Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Shoes

Pulling back the heavy door, I leave a cheerful sun behind me as I step into the chilly darkness of the museum.  As my eyes adjust to the dimness of the lighting, I notice the other visitors are all about my age.  And all female.  With total accuracy, I have no doubt I could tell each of them where they were on the early morning of July 29, 1981.  For without question they, like me, were certainly in front of their televisions, watching the fabled wedding of Lady Diana Spencer unfold in all its magnificent splendour.  And no doubt we are all here today for the same reason - to see the dress that she wore on that day.

For a newlywed myself, with the memory of my own beautiful wedding so fresh in my mind, that July pageant of long ago was such a rhapsodic spectacle, filled with a magic that seemed to leap off the very pages of both history books and fairy tales.  The entire world seemed giddily focused in happy anticipation of this very British ceremony and the conviviality generated by this event seemed to linger in the air like a sweet fragrance for such a long time.  I traveled to London the very next month, and remember fondly the boisterous good will that still reverberated from every shop window, every hotel lobby, every restaurant.  That wedding, and the hope of true love it represented, had painted a smile on the face of every waiter, thrown a genial cloak of exuberance over every taxi driver in the old city. It was a wonderful time to be there.

But in the same way that an iridescent bubble will burst when it touches your hand, life has a way of evaporating some fairy tales, especially if they are not what they appear to be even as they are taking shape before our very eyes.  So it is a bittersweet wander I am taking through this exhibit today, gazing through the glass at mementos of Diana’s star-crossed childhood - the naive diaries, the monogramed school trunk - the home movies, the ballet shoes.

The exhibit winds round and I silently follow until I turn a sharp corner and enter a long quiet room.  And there it is.  That wedding dress.  There’s the impossibly long train that I watched unfolding like an prophet’s scroll from that glass carriage, unfurling in the wind like the wings of a million doves down the wide, wide stairs of St. Paul’s.  There’s the sleeping beauty sleeves, the paper thin silk dotted with a multitude of sequins and pearls that sparkle like fairy eyes even here in this dull place, so far away across an ocean of events none of us can change, no matter how much we would wish to.  

I make my way round the length of the 25 foot train, and then I come to the shoes.
Handmade, with 542 hand-knotted, mother-of-pearl sequins on each pair, and lovely hand-painted soles, these are works of art to be sure.  But there is something else about them that brings me up cold.  They seem, in their humbleness of purpose, to conjure the woman that was Diana more than all the other articles combined.  For there are scuffs on the soles, scuffs that were made from the stone stairs of St. Paul’s, that were created on a palace balcony overlooking a multicoloured ocean of smiling faces - scuffs that make it all so ordinary, so real.   These are the shoes that took a pretty woman from a quiet life of a nursery school teacher into one of soul shuddering fame.  These shoes climbed into that golden coach on that bright morning in July, made their way up the steps of the old stone cathedral, and walked down that endless carpet of red, into a life none of us, including their wearer, could have ever foreseen.  I stare at them, transfixed.

Suddenly I feel a chill, like the icy fingers of regret reaching out to grasp my memories, and I am grateful that a happy May sun awaits me outside. I weave my way through the whispering crowd and back out into the light. 
But on the way home I find my mind roaming the corridors of deep thought, where the doors are emblazoned with words such as Fate, Destiny, and Choice. 
And I  wonder.
If Diana had known what the ending would be,
 would she still have agreed to her part in the play?  
Would she still have slipped her feet inside those lovely shoes?


  1. oh my pamela, once again your words are thoughtfully stunning.

    i often shared your exact thoughts but your way of bringing it to a level we can relate to is touching and thought provoking.

    the shoes she unknowingly slipped into..............

  2. Beautiful, beautiful post. Life can be so strange, so filled with drama. I think she still would slip her feet into those shoes, despite of everything, because being in the shoes means those two children.

    I love the image of the long train like a prophet's scroll.

  3. Oh my goodness, what a mesmerizing story.

    Yes, I remember the wedding, the anticipation, and THE DRESS. The dress was everything we who had grown up with Disney princesses had imagined. Diana was always beautiful, but THE DRESS transformed her into a magical creature, a bride of such fragility that she might at any moment shatter.

    I remember my mother criticizing the dress afterwards, saying that it was TOO fairytale-ish, that it was vastly overdone, that it exploited the child in Diana. I remember this because it was the first time I had ever been in complete disagreement with my mother, and I was quite shocked at the revelation that I was capable of upholding my own opinions, not at all influenced by a parent.

    Your metaphors are brilliant - "But in the same way that an iridescent bubble will burst when it touches your hand, life has a way of evaporating some fairy tales..," "For there are scuffs on the soles,...scuffs that make it all so ordinary, so real." And we only see that now, now that the fairy tale bubble has truly burst.

