A Pair of Old Shoes

Vincent van Gogh obsessed about shoes, old shoes, work shoes, peasant shoes, worn and cracked. Some of his finest paintings are these heavily textured ones composed of darks and dulls, so different from the brilliant colors of better known paintings, his sunflowers, for instance. But there is a weight and dignity, even a pathos, to these old shoes, and they occupy a permanent place at the back of my mind. Here is one such painting:

Well, last week our visiting friends from Cologne, Germany wanted to go to the National Yiddish Book Center. They were curious about how close Yiddish is to German, and whether or how much they could understand it. So we got in the car and drove to neighboring Amherst, and spent several hours wandering through the vast repository of Yiddish-language books, with its exhibits and games and tempting gift shop.

The building is of unpainted wood, with many “roofs” (you can get an idea from the linked website). It’s intended to resemble a shtetl, a little town of Poland or Russia, plunked down in an abandoned apple orchard in New England. An interesting place to visit:

As we wandered through the orchard, and the gardens surrounding the Book Center, we came to a low stone wall, and behold, there on the wall, not another person in view, we saw this:

From the front, the resemblance seemed even more striking:

And I thought — as one inevitably thinks at the National Yiddish Book Center — of all the vanished, the language, those who spoke the language, those who wore the shoes, the shoes themselves, Van Gogh who painted shoes —

But we were there, one American, two Germans, all old enough to remember, we were there together in friendship and love, and it seemed something to celebrate, all bound up in an image of a pair of old abandoned shoes.

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This entry was posted in Art, Death, Etcetera, Friendship, Paintings, Personal Essay, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to A Pair of Old Shoes

  1. the little links that ‘show up’ in our lives are so fascinating and, i think, speak to us of the thread that unites us all.

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  2. A life lived reflected in a pair of shoes. What a wonderful symbol.

    M2M

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  3. Christine Grote says:

    A friend of mine is fascinated by single lost shoes she often sees in the road. Shoes have a big story of life.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      I hadn’t thought of it before, but your friend is right, it’s not uncommon to see a single lost shoe just lying somewhere. There’s something more poignant about shoes, maybe, than other articles of clothing. I think it’s because shoes not only take the shape of their owners, but hold it, permanently.

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  4. Pseu says:

    Reminds me of the ad
    ‘ for sale. Baby shoes:never worn ‘

    Six word story?

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  5. tms says:

    The first thing I thought: Oh god, these boots keep following me … where did I stumble upon them just a moment ago? Then I realized that Heidegger uses van Gogh’s painting as an example in “Holzwege”, his collection of essays on art: I think it is subject of his investigation into the nature (the ‘being’) of equipment.

    I admit I did not understand it quite as well as your post, although both read well. and I think the common denominator lies in the fact that shoes stand for something; they seem to tell a story, robust and durable as they are.

    I just add this anecdote about a part of my current reading because it seems to further prove Joss’s point about the thread that unites us all (and M2M’s and Christine’s as well, come to think of it).

    Plus, one can’t have enough shoes…

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Boots are possibly the only thing Heidegger and I have in common! I think my writing is more accessible ;-)— but he is the champion for profundity. I am always impressed that you can read him —
      Van Gogh’s painting is certainly haunting. Once seen, never forgotten.

      One of the most surprising and delightful things about blogging is the opportunity it presents for such a concatenation of thought — there’s you, Joss, M2M, Christine — next up is Pauline, and then Arsen. Maybe the thread that unites us all is — a shoelace?
      😉

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  6. Pauline says:

    Our feet are what take us on our adventures (those we don’t take in mind alone). And while shoes protect us, they also keep our feet from direct contact with the earth – they are a go-between, of sorts. No wonder they take on a worn look – they not only travel, they translate.

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  7. Arsen Darnay says:

    When I met Brigitte, my “best” pair of shoes looked remarkably like your photographs. That was in the Army. More shamefully yet, I’d bought the pair *used* from a bunk mate. Brigitte’s first act in what turned out to be a very looooong relationship was taking me to a store to buy a pair of shoes (and a suit while we were at it) before she even consented on a date!. Grimly, grimly, grimly I hung on to that old pair for at least another decade. And they say that women have a thing about shoes….

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      My dear Arsen, even worse — they say that woman are the romantics!
      But in my experience — and here is another testimony — it is MEN who really are the romantics —
      🙂

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  8. awesome connection! Thank you. Sounds like you’re near my old home, Easthampton, Ma.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      If you call ten minutes near 😉
      Yes, indeed! New to this area, having traveled east over the mountain from the Berkshires.
      Thanks for visiting, and for the comment, Jeanne!

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  9. Stef says:

    Wow. I adore the contrast infused in this experience; and how you are all coming to it from a place of understanding, compassion, and love. Beautiful.

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  10. It surprises me the abundant amount of thoughts and memories a simple object can conjure up. Regardless of all that has vanished in our world, it is a wonderful gift that friendship and new memories, such as those you share with your friends, have the ability to live forever.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful adventure with us!

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  11. John Weeren says:

    Typical, women discussing shoes. 😀

    But seriously, I once saw Vincent’s shoes painting and it nailed me to the floor.

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  12. thirdhandart says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by Vincent van Gogh’s art, but I didn’t know that he painted so many portraits of shoes. Thank you so much for sharing this interesting and informative post.
    I so agree that shoes seem to tell the story of their owner.
    Your comment that “It takes a genius to make the ordinary riveting.” is so true when it comes to art… especially van Gogh’s art.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Another painting of the ordinary that does the same thing for me is this one:
      Cezanne, Apples and Oranges
      The heavenly version of the fruit!
      (Only the apples are missing in this particular one, sorry –)

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      • thirdhandart says:

        Cezanne’s painting is wonderful! It reminds me of your recently posted paintings – the sun-colored lemons and the sunset hued pears. In my humble, nonprofessional opinion, I think your paintings make the ordinary riveting!

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        • Touch2Touch says:

          Theresa, you could not have said anything that would make me happier —
          It was my goal in painting still lives, that I could somehow make the essence (what Thomas Aquinas called the “quidditas”) visible —-

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  13. Jen says:

    what a wonderful collection of connections, thank you for sharing…

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  14. dorothyanneb says:

    Love this.

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  15. jbheronneau says:

    Shoes are the story of life…
    They carry you everywhere you wanna go, they are here during all of your “first times”… They are basically your stinky best friend ever 🙂
    If they were able to speak, I hope they would have the decency to keep secrets!

    I am surprised we don’t see more often that king of very important “objects” in the arty stuff… Because in a way, when you buy shoes for example, it’s because you loved them at first sight!

    Thank you for your story… It was a nice thought to start my day!

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Oui, entre les chaussures et la personne, c’est un coup de foudre! Je me souviens des chaussures de cuir verni avec des talons rouge —- Oh la la!
      Merci à toi pour la commentaire.

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