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.
Showing posts with label Camus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Camus. Show all posts

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:

Monday, December 29, 2014


Over Christmas my Facebook pal, Susannah Forrest, horsewoman, author of If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of an Equine Obsession, and also (unlike most of my Facebook friends) somebody I’ve actually met in the real world, posted that famous quotation from Camus: “Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” 

As you may be able to see above, it was from a site named Saddles for Soldiers, and in this case was actually referring to walking with a horse – great advice I’d think, and I imagine you definitely wouldn’t want to be walking behind one.

I found it quite difficult to find a picture of Camus walking, but imagine my joy at discovering this one, with a horse, in which I’m not sure that he’s following his own advice, but maybe he thought it didn't apply to horses.

In any case that Camus quotation got me thinking about The Instructions of Shuruppak, a Sumerian text from about 2,600 BC, and one of the oldest known texts in the history of the world.  Naturally I wondered if it had anything to say about walking.  It does, kind of.

It advises, “You should not buy a prostitute: she is a mouth that bites. You should not buy a house-born slave: he is a herb that makes the stomach sick. You should not buy a free man: he will always lean against the wall. You should not buy a palace slave girl: she will always be the bottom of the barrel. You should rather bring down a foreign slave from the mountains, or you should bring somebody from a place where he is an alien; my son, then he will pour water for you where the sun rises and he will walk before you.”

See – not beside, because he isn’t a friend, and not behind because you don’t want him wandering off when you’re not looking, but in front of you so you can keep your eye on him.  Timeless advice, I’m sure.

And that got me thinking about the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a much more recent text than The Instructions of Shuruppak, and actually a whole group of texts, written by different hands over a period of at least a thousand years.  The best bit, I think, are the spells designed to help the soul as it passes through the underworld.  It includes a spell for ensuring an eternal supply of food and beer, and also one about walking.  It doesn’t say anything about walking in front or behind or beside, but it does say this: "You will enter the house of hearts, the place which is full of hearts. You will take the one that is yours and put it in its place, without your hand being hindered. Your foot will not be stopped from walking. You will not walk upside down. You will walk upright.”  Which I would think is very, very handy.