Thursday, May 14, 2009

Keele Diary #10

When I am abroad, and especially when I am living abroad, I walk a lot more than I do at home. I would suspect that the same is the case for most Americans abroad. The main reason is quite simple: At home I live in a car culture, and I have a car. I live relatively close to campus, and on rare occasions do walk to school, but rarely, at least in part because time is a finite commodity, because for much of the year weather is not exactly a friend to the light-skinned paramulator, because Odessa is not the world's most pedestrian friendly city, and because, well, I am selfish and lazy and so clearly hate the environment.

When I am abroad, I don't have a car. If I had a car, I would drive it. But also, when I am abroad, I tend to live on on near university campuses, where even if I did have a car, my parking spot at my residence would almost certainly be about as good a spot as I could locate. But also, in most places in the world, and England and Keele certainly qualify, there is simply more of a walking culture. On campus, the default mechanism is walking, and one would come up with a reason not to. At home, the default mechanism is driving, and one comes up with reasons to walk.

And I do not mind. I enjoy walking, even though I am not the biggest fan in the world of hiking (not because of the walking, but because of the pointlessness, mostly). But there have been times in my life when even hiking took on a utilitarian bent. When I lived in South Africa in 1997 hiking became another way to deeply immerse myself in the country, and I had friends who hiked, and we'd camp and have a wonderful time. I suppose I could recapture that in the United States, and in the right context and with the right people, I am certain I would. But I also think that in 1997 I simply walked everywhere. It became the norm. If I left town, I went with a good friend who had a car, and certainly did not reject rides as they came. But I also thought nothing of walking 2-3 miles to a friend's or girlfriend's house if a ride was not available, something almost unimaginable in the US.

These days my walks cover a fairly familiar path. I leave my flat, which is probably several hundred yards or so from the middle of campus. I go down to the news agent at the student union and pick up The Guardian and The Independent (yes, I still stubbornly cling to news print even though I also subscribe to numerous newspapers online and well know the direction of the newspaper industry's fortunes). From there I head somewhat back in the other direction to come to my office. In the evening I might walk home, but usually do so via the grocer's in the same general area as the news agent, and I might walk to the pub. I certainly walked more when I was at Oxford in 2005, or in Grahamstown in South Africa whenever I return there. But in both cases those were simply functions of scale -- Oxford is bigger than Keele, and the town is more integrated into the university; Rhodes University is part of Grahamstown, adjacent to the main part of town.

I'll go home for two weeks and will walk less, or when I walk it will be purely as recreational endeavor, as Mrs. dcat and I like to go for walks, oftentimes on the big loop around campus. But that will be walking to walk, as opposed to walking as a modus vivendi, as it is in so much of the rest of the world, and as it is for me here.


Jeremy said...

I must say I am very impressed on how informative this blog is about simply walking.

dcat said...

I'm here to teach, Jeremy!


Thunderstick said...

Too bad it's not informative about history!!