Its strange how this project won’t end. In a good way.
Great chat with Bruce – and looking forward to his Highland Boundary Fault walk!
Its strange how this project won’t end. In a good way.
Great chat with Bruce – and looking forward to his Highland Boundary Fault walk!
WordPress sent me the statistics, which I thought were interesting, but ultimately not so helpful. I still wrestle with the project, of course. I catch glimpses of memories: the call of the hawk as I crossed from Scotland to England; the long mists of Yorkshire; a bridge where I dropped – accidentally, honestly – a banana peel into the rushing river below and watched its bruised yellow float away; the anxiety as I stepped onto the shore at Calais; the sound of quiet and heat of Northern France; the wobbling of my feet at the hottest time of the day; the early morning spider-webs on those endlessly straight paths (where did those spiders live during the day?); the calm organisation of Switzerland, and the looming mountains; the fog of the top and the arguments that broke my heart; the rocky descent and the straight, dusty paths of Italy, and the final exciting days.
I think I might need to do the whole thing again, just to make sure I’m remembering it properly.
Click here for a clip of the the film Stuart is making…the full one is due very shortly.
And stay tuned. And thank you.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
A few days later, I am flying home. Morrissey’s ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ is being muzaked through the dry air of the plane. I will soon leave the place I walked miles and miles to get to. I am echoed back to being a teenager, departing on another journey, and being equally as unsettled as I am now.
Arriving was difficult and complicated, but no more so than the process itself. I was met with a parade and a welcome picnic, and a surreal experience of press and a million congratulations.
Since then, Its been 2 days of press and lectures and video-conferences and thank yours and catch-ups and I still don’t feel I have arrived.
I probably won’t until I am safe in my home, for even now, my legs feel like they should be walking. Instead, they’re sitting in a cramped plane, delayed and un-moving. The solitary time has been replaced by the cattle of commercial travel. The silence been replaced with the chatter of laughing people and the eager jets of the plane. It all seems utterly normal and utterly foreign to me. And perhaps this is why I am unsettled: in this world, we enter and depart rooms; open and close the doors that start and begin new things. It is only the threshold of passing between that things that is difficult.
So, now I dive into weeks of back-logged work and life, clearing the grooves of leaves so the tram of my life run smoothly. I think it will take weeks, and so I thank you for your congratulations and love and support.
In London, the inspirational Barbara Steveni gave me a small Spirit Level. Blood red liquid and a small bubble of air, she gave it to me saying I should use it to keep my spirit level. I have used it on mountains and plains. Resting it my palms or on my knees or just next to me. It was the most thoughtful and powerful of gifts, because it reminded me to take care of myself. She wrote me a message the day I arrived:
“The blog is quite wonderful; three pronged consciousness, inside, outside, held together by that brave body, suffering recovering et al – so much I wanted to catch responding to your blog. (notes for when we meet) I will have to come and find out who and what is the Anthony now? when you’ve recovered because tho’ you were beginning to answer that, reflection in ‘normal’ circumstances will temper it.”
It all seems so surreal – the quiet cold of walking in the morning is not a reality anymore. The ritual of packing every morning is no longer true. The soft cross of a cobweb across my body doesn’t happen. It all seems like it happened to a different person, a long time ago.
I will be walking in my head for days to come, I am sure, and as I adjust to the new/old terrain of how life was 2500km ago, I shall keep the Spirit Level handy.
Padova/Padua to Mestre (38 km. 7.75 hours.)
We (Claudia, Camilla and I) stayed with Camilla’s parents – Florence and Giorgio – last night. Boxes of handpicked hazelnuts greeted us at the door, and Georgio explained they were from his own tree, and Florence had made a delicous homemade hazelnut cake for us, too. Their house was as beautiful as a museum, and their warm hearts echoed around us with laughter and love. (I think I have found my Italian family! I include a picture of Papa Georgio with The Stick below.) Their kind warmth gave me the final burst of strength needed to get my over today’s distance.
The walk was 10km longer than all of us expected and so I was the only one to complete the whole 40km. I staggered into Forte Marghera after 7 3/4 hours, late afternoon, and was suddenly conscious that I have finished the last, long day.
