The Art of Walking

Art and Literature, Culture


You may say that there is no art in walking, but there is. Picture yourself sitting on an airplane, waiting for a take off, you have been sitting in your place for more than 45 minute and you look out at the window as people come and go, but you are stuck in your place. Then imagine being on that seat for more than 12 hours, I guarantee you the greatest joy you will have is when you get of that airplane, as you take your first step, Walking. That  happened to me a while ago as I was on a plain from Chicago to Istanbul.  What made the walking so joyful after coming of that plain was the fact was that I had just read a wonderful writing by Henry David Thoreau during the flight, titled, you guessed it right, Walking.

King of Walking: Alan Delon in Le Samourai

Nowadays as I take a walk around Sulaimani, at times my memory goes to that book, how can you make an art out of walking? Well, the first thing you have to do is to know that you are walking, a silly thing to say perhaps, but few think to themselves, thinking about walking, when they walk. When you walk, there is a reason for it, if you could avoid that reason when you walk, then you have discovered the Art of Walking. During his acting courses, the one essential things that Constantin Stanislavskiy taught his student was to find a reason for everything, including taking a single step; why are you taking that step? He would ask them, after a short inquiry, he would always find a reason for taking that step, that reason kills your enjoyment in walking.

Back to Nature….Back to Walden

Think back at a time that you had a great walk? I bet you that the odds are 10 to 1 that your best time walking has been when you had no reason to walk. We all have that moments of walking with our friends just for the sake of walking and talking, when, you find yourself in a strange place not knowing how you got there, that is the art of walking. Not knowing the reason of why you walk, is the joy in walking. Take out all the psychology and reason, just walk. That happened to me recently during a visit to Barcelona, we had many walk around the city, without knowing where we were walking too? And why we were walking?

The Old Neighborhoods in Suli

When I was in elementary school, I had to walk 30 to 45 minutes each way to get to school and back. For six years, I walked every day back and forth. I could describe every inch of the way between my house and the school. Sometimes I would count how many step it will take to get to school and I would try to beat that number next day. Some days, when I was about to get late to class, I would change my usual route a little and take a short cut, when I was early arriving, I would  play the game of “lines”, the game is simple: You would avoid stepping into a line, be it a crack in the ground, the lines in the pavement, a trash on the ground, a piece of stick, anything that would make a shape of a line you would have to avoid stepping on it. I took the game too seriously at times, I would arrive late to class instead of early, the game was not always easy, there was one neighborhood, which had a fancy designs in its pavement with very small square and triangular shapes spread out all over the place, you had to step on it sideways in order to fit your shoe in between the lines. I visited that neighborhood a few weeks ago, the fancy design was still there but aged with more cracks and lines in it, I tried to put my foot in one of the square, no way amigo, my foot covered both the square and the triangle, no choice but to give up the game.

I could walk for no reason, but, the one thing that I can’t do is to sit in one place for no reason, even when I’m at home and I have nothing to go, I start walking back and forth in the room, back and forth. That is why I’m amazed by the patience of the shopkeepers (not to mention all the traffic cops standing all day in the middle of the street during summer, with the temperature reading 98 F at times). There are some shopkeepers that I see daily in the Bazaar, they stay in their shop almost for an entire day, from morning to evening, to get more comfortable sometime they bring out a chair of a sofa  into the front of the shop, right into the street, they sit all day on that chair, gazing at people passing. Not to forget the Booksellers at Bardarky Sara. They may have a reason to stay there, for they make a living, but what about all those Young men around Orzi Stree (one of the main street in the center of the city)? Just take a walk in the evening and you will be amazed at how many people stand on the edge of the pavement doing nothing, but looking at passerby, same faces everyday standing there. Some of them park their cars in a park, walk a few feet, stand there with some friend for hours, then take a walk back a few feet to the car, drive home, back again tomorrow. One time I was with a friend, he had to give one of his friend a book that he had borrowed, we walked to Orzi Street to give back the book, I asked him if he had an appointment with him, “No”, “Then, how you know he is gonna be there?”, “I know, because every evening he stand there”, he was right, he was standing there.

The Neighborhoods of Sabunkaran

I got so tired of seeing the same faces every evening walking home by Orzi Street that I started to take another route, which take us to the question; how do you choose your route to walk? Take my case; since I have moved into a new house, I have tried various routes to walk and I have settled with one route that I take regularly to get to to the Sara Square: It is a short cut and it goes by the old neighborhoods of Sabunkaran, the oldest neighborhood in Sulaimani. Many of the houses looks like the days they were made, houses made of mud bricks, the architecture goes back to the early days in the city, to the days of the Ottoman Empire. As for the street, narrow and twisty, at every ten meter there is a turn, the houses and streets  not changed for generation. The streets were made for horses and carriages, yet, now, there are countless number of cars taking the route as a short cut to get to the downtown area, there is barely a space for one car to drive, yet cars come and go in both direction.

As you take a walk, there is a car driving behind you and one in front of you, one stop and the other stop, one has to drive back or make a turn to let the other one drive by, as for you, you have to squeeze yourself in a corner and hope none of them run you over. It is a nightmare at times to take walk in those streets, you have to watch every step you take when there are cars around. When there is no car, especially at nights, it is the best place to walk, very quite, with the lights coming from the houses, reflecting on the walls. The scenery is right out of a film-noir, light and shadow playing on the street and the walls. The streets are so familiar to each other, all twisty and narrow, if you make a wrong turn and can’t get back on your track, then consider yourself lost. It will take you a while walking to get back and find the right direction, believe me, it had happened to me.

Walking Breathless

What about the Art of Walking in Cinema?  Nobody captures the art of Walking in cinema like Jean-Luc Godard: Most memorable moments in a Godard film come from two characters walking and talking, most of the time they just walk for the sake of walking, no psychology or reason behind it. Belmando and Karina walking amid the trees in Pierrot Le Fou (1965) , they walk and walk, then suddenly bursting into singing. Memorable moment in Breathless (1959), Belmando and Seberg walking in Champs Elysées. If Weekend (1967) is about driving and walking, then My Life to Live (1962) is all about walking, a portrait of  Anna Karina walking the streets.

Nine minutes and 43 seconds to run through Louvre

Sometime character even run in a Godard film, just for the sake of running, the famed running of Louvre Museum in Bande a Part (1964). The coolest walking on the screen had to go to Alain Delon in Melville’s Le Samourai (1967), the guy knows how to walk, he is the king of walking. Or, take Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset  (2004), a  film about walking,  those giveaway moments as the camera walk with the characters, as they move around the streets of Paris, trying to register those few precious moments they have together into eternity.

Walking Before Sunset

Back to Henry David Thoreau, what did he consider to be the greatest joy in walking? If you have read Walden, you will probably know the answer, Thoreau loved nature, and he considered walking alone in nature as the greatest joy one can get in solitude:

“When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall? Even some sects of philosophers have felt the necessity of importing the woods to themselves, since they did not go to the woods. “They planted groves and walks of Platanes,” where they took subdiales ambulationes in porticos open to the air. Of course it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is–I am out of my senses. “

Walking like Anna Karina in Pierrot le Fou

So, next time when trying to take a walk, don’t think about it, just walk, that is the art of walking.


One thought on “The Art of Walking

  1. This post had me think of Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control” , Van Sant’s “Elephant” and of course the famous the flame-sequence in “Nostalghia, it’s true; often the most memorable sequences are long tracking shorts of people just walking.

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