I am self-confessed walker (although sitting here wearing many, many layers and watching the snow outside as I listen to a Mexican Morrissey tribute band, I do not want to go anywhere right now.) It is, then, serendipity that I was given this book on my visit to Much Ado Books back in the summer (which seems so long ago now.) I don’t even think they knew my fondness for perambulation when they suggested this book to me.
I have walked for as long as I have been able to. I used to walk about half a mile to school- over a disused quarry (which was later used as a location in the film The Damned United, fact fans) and a curly bridge to get to my secondary school. Much to my mother’s bafflement, I would do this in all weathers, including blizzards. I never caught the bus during my time there. I will refuse to take the bus unless I have to and my stance only really softened when I was pregnant with D in high summer. I am, then, A Walker.
Lauren Elkin is also A Walker, although her destinations have been much more glamorous than mine (although I have also walked round Paris and the parts of London she writes about in the book.) This is in part a memoir of Elkin’s life as an outsider as an American in Europe- she lives primarily in Paris, with a stint in Tokyo- but also a potted history of the role of women writers and film makers in cities. She explores the impact that these great cities have had on writers such as George Sand, Virginia Woolf and the film maker Agnès Varda.
The flâneurs were all men- Voltaire, Dickens- and it’s refreshing to see the cities reclaimed by women (albeit very privileged women). It would be nice if we could get to a point where all women feel as free walking the streets of their cities as those in this book were. I loved reading about each woman’s life on foot and the way that these cities have changed and continue to change.