Spending months in a place with reversed and reduced seasonal changes has a bizarre effect on someone accustomed to slowly but reliably adding more layers of clothing come September and October. As it is in Rio, June through August were warm so they felt like summer to me. September and October have taken the trend of mostly sunny days and intensified it, dragging us through humidity and relentless rays of sun, slapping me in the face as Brazilians tell me, “oh, this is nothing!” I feel like we’re stuck in the longest August I’ve ever known. The date is actually August the 79th. With big digital screens on the streets shouting 6:30pm, 30°C! (about 90°F), it simply cannot be October.
I’m due to leave Rio in “mid-November,” which is *allegedly* a month from now. When I get back to New York just in time for Thanksgiving, I imagine I’ll feel like I’ve lost a quarter of a year, jumping from August to Turkey-time with no falling leaves or light-sweater weather.
But this blog post is about walking. (Cue rough transition:) It simply cannot be October because I am instantly sweaty the second I leave the house to walk anywhere. My normal New Yorker yomp is slowly eroding in exchange for an exhausted lumber that seems only excusable for someone wading through a pool of earwax. No longer do I have to worry whether my brisk charge down the sidewalks is a rude affront or a laughable sight (“Haha, look at that Gringa go!”) to locals who tend to take a much more leisurely approach.
Add the heat to the fact that since the start of September I have been living at the top of a brutal hill, I would say I am sadly now seeking fewer opportunities to walk just for kicks than I was before. To compensate, I’m reading a fat tome of a book titled The Old Ways, which is all about walking ancient paths in Britain and around the world. Although the isolated and abandoned routes author Robert MacFarlane seems to prefer are a far cry from my hectic urban stomping grounds, I’m finding a lot in common with him and the bunch of dead white guys he quotes.
For example, the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote in his journal that he went out for a stroll and became “so overwhelmed with ideas” that he “could scarcely walk.” Having attempted to read some of Kierkegaard’s work for a college class, I understand completely how his thoughts could have been so physically debilitating. I also know precisely the feeling he’s describing. You’re walking and the thoughts – as far-ranging in topic from a blog post you want to write to an upcoming social event – are flowing so freely that you can’t keep up with yourself. It’s as if they’re driven by the pace of your legs. If that’s true, no wonder we tend to waste ages staring uninspired at blank Word documents when we work sitting down!
This one guy, Rousseau, once wrote: “I can only meditate when I’m walking…when I stop I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.” I’m curious – did the man write all his essays while on the go? I enjoy the image of him sauntering down a dirt road and stumbling upon the idea that man is born free in chains only to have to repeat this notion over and over for fear that he might forget it at the sight of a beautiful tree or a stray dog.
Nietzsche being Nietzsche apparently made the abrasive claim that “Only those thoughts which come from walking have any value.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t think I can understate the value walking has for me. Particularly in the context of living in new cities, walking (alone) gives me a chance to mull over everything that is new and weird, reflect on how insanely lucky I am to be exploring a new place, and generally make plans to take over the world.
For the prequel to this post and first part in the “On Walking” series, see “I’ve been lost here before.”