Friday, 18 May 2012
Botanising on the Asphalt
It's one of the better chapters in a patchy book that tends to veer into academic waffle, journalese and right-on political attitudes. I bought it because it practically threw itself at me. Spotting it in Foyles at St Pancras, I turned it over in my hands and thought Hmm this looks interesting... but I didn't buy it. Then, a week or two later, there it was again, in dubious company on a shelf in my local Oxfam. Clearly, this time, I had to buy it... When Solnit settles down and gets immersed in her subject (as with Paris, as with Wordsworth and the romantics), she can be very good, but there are whole areas of walking that she barely touches, e.g. the strange history of pedestrianism, the epic walks of medieval travellers, walking 'fugues'. Iain Sinclair's reflections on walking in London Orbital and elsewhere are more rewarding (and better written). However, Wanderlust is full enough of nuggets of information and choice quotations to keep me reading. For example, there's Hazlitt on Wordsworth: 'He sees nothing but himself and the Universe.' And Dickens on his compulsive walking: 'If I couldn't walk fast and far, I should explode and perish.' I know the feeling, though I have seldom walked as fast or as far as Dickens, who had the happy knack of falling into a kind of waking slumber while his legs carried him along through the night at a steady four miles an hour - which, for a man of his height, is fast indeed.
The picture, by the way, is R.B. Kitaj's The Autumn of Central Paris (After Walter Benjamin). The phrase 'now a landscape, now a room' is Benjamin's.