I bought a copy of Ten Walks/Two Talks five years ago, after seeing the authors do a reading from it, but hadn’t actually read the whole book until now, despite the fact that I really like walking, New York, art that involves walking, and art that involves constraints, which basically guaranteed I would really like this book. It’s short, and is divided into four sections named by season: Early Spring, Early Winter, Late Spring, and Late Winter, each preceded by a reproduction of a Hiroshige print that’s captioned with a line from this book. The book opens with a Bashō epigraph about “dreaming of roaming,” and the back cover blurb says the book “updates the meandering and meditative form of Bashō’s travel diaries.”

The “spring” sections of the book are the “ten walks” of the title, written by Andy Fitch. Each walk is named with a day of the week, and they come from Fitch’s larger Sixty Morning Walks project (which you can read in its entirety online). I love the premise of the project: Fitch took sixty walks, each lasting sixty minutes, on sixty different days, and then after each walk wrote sixty sentences about it. In the reading I went to, Fitch explained that the focus of the piece was glimpses of the city, inspired by Hiroshige’s “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” and the idea that there’s no single view of a place. The results are great: concise, funny, beautiful, full of moments in Fitch’s life and the lives of the people he sees or interacts with as he walks. “I wanted to know this world with me walking through it,” Fitch writes in one piece, talking about how getting out and walking through the city is a relief from “bad job news” and “predawn insomnia” (52). So Fitch walks, and records, and I love reading about his walks through pockets of the city I know well (I can picture the Gee Whiz Diner and Salaam Bombay and Baluchi’s in Tribeca; when Fitch writes about walking by Salaam Bombay and then seeing a man on a treadmill I know which gym’s window he’s looking through; the post office on Canal that he ducks into one day is right by where I work) and places I’ve walked through but don’t know in the same way (the area just north of Central Park, say: I know Lasker Rink and the walk west, but not so much the bits north and east). I like how full of regular city people this book is: cops, kids, joggers, people waiting for buses, people walking, people working: people loading or unloading groceries, people doing construction work. Fitch is aware of himself as part of this crowd, and separate from it: “Amid fluorescent light in Parkview Deli,” he writes, “I sensed how much other mornings differed from mine” (48).

Favorite sentences:

One squat guy hauled heavy cement-mix bags to a pick-up. Each time he spun back to the vestibule he faced chic tall mannequins in short denim skirts. He seemed to appreciate this. (13)

A doorman and a poodle jogged past with both appearing to do it for the other’s health. (53)

I was less excited by the “winter” sections of the books, which are the “two talks” of the title: Fitch and Cotner recorded conversations they had in Central Park and at the Whole Foods in Union Square, then edited them for publication, keeping all the stutters and repetitions and interruptions of conversation. These talks feel fairly mannered and self-conscious, particularly the first one, and I guess that’s part of the point, but I’m not sure what to do with lines like: “But ever since I started caring about language, I’ve become someone who tries to transport his environment, to stay in the most lucid state” (25). I like the second talk better: it’s stationary (they’re in Whole Foods, not walking around), but their conversation includes a bit about walking, about the flow and motion of the city, the interaction between pedestrians and drivers and other pedestrians: it makes me think of Jane Jacobs and her sidewalk ballet.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting