The other day while out for a walk I tripped over an unusual word. I picked it up and examined it. It seemed to have the right weight, excellent fragrance and good looks. In all, a fine word. When I read the word it said ‘quotidian’. Which means 'daily', trivial' and 'commonplace'.
Each day I travel the common place. I don’t find it trivial. It is common in that it is for everyone. As in ‘The Commons’. I walked the common road. This makes me a pedestrian. This word, besides the meaning of 'going on foot' also means 'dull, uninspiring, prosaic'. I sometimes wonder how this came about?
What is dull about a pedestrian? I enjoy the undull activity of walking. In most cases I wear shoes to walk the road. These are common objects. But how common are they really?
I had a good look at my shoes that walk the Common Place. Good shoes. Functional. A strong sculptural form. A thought occurred. We place all sorts of junk on plinths and pedestals in galleries and call it Art.
We place expensive bits of food on another type of pedestal, large white porcelain plates, and call it Food Art. But we overlook the truly special, the truly magnificent, the Common Shoe.
How do we make a common object Special? In the same way we make everything special. By giving it 'attention'.
I gave my shoe attention by trying to name the parts of the whole. Embarrassingly I got as far as front and back, top and bottom and two sides. Then I looked inside and saw 'the tongue' and realised that every other aspect of the shoe would probably have a name as well. Not only a name, but also a story attached to the name. What, by the way, is a tongue doing in my shoe?
Why do we name things? Why do we learn the name for things?
Because I did not know the names of the parts I decided to go to a shoe shop. No one in any of the shoe shops I visited could tell me the names for parts of a shoe. Then I went to find a boot maker. I found an old-fashioned one. One who knew his stuff.
When I told him my problem he said: "You don't see the thing because you don't know how to look. You don't know how to look because you don't know the names". So let's look at this shoe.
“Tell me what you know,” he said. I knew the sole and the heel. Placing the shoe on the sole and the heel we looked at the rest of the shoe. So what else is there? We enjoyed looking at the shoe for a while and noticed the wonderful lines which ran along it.
Made me think that the modern car body is most probably based on the form of a shoe. Just another form of the same transport.
There is 'Lace'. Lace on a shoe? At the end of the lace is a hard bit. It used to be metal but now is plastic of sorts. This is the ‘Tag’ or ‘Aglet’. This protects the end of the lace from fraying. It also makes it easier to push the lace through the ‘Grommets’, the little holes which have as protection a small ring, or ‘Eyelet’.
The boot maker explained that the parts of the shoe are made from different grades of leather. Grades, in terms of strengths. The strongest piece is above the heel. It is called the 'Counter'. Then there is the 'Cuff', which figures; it is the piece of leather that goes across the top edge of the shoe. Just like shirts and pants have cuffs.
The piece which fits between the counter and the cuff is the 'Quarter'. The frontal area which covers the instep is called the 'Vamp'. Look up this word and wonder. Finally the strip of leather which connects the sole is called the 'Welt'. 'World' in German. Und warum. And why?
He tells me that "because we don't know the name of things, everyday things remain hidden". Now here is the last word from the boot maker. "When I repair a shoe I use a steel object to place the shoe on. What is its name?"
And here, in hiding, is the answer to the boot maker’s last question.