Finding a quite place to stretch and contemplate the near impending end, I sat down and saw at a cat sleeping by a small lake, dozing in the weak 4pm sunshine. The cat was disturbed by my collapse, and looked up, unconcerned. It returned to its dozing state. I wanted to grab it and shake it and scream: do you know how far I have walked?!? Do know how difficult it was? Do you know how long it took and all that I have seen and done?
But I didn’t.
It was just a cat, and it didn’t care. And why should it? Why should anyone? Indeed, I’ve acomplished something, but I’ve not changed the world, and so I let the napping cat sleep while I stretched away my aching calves and hamstrings. My feet feel like gristle and meat. My hip-flexors are strings of fire. My brain is stunned and unthinking.
I am not quite sure my body or my mind understand that it is all almost over.
I honestly don’t know what to say.
Or what to feel.
And that might sound like a cop out for one of the last ever blog posts, but its true. I guess I am a bit in shock. So, I keep focused on whats in front of me right now, and pack away my dirty socks and pants and and readily await the feast being prepared for me in Forte Marghera, hosted by the gracious Live Arts Cultures folks in their lovely multi-purpose rooms: dance, theatre and performance arts. Camilla and Rachael are cooking up a storm and Claudia sit and type away at machines.
Tomorrow, it is a short 10 km from Maestre to Venice, to the gate of the Venice Biennale. And then I will be done. I will have drawn a path in my own footsteps from Huntly to Venice. An indelible, ephemeral mark. A river in the wrong place, coursing its own way to the sea.
The ache and retch of this corpse
is almost a memory,
almost a historical fact,
a forgotten map that has a single line upon it.
Instead, the land erodes and builds itself up again: it draws itself another path
its an un-certain, exciting geography
the world is just beginning.
The intrepid 4
This is the look of someone who has almost finished his journey…. flattering, huh?
Ponte Di Barbarano to Padova/Padua (28 km. 6 hours.)
Yesterday’s kind hosts – Nicola and Claudia (who, I must say, were pregnant and in the middle of moving home, as well as being in the middle of harvest season, so deserve extra thanks for hosting me at such a busy time!!) – accepted me into their house with such ease that I forgot they were complete strangers. It seemed like I was at the home of old friends, and dinner with their self-made amazing wine prepared me well for my last day of walking alone.
Setting of earlier than I usually do – Nicola had to go work his vineyards, and Claudia had to prepare the last of the house move – I walked into the rising sun, walking east. The villages were just waking up and the light was painting the top of the hills. Looking up, I walked through a fine silk of cobwebs, and my first thought, honestly, was “I will miss walking into these cobwebs”. And I paused. And smiled. Because, before I had begun this walk, I was petrified of spiders and screamed childishly whenever I walked through their webs. But, over 2500 km, I have walked through so many webs and strands of silk that I have become used to them. They don’t scare me, anymore. I think it is a testament to how much I’ve changed. Old fears are settling, erasing, ending. I carried on walking into the sunshine, smiling, pulling the fine strand off my arms and body and letting it drop onto my path behind me.
As it was my last day alone, as I walked, with every step, I quietly listed every single host and friend and supporter from the past 3.5 months of this project, and thanked them. I thought I was going to have to walk an extra few kilometres just to get everyone in…
Yesterday, I met Claudio in a small, sheltered valley. I had sat down for my mid-morning break next to his woods, and he wandered past and stopped to talk. He spoke no English, but he understood my broken Italian to get a gist of the project, and I think I understood him. He asked me what he thought of the landscape around me, and I told him – truthfully – that it was beautiful. He smiled, and told me that he was working on growing trees and nurturing plants and encouraging animals to thrive. The area had good food, good wine, good people and good landscape. It was hard work, but he wanted to make his own ‘paradiso.’
When I left him, I began thinking about the original inception of this project: a pilgrimage to another sort of paradise – the Venice Biennale. A difficult trek to get into a ‘sacred site’ to artists. In many ways, Claudio’s struggle and mine have been similar: Hard, physical work to reach a beautiful place where we’ve achieved our dream; where we have all we want. For him, it is a slice of Eden, and for me, perhaps, it would be placing my kind of work at the heart of one of the most major art festivals in the world. As I approach the Biennale – 40 km away now – I reflect on what’s changed in that original goal.
To begin with, we (Deveron Arts and myself) hatched this mad walking scheme after not being accepted to represent Scotland in Venice. We thought: well, we’ll just make our own way there , and use the walk as a way to reflect on what a place like the Biennale means to people like us, who don’t make objects, but more socially-engaged, ephemeral acts. Work that is rarely seen in the context of the world’s major art festival.
Much has come out of that reflection – for example, this blog is a record of my own thinkings. But it doesn’t include the endless discussion about ‘art’ and its place in the world with the hosts, the other walkers, between ourselves, nor the other supporters, the critics, and others who have been engaged in this project. There is more we can do to frame those discussions and concepts, which we plan to do in the coming months, but I don’t think we’ve reached any solid conclusions about the Biennale and Socially Engaged Art. It has been the questions that have been important.
In thinking about Claudio’s paradise, however, I have arrived at a few certainties for myself that are useful to mention: I (personally) no longer think of that place (the Biennale) as a ‘sacred site’. I once did, true, but all this time walking, struggling, thinking and reflecting has made me re-configure how – and for whom – I choose to value that place.
This is a good thing. This thinking has emerged from the understanding that power is only half taken: its is also half given. And after all this time, I know I don’t aspire to give that place any more meaning and authority than the process-led, participatory and social exchanges that have occurred along the way. The people, the hosts, the walkers, the readers, the commenters: that has been the art and the beauty of this walk; and getting to Venice seemed to become less and less important with every step.
I think of it like this: I had a pouch of gold that I was carrying to Venice. There were gold coins inside, each one a token ‘value’ and I was going to take them to the Biennale and discuss what value the Biennale gives to socially engaged practice, what value the Biennale ascribes to the people of Venice, what value is in the process-led, participatory exchanges and how is that represented in the Biennale, not to mention how those I encountered valued the Biennale – and art in general – too.
But, rather than carry those coins all the way there, it seemed that every time I stopped, and every time I was helped along the way or given sustenance (physical or emotional), every time shared discussions or debates with people, I realise that I had opened the pouch and left a gold coin with that person or people.
As I approach the endpoint, the pouch is almost empty; I have only two coins left, and I am going to keep at least one for myself. The other… well, I will leave the other coin in Venice, because, its true, it is an important place. But it is not the only important site of art, and it would be a false prayer to give it all my gold. Instead, I gain strength in knowing that the wealth has been shared, rather than being subsumed into the authority of the Biennale.
Now, after 2500 km of walking and thinking about my sort of work and the Biennale, I feel stronger in my practice, more certain about making art the way I do, and I have the confidence that making art that way not only ‘works’ but is conceptually and aesthetically sound and critically relevant in the world today.
And I truly feel that if the Biennale ever wants this sort of work, it knows where to find me.
The Biennale can walk to me.
(Images from two days, below, due to yesterdays interwebs interruption.)
The Chicken Strut
From a distance, I thought this statue was of a man and a horse boxing… sadly, it wasn’t.
San Bonifacio to Points Di Barbarano (29 km. 6.5 hours)
Tomorrow is my last day walking alone. Claudia, Rachael + Camilla (some of the Deveron Arts team) join me for the last few days starting on tomorrow evening. I have composed a post in my head for that solitary day, but I want to walk with the words mulling and sloshing around my head, so I will post it tomorrow. (Plus, I have nary an internet connection, so this has been done on my phone!)
To get me through that last solitary day, I shall reflect on all the people who have been with me on the way – walkers, hosts, families, critics, friends, every one. I might have to walk more than 30km just to fit all that reflection in…
Sam Ainsely suggested this project was about stories and agrees that the Tapestry idea works well. She wrote to tell me of an interview she read with Edmond Due Waal: “You are inspired by not one person, but by many. The German poet Paul Celan talked about the companions you need on your journey. Some join you for part of the journey and some fall away. But its plural.”
One of the most constant companions I have had – apart from The Oak and The (Damned) Stick! – has come in the form of song. My friend Gerrie Van Nord has posted a song to me for every day of my walking. She still has a few more days which I will update once I have better access to technology, but I wanted to give these songs to you (and hope Gerrie doesn’t mind me passing them on!). In so many ways, they represent the breadth of experiences in this Tapestry, in their difference and in their unified them: in the same way that those that inspire you/one are singular but also ‘plural’.
So, I’ll update images tomorrow and give you my penultimate post then too. But for now, revel and explore the audio feast so amaziny curated by Gerrie. They have kept me going, kept me thinking, kept me moving & kept me interested. Each one, like each of the people involved, becomes a story (a song?) in the Tapestry. I am indebetted to her efforts + collaboration. Thank you, Gerrie.
Castel D’Azzano to San Bonifacio (33 km. 6.5 hours)
Elspeth wrote a comment on the blog last night:
I’m curious, have ‘we’ responded enough? For all your effort, discipline and musings, has the feedback/comments/texts/messages fed enough back to you? I’m sure many of us lurk here silently hoping someone else will step forward…but I’ve often wondered how it feels if no one responds on any day (has this happened??) Just a thought. We do think of you often, I’m sure dozens out there also are, but does that satisfy without actual response?
The amount of response has varied, from a casual message, to full-blown cheerleading, to days of cricket-chirping silence. But the truth is, I have felt incredibly supported. The amazing thing about the interwebs, is that it tells me how many people read my mad and boring ramblings, and when and from where. So even if I had no response, I knew there was someone out there. I include this screengrab from a couple days ago – its the statistics of the blog:
It boggles my mind that so many people have become part of it. To be Its why I kept writing. Like a seemless loop, or the intertwinned red-threads that stretch so far between the places I’ve been and the places I’m going, or even just the vibration of air between here and home: it felt like I was talking to someone and it felt like someone was listening. And that helped on those long and stretched, difficult days
And it wasn’t just online or digitally – I felt it from the people I meet on the way: Even today, as I was going through Belfiore – a wee village – a man driving a tractor full of apples stopped and asked me (in Italian) where I was going and where I had been. I tried to explain in what little Italian I had what I was doing, where I was going and where I had come from, but he did not understand. He gestured me to follow his tractor, so I did and he drove to a house and called a young gentleman out, explaining he spoke English. I explained to the young man what I was doing and why and he translated for the farmer. The farmer smiled broadly and gave me an apple, fresh from the tree to his tractor to his hands to mine. It was the sweetest, most perfect apple I’d ever had.
So, yes, I have felt very supported, and for that, it must be said honestly and truly and humbly: Thank You. To absolutely everyone. Thank. You.
I left my mother this morning, and at breakfast, she was saying that she kept thinking of the Bayeux Tapestry when imagining the project. I asked her why, and she said it was because there were all these stories, interconnected but separate. Narrative, but not linear. I think she meant in a “tales of the hero” sort of way – different tableaux of my experiences – The Grenade, The Breaking Of The Stick, The Host Who Had The Guns, The Crossing Of Dangerous Bridges, etc. I liked the idea, but somehow, it didn’t fit.
On my walk today, I thought about it and I realised what it was: it IS like a tapestry, but it has never been just about my experiences: I have perhaps been the single repeated character, but the tapestry is of everyone: of all the participants – those that hosted; those that read the blog; those that walked with me; those that watched from windows or cars; those that stopped and talked; those that commented and those that did not. Its not a single person’s story, and that’s what i have loved the most about it.
So, again, Thank You, for being part of the Tapestry and helping me (nearly) get to where I am going. I am glad we did it together.
4 more days. Ponte Di Barbarano, Padua, Mestre, and then Venice….29km, 28km, 30km, 10km. Just under 100km left. That seems manageable.
This terrifies me for some reason… why are all those people in that foot??!!?
This building was almost the same colour as the sky….. it was beautiful.
Valeggio to Castel D’Azzano (16 km. 4 hours.)
Last day of walking with my mother. Its been strange to adapt to a different pace, but probably good for me…. After all, in 5 days time, I will be adapting to a whole new pace of life, entirely… one that is not based in long-distance walking. Or carrying 12 kg on my back, everyday. Or sleeping in a different bed, every night. So, I enjoyed the slow steady plod. It was a short day, and so we had all the time in the world, and it was pleasant to walk through the orchards and chat. I did my best to keep her spirits up and distract her from her obvious jet-lag and pain. She was a trooper and didn’t complain once, despite having some monster blisters, and she walked the whole way. Not bad, Mother.. not bad at all! I obviously have inherited your determined-stubbornnes-in-the-face-of-difficulty gene. So, thank you for that, and the time we spent together.
