Pleasure Of Walking Essay
Last week, my wife and I walked 102 tough miles in eight days in the lush, rain-soaked Scottish Highlands.There’s nothing quite like an eight-hour hike in the pouring rain to get you thinking about why you travel and where you do it.I told them that I wouldn’t speak to politicians or soldiers and that my only interest was how the average Israeli citizen survived the daily stress of terror.I interviewed artists, playwrights, social workers, and psychologists.On that trip, I learned the power of denial and adrenaline.My favorite cities in Europe are Berlin and Dresden, where, like in Bucharest, one is obliged to grapple with the evils of the not so distant past.A decade or so ago, I spent Christmas Eve alone in a hotel room in a snow-bound and empty Dresden as a way to redefine the holiday away from the trappings of family and tradition and towards more fundamental concepts. Alain de Botton recently wrote, in a Financial Times column, about the medieval Catholic tradition of pilgrims taking long journeys to touch the body part of a long-dead saint to help cure whatever ailed them.
I can say, however, that it was exactly what I love about traveling.Maybe it was the blisters, the knee brace, and the roll of tape wrapped around my left knee, but some bleak mornings I just wanted to say to hell with Scotland. And even when it was “dry,” the perennial gray skies seeped into my body, mind, and spirit.While I was supposed to be communing with the open wilderness, I felt hemmed in and constrained by the heavens. In his odd little essay, “Walking,” Henry David Thoreau explains the origins of the term sauntering.Though my ostensible goal there was to learn about the effects of inbreeding on asthma, what I was forced to study firsthand, in an isolated village of fewer than 300 blood-related souls, were the ways humans try to control each other to protect themselves from one another and from the outside world.There I learned the power of kinship and of harboring a collective disdain for “the others.” Well, before the six weeks were up, the disdain was mutual and I was ready to go home.We are to go through them even though we may not like them.The books that provide us pleasure are the books of our liking and interest.I wanted to know how Romanians were managing to move beyond the material and spiritual deprivations of the Communist era.A man I met on a train took me into the sewers of Bucharest to introduce me to a group of children who lived there, and a saintly nun from Arizona took me on her regular visit to an orphanage for children with congenital deformities.By the end of day five, I felt downright miserable. The word is derived “from idle people who roved around the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under the pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land.But then I received a late night text from a good friend back home in Los Angeles that helped me realize not only why I was there, but what it is I love most about traveling. Sensing their duplicity, children would then exclaim, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a saunterer, a Holy-Lander.