“Solvitur Ambulando” – It is solved by walking


The long, thick stripes of heavy rain on the window obstructed my view in
the shuttle bus from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the Arc de Triomphe on a late
April afternoon. I was feeling sick from the slow ride on the highway at rush
hour. Maybe I was tired than I thought after the thirteen-hour flight from
Tokyo. At the bus terminal near the monument, I hailed a taxi but the driver
dropped me off at the wrong street and I had to haul my baggage for a couple of
blocks to my hotel in the drizzle.

After unpacking my things in the small hotel room and making sure I had
everything in order for the meeting on the next day, I looked out my window
facing the Seine. A rainbow had appeared above the Louvre in the evening
twilight. I grabbed my bag in which I carried a map of the city, a Moleskine
notebook that was my guidebook, a digital camera, and went out for my first walk
of this stay.
* * *
I had visited Paris twice in the past and although I agreed it was an
impressive city, I never felt affection towards it. To me, Paris seemed like an
actress whose outstanding beauty radiated a proud and unapproachable aura.
While preparing for my third visit, I wondered why I had felt this way
towards the city. I recalled my travels to other cities; for example in Berlin,
where I went to in 2001, I had visited and photographed the few and scattered
remains of the Wall in my spare time. With this personal assignment and the
numerous business appointments I kept, I had covered much of Berlin by foot and
it became one of my favorite cities in the world.
It dawned on me that in the case of Paris, I never really had the
opportunity to walk its streets.
In prior to this trip, I had been reading an anthology of travel essays by
the British author Bruce Chatwin, who introduced me to another quality of
walking. In a chapter dedicated to the German film director Werner Herzog,
Chatwin wrote:
"He [Herzog] was also the only person with whom I could have a one-to-one
conversation on what IMkes_3_3 would call the sacramental aspect of walking. He and I
share a belief that walking is not simply therapeutic for oneself but is a
poetic activity that can cure the world of its ills. He sums up his position
in a stern pronouncement: ‘Walking is virtue, tourism deadly sin."

– Bruce Chatwin, "Werner Herzog in Ghana," What Am I Doing Here.

This time, I vowed to myself, I would walk the streets of Paris as much as
I could.
The essential items for this trip were a pair of sensible shoes, a slim but
useful map called Paris Pratique, and my pocket size Moleskine notebook. Before
leaving, I wrote down in it information on sites of interest, shops, and
restaurants – including their addresses, telephone numbers, hours of
operations, nearest stations – that I had found from a guidebook, plus useful
nouns and phrases in French. Printouts from the web were also pasted on its
pages. It became a compact, lightweight, and discreet guidebook that would be
suitable for walking long hours in a city where I was a visitor. Once I
arrived in Paris, I stored into the back pocket of the notebook a set of ten
tickets for the metropolitan transportation system known as carnets, receipts,
and a color photocopy of a page from my passport. The guidebook also became a
travel journal that I kept during my stay whenever I sat down in a café. The
words I wrote in it confirmed that I was now having an intimate relationship
with the city through my walks.
* * *
One of the places I had wanted to visit was Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie in
the 6th arrondissement, the street where Bruce Chatwin used to buy his carnets
moleskines – the ancestor of the Moleskine notebook – in Paris at a stationer
that no longer exists. The episode of him ordering a hundred notebooks at the
stationer is described in his book titled The Songlines and in the small
pamphlet that comes with each Moleskine notebook. To me, as a fan of Chatwin’s
books and of the notebook, a visit to this street was a pilgrimage.
Although it was a lively street, it was narrower than I had imagined and I
was surprised to see that it even had a sleazy appearance. On one side of the
street there was a building with a sign claiming it to be a hotel but it looked
more like a cheap apartment house; on the other side there were poorly lit
shops with grimy windows. I walked down the street slowly, trying to guess where
the stationer must have been. I noticed that as I walked southward towards the
Odeon metro station, the atmosphere of the street gradually changed – there were
shops with well-kept showcases and a four-star hotel facing a Timberland store.
At the end of the street there was even a deluxe brasserie. I could not find any
trace where the stationer must have been; yet I was happy to have completed this
After my return to Tokyo, I found the following episode recounted by
British writer Paddy Leigh Fermor in a biography of Chatwin:
"On one of their walks, Leigh Fermor told him the Latin expression solvitur
ambulando – it is solved by walking – "and immediately Bruce whipped out his
notebook. Everything was useful to him. He piled it into a great sack and when
alone winnowed and used it when most apposite, which is a writer should
– Nicholas Shakespeare, Bruce Chatwin, Chapter XXXIII.
Perhaps much, if not all, can be solved by the activity that Bruce Chatwin
described as being poetic – along with the process of writing – just like it
successfully transformed the negative into the positive in my mind.

"Solvitur Ambulando – It is solved by walking"
by Tatsuo Fukutomi


Image: "Rue de l’ancienne Comédie"
Courtesy of the author.