23 September 2014

walking in cities

Rachel recommended a recent article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik: "Heaven's gaits: what we do when we walk" (September 1st issue, p. 74-77). He describes the craze for walking as a spectator sport in the 19th century, based largely on Pedestrianism: when watching people walk was America's favorite spectator sport by Matthew Algeo. I didn't know. Gopnik also talks about A philosophy of walking by Frédéric Gros which begins "Walking is not a sport." Gros's theory of walking is that there are three essential kinds of walking: contemplative; cynical (from the Cynics of ancient Greece); composite contemplative cynic (the modern city walker, the flâneur). Gopnik expands on Gros's Parisian emphasis to talk about New Yorkers, looking to such authors as Walt Whitman and Alfred Kazin (A walker in the city, 1951).

Gopnik ends the article by talking about the stages of walking: peripatetic (walking where we will, as children); circumambulent (walking around our children); make an attempt at a pilgrimage, fail, and become immobile; walking outdoors to randomize our experience of the city. There's lots to think about in the Gopnik essay.

Toward the end of the article, Gopnik says "Walking for pleasure in cities is an occupation of the young. Only a very few older people of great vitality walk long in cities." Having just spent a couple weeks in Belgium and Amsterdam, I guess I am just one of those few older people. I don't always feel vital and sometimes I walk because it's too hard to figure out which bus or tram to take. But, boy oh boy, do I enjoy walking in cities, usually with a destination at least vaguely in mind, but enjoying the walk sometimes as much as the destination.

A couple pictures from Ghent. More on my Flickr photostream.

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