Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Of Walking

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking

I was recently introduced to a friend of a friend who moved to San Francisco from London and who knows no one in the city. Partly inspired by Tom Graham's just completed 7-year, 1,200 mile project of walking every street in San Francisco, I promised to show the new arrival around town, but on the condition that we would do so by walking. After all, we do live in the U.S.'s most walkable city. That's something to hang our hat on, I think.

There are no shortage of books on walking, of course: Thoreau's seminal essay "Walking" being one of the most eloquent and widely quoted meditations on an act so mundane and overlooked that in order to appreciate it we've taken to referring to it as an art. (Cf.: Geoff Nicholson's easygoing, rambling The Lost Art of Walking.) And while I promised this transplanted Londoner a series of casual walks, it's more serious walks that intrigue me.

Werner Herzog's 1974 walk from Munich to Paris, chronicled in Of Walking In Ice (which, though it's not on our website is currently in stock), is one such arduous walk. Spurred by typically inscrutable and supremely irrefutable logic - he reasoned that if he were to walk to Paris, his friend (the film critic Lotte Eisner) would not die - Herzog tramped through miserable conditions during three weeks in late-November/mid-December, breaking into boarded up cabins to sleep, making a detour to see Joan of Arc's house, arriving in Paris to find that yes, indeed, his logic proved correct.

Another such walk - the results of which are pictured above - was undertaken by the artist Richard Long. Long's work centers on the idea and practice of walking - and on the possibility of transforming something as transient as a walk into a "lasting" - a relative term - piece of art. A Line Made by Walking, created by Long in 1967, is contextualized in a recent essay by Dieter Roelstraete published in After All's beautiful "One Work" series.

Finally, there's the two-volume set of memoirs by Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and Water, chronicling what's now a nostalgic walk across Europe from London to the Balkans in the early 1930s. A classic of travel literature, Fermor's account offers an evocation of the splendors of a lost world, and of the pleasures of something as simple, and taxing, as walking.


Anonymous said...

Wanderlust: a history of walking by Rebecca Solnit is the best book on the subject I have read.

Spiros said...

And I would like to mention, from Used Book Land, that we have all of Patrick Leigh Fermor's memoirs of Greece, in both paper and cloth editions, in our travel writing section.

Anonymous said...

May I recommend, on the subject of walking, 'Tramp' by Thomas Espedal?