Shoes enfranchise the feet. The terrain is no longer an obstacle of sharp rocks and broken glass, barnyard manure and hot pavement. Our feet are armored against the prick of a syringe in a city park, rocks encrusted with barnacles, the thorns of the forest.
Shoes, like people, become old. Wrinkle and crack. Canvas tears. Rubber wears. Laces fray. Shoes are never long in letting us know when they are done with us.
There is a mythology of shoes. Hermes, the ancient Greek god of thieves and messengers, inventors and tricksters, a patron of athletes and bringer of dreams, and whose name gave us the word ‘hermenuetics’ for the art of interpreting hidden meaning, used winged sandals to fly freely between the mortal and immortal worlds.
In Part Two of Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles arrives on stage in a pair of seven league boots. He dismounts, and the boots continue on their way.
In Peter Schlemiel: The Man Who Sold His Shadow, by Adelbert von Chamisso, Peter Schlemiel sells his shadow for a purse that tenders unending riches, but discovers that the lack of a shadow prevents the possibility of finding love. The magician offers to return his shadow in exchange for his soul. Peter refuses. Instead, he acquires a pair of seven-league boots and redeems his foolishness by becoming a dedicated naturalist and hurdles the world taking notes, drawing sketches, and identifying species.
Wittgenstein associates Schlemiel’s shadow with speaking and thinking. “Thinking is not an incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking, and which it would be possible to detach from speaking, rather as the Devil took the shadow of Schlemiel from the ground.”
The sole is the bottom of the shoe. The welt is the intermediary between the sole and the upper portions of the shoe. The eyelets are perforations for the shoelace, which weaves in and out over the tongue. The heel is the stern of the shoe. The toe is the bow.
The oldest pair of shoes in the world are a pair of sandals made of tightly woven sagebrush bark. They were discovered in central Oregon and radiocarbon dated to be approximately 10,000 years old.
On October 14th, 2008, an Iraqi journalist named Muntadhar al-Zaidi hurled both of his shoes at George W. Bush during a Baghdad press conference. “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,“ al-Zaidi yelled as he threw the first shoe. “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,“ he shouted as he threw his second shoe.
In December of 2009, Madonna confessed to legendary shoe designer Jimmy Choo that she enjoyed shopping for shoes more than having sex with a man.