Saturday, January 4, 2014

     In her book "Wanderlust: A History of Walking" Rebecca Solnit writes about new public spaces designed without sidewalks.  I remember my dismay when I first saw suburbs without sidewalks in the USA or my first stay in the Southwest Side of Chicago where - despite wide, clean sidewalks - no one walked.  Empty streets.  Nobody out.  Mother and I would stare out of the window and wonder where the people were.  And, if you saw someone, you worried.  Who is he? Where is she going? Why isn't she in a car?  Why is he walking?  

     Pedestrians are suspected.  Yet, the joy and utility of walking is an accepted fact.  Starting my research for an essay on "not driving", I read "Wanderlust" and discover many, many famous and not-so-famous people who were avid walkers.  Professional walkers I'd say.  And discover a variety of books about walking.  

     Some of Solnit's words are quotable:

"...walking's peculiar utility for thinkers..."
"...walking you live with others, not inside rooms..."
"...unpredictable incidents between official events that add up to a life..."

     And some facts I learned from her so far:

- the natural pace is 3 miles/hour
- Rousseau could only think when he walked
- other philosophers who walked: Hegel, Kant, Kierkegaard, Hobbes, Mill, Wittgenstein

     Some of these philosophers walked back and forth in order to create.  And I remember (in Buenos Aires) my friend's father - a short man, quiet and absent-minded - who would walk back and forth the length of his living-room, hands behind his back, head tilted forward, for ten, twenty minutes, without talking, just thinking.  I was a girl of 6 or 7 or 8 when we'd go visit his wife and daughter with my mother.  The four of us would sit and chat, play, drink tea or coffee, while he walked back and forth, completely absorbed in his thoughts.  After a while, when he was done, he'd look up and say something like: "oh, hello, how are you?" as if we had just arrived.  He was a world-famous geologist who worked for the United Nations and ran big projects in Africa and Latin America.  That was the first time I learned the value of walking as a tool for thinking, discovering, inventing.  

     More on walking later.  Now - my dilemma - how do I walk outdoors to think and learn when the temperatures are plunging and the sidewalks are slippery and snow-covered?   I guess I have to walk inside - from the dining-room to the living-room and back, over and over, and hope something brilliant comes to me.  



  1. You have hit upon a cultural difference between the so-called Latin cultures and our own, I think. Strolling is definitely a pleasure for the Latin Americans, also for many Europeans in their leisure time, while it's unusual to see Estadounidenses arm-in-arm taking a leisurely stroll. (I know I mustn't say "Americans"!) We are a very practical people in the U.S., who view walking more as a way to get somewhere if you can't drive. We probably teach the children to eschew walking by always putting them in strollers until they are so big they don't fit any more.

    1. You are right. Thank you for your comments.