And in the beginning was the walk, and the walk was made flesh
Biblical walking narratives: doncha just love ‘em! Adam and Eve taking their leave from the Garden of Eden, tales between legs and no longer, sadly, naked; Saul on the road to Damascus, struck down and temporarily blinded by a bolt of lightning; the Israelites and their flight from Egypt; Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus on the run from Herod.
So many people on the run, not a good time to set out for a stroll.
All walks have a beginning, most – but not all – have an end. And most walks don’t manifest themselves out of nowhere; there’s usually a modicum of planning. Even Laurie Lee and Patrick Leigh Fermor enjoyed a period of gestation between the thought and the act.
But my favourite moment of literary perambulatory genesis in occurs in The Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf and Frodo are sitting by the fire in Bag End, the former explaining to the latter that in order to destroy the Ring and bring peace to Middle Earth, the hobbit will have to walk 2846 km from Hobbiton to Mount Doom. Yes, somebody has actually sat down and worked it out: http://home.insightbb.com/~eowynchallenge/Walk/walk.html! While Frodo sits there gobsmacked, Gandalf reaches out the window and plucks from the garden the ever dependable but eternally dull Samwise Gamgee: the Fellowship is beginning to take shape.
Something similar occurred last Saturday night, over a splendid and uncannily authentic paella in the genteel inner suburbs of Bath. Not quite a gathering of assorted mythical beings presided over by an omniscient wizard – although I can’t help feeling that’s a role I could easily fall into – but six middle class women, all of us hovering around the half century mark.
Fate or circumstance – or perhaps some divine being – has delivered me my research subjects, on a plate garnished with jamón serrano and a couple of bottles of Waitrose Rioja. Five Camino virgins (better make that four and half, Colette’s walked the stage from Burgos to Leon) all ripe for the plucking!
The thesis – inasmuch as it currently exists in material shape or form – is to explore spiritual and/or religious responses to the landscape through geography of emotion and affect, thinking about how our encounters with the landscape produce emotions or experiences that might be construed or considered spiritual or religious. What I also want to explore is the relationship between these landscape experiences and our own personal narratives. Now, clearly I can talk about myself until the proverbial cows pack up their bags and head back to the byre; I’ve written about my own autobiographical/spiritual/sensual landscapes on this blog and elsewhere and will continue to do so as the project continues but even a dedicated narcissist such as myself needs other subjects, hence my motley crew of Camino virgins.
The plan is to walk the first 115 km of the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port, up and over the Pyrenees, down to Pamplona then on to Estella, setting out from the West Country – by train – on June 13th. The decision to travel ‘slowly’, taking the train all the way to the south of France, was a unanimous one and I can’t help seeing it as the foreplay that will get us all excited for the big event – let’s hope it’s not followed by a disappointing anti-climax. The Camino as bad sex; there’s an interesting metaphor to explore alongside Kierkegaard’s life lived forwards but understood backwards.
And so the journey begins. But before we leave there’s bonding and preparation to be done, autoethnographies to be written and group dynamics to be established – maybe even personalities to be clashed. Let’s face it; it could all go arse over tit and one of us could end up in a bloody heap of crushed flesh and bone at the foot of the Pyrenees. Part of me secretly wants to contrive such a conflict; I wonder how I’d explain that to the examiners. Assuming said bloody heap of crushed flesh and bone wasn’t me; I can’t help thinking I’d be the first to walk the plank.