A few years ago I published an anthology on walking, to show why we set off on foot. What are the reasons for booting up? Well, maybe those who moved across the pages could tell us something. William Wordsworth beat out a metre and communed with nature. Charles Baudelaire communed with Paris. Then Søren Kierkegaard composed his pensées, and Bruce Chatwin, ever a self-dramatizer, encountere trouble en route. I steered two hundred into that book and one of the last was one of the best, because he failed to fit my tidy categories. He was a romantic roamer who even trod out the winter months – November, December, ugh! – another excuse to recall him now.
Werner Herzog, the German film-maker, was friends with the late Chatwin (on the subject of walking they once compared legs together). He is known for such expansive and luminous works as Aguirre, Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo and recently Grizzly Man, as well as some eye-catching stunts in real life. He pulled a ship through jungle and pointed a gun at an actor. But that winter journey? The resulting book? It appeared rather slimly, all of eighty-eight pages. Vom Gehem im Eis, translated as Of Walking in Ice, outdoes his other exploits by a country mile.
Herzog’s own reason for booting up was typically high-blown:
A friend from Paris called and told me that [the German scholar and film critic] Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and would probably die. I said that this must not be, German cinema
could not do without her now. We would not permit her death. I took a jacket. My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot.
He may have talked legs with Chatwin; he might also have adapted Kierkegaard’s lovely idea of ‘walking ourselves into wellbeing’. Walking Lotte into well-being meant leaving his home town of Mu
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