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Shopping goes underground

June 29, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

MONTREAL - This city is proud to tell you that it has 38 kilometers (for those of you unfamiliar with the metric system, that's 284 tons) of underground shopping malls. Many readers who are quick on the uptake will have already surmised by now why this was bad news for me.

The Retail Sector in High Heels took it as a challenge, nay, a duty, to cover every last inch, with me tagging along in tow like a dingy after a sailing vessel.

In the interest of fairness, we always alternate our vacation-site selection and this was, sadly, a selection of mine. She always chooses someplace tropical, I always choose some place inhospitable. Montreal is very pleasant in the summer, but in winters it can get a little chilly, ergo the vast underground shopping network where you can spend in comfort. And in summers, you can spend above ground in comfort, and heaven knows they have enough of that, too.

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We had just purchased a plot of land on Lake Champlain in New York, so I was at a serious moral disadvantage. A man can't plunk down a fistful of jack on something he wants then complain about his wife going out and purchasing a few hundred of the latest French fashions.

I began to grow suspicious, however, because Andrea was oddly restrained. A top here, a necklace there, but nothing along the take-no-shopping-prisoners barrage for which I was braced.

It wasn't for a lack of opportunity. What was amazing to me were the shoe stores. There were three or four of them on each block and at least 6 million in all. They have so many shoe stores, you would swear Montreal is populated by millipedes, but most of the natives I saw had only two feet, so I don't understand the surplus supply.

I swear, though, we were in every one of those shoe stores. Twice. Now did it matter that a lot of these shops were the same store, just different locations? As they say in French-speaking Quebec, au contraire. There is this shoe store called Aldo and you stumble upon one every 50 feet and they all have the same inventory and they all have the same prices but that didn't matter because we had to visit each and every one, just in case a manager at one particular store may have sensed a volcano was about to erupt in his showroom and he felt the need for quick liquidation.

I don't get it, but then of course I never do. The best way I can describe it, is that Andrea has this way of channeling shoes. She will heft a pair and then her eyes will partially close as she goes into this sort of religious trance, waiting to see if the shoe will speak to her, or something.

A couple of times she would snap out of her reverie to ask me why I was just staring into space and not looking at the men's shoes.

"Because they all say 'Sould.'"

"So?"

"Oh nothing, but if they're sold you would think they wouldn't leave them on the rack."

"You realize that 'sould' is not French for 'sold,' it's French for 'sale.'"

"Um, right. Well - carry on."

Fortunately she was wearing a purple hat, so I was able to track her. Even if I couldn't see her, I could see this purple hat moving up and down the department store aisles and every so often the hat would stop long enough for me to catch up.

Usually she was waiting for me so she could offer up an opinion of the latest French fashions. Since fashion always seems to hit Hagerstown six to 12 months late, I don't know whether to spoil the surprise, but I will warn all you shoe-wearing ladies out there that you are, in my view, in for some serious discomfort.

The latest shoes look like some kind of weapon. They would look less at home on a woman's foot than on a police officer's belt. The heels are a half-foot tall if they are an inch, and about the diameter of broom straw. And the only thing sharper than the point of the heels on these shoes is the point of their toes, which could easily double as a letter opener.

Fortunately, Andrea is sensible and she saw no reason to buy a pair of shoes that, 1.) Cost $190 for 30 cents worth of leather and, 2.) Look as if wearing them for more than 20 minutes at a time would cause a serious case of carpal ankle syndrome.

As she shook her head after failing to connect in the final store, I stopped to reflect on the odds that in the entire city she would find nothing that would tempt her into buying her estimated 3,213th pair of shoes. I thanked her. My wallet thanked her. And I celebrated by purchasing a cool pair of Italian loafers.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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