    Yes, I was there, eyes transfixed on the tv screen for the beginning of the fairy tale...and the end.

  4. Beautiful post. Really it has been a tragic destination of Diana of Gales and I am sure that she had never resigned this life for his two wonderful children.
    Have a nice new week,

  5. This really is a beautiful post. Everyone who watched that Royal Wedding cannot help but be touched by your words. Diana loved Charles deeply so I think she would have indeed still married Charles no matter what. I believe that one day there will be a social history about the life of Diana and particularly that marriage. There had been riots on the streets of Britain before that day and suddenly everything changed. Everyone felt more optimistic of the future. Then on the day of her death, that outpouring of emotion from everyone, something that we British are not known for: it showed just how much we thought of Diana with all of her flaws. Her death came just a few months after New Labour and the Blair government came into power on a wave of optimism. Life in Britain really changed from the 29 July 1981 to 31st August 1997 and in a large part that was due to Diana.

    Anyway apologies for the rambling.

  6. HI Pamela
    Once again a beautiful and thoughtful post.. It is interesting how you say the shoes conjured the most personal thoughts of Dianna.. It is true,.. a shoe is lived in... ones mark is left... and funnily I doubt any of us remember seeing the shoes... yet reading your words I understand just what you mean...

    You know even though I did watch the wedding.. I don't remember where.. but ask me about the day she died and I can tell you exactly where I was, the weather and most of the events during the day...She obviously grew on me more during the span of her life... I think if she would have chosen that life for the sole reason of her two wonderful children.. and perhaps also.. all the good works she achieved with her charities.... I believe by the end of her life she had found her inner strength and become comfortable as herself.. OK. big comments.. see what you elicit from us with your wonderful stories.. xxx Julie

  7. How gorgeous and thoughtful! You leave me thinking about shoes...thanks, again, for another magical wonder...

  8. Dear Pamela...its good to be back so now I can sit back..relax, and read all your wonderful posts I missed when I was away..:))

  9. I keep meaning to go see this exhibit...I was only 11 when the wedding took place, but my mother was born and raised in England and never gave up her British citizenship, so the wedding was an important event in our household! We all woke up at 3 am or so to watch the festivities.

  10. One shoe can change a life

    She probably would have made the same choice as it gave her two fine sons she adored.

  11. Wonderful post Pamela...who could forget that beautiful day when she walked down the aisle. I remember the final morning just as well...when she was laid to rest. There is a family photograph in the National Portrait Gallery of her and the boys when they were younger. I think that says it all...it is a lovely memory.

    Jeanne :)

  12. You took my breath away!

    From Diana's gown and trail unfolding "like a prophet's scroll", to the many sequins on her shoes, you simply took my breath away. Like her life as a princess, I, too, watched the pageantry of life unfold as I did her wedding. To see her dress up close through your eyes and words is such a lovely gift. The images of those shoes, which most of us never caught a glimpse of, unlike the gown, is so touching and makes the fairy tale wedding real.

    It is always, to me, enlightening to see such an exhibit. Some years back the dresses and gowns of Jackie Kennedy came to Chicago. As soon as the ticket sale opened up, I was online snatching two, one for my sister and one for myself. I just had to see it and I had to see it with her. To see the clothing and accessories she wore made her human, as your words her did of Diana for me.


  13. I keep thinking of that most basic of sayings, "If the shoe fits, wear it." I'm wondering how much say that Diana had in the shoes she wore that day. Were they selected for her? Did someone show her a sketch and say "and these are the shoes you will be wearing." I do not think they were a perfect fit.

    I'm going to stick with my black, extra narrow, arch support, old-lady comforts shoes. They do fit me indeed.

  14. How intriguing to read your post about the wedding of our heir to the throne to the saintly Diana. For me the night of the wedding was spent visiting a large conglomerate located in the brutalist US Steel building in Pittsburgh. They recommended that I stay in a 'landmark' hotel downtown. The rooms were unairconditioned, gloomy and with those strange, long cigarette burns on the bedside tables where someone has clearly fallen asleep with the noxious thing still burning away - think of the Piedmont Drive In Club but without the maintenance budget. To top it all off the antiquated television packed up just as the doors to the Abbey opened. So, yes, I did see the dress , but only briefly. Now , through you, I can be a modern man and get in touch with the beauty of the day.

