Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go — Rebecca Solnit
It is a film that prompts this week’s Reflection.
My Bucket List is not of great length. It includes nothing overly fanciful. Well, that’s not entirely true. It does include watching NUFC win a Cup Final at Wembley. I’ve seen them in four since 1974, and they’ve lost each time. Scoring the grand total of one goal. We can all dream.
One of my more realistic Bucket List items came back to my mind when this week I watched the film ‘Boyhood’. I think it an excellent offering by Richard Linklater. A filmmaker who captures well the ‘ordinariness’ of everyday life.
If you’ve not seen it, Linklater filmed ‘Boyhood’ over 12 years with its young star, Ellar Coltrane, physically and mentally growing up from the age of six to eighteen in front of our very eyes. It’s a straightforward narrative. Yet a fascinating insight into a family. The development of Ellar being the centrepiece. A realistic portrayal of the progression from a small boy to a young man.
My Bucket List reminder was of an earlier offering by Linklater, ‘Before Sunrise’. Again, a film with a minimalistic plot that involves a young American man who by accident meets a young French woman on a train. They leave the train in Vienna and spend the night walking around the city. Getting to know each other’s views on life and romance. The film follows them walking and talking. Yes, I suspect it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Yet, the film struck a chord with me from the moment I first saw it some twenty-odd years ago — more than that it triggered the idea of strolling around a city through the night.
I much enjoy walking in the countryside, but I must confess my real love is urban walking. Exploring the nooks and crannies of towns and cities. Walking is a terrific way to get the feel of a city. Of understanding the culture and contrast of different areas. The ‘dark’ and the ‘light’ (one does have to be careful of exploring the ‘dark’ in the dark). I’ve watched cities fall asleep and slowly waken. However, other than in London, I have not experienced them totally at ‘rest’ through the night.
While I’ve walked in many cities, I’ve walked London by far the most over the past forty-something years. And at all hours of the day. I have an excellent book by George Sala, a good friend of Dickens (himself an inveterate city walker) called ‘Twice Around the Clock. It’s a series of observations by Sala of 24 hours in the life of London. The book begins at 4 am in the old Billingsgate Market and ends at 3 am the next day at a Masked Ball. In between, we visit the Law Courts, Auction Houses, Debating Groups, and a myriad of other places. Many of the Institutions now long gone.
A vivid memory I have of early morning London is watching a hawk in flight in Trafalgar Square. The use of hawks to control the number of pigeons in the Square began around twenty years ago. Because of this practice, pigeon numbers in the Square have fallen rapidly. From thousands to just over one hundred as they look to make their home in ‘safer’ locations.
When the hawks are in flight, the pigeons form a large rippling grey pool on the ground. Clustering together for safety. They do not fly if one approaches, knowing a person’s intent is less deadly than a hawk.
As ever in my Reflection I digress (I should rename them meanderings). Returning to the item on my Bucket List, my intent is to take a flight that lands at dusk in some city. Then stroll that city’s silent streets. View its buildings, monuments, and statues in a different ‘light’. Sample the nighthawk bars or cafes. Listen to the stillness of is squares and piazzas. Look to spot an urban fox or other nightlife. Then, with the onset of dawn, I’d head to the airport and a flight home.
I haven’t yet decided on the city for this escapade. I have in mind Lisbon, Berlin, Paris, or Rome (happy to take other recommendations). Given my love of train travel, I could always use that as an alternative means of transport to my destination. Although to visit some it would, of course, become a more extended adventure than just one night.
One day, perhaps …. or should I write, one night.