Disconnect from what makes life faster – Frederic Gros at the Swindon Festival of Literature

15 May
Frederic Gros © Calyx Pictures

Frederic Gros © Calyx Pictures

At 12:15, Wednesday 14 May. I was walking in the Brunel Centre. I had bought mangoes and rice noodles from the tented market. I had walked to pay money into the bank. I thought nothing of it. I have never thought to differentiate between my types of walking in life.

My phone rang. It was Festival Director Matt Holland. “You must come and listen to Frederic Gros!” he said. ”Hear what he has to say about Rimbaud. It is wonderful!”

So, instead of walking, I ran to my car and in 20 minutes was sitting in the Arts Centre.

Walking makes us more intelligent, explained Gros as I crept in. When walking we leave everything behind. We have simply become open to thought. When trekking for several days, we experience life. Aha! Not just a stroll down Eastcott Hill then? We are really talking walking here, leaving everything behind, our possessions, our families, ourselves even.

Then there is ‘flannery’, the art of walking in a town, but without purpose. I was not partaking in ‘flannery’ when Matt called me. I had been to the bank, I had bought mangoes and rice noodles! This was no flannery. It was more than just ‘one foot in front of the other’.

Gros explained that we live longer when we walk, because life slows down, “you are disconnected from what makes life faster.” We experience various freedoms, the freedom to be nobody is an exciting thought, because we are always striving to be somebody.

To lose oneself, one must walk for 8 to 10 hours, he said. The poet Arthur Rimbaud would walk for many hours and would express through this his anger of being in the world. Walking kept him away from the terrible boredom in his life. He did not find serenity from walking, according to Gros. ‘I am a pedestrian, nothing else’ translated Gros from Rimbaud. I thought of Rimbaud’s ‘Season in Hell’ – ‘Jesus walks on purple thorns but doesn’t bend them…Jesus used to walk on troubled waters.’

Through the ‘art of walking’ we can learn about eternities. You can reconnect with childhood, and discover a freshness, an eternity of nature.

But there is a monotony and repetition in walking, and perhaps teenagers, Gros suggests, would find this ‘boring’, this one foot in front of the other affair. But boredom is our inability to start anything, our lack of projects.

Walking is not a sport but it is the best way to go forward, slowly.

Words by Hilda Sheehan. Frederic Gros’s bestselling book is ‘A Philosophy of Walking’.

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