Women Who Walk

Depending a bit on where you live, it’s quite likely that the options for, well, doing anything except for corpsing on the couch are quite limited. There are, however, two things we can do even during this pestilence: walk, and read about walking (after you’ve exhausted your daily one hour outdoors exercise slot).

Given that most of the insanely complicated pastures (paying money to climb up artificial walls comes to mind) are not possible these days, walking and cycling are making bit of a comeback: both are great for getting fresh air, but also excellent for avoiding public transport (to be avoided in Brussels at all cost at all times anyway).

A leisurely flânerie amidst the bustle of city life is of course not on the cards, depending on the local restrictions, but we take what’s available. I tend to wary my routes according to the days – weekdays tend to be quieter in the city centre, which is when I walk there. Weekends can be tricky, because everybody is everywhere, especially in the parks.

The best part of walking in the city is to eavesdrop on other people. This is obviously not possible now, but I still leave my headphones and other gadgets home for strolls in the city. Now, I am specifically describing the activity of leisurely wandering around with the aim of exactly nothing.
This has nothing to do with the people who have bits of wires jutting from each corporal cavity and who jog in place at the stoplights. Should I make it back home alive, I immerse myself in celebrity gossip instead of a computerised summary of my bodily functions during the said walk.

If I feel like multitasking, I might listen to a podcast while I walk in a park or, should I find any, nature. People unfortunately bring small children everywhere these days, so having sound-cancelling earmuffs often comes in handy. Should my walking route not be scattered with toddlers screaming bloody murder, the calm surroundings also mean that the volume does not need to be terribly high.

In case your days, like most of mine, mainly consist of quietly waiting for the next anxiety attack, there’s some distractive reading available. The following literature will be welcome, I’m sure, in the case your government has banned any outside activities, and also in the case you just don’t do walking, which is perfectly understandable.

The absolute queen of walking in the city has to be Vivian Gornick. She lives in New York City where she started as a staff writer for the Village Voice back in the 60s. Her books and essays about living and walking in the city are fiercely honest and beautiful, and also funny. She eavesdrops a lot and many of her musings consist of snippets of conversations on the streets – a bit like prehistoric “Overheard in New York” – instagram account. I much recommend them – especially The Odd Woman and the City and the more recent Approaching Eye Level.

As we are gearing to get ready for the billionth comeback of Sex and the City, herewith a paragraph from the real NYC, by Gornick:

“…My life seems to mirror an urban essence I prize: the dense and original quality of life on the margin, the risk and excitement of having to put it all together each day anew. The harshness of the city seems alluring. Ah, the pleasures of conflict! The glamour of uncertainty! Hurrah for neurotic friendships and yea to incivility!
At other times I stare out of the window, thinking, What a fool you are to glamorise life in the city. Loneliness engulfs me like dry heat. It is New York loneliness, hot with shame, a loneliness that tells you you’re a fool and a loser. Everyone else is feasting, you alone cannot gain a seat at the banquet.”

Another great travel/flânerie writer is Lauren Elkin, whose formidable Flâneuse reads like a feminist manifesto and a travel journal, a memoir and an essential cultural history book. What’s more: it’s not just about New York, even though Elkin is an original New Yorker, but includes her experiences and takes on London, Paris, Tokyo and Venice.

Flâneuse is available as audiobook, making it the perfect accompaniment to your outdoors escapades. One of my favourite US-bookstores, Politics and Prose in Washington DC, recorded a conversation “Women Write the City” with Elkin and Leslie Kern (author of Sex and the Revitalized City: Gender, Condominium Development, and Urban Citizenship) last summer about the culture of women in the city and such. Also a great listen for your walks. Here’s the link:

Disclaimer: Please do not feel that you should march outside right this minute just because I make it seem so poetic and alluring. If such activity is specifically verboten by your government, stay the hell indoors.

Photo credit: The Crown/Netflix

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