My Funky Shoes
Nada Sesar-Raffay remained in Toronto when her husband returned to Zagreb, Croatia. Her shoes, which she bought in the mid-nineties on Queen Street, were black. Their comfort, on the one side, combined with their lack of elegance and femininity on the other, suited her at the time for her daily walk south from Bloor Street to her studio at Spadina and Queen – on the fifth floor of a building with windows facing south, and a view of the Cameron House with its rooftop patio. For five years, in all four seasons, she walked south to north and north to south in these shoes. At the beginning of the new millennium, she painted them in funky colours. It was like giving her friends the right to rest, preserving them in colourful memory.
Seventeen years ago, I was already a Canadian citizen living a half-hour walk from my studio at Spadina and Queen. Every morning I would linger in my apartment north of Bloor, browsing through the kitchen cabinets, taking a second cup of coffee on an empty stomach. My nest was empty. The smell of coffee comforted me. It took me back to the smell of my mom’s kitchen. It also reminded me of my kitchen, years before, and when my husband had his first cup of coffee in the mornings, with a cigarette, before he drove our son to school.
Things were falling apart.
My husband had returned to Zagreb, pursuing a job, after losing one in Toronto. Our son had left for university in another city.
I was facing an unknown future.
Then I would put on my shoes.
The lace-up shoes I had bought in the mid-nineties on Queen Street were made of soft black leather and had chunky heels. They combined comfort, on the one side, with a lack of elegance and femininity on the other. Perfect. Their height, too, was perfect. The ritual of tying the shoelaces was more important for me than I understood at the time. I was like a soldier.
The Giantessa was emerging.
The shoes were a perfect fit for my first baby steps into the world of my imagination and my growing independence. They set me on the long trip of self-discovery.
My daily half-hour walk south was a transcending experience. I would walk through Kensington market, identifying with the old and second-hand goods in the store windows. But the moment I opened the door of my studio on the fifth floor of the building, with its windows facing south, and a view on the Cameron house with its rooftop patio where flowers bloomed in summer, surrounded by my canvases and my easel which I brought from Zagreb, I simply felt– I can make it.
Those years, at the end of the twentieth century, I created the series of paintings Transmutations and Liberation. That was a painful out of body experience. Every day, after ten or twelve hours of painting late into the night, I would leave my studio, exhausted, frightened, and alone, to walk back to one of many apartments I desperately tried to call home.
My husband was too far away. But my shoes gave me comfort, made me feel safe. They were witnesses. The Giantessa was a warrior. I was walking my daily routine from self to self. I had to stay an artist and, at the same time, a mom, a loving support and lifeline for our son.
The shoe was perfect for fall, winter, spring, and summer, for solid and melted snow, for hard asphalt and midnights. Spadina Avenue was safe for walking. For five years, in all four seasons, I walked south to north and north to south. Gradually, the change has come, and I am ready to accept. Or am I?
At the beginning of the new millennium, a new studio became my home. I had new work, new structures, new colours, and new hope. My husband had decided not to return. Our son had gone on his way. My shoes were resting in a box in a dark storage place. Like a phoenix, I emerged from the confusion of the past decade. One day with childlike joy, I took my brushes and painted the shoes in funky colours. It was like giving my friends the right to rest, preserving them in colourful memories, and finally, liberating myself from the darkness.
NADA SESAR-RAFFAY has been a visual artist for more than 35 years. She moved to Toronto from Zagreb, Croatia, 23 years ago, with her (then) husband and fellow artist and her son in his early teens and an Irish setter, Abba. Since that first day in Canada, life has been everything, but not a smooth tango. But she is still in love with dancing.