Negotiating muddy tarmac edges that double as side-walks one realises that our relationship with the city as subjects of it / in it is mediated through the sole of our shoes. And whereas the post-post-feminist female attempts to hack a niche for herself upon the redolent of Mies’ Seagram spirit Manolo Blahnik high heel sandals, the retrosexual male of a landlocked island capital has nothing but his boat-shoes. Both him and Carrie have a latent nostalgia, a nostalgia apres (a) Heidegger, where the essence of being has been completely lost; and lost too is that space which acted, mythological nonetheless, as the ground – and reason (Grund) – of the indivisible, originary, authentic Being-in-the-world of modernity: the city. Domesticated, sub-urbanised and firmly protected in terms of its public spaces by sub-cultures unable to escape their enclaving enclosure and transform it, the city looses that revolutionary potential for the utopian tnasformation of its subject(s) and form(s) alike. Saving face of this all so human endeavour is not the presence of its subjects – their thereness, their acts, their future – but the nostalgia itself, the longing of that f(l)ighting spirit of urban aporetics, as it is manifested in public.
And whereas the feistiness of New York City lays between its angular positions, the opaqueness of a martini glass and the riveting inches of steel the ever-transformative tempest of Nicosia is grounded as the city plays shoreline to Cyprus’ Mediterranean Sea affinities. It is by now well understood that even if Cyprus is an island it is one with a historic aversion to, a confinement from, the sea. Castles, oil refineries, military bases and more recently hotels have shaped the island as an inward, inland looking place alongside with that explosive dogma of amalgamated nationalisms and mainland Motherland and overfishing. And even though the capital, Nicosia, in true islanders’ fashion is still called Chora it is the city furthest away from the sea and only a secondary, processed receptacle yet strongly suggestive substitute of an urban ground. Which footwear would then be most ideal for such a city as Nicosia than the boat-shoe?
The boat has always stood diametrically opposed to the house. A “place without a place”, an other or third space the boat has become a schema of the uncontrolled differance, of an access to history without antiquity, of an idealised non-hegemony, of a radical reworking of primordial myths, of libertarian politics, of transgression, the “greatest reserve of the imagination”. Contra the closure of the urban as domicile then, the boat -a vessel of unstable, unpredictable journeying- still supplies the imagination with the jouissance of a-poria -a jouissance lost amidst domesticity’s grounding of ex-istance, regardless of the reality of marinas or of the techniques of naval navigation.
Even though it is not unlikely to see a lot of boat-shoes walking around parks, hanging over pavements waiting to go across, dancing in beer-paddles, drying up in front of central heating radiators, anybody who has ever been on a boat would know that boat-shoes are seldom worn on boats. More often than not you are asked to take your Sebagos, or Timberlands, or Quaysides, or Andark off. Boats – not mega-yachts, or crewed floating villas, or weekend cruise liners – are crammed little spaces of 40-50ft. maximum in which Hoovers don’t have much wiggle room. Any cleaning, if not all cleaning, is done by hand and commonly by the owner who is not too keen on your shit-stained, gas-smelling, gum-marked soles rubbing his freshly oiled teak deck or his carpeted galley.
Within the boat-shoe’s exilic position from the utilitarianism of both its nature and its aspirations and at its juncture with the privileged position of the boat in modernity lies the actual importance of the boat-shoe as an urban shoe vis-a-vis the inherent promise of (a) city. Cultural theory would have us to believe that in civilizations without boats, dreams dry up (Foucault, Of Other Spaces). In the presence of such an absence as we encounter it in Nicosia, the boat-shoe is there to take their place. Always ashore, aside, it diffuses the question marks of existence in an island’s capital earmarking a loss and a voyage, the loss and the voyage. Instead of taking us home the boat-shoe stands in for the dream of an ex-istential urbanism long lost, a dream as absent from the everyday understanding and consumption of Nicosia as circumnavigation and piracy are from job center notice boards – even at ports. And akin the Manolo Blahniks it adds an idealistic spring to our walks and dead-end rendezvous, that this city is still capable of being beautiful, giving, a potentiality, a sea in-itself for which “there is no telling what it may not vomit up” (Thoreau).