One of my students alerted me to the existence of a Shoe Tree in Newcastle’s Armstrong Park. The concept was new to me: it sounds like a pet cemetery, but in a tree and for shoes. She told me that the strange rituals people engage in are a real problem to the council, who has to take the shoes down and repair the tree’s branches regularly. So the location of the tree is either found by mistake, perseverance, or shared through word of mouth. You won’t find it in most guide books. Councils are funny places, though, trying to put order in an entropic conglomerate of people. In Glasgow, where I live, they have taken to flypost over already existing posters with the word “cancelled”. You can’t deny their humour. But back to shoes.
The Shoe Tree is not a Geordie phenomenon. They are everywhere! I can’t think of a more uncanny sight than hanged shoes. They are meant for walking, for being on the floor. When in trees, they are helpless, far away from where they can be of use, reachable only with great effort. Then, of course, there’s the death metaphor. When I see a pair of shoes tied and hanged on a power line, I smile. A drunken night, I think, a silly bet, a joke. A multiplication of this in a tree would freak me out. I attribute the feeling to the ritualistic side of the act, the homage element in it, the mourning. Shoes are objects with which we develop an intimate relationship. They are worn at most times (one shouldn’t go outside without them), they remain there despite the weather and they are a real statement of the person sporting them. They help us get where we want, literally and metaphorically. I don’t drive, so my shoes are like the poor woman’s car. I polish them, wash them, repair them with care. It is sad when I have to throw them away so the idea of a ritual is very appealing.
Still, I can only relate to the trees on a distant level. Think about it. In order to throw a shoe and catch it in a branch, it has to have laces. Not the kind of shoes I normally wear. The trees are more “Sneaker Trees“ or ”Walking Boots Trees“. They are inspiring, though, and I can’t help to think of a Stiletto Tree. Imagine the glitter, the violence of the heels, the red reflection of the Louboutin soles, the typographic sketches of those well-known logos, the parties, the stories, the seductions. What a sight. I shiver just picturing it.