  15. Oh I remember Charles and Diana's wedding day so vividly. Here in the U.K. a Royal Wedding is a major event. I remember it so well, as I was about to give birth to our daughter, so, I sat and watched the whole thing with my feet up !!
    On hindsight, it was doomed from the beginning but no one could have forcast such a disasterous outcome. I was one of the few who loved Diana's dress. I thought that she looked every inch a beautiful princess. I think that your analogy of the shoes is a very poingant one and, to see them in real life must be rather eerie.
    On a brighter note, my cousin's daughter got married in St Pauls as he has the OBE. It was the most wonderful wedding. We all got a boat along the river Thames, under Tower Bridge. Walked across the Millenium Bridge, pass the Globe Theatre to St. Paul's, while tourists and bystanders took photographs of us in all our finery !! It was one of the most wonderful weddings that I have ever been to (apart from our son and daughter-in-law's, of course. That was extra special !!).
    My sister and I could have also got married in St. Paul's as our dad was a Freeman of the City of London. ...but, we didn't !! Actually, I don't think that we found that out until after we were both married.
    I lovd this post, Pamela and your words were a perfect description . XXXX

  16. What a beautiful picture you have written here Pamela...I can see the wedding again in my mind's eye...and your analogy of the wear on her shoes...touching...I would love to go to this exhibit...

    I do think she would do it all again...

  17. Wow.
    I do remember where I was. In Kentucky, on vacation with my family, and OF COURSE I watched the wedding. And then a few years later I chose my own wedding dress--with those same sleeves.

    What a sad story, so promising and happy at the beginning.

  18. I was lucky enough to see the Diana exhibit in Dayton a few years ago. It was quite haunting to see her magical wedding gown. A fairy tale with such a tragic ending.

  19. Excellent, Pamea! Thank you.

    That was a magical day. I couldn't watch the entire wedding, but what I was able to see enlivened the romantic in my heart, perhaps more than than her death darkened my heartfelt sadness.

  20. As soon as I saw this photo it made me feel so sad. Very moving post, Pamela.

  21. Wow Pamela, deep chills mama...Your writing is so wonderful...If I can dig up some other adjectives I would use them. Perhaps I can borrow some of yours, because your way of putting things is magical..

    I think Diana was meant to be the princess in this real life fairy tale, albeit one with a very sad ending. It is this very ending that makes her story so tragic and so forever etched into our universal conscienciouness. She will be forever remembered because of her tragic end...just like Marilyn, James Dean, John Lennon...

  22. I remember I was 11 years old and I set the alarm clock for around 5am to watch the wedding on my black and white tv in my room! It was such a beautiful dress!

  23. What an absolutely beautiful post. Pure genius writing and a work of art that I am sure the Princess would have been proud to read.

    CJ xx

  24. What a fascinating post Pamela. I was a student nurse in theatre on the day Diana married and we sneaked in and out watching it on tv. In retrospect it was blighted from the start: a staid, old (in his mind) man set in his ways marrying an emotionally damaged very young (in her mind) woman with whom he had zilch in common and he a lifetime in love with another woman. As my mother said "it was bound to end in tears".

    There is a strong belief now that Diana realised she was making a huge mistake but it was too late to back out. I wish she had, but who of us would have had the guts to do so.

  25. Powerful post. You said it all.

  26. That was a beautifully written post, Pamela. Regardless of one's opinion of the protagonists in this very modern tragedy, you captured the spirit of that day and your insights on seeing the physical reminders - relics? - were insightful and interesting.
    Thanks, this made me reflect once more.

  27. Dear Pamela, first of all thank you for coming over so regularly! This makes me so extremly happy since I truly believe in soul sisters... I guess you are one for me, the lovely one with the wonderful gift of putting her soul to paper (or print)! And your incredible way with words has had me (and so many others) coming back ever since my first visit!
    I love your reflections on Diane, I have thought about her life and destiny often. When I was a young woman I did not know much about her (growing up in East Germany prohibited it)Her wedding is not at all remembered by me. Only my grandma showed me at the time pictures from some magazine clips she brought secretly from the West!
    Diane was an amazing woman and I always admired her strength and vision of her life, especially after her separation and divorce from Charles. How she was able to carve out a life at the court and among the Royals. My older two sons were born not much later after hers and I was divorced almost at the same time and felt so deeply for her!
    She was only two month older then me and her untimely death shocked me for a long time.
    Thank you for your words!

    So remarkable how you spun your story along about her wedding dress and shoes...
    Much love!

  28. Your writing is so beautiful Pamela and you make it seem so effortless.

    Those shoes are indeed very special, indeed the whole exhibition is very moving, did you see Althorp I wonder? The island where Diana is buried conjures up images of Sleeping Beauty also.

    re your comment on my blog, I think that you and the songwriter would be the perfect combination for an audio book, maybe Edward could provide the sound effects?

  29. I think you're asking was she inherently tragic or was tragedy thrust upon her? I think the latter. Superb writing.

  30. Beautiful, Pamela. The shoes. Where her existence tried to meet the ground. So sad. I was awake on that day in 1981, breastfeeding my new daughter in Pasadena. We watched together, and I'll never forget her dress, the train, "like a million doves" - perfect.

