THIS IS A STUDY made last summer in preparation for a walk across Texas, from Galveston to Marfa (which took place November 10-December 20, 2013). During the study and the walk, I took a photograph at the point of departure and another at the end of each hour of walking. The Texas walk and photographs are two elements of Architecture for Travelers, a project sponsored in large part by the Akademie Schloss Solitude that Lynn Xu and I are undertaking with friends and family. The photos are all collected in a book called Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa; the other elements are a collection of poems and the design and construction of a home. For more information, please visit www.architecturefortravelers.org.
— Joshua Edwards
“Making a Triangle”
I left at two o’clock Friday afternoon, heading due west along fields that border the forest behind Schloss Solitude. I’ve traveled this route many times before, but never with the intention of going anywhere besides Leonberg, which would be my first stop of the day. This time, after Leonberg, I would double back on a road I’d never traveled to arrive in the town of Gerlingen, then head uphill on a path I take frequently to return home. I realized about five minutes after leaving that I hadn’t checked the weather and I forgot to grab a map, although I had a copy of Robert Walser’s The Walk in my backpack. The skies were clear, it was 78 degrees, and I had a sense of the terrain, so I walked on with confidence, thinking something similar to what I would later read in the book I carried, “Shut in at home, I would miserably decay and dry up.”
After one hour it was time for me to take the first photograph of the walk. I had hoped to time my walk in order to come across, at precisely three o’clock, an interesting house that I knew of, but when I arrived at the huge teal monstrosity (security cameras peering down at me from ridges all over its strange, shell-shaped metal roof), I looked at my watch and found I was 10 minutes early. That was outside the parameters I set for myself (I have to take a photograph within five minutes of each hour), so I could only briefly admire it, shudder at the thought of what furnishings might fill such an aquatic, opulent structure, and keep going. At the top of the hour I found myself at a playground I’d visited several times during walks with friends. It features a circular treadmill-like contraption, as well as a beautifully-designed set of tire swings, a slide, and the plat de résistance: a rather long zip line. As I approached the zip line, I noticed that the seat for riders and the apparatus it would have been attached to were gone. A few months earlier, I had also found that the seat of another zip line in a forest several miles away was missing. Discovering this new absence made me wonder if some awful accident had occurred that led to the end of all official zip lining in the region. Then I remembered that only a few days earlier, during a long walk to Ludwigsburg, Lynn and I had come across a seat and had enjoyed its use. With the glum feeling of someone who knows of a secret but has no clue as to what it is, I moved along.
My spirits were soon lifted when I found a beautiful path to take, new to me since access to part of my old route was now blocked by construction. After ten minutes I arrived at a quarry-like park that I’d never encountered before, tucked behind a shopping mall. People were fishing from a tiny island. I walked on to a post office and mailed a letter to the States, then headed to the town square of Leonberg, where I went shopping for some vegetables. Just as I stepped outside, the bells were tolling four o’clock and I noticed the skies had darkened while I was inspecting vegetables. I crossed a corner of the square and photographed Marktplatz 26, where Friedrich Hölderlin fell in love with Luise Nast, the young woman he was tutoring, in 1786. Perhaps it was around this time he first met a boy who was born just a few blocks away, who would become one of the greatest German philosophers, Friedrich Schelling. Was it the older, mad version of Hölderlin that the older, famous version of Schelling was thinking of when he wrote that “one who could write completely the history of their own life would also have, in a small epitome, concurrently grasped the history of the cosmos”? Moments after I took the picture, rain came down in sheets and I waited in a tunnel. After a few minutes, I felt enclosed and without hope, so I ran through the rain and took shelter at a bus stop until the worst of the storm passed twenty minutes later.
I’d lost nearly a half an hour, so I left while it was still lightly raining. After about ten minutes, the sun was shining and soon after that, the rain stopped completely. However, as I walked along on the road I’d never traveled before, it seemed I was wrong in my initial estimation that the storm and I would move in the same direction, that I would follow safely in its wake. I could see my next destination, Gerlingen, a couple of miles in the east. The dark clouds seemed to hover over it, dumping rain, and lighting flashed there as well as to the north. Then I saw lightning strike to the south, thunder rumbled all around me, and I realized I’d been stupid. I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt and hadn’t packed a jacket. I looked for places to take shelter in case the storm moved back over me, thinking of what I’d do if I were in similar conditions west of the hill country in Texas, where there’s often little or no shelter for miles and miles. I jogged for a while. Just as I reached the outskirts of town it was time to take another photograph, which I took looking back where I’d come from. After a few more minutes, the rain picked up a little but the lightning stayed at a distance. I made my way downtown, stopped in a few stores to get more groceries, then headed up the hill back home, humbled by the weather.
At six o’clock I was in the woods only a few minutes from the studio. I took a photograph of the path before me. The walk had been almost eleven miles, and despite the rain and shopping had only taken four hours. I’d returned with plenty of time before dinner. Lynn and I would be dining with an architect, a friend with whom there is always plenty to talk about.
Lynn and I came to Berlin to visit friends and give a reading at the magnificent Saint George’s English Bookshop. Most of the week was rainy and cold, but on Friday, September 13th the sun came out and we decided to take a walk. We rode the U1 line from Schleisches Tor to the station at the far end at Ulandstrasse, where started walking at two o’clock. Beside the steps where we exited to the street, there is a large mirror, something common in Germany that I can’t remember having seen in the United States. It is for me one of those instances of public works so strange and beautiful that I momentarily believe that human beings cannot help but practice subconscious art in all that they do. The mirrors are always impeccably clean. Emerging onto the surface, we headed east down Kurfürstendamm, a large boulevard with bustling sidewalks and many stores. We saw a muscular street performer in his fifties do handstand pushups while gripping the edges of two skateboards, which he then rode at the same time in a circle, one foot on each board.
After an hour we got off the main road and walked down Winterfeldstrasse, beginning near Winterfeldplatz, where we used to go weekly with friends when we spent part of a summer in Berlin two years ago. We soon came across several strange buildings, my favorite being 27 Winterfeldstrasse. I couldn’t find any information about it, but am sure its design is influenced by the giant post office nearby, which I later read was a fine example of a 1920s movement called Brick Expressionism, a troubling name.
Another hour along we passed by a park in which there were five permanent ping pong tables. Lynn and I play quite a bit, and we have a running tally of our scores (she’s winning). I think this might be a nice thing to have at our forthcoming home: an outdoor ping pong table made of concrete, with some sort of design twist to it. Maybe one half Minimalist, one half in the tradition of Catalan Modernism.
We stopped for tapas and wine at a Spanish restaurant, and got to speak some Spanish. The woman who brought us our drinks had a distinctly not-Spanish accent, and it turns out she’s from Portugal, but of course speaks four or five languages fluently. The U.S. seemed so far away.
We walked down Skalitzer Straße, and as entered Kruezberg, nearing the end of our walk, we came across a bar called John Muir. I was reminded of a passage from his journals that I read beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. In looking for that passage later (not finding it), I came across this instead: “And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.” Lynn and I then talked about our long walks together.
Joshua Edwards is the author of two collections of poetry, Imperial Nostalgias (Ugly Duckling, 2013) and Campeche (Noemi, 2011), and translator of Mexican poet María Baranda’s Ficticia (Shearsman, 2010). His third collection, Architecture for Travelers, will be published by Edition Solitude in 2014, as will a collection of his photographs, Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa.