballet Nacional de Espana website for cool video of their rehearsals and performances too: vimeo.com/balletnacional
I've never really paid that much attention to feet, except I don't like men in sandals. But I think when you don't like something about yourself you assume everyone is looking at that flaw (you think you have) I'm glad you have embraced your feet! You probably needed a good foot rub anyway.
Nilesite: Wow! So cool! I never get tired of watching flamenco dancers, either. There's something so primordial about it. I'll check out the site. Thank you!! Olé, olé!

Lucinda: Girl, it's because you have beautiful feet. I saw that photo you posted. Don't try to deny it. :) ... But I know what you mean. I DO assume everyone is looking at my stubby toes and feet when I wear sandals, but at this point, I don't care anymore!
Cute post.

I have been struck by how, despite your remarks about elegant elongated Egyptian feet, how peasant-like and chubby and real-woman-like proper belly dancers are. Tall elegant slim women don't cut it...and yet it's the sexiest dance there is. I would think flamenco is probably like that too - a dance of Gypsies, and any Gypsies I've seen were pretty far from tall and elegant.

I've often thought I and my sister are obviously Scottish peasant stock. That said, neither of us have ever tried Scottish dancing - perhaps it would suit our body type!
Myriad: By God, you're right! Belly dancers are usually short and curvaceous, and gypsies, too, and - yes! - they are seductive and gorgeous women. Guess I should look at my feet more charitably. :)

Donegal: Your comment reminded me of that Death Cab for Cutie song, "Sout Meets Body."

Here are the lyrics:

I want to live where soul meets body
And let the sun wrap its arms around me
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing
And feel, feel what its like to be new

Cause in my head there’s a Greyhound station
Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations
So they may have a chance of finding a place
where they’re far more suited than here

I cannot guess what we'll discover
We turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels
But I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s
And not one speck will remain

I do believe it’s true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
If the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too

So brown eyes I hold you near
'Cause you’re the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere

Where soul meets body
Where soul meets body
Where soul meets body

I do believe it’s true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
If the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too
So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you’re the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
Ooops. Typo. I meant "Soul Meets Body."
Excellent post and I've never ever understood the fashion fetish of women's shoes.
JMac: I've never understood it, either. But, boy, have I been a fashion victim -- for years and years. :0
Deborah, this is a brilliant, heartfelt story, which I very much liked!!!

""Now, when I look at my feet, I see my history, my roots and my mother, and I remember where my feet have taken me, and how many roads they have left in them. To that, all I can say is: Olé, olé, Mamá. Olé, olé.""

Wonderful thinking, rated!!
Brilliant, as ever. You should know I'm a foot-lover in that Other sense, of sorts, I think. I just know it's very very important.
Question: Do many dudes flamenco? It looks a comely step away from undudely arts, but oddly inviting all the same.
Icy: Yes! Dudes definitely DO flamenco. There is a long, proud line of male flamenco dancers. Check it out on YouTube. ... Pretty feet can be very sensual, so I can see how'd you like them "the other way." ...
I love this...from the descriptions, to the feminist awareness, to the self-love. Beautiful!
Tichaona: Thank you. You really get where I was going with this one.
Catching up on my reading...the first place I go is to the reader's picks. This is charming and wonderful. In heaven we will know the reason for our pies.... xoxoxo J
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