“Solvitur Ambulando” – It is solved by walking

C

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
walk.
 
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
do."
- 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

A MOLESKINE NOTES ESSAY SERIES ENTRY

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

Print it in Moleskine MSK format
This entry was posted in MOLESKINE NOTES ESSAY SERIES. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

I accept Privacy policy and Terms of use