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Friday, 17 August 2018
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An ode to feet and shoes PDF Print E-mail

by Malinda Seneviratne

I asked myself today, ‘what are more fascinating: feet, footprints or shoes?’  We don’t pay too much attention to people’s feet or maybe it’s just me, I prefer faces and eyes. 

There are however times and places where feet, footprints and foot-ware are too in-your-face to miss.  Temples.  Funerals.  Beaches.  Some are neatly laid out in pairs, singly or as a group, but sometimes it is all random.  The layout on a road immediately after a demonstration has been tear-gassed or baton-charged is not pretty or pattered and one would be very lucky indeed to find a matching pair. If one is brave enough to return to the scene of the crime that is. The crime of demonstration-breakup and not demonstration, if the objection is peacefully articulated, let me add.

I saw shoes at the entrance of a funeral house.  Neat.  Rubber slippers, sandals and shows.  Different sizes, colours and designs and clearly different in terms of quality and price.  Some belonged to children, some to the young and fashionable, some to the old and frail and some to those who fall somewhere between these categories or on their respective borders.

Someone had worn these shoes a moment before, I realized.  I went in and paid my respects to the dead person.  He was not wearing shoes. Just socks..  Wrong.  He was not in shoes, just socks.  He is dead, I keep forgetting.   
So I saw feet and shoes that night. Shoes without feet at the entrance. Feet without shoes on the corpse.  I thought to myself that we don’t pay enough attention to these things. 

We look at people’s faces and especially their eyes, because we feel that’s where the core elements of a person are located.  We tend to believe that the doorways to heart and mind are all located above the neck. We might read hands, fingers and gesture, but most of us think the face is the shortest cut to the within of a person.  Those shoes and feet got me thinking, though.

We have seven eyes, most of us do. Two to see from, two to hear from, a tongue to distinguish difference in taste, hands and other ‘skinned’ body-parts to absorb texture and a fragrance identifying devise.  Eyes are made for gaze and eye-eye interactions are two-way streets to and from a person.  In seeing we obtain information and in allowing someone to see we impart information.  We communicate. The same with ears; listening and allowing someone else to listen.  Tongue: well, let me leave that out for a moment. Even odour is a language and it has more words than those one finds in the perfume section of an up market department store.  Then there is touch.
We think ‘touch’ is a hand related thing. It is.  It is more than this too.  Feet, I feel, are the sections of the human anatomy that is least appreciated in the matter of ‘touching’ and compared to touch-amount. Shoes don’t touch, they are interface so to speak, but still they carry encounter-stories that are fascinating if only we can turn all or a few of the 7 ‘eyes’ we have at our disposal to read them. 

We can ask the wearers where they got their shoes, what countries, named and unnamed they’ve taken them (and vice versa) and in this and other ways find a trace of the feet that wear them. ‘Feet’ in this sense is coterminous with heart and mind and soul and being.  The Sherlock Holmeses of this world would by just glancing at shoes reconstruct a complete identity of wearer, from toe to head, as it were. 

I am not trained in foot to body extrapolation. I might notice the foot formation, which toes dominate and which are reticent. I might infer from shoe condition something of the user’s personality, hygiene standards adhered to, dress-taste and sense of occasion. I can also think about the places he/she has been, modes of transport, income levels and so on.  A little something of person and that’s all.  Now had I spent a little more time in checking out feet, I might trace with better conviction and greater accuracy.  I should learn.
The other direction is no less difficult. Bare feet have stories of travel and being that we miss for the most part because we don’t see feet as window. I am not talking about foot-foot talk or ‘footsie’ here of course.  We can use eye window to look at foot-truth. 

My friends feet were dead.  They were there like two bricks of processed firewood. They were burnt and their ashes disposed of.  Those feet could run very fast and when an injury caused a permanent limp that made the track out of bounds, he shifted to volleyball and excelled in that sport.  Those feet took him across a continent made of 45 years, through youthful truancy, school and university, a few months of courtship, many years of loving, then marriage and the never-ending sometimes happy and sometimes taxing journey called parenting. He stopped a few days ago. I do not know what he was wearing.  I just regret that had never seen his feet, for I feel I would have known so much more of his being-map had I done this.

We don’t see feet or shoes and therefore are oblivious to the prints they leave, the clues to being and become that are their inevitable legacy.  

I think there’s a reason we are taught to touch a person’s feet when we worship them. Parents, teachers, elders and the haamuduruwos.  But one doesn’t have to touch to see. Or see to touch for that matter. 
There’s so much we neglect in life.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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