Books are my only true addiction. I can live without wine, chocolate, fruit, friends, family, fortune, fame, money. But books?
When things are difficult on the road I sooth myself by reading. In cities I visit bookshops. The small houses with free books on the road are oases. I take a book every time I find one. I only look at the small ones. It is a torture sometimes. And sometimes I can't help myself and I take a bigger one, drag it around until the weight is torturing me more than the idea of not being able to continue reading the book and I leave it behind or sent it to Austria.
Two years ago I was a walking librarian. I walked from the west of Belgium to the east of Belgium with a group of artists in a Walking Festival called Sideways. I was "hired" by Dee Heddon, the Walking Library was her project (in collaboration with Misha Myers). We carried books with us every day. We read from the books, we collected new books, we set up the library in different ways every weekend. All the books in the library were based on the question " What book would you take with you on a journey if you could only take one book?" My choice was Calvino's Invisible Cities. I thought about taking it again on this journey, but I spent so much time with it in the last years already. Other books deserve attention too.
I brought four books this time. Four small ones. I brought digital books as well, but that's a different thing.
The SAS Survival Guide by John Wiseman, On Walking (written for the Sideways Festival by Brendon LaBelle), les Noeuds, a book about knots I bought for myself as a birthday present on my long walk to the south of France last year and The very Lowly. A meditation on the life of Francis of Assisi by Christian Bobin.
I replaced the SAS Guide by the digital version and I sent off the Brendon Labelle. The other two are still with me and I read them every couple of days. Other books came and went.
Today I am walking with Dee. She is far away in the UK. But there were some unexpected fellow walkers again. It isn't the first time. Bikers pass me, stop, get off their bikes and walk with me so we can be in the same speed and talk. This time it was a Swiss couple. Or actually a Czech/Italian couple, living in Switzerland. We talked in a mixture of English and French. Regina asked me dozens of questions. I loved her curiosity. Daniele, who loved her and therefore her curiosity too, told me when we finally were about to move in different speeds again that probably in the evening she would come up with a lot of questions she would have wanted to ask me.
They were biking along the Danube, all the way. From Donau-Eschingen, the source, to Budapest. It meant they would cross the Maria Valeria Bridge, the bridge connecting Hungary and Slovakia. A long time ago I was artist in residence there, Bridge Guard at the Bridge Guard Art & Science Center. My love for the Danube started there. Every day I crossed the bridge, I walked the Danube banks on both sides.
They were nice company. It was like meeting old friends you haven't seen in a long time. And I very much liked knowing where they were going, in the next week I would imagine them passing all the places I once stayed for special reasons, Vienna, Bratislava, Samorin, Sturovo, Esztergom, Budapest. Like messengers. Connecting parts of my past. Rolling out a thread I lost somewhere. Reconnecting places. Making me want to follow in their footsteps. Footsteps stepping in my old footsteps.
I wasn't surprised when Regina told me she worked in a big art library in Genève. She was a librarian.
Later on I read on Dee's facebookpage that today is her mother's birthday. She hadn't told me. Her mother died young, she was only 42. Dee thanked her for laying such a profound foundation for her life in so little time.
I will be 42 in september. There is still a lot I would like to do. But there have been moments during my walk when I thought I wouldn't mind if there wouldn't be another day. I am happy there are though. Many I hope. For myself and both librarians I walked with today. And you reading this.