I had been walking for quite some time. By this point, I’d been walking, through Spain, for about a little over a month. By this point, I was used to walking all day without seeing anyone else. And while I was used to seeing signs of people, I didn’t really see too much of other people themselves until I settled into an albergue for the night.
But on this day, The Ides of May, I came across several trees with shoes hanging from them. It didn’t seem particularly remarkable at the time, but when you think about it — when you really think about it — there’s something going on here.
Because people aren’t just spontaneously whipping off ther shoes, tying them together and chucking them into the tree on a whim. “Hey, that looks pretty cool! Lets throw our shoes in the trees, too! then we can walk all the way home barefoot!” There’s nothing wrong with being barefoot, but if you bothered putting shoes on in the first place, you’re probably not going to just take them off and throw them away… unless they were new shoes and really bugging you and very uncomfortable.
No, this collection of shoes on trees is indicative of a considerable degree of premeditation. Someone decided to walk out there and knew they were going to leave their shoes behind, and so brought an extra pair. That means that, upon going for a hike, they chose to pack an additional pair of shoes in addition to their food and water and whataver else they decided to bring.
Is this because there is some tradition about this place, where people will leave their shoes? What is the meaning, or the significance? WHY? is that where the Saint of Shoes is buried? Did something very special that was shoe or foot related happen there? Is there an incredible story to this place?
Or something else? Perhaps this was not premeditated by the former wearers of all those shoes. Maybe those people were swallowed up by some dark force, and there was nothing left but their shoes. Or perhaps their spirits are held captive through their shoes. Was I surrounded by ghosts? Were they baiting me to take of my shoes as well, and join them?
It is of course remenescent of the town of Spectre in Tim Burton’s Big Fish. The little girl would steal your shoes and throw them on the telephone lines so that you couldn’t leave. Since everyone in the town, we find, is barefoot, the tradition of burying people barefoot gives us a feeling that this is a town of the dead. The hero, of course, simply walks home barefoot…
But maybe its something simpler than that: Maybe in this little place in Spain, they decreed that you couldn’t throw your shoes in the garbage, without paying an additional “Shoe Disposal Fee.” Now, everyone’s shoes eventually get worn through, and can serve no further use as a human shoe. But no one wants to pay to throw them away — nor do they have unlimited space in their house for all those old shoes! Now, rather than eating those shoes, perhaps someone decided to just chuck them up into the tree. And it seemed like such a good idea, that everyone started doing it. Who’s going to pay to have your shoes taken away, when you can just thorw them up into the shoe tree? No one! Not in Spain, at least!
And so, in this village, whenever someone has worn through their old shoes, they walk to the shoe trees in their new shoes, and toss the old shoes away.
When you think about it, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t little birds that decided to use the hanging shoes as nest. Maybe they don’t because of the smell.
Or maybe they like the smell, and they do live there. I guess I wouldn’t really know, since I never jumped up there and looked…