    I hadn't heard about this exhibit. It must be very strange to see these things in person.

  31. i remember watching the wedding on tv...it was like watching a fairy tale come to life...i was at work the night she was killed in the car accident...that was so sad...i think she would do it all over again...beautiful post!!!

  32. Always better not to know, I think, Pamela. Life serves up what it will. I particularly love your line:
    "the impossibly long train that I watched unfolding like a prophet’s scroll".

  33. What a touching observation, Pamela. As extraordinary as those shoes are they still had the very ordinary task of carrying a woman into her future. I was never caught up in the "fairytale-ness" of it all - the grand wedding, the royal lifestyle - but of course I watched the wedding and of course I followed Diana's story, just like everyone else did. We were almost exactly the same age, she and I, so it was interesting to compare her big life to my small one. The end of her marriage was not a surprise, but the end of her life was so shocking and sad. I have a feeling though that she would do it all again if only to bring her sons into this world. They seem to have become good men who appreciate who their mother was and what she would have wanted for them.

  34. What a wonderful, thoughtful post. How vividly you bring it all back - I remember where I watched the wedding and where I was when I heard the news from Paris. I think I would have wanted to get out into the sunshine again after seeing such bitter-sweet exhibits.

  35. Oh Pamela, one of my favourite posts you've written. So beautiful, and so moving, and so very insightful.

    Yes. Fate, Destiny, Choice. Are we but puppets in our own story? Every story has a princess, and not all have happy endings.

    Beautifully put. Thank you for taking me with you into the gloom.

  36. She would, because along with the heartbreak came her two beautiful and wonderful sons. She wouldn't have missed them for anything.
    Love your storytelling.

  37. I'll never forget watching Diana's wedding as a young girl. I was captivated by her.

    No one will ever be able to fill her shoes...

  38. I admit that I would love to see this exhibit. The detail of the scuffs on those shoes...that says so much. A real person wore those shoes, and surely she would never have slipped them on if she could have foreseen how the fairy tale would end.

  39. Thanks for visiting Pamela.

    Just yesterday I was looking at a rack of shoes in a charity shop and wondering why they were so unloved that they had been given away. What sort of person bought them in the first place and to go with what? I think shoes tell more about a person than any other garment as they are so closely fitting that they take an imprint of the wearer- a crease where a person bent down to look at a bottom shelf of books, or the stretching to accomodate a wider foot. Yes I think like you shoes are somehow more personal than clothes.

    Lovely post.I remember the day too on the TV.

  40. Super post Pamela, thought provoking and haunting. I will never forget the look of hope and happiness in her eyes as she walked down the aisle on her fathers arm.

  41. Oh, I remember watching this wedding on TV as a teenager. How sad that it had to end so tragically – a modern fairy tale. I love this line of yours:

    “But in the same way that an iridescent bubble will burst when it touches your hand, life has a way of evaporating some fairy tales...”

    I think the true princess is you, still happily married to your prince with a lovely dog in waiting.

  42. what a wonderfully chilling post! it's so sad because we know the ending...
    xoxo alison

  43. Would you ? would I ? No! the whole family is as mad as a box of frogs...but your post is poignant and beautiful
    Hugs Lynn xxxx

  44. your words sent shivers down my spine....shoes somehow carry the persons essence ...you look at the shoes and see the person...one of my favourite of van goghs paintings are of his boots...there is the man...
    diana's fairy story had a tragic end but who ever knows what is around the corner??....

  45. Beautifully told . Such a story with a Stunningly Sad end :(

  46. Pamela,
    These are the thoughts so many of us have not been able to speak...thank you. Choices, if only we knew what they will bring. I say so often to my grandchildren..good choice, bad choice...which will it be? However, fate will take care of the rest.


  47. You are a poetic soul and I am happy to meet you. My writing is nonfiction and I appreciate poetic soaring.

  48. What a lovely day you had to see such a beautiful showing of someone I too watched on tv have a truely fairy tale wedding!

    thanks for visiting my blog!

  49. Gorgeous post.
    I believe she would have done it again in a heartbeat.
    I know in my own situation, a very ugly marriage to a very mean man, the children that were the result are the dearest beings in my life. Now grown up, they are a true God send to me and I cannot imagine life without them or my grandchildren.
    Yes, if I had to go back and relive it I would endure it all again just to have them.
    I think she loved her children that much too.

  50. This, a stunning piece of writing - I was so intrinsically linked to the Royal Weddings, wed within months of them, and the joy and the sadness and the bitterness and the madness is captured right here - Stunning! x


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!