I first met these felt slippers nearly 30 years ago.
In those days, I spent my winter holidays in the mountains of South Tyrol.
At the foot of the majestic Alps of the Dolomites, with beautiful villages, medieval streets and colorful houses that seemed straight out of a fairy tale.
The people who lived in that area, the Austro-Hungarian Suedtirol until the First World War, were of German descent, tall and severe with deep, sculpted wrinkles. Thirty years ago, most of them routinely spoke German and many still did not speak Italian well.
When we talk about "Italians", many imagine a way of being open and smiling, but the people of this region generally have a serious and dry expression and way of speaking, it is a bit like being with a Japanese you have never met before.
I still remember the first time I saw these felt slippers.
People at my hotel used them in their private space, and the felt seemed so warm and soft. The red and blue velvet of the hem was so elegant that immediately caught my eye. The travel slippers I had brought from Milan seemed terribly cheap, and I thought I would like to have a pair.
In Milan and generally in Italy, it is not customary to remove shoes when entering the house. Especially in traditional families, people wear leather shoes also in their own homes.
Before the pandemic, my family also wore shoes around the house, because we often went out and met people. Then, with the lockdown, my family members also started wearing slippers all day. It seems that many people in Italy have changed their habits after the pandemic. Slippers are, let's say, like pijamas, they belong to the private sphere of the house.
There is no situation in Italian life where you have to take your shoes off, but most Japanese living in Italy take off their shoes just like in their home country. To tell the truth, Italians don't like to take off their shoes at home. In Italy, shoes are part of the style. Especially in the case of women, if they take off their shoes with 7 cm heels, they lose their balance and their aesthetic image. Once, in a Japanese house, an Italian friend of mine had to fold up the hem of her bell-bottom trousers and I couldn't help but smile. In fact, when I am invited to a Japanese house, I also try to wear clothes that can be balanced even if I take off my shoes.
In Japan, people take off their shoes and put on slippers not only at home, but also in ryokans (Japanese inns), restaurants, temples, offices, local museums, etc. However, most of the Italians I know, when in Japan, don't like the offered slippers because they don't like to wear slippers that others have used. It would be a bit like borrowing someone's underwear. That's why my partner too sometimes prefers to walk in socks or barefoot in Japan. When a kind waitress at a Japanese inn gently puts a pair of slippers in front of their feet, they're in trouble. They say, "Oh, thank you," and put their feet in the slippers awkwardly as if they were wearing someone else's underwear, and take them off as soon as the person disappears.
Dear Japanese, if you see a Gaijin not wearing slippers, leave him alone.
But also in Italy, in the alpine areas and generally in the mountains, people always take off their shoes and wear slippers. In South Tyrol people always wear slippers indoors, almost like in Japan, where it is rude to enter someone's house with shoes on.
The felt slippers worn by the owner of the mountain hotel were really beautiful...
One day I told her: "Those are very nice", and she recommended them to me because they were made in the area and of excellent quality. She told me where I could find them. The next day, I was so happy to go buy them, but...surprise! Felt slippers were placed in a corner of the window next to sturdy-looking hiking shoes, but they were so expensive that I thought I had mistaken them for dress shoes.
I don't remember the exact price, but if ordinary slippers had cost 5,000 lire, it would have been something like 50,000 lire. At the time there was the lira...
It was too expensive for slippers, and I gave up.
Every day in Milan, every time I took off my shoes and put on my dull slippers, I remembered the felt slippers I had seen in the mountains, the sheen of the velvet edge, and as the days went by it seemed to me that I had made a mistake irreversible.
When I was still very young and single, I spent a few days in Rome with a friend who came to visit me from Japan. One morning, while I was sitting on the sofa in the hall, I saw a man walking towards me. I don't know why, but I thought I’d seen him before and he gripped my heart. He came towards me with sure steps. He had brown hair and clear, intelligent eyes. His face was gentle and sweet as I like. He wore a pure white shirt and yellow pants, walked with his back straight, and when our eyes met, he smiled softly and sat on the sofa next to me.
"Are you traveling?", in English. I replied in Italian: “Yes, I live in Milan” . The man smiled and looked me in the eye, and it was as if all the refreshing morning streams of the world were concentrated there.
Immediately, my heart blew as loud as the military wake-up trumpet, and at the same time I instinctively got up. I heard my voice say, "Goodbye" while the inner one said, "Hey, hey, why are you running away?". The man looked a little surprised and disappointed (or so he seemed to me) as he said "Goodbye", looking straight into my eyes.
I think whoever invented the Japanese proverbial expression "being pulled back by the hair" had the same experience I had at the time.I left that place feeling the strength that wanted to bring me back.
I still remember, after decades, the scene from that morning. The look of that man when I got up. If I had spoken to him as a grown woman at that time, my life might have been different.
A few years later, in Milan, while I was changing into a pair of banal slippers, thinking of the South Tyrolean felt ones and remembering the sheen of velvet, one day I suddenly remembered that man with the yellow trousers.
Lessons learned from life's mistakes.
When I went to the mountains on vacation the following year, I didn't hesitate to buy a pair of felt slippers with a red velvet edge.
Since then, I have been using them all year round, except in July/August when it is extremely hot. I don't like the fragility of hotel slippers, so I take them with me when I travel. Made with pure local wool, soap, water and pressure, these slippers are of incredible quality and will last almost forever. The sole and upper are also not sewn together, but are integrated during the felting process, so they do not lose their shape. Even so, there comes a time when you think, "It's time to change them," so I replace them with a new pair every 7 or 8 years.
The ones I am using now are from the fourth generation.
A bitter lesson from my youth, that of the man with yellow pants, but with these slippers I have not repeated the mistake, with them I will have a relationship for life.