A few evenings ago I went on a brisk walk down one side of the Garonne, across a beautiful bridge, up the other side, and across the oldest bridge in Toulouse. The sun was reaching its angle of delight, shooting rays of golden and pinkish light under and around the darkening clouds of perhaps a change in weather. I walked with my friend’s daughter, excellent company, and she told me about drawing tomatoes. We walked past people just sitting on the stone walls along the river watching the water, watching the sky. We walked past houses with little balconies that looked like enchanting places to live on a quiet Sunday evening. In our hour we probably walked by at least several hundred people, some walking, some drinking, some alone, some with friends.
Walking through the streets of Toulouse at all times of day reminds me of our shared humanity. Early in the morning I see barely awake adolescents staggering to school, hair still mussed, backpack barely on. A little later cute little kids go block the sidewalks with their distracted meandering, sometimes singing and followed by patient herding parents. I also see young people, clearly stressed, awakened too late after a night out, almost running to get to their jobs. Some people stop at the bakery for a croissant and coffee, they have to grab breakfast, they are late and hungry. We are all out in the world fighting our various morning battles and making our way to our obligations. It feels to me like we are all doing the best we can on any given day.
School mornings in the US felt so different. My son and I on our bikes and the rushing of shiny minivans up and down our streets. In my imagination all of those families inside their cars are well-groomed, on time, ready for life. A few times, when the door slid open as I past, I saw inside and yes, there is mess there too. But mostly in our car lives no one really knows, or smells, or hears what everyone else is going through.
Later in the day I see people walking completely spaced out, like it happens to me, where am I going? I want to laugh when I see another woman suddenly stop in the middle of the street, face blank, and do an about face because she forgot where she was going. My son and I see mothers in hijabs laughing with their stroller toddlers, young men slinging slang at each other, people my age helping their parents slowly cross a busy street. We come around a corner and run right into a group of teenage girls laughing hilariously at their own daring and laughing even more that we might have heard their daring. For a moment I remember that punchy giggly high on life feeling of talking and laughing for hours about nothing.
Walking down a very narrow street I see a young woman sobbing as her boyfriend comforts here but in a way that makes it clear he is the source of her anguish. Two tall bearded men cut me off in their hurry to embrace and greet each other, good friends so happy to find each other on the street. Every Tuesday when I come home from dance class I see the same two women on the same street corner, one with a yoga mat, engrossed in conversation, not quite ready to go home. I have been here long enough that I see people I know and can greet. As we are all on foot, we can stop and chat, share some news, give a warm hello so unlike a car wave or honk.
I recently read an article about why the very rich become cold and uncaring. The premise was that separation breeds fear. If we don’t see people different or poorer than us, we are scared of them, we do not want to acknowledge them. It seems to me that walking and public transportation could be a cure for this. https://www.wired.com/story/why-are-rich-people-so-mean/
I have been trying to find again the art of walking with no destination, easier here in this circular city. My little US town is very walkable but is laid out on straight axes and surrounded by mountains so most walks have a destination or a natural end and return. Why did I forget how to meander, how to stroll?
Our hips are very tight, our pelvises shockingly narrow for giving birth, all in the interest of having extraordinary walking abilities. These days I am mostly walking alone, observing humanity, loving our differences and sweetnesses but my walks are always flavored with the memories of long talking walks with good friends. I am so thankful to be living in a place where walking is the norm and there are so many good streets and pretty paths for people’s feet. Walking helps me think, reminds me to daydream, digests my sorrows through my bones moving and moving, everything better in motion.