Beyond a certain age (1), fantasies of escape into another life don’t work anymore. The illusion of ultimate vindication has faded. This psychological state of mind also has an economic counterpart: a dwindled bargaining power in the labour market. Contrary to any lingering naive traditional belief, age does not command more, but rather less consideration in the work place. Witness a manager’s apt words, referring to a complaining staff-member of-a-certain-age : “ I don’t give a damn. At his age he can’t go anywhere”.
May this bleak introduction help my dear blog-readers to imagine the kind of claustrophobic office atmosphere that, especially in times of economic crisis, weighs upon those who lack the unshakable belief in the imminence & indispensability of their own skills. And perhaps my thus primed blog-readers can now readily understand the supreme importance of a Refreshing Lunch Break Walk.
“Walk, I definitely must, to invigorate myself and to maintain contact with the living world” (2)
From the moment the revolving doors spew me out on the busy sidewalk, tortuous brooding gives way to alert navigating amidst hectic pedestrian traffic . So many people going so determinedly about their business – boarding buses, going down metro stairs, queuing at stationery counters, buying sandwiches, sipping from steaming paper cups of coffee. So many people conversing so earnestly with their live companions or on their mobile. “I got myself super glue, and man, that works!” “No, on Saturday I can’t, sorry”. Heavy buses thunder past, nimble taxis speed by, all in swooshing sprays of muddy water.
What a flexible and adaptive species we are, I sigh with admiration, noting how appropriately dressed all these people are, in perfect tune with the intensely grey & chilly November drizzle. Overcoats, boots, thick scarves, and umbrella’s! Many umbrellas! I love umbrellas.
I love to watch people with their umbrellas. There’s a truly s’ theatrical dancing quality to people walking with umbrella’s . Perhaps it’s a prop that brings out latent acting qualities in people? A widespread subconscious re-enacting of ‘Singing in the rain”?
In any case, the three ladies in front of me do a great act, dressed in black tap-dancing boots, swirling umbrella’s in beige, red and pink. Yeah, they make a splash, and they make my day. I hurry behind them with my camera, following them around this corner and the next. Delighting in their choreography, thrilled by their cheerful chattering Spanish. My three Autumn Graces ....
One last picture ....then I have to bid my Graces goodbye and must turn to walk back to work. Walking bravely, and not lost in sombre apprehensions at all, quite the contrary! Because there’s still that lovely little square to cross, the small park with its black iron railings overgrown with moss. I watch the leaves turning and falling and drifting against the railings.(3) I permit myself visions of urban autumnal romance ... a park in foggy London ...
I conveniently forget the serious& utilitarian pedigree of this neighbourhood and deftly ignore the prominent statues of captains of industry. Instead I turn my gaze to an angel up there, yes an angel! Shiny and gilded, floating, fleeing forward in the autumn haze ... Daphne, about to transform in turbulently turning leaves?
What a feat of civilisation past, so I stand there musing... railings with beautifully crafted ironwork, gleaming angels spreading out their wings, tenderly shaped flower beds ... As a token of my love and admiration I once again point my camera at the little park .... and then quickly conceal it, because I spot some colleagues coming my way. And one cannot be seen swooning over black railings and gilded angels, now can one?
accompanying notes to a refreshing walk
- Do pick your own number, dear blog-reader. In any case, an age already more advanced than Swann’s at the moment of being described thus by Proust: “à l’âge déjà un peu désabusé dont approchait Swann”
- Robert Walser – The Walk
- Janet Frame – “The envoy from mirror city” : “I said goodbye to London [...] I watched the leaves turning and falling and drifting against the black railings of the parks. I saw the sun change to blood-red and stand on end upon the winterbeaten grass of the Common; I watched the people with a new urgency in their gait, hurrying to their homes”
- Robert Walser – “The Walk” – “It really is shockingly vulgar the way people impede me here from making my elegant studies and from plunging into the most superb profundities. While I have grounds for indignation, I would rather be meek and endure with a good grace; thoughts of bygone beauty and loveliness, and the pale image of sunken nobility may well be sweet; but on the world around and on one’s fellow men one will not therefore have cause to turn one’s back. One cannot possibly talk oneself into believing that one is entitled to resent people and their contrivances because they disregard the state of mind of him whose desire it is to be absorbed in the realms of history and thought.”