Pedestrian Polemic

I like to walk. Seriously. I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time (often while walking). So this evening I typed “pedestrian” into the Oxford American Dictionary search engine, and it returned with the following noun: “a person walking along a road or in a developed area.” These thoughts in turn have induced a kind of cursory search around the flat for works of fiction or non-fiction that reflect The Walk. At least one Russian and one Greenwich Village author have gone on at length on what it feels like to be a pedestrian, this being Leo Tolstoy and Anatole Broyard. This is what was produced.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and with EuRussiAsia in disorder, Leo Tolstoy set down the pedestrian imagination of Pierre Buzehov, a captured aristocrat from a generation prior — W&P is Tolstoy’s ode to his Greatest Generation — who acted way more attentively and sensibly than the later House of Romanov could ever have imagined (perhaps Tolstoy is

A photo taken of Autumn 2012 colors in Fargo while walking.

suggesting that before a leader becomes a leader, they ought to actually endure some protracted struggle?… perhaps). After barely escaping a Napoleonic execution, the Russian Buzehov found himself in a bare-footed forced march and encampment, and this is how Tolstoy (through the Constance Garnett translation) laid out Pierre’s experience:

…Of all that he did himself afterwards call sufferings, though at the time he hardly felt them so, the chief was the state of his bare, blistered, sore feet. The horse-flesh was savoury and nourishing, the saltpetre flavour given it by the gunpowder they used instead of salt was positively agreeable; there was no great degree of cold, it was always warm in the daytime on the march, and at night there were the camp-fires, and the lice that devoured him helped to keep him warm. One thing was painful in the earlier days — that was his feet.

On the second day of the march, as he examined his blisters by the camp-fire, Pierre thought he could not possibly walk on them; but when they [the Russian prisoners] all got up, he set off limping, and later on, when he got warm, he walked without pain, though his feet looked even more terrible that evening. But he did not look at them, and thought of something else.

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, Constance Garnett translation, (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), page 1,207.

And this is all true. When the feet are sore in the morning from the previous day’s overland trek, all that is required is to get up and out of bed, jam the feet into the boots, and get them up and moving. This will limber them up for sure.

Pedestrian archaeology. Redwing Boot collection that extends back to 2005 to present (October 2012).

For at least 150,000-to-200,000 years, Homo sapiens (which, in Latin, means “Wise man” — it often feels like I’m letting that Latin definition down) have embraced her and his biped origins. One could make the argument that our brains are still hard-wired to be in a walking way, at least in our ability to process everything that is coming at us. Perhaps this is why it’s so easy to fall into a trance when whipping along the Eisenhower Interstate System at no less than 70 MPH. Our brains are incapable of processing everything, so we’re forced to either suck down coffee or pull over and nap.

Before this blog entry gets too long, I better lay out a couple quotes from Broyard, at least what he said in his essay, “A Most Unpedestrian Walker” (in Aroused by Books, 1971). Broyard reminds us that mendicant friars, beggars, pilgrims, bards and traveling artisans have been walking for ages. And that walking is shunned in our post-Industrial world:

…we have found ourselves more and more often in transit instead of simply in, more talented in getting somewhere than in being somewhere. We have developed the surface habits of the hurried as against the earned experiences and destinations of those who do their traveling on their own power.

At least in the late- ’60s, Broyard thought it good to critique the walkers, and the trance-induced hipsters (note: Broyard understood that it was hip to critique hipsters, himself among others, which is why he wrote a Portrait of the Hipster in June 1948). Here is one of Broyard’s critiques:

People who live in the country are used to the sight of teenagers at the peak of their physical powers hitching a ride rather than walk a quarter of a mile.

This is true, and it caused me to think about how only after we lose the power of our legs (resigned to a wheelchair at worst, or a walker at best) will we longingly think of how nice it would be to take a walk under our own power. Anyhow, it seemed necessary to set these ideas about walking out. Fellow comrades understandably offer me automobile rides when they see me walking, or catch that I will be walking. Other comrades insist that I get a bicycle. Automobilists miss so much more than bicyclists, and bicyclists miss so much more than pedestrians.

With that said, the Oxford American Dictionary noun of pedestrian is a person walking along a road or in a developed area. The adjective definition of a pedestrian is “lacking inspiration or excitement; dull.” For some reason this definition induces laughter. Broyard understood, as did Tolstoy. So does Dr. Caraher today at U of North Dakota today. Here’s to the walking-scape. If you see me during a northern Great Plains blizzard, please ignore the above tangent and offer me a ride.


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