And we trickle down to the last five days. I feel like there should be some last minute denouement, a final crescendo – some dramatic last minute tragedy: a broken leg, a snake-bite, a crisis of faith. But, I am also aware that life is not like that (… though, there is 5 days still to go…) and things sometimes just wind down. Claudia and Rachael are already on their way to Venice to prepare things with Camilla. Husband is preparing to arrive. My last few days are already mapped out. The big welcome – to which, by the way, you are all invited: see HERE – is being prepared. Plans for where The Oak will be planted are being finalised. I guess the only thing to do is walk there.
I saw my first road-sign for Venice today. It looms and approaches. Much like the question of how I encapsulate the entirety of this project, I am not sure how I will approach the endpoint. It seems so massive, and yet so quietly final. Nick May’s recent comment on the blog seems to sum it all up:
“I guess it will be strange when you can stop – maybe like a sailor after years at sea and having to get used to being back on land again.”
Indeed. So I walk to an Island to learn how to stop walking. See you there in 5 days. That works out to one day for every toe on my right foot. Fitting.
(P.S.: before the pictures of today – I should say: There is a documentary film being made of this, and it will be posted on-line, on this very blog – so if you haven’t had enough of me rabbiting on about this in words, you can see some real-live footage of my experience. It should be ready by the end of the year and if you ‘follow’ this blog, you’ll receive an email once I post it… since there should only be 6 or 7 posts left of this, now’s the right time to press ‘follow’ as you won’t be inundated with emails….)
Carpenedolo to Valeggio (20 odd km. 6 something hours.)
A man stopped his tractor and pointed to the carriage in the back, filled with plump, purple grapes. He gestured for us to take some, and so we took a small handful, and then he looked at us, pleading and dismayed, as only an Italian man could, and gestured for more, more, please take more! So we took two large bunches and thanked him profusely. He waved his hand as if it was nothing and drove off.
We walked passed Kiwi fruit plantation. Strange to see such an ‘exotic’ fruit in such a context, with Italian church bells ringing in the distance, but there they hung, furry little things, still unripe but eagerly growing ready.
Endless lines of vineyards.
We walked past a large orchard, but the trees had already been harvested. I could not recognise the tree and so I asked my mother what variety she thought it might be, and she guessed apricot. I picked a leaf and crushed it between my thumb and forefinger, and sure enough, the smell of apricot escaped into the warm sunshine, drifting off on a cool breeze.
The soy beans browning and the already collected wheat and corn: this is such a fecund area – things almost bursting with nourishment. I can see why people want to live here.
It made me think of ‘site’. Of a specific place where a particular event is occurring or has occurred. The word derives from the latin ‘situs‘ meaning ‘local position‘. This ‘local position’ is filled with agriculture, of growth and food. I thought about my walk: I have been walking through endless ‘sites’ – areas of particular local meaning and position. But I have also been occupying my own ‘site’: the walk itself. Its like the landscape of my path, is its own ‘local’ position, being connected and linked my by steps. An ephemeral local geography. And these writings have been the map to read that topography. It provides me with structure, with direction, with focus and with a particular ‘local position’ conceptually, and emotionally. It is a site of my own making, and with its own local position.
And like this particular Italian site – loaded with fruit and food – it has fed me, nourished me, and I am sure it will continue to, even after I have finished.
6 days of walking left. I find it hard to reconcile ‘six days’ with the gigantic path behind me – what was I doing on day 19? Or day 34? or even day 66? I know that six days in – 76 days ago… almost three months ago – I climbed over two hills and arrived into Burntisland to find Caroline waiting and ready to look after my blisters. I saw Arthur’s Seat from across the Forth of Firth, and I knew I would be home soon, albeit temporarily. It seems a lifetime ago. It WAS a lifetime ago.
Now, with 6 days to go, I feel like I want to hoard the stories. I want to pocket and save every moment, because soon the site will not exist: it will fade into memory, and that is right and proper. All things end. So, for now, I will enjoy this site, this temporary passport into a strange, moving country. I will hold onto the site tightly and suck every last sweetness from it.
6 days to go. 6 days.