Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Friday, April 21, 2017


It’s a very long time since I first read Albert Camus’s L’Etranger.  It remains the only book I’ve ever read from beginning to end in French:  and it was in a class at school.  Rereading it now I see there is some walking in it, after all Meursault is walking on the beach when he commits the murder. 

Surprisingly perhaps, there are a couple of sentences that I’ve remembered over the years.  They come towards the end of the book when Meursault is in prison. To save everybody’s blushes I’ll quote the Penguin Classics translation by Sandra Smith.
”I realized then that a man who had only lived a single day could easily live a hundred years in prison.  He would have enough memories to keep him from getting bored.”
I still think it’s a great couple of sentences, although now that I think about it I don’t believe that boredom per se would be the biggest problem I’d have in prison.

Anyway, arriving at that sentence again I find that it comes at the end of a longish paragraph in which Meursault does indeed try to find a cure for boredom.  “I finally stopped being bored altogether from the moment I learned how to remember.  Sometimes I started thinking about my bedroom and I would imagine starting at one end and walking around it in a circle while mentally listing all the things I passed.”

Well, knock me down with a feather: you (or at least I) can’t read this without being reminded of Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage Around My Room (Voyage autour de ma chamber - which I have not read in French), the hero of which does indeed walk around his room looking at his possessions, and then goes on voyages of memory, although of course in this case the objects are actually there there.

Did Camus read de Maistre?  I can’t find any hard evidence that he did - although Camus is not exactly an open book to me. But in the correspondence of Camus there’s this – a postcard from Camus to “JG”
“M. Jacob sent me my horoscope.  I am side by side with people as remarkable as Luther and Xavier de Maistre.”  Online sources in fact suggest they didn’t share anything like the same birthday, but I suppose “side by side” is open to interpretation..

It's not all that easy to find photographs of Camus walking, but there’s this: I think he’s rehearsing a play:

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