Monday, March 7, 2011

Daydreams of a solitary stroller

Soon after starting to work as an English teacher at the Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter of Paris, I discovered this wonderful book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1712-1778]… whose tomb is located in the national sanctuary called the Panthéon, just opposite my lycée.

It might be considered anachronistic that the start of my life at the intellectual hub of the great city should coincide with my fascination for the rural daydreams of an 18th-century philosopher and musician from Geneva. In fact, it's only since my arrival here at Gamone that I've discovered—with a little surprise—that I've become a passionate solitary stroller of the Rousseau kind. And that discovery caused me to realize that my propensity for daydreaming while strolling around on the slopes was surely the outcome of a habit I first developed when I was a child, accompanying my father during our excursions to his bush property out at Deep Creek.

These days, I've had ample opportunities of noticing that younger people—particularly those who were born and bred here—rarely stroll. Even when deprived of their motor vehicles and obliged to move around on foot, they gallop from one spot to another, with no obvious passion for anything that might be termed daydreaming. Yesterday afternoon, for example, I met up with friends at Presles, and a group of seven of us spent half an hour pacing along a delightful circuit up behind my friends' newly-constructed chalet in the village. Frankly, it was annoying that I had to augment considerably my habitual strolling speed, and refrain from halting to admire anything whatsoever in the magnificent landscape, if I were to avoid getting out-distanced. And, back home at Gamone at the end of the day, I found that I had sore feet.

Funnily, some of these same friends expressed their astonishment that a newcomer such as myself had acquired an awareness of various aspects of the background of this region in which they had always been living. For example, they weren't aware of the international importance of the local laboratory mentioned in my article of 30 April 2008 entitled Source of the cheese industry [display], nor did they seem to know that the old-timers here were wine-makers for centuries before turning to the production of walnuts, or that there used to be three great medieval castles down in the valley. I felt like saying to my friends: If you're interested in delving into interesting tales of that kind, then you should first stop galloping, and take time to look around you.

Admittedly, other factors of a strictly personal kind are involved. Whenever I travel in a train or a bus, I would find it unthinkable to "waste my time" by sticking my nose into a book. The spectacle of a landscape (be it rural or urban) unfolding before my eyes, through the windows of a moving vehicle, has always been for me an immense visual pleasure. Even in a tram in Grenoble, I could never imagine myself reading a newspaper. I prefer to gaze at anything and everything in the world around me: not only interesting sites and attractive females, but even dull views whose interest resides in their very dullness. To my mind, failing to communicate constantly with the surroundings, even though my mode of communication might remain essentially passive, would be like getting invited to a dinner evening and asking my hosts if I could watch TV.


  1. To me it's a delight to travel by any means other than driving myself. I get the opportunity to look around and enjoy my surroundings.

    Admittedly, when I walk, I do walk fast. But I'm happy to stop and watch, whether it's a yacht dropping anchor, birds diving for fish or dogs playing chasing in the park.

  2. Back in Paris, I used to walk quite quickly. And that enabled me to get lost in covering vast itineraries. These days too, in Grenoble, Valence, Romans and St-Marcellin (just to name a few of the places that I visit regularly), I've sprinted along kilometers of urban footpaths (sidewalks, as they say in the USA). But strolling on the slopes of the Vercors is a totally different affair. I've only fractured a bone once in my existence, and that happened at a distance of some 50 meters from my front door, and I wasn't even moving fast. (Admittedly, I was carrying a young billy-goat in my arms, and couldn't see where I was stepping.) As you suggest, what's important is not so much the rate at which you put one foot in front of another, but rather the question of stopping periodically, to gaze around you. Incidentally, a talented and experienced promeneuse solitaire is my ex-wife, who adds an unexpected touch in urban environments such as Paris. She keeps her nose constantly in the air, which means that she discovers all kinds of marvelous scenes on upper balconies. On the other hand, she's unlikely to pick up fallen banknotes, and runs the constant risk of sliding in dog poo. But I think she's a winner.