partly belonging to the earth, partly a piece of our own bodies. It’s an object that separates us from the earth while also opening up a world to us. It is simultaneously revered and trivialised in ways that seem to hinge, paradoxically, on one another. Not least, the way we think and feel about shoes rebounds on our own self-perception, both as individuals and as a largely shoe-wearing species.
In many religious traditions, there is a deep motive according to which shoes are considered obscene, even impious, object. When Moses discovers a burning bush, the first thing he tells him is that he needs to take off his shoes if he wants to walk on holy ground. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus take off their shoes before entering a place of worship.
There is a latent duality in shoe worship itself, a duality in which both appraisal and belittling are equally involved. This two-sidedness is also evident in the key shoe-related incident of recent history. In the annals of 21st-century warfare, a significant shot was fired with ‘the shoe heard round the world’ – the moment on 14 December 2008 when the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi hurled both his shoes at the US president George W Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. This sort of footwear attack has a long lineage, including Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging at the UN.
But the most fully metaphorical depth of shoes was expressed in the field of fiction. Talaria appear in Cinderella’s glass shoes and the ruby shoes worn by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. A more sinister variation on the magic shoe myth appears in Hans Christian Andersen’s fable The Red Shoes.