Literary breaks

Where Are You Going Like That?

Promenades and Digressions

By Pauline Delabroy-Allard 13 March 2019


© Anne Van Aerschot

Where Are You Going Like That?
Why do we walk, where are we going, where are we coming from? With the march from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Six Brandenburg Concerti as her point of departure, the writer Pauline Delabroy-Allard sets out on a promenade. On her way, she meets dilatory walkers, some bent over by fatigue and old age, others with only memories to guide their steps and the stragglers walking round and round, closed in on themselves. So many walkers and walks, the urge to advance and to keep on your feet, the better to cling on to life.    

Where are you going like that? Yes, you! With your aristocratic chin, your arms like metronomes, breathing arrogantly and gazing into the distance, you’re almost frightening to behold. If your footsteps echoed, frankly, you’d give people the jitters. But your footsteps don’t echo. You walk in silence, your strides muffled, muted in the down-soft air. You are fairy tale animals, animals that don’t exist, royal animals. A troop. You are a troop. You jump along at a swinging pace, all asymmetrical. Step with the left hind leg, step with the left diagonal biped, step with the right foreleg. And projection. And projection. And projection. Gallop, gallop! You are on parade. A sound and, as one, your faces all turn in the same direction. A movement and your bodies fuse into one. With a rustling sound, you make the same gesture. Where are you going, like that? Together, like an army, like an assault. You have such a decided air, so sure, so proud. To look at you, one might think that you were off to a celebration. You advance without wavering, without hesitating. Your backs straight, the desire that pursues you, the longing that catches up with you. You are earthly beings. You walk to conquer. You are vain animals.

As for me, I do not walk straight. I bump into everything that crosses my path. The ground pitches, the sky pitches, even the light pitches. Yesterday, tomorrow, I don’t know where I am anymore. Is that morning that I see breaking in the sky or is it the evening light waning? Clarity also wavers. And I, I stagger. For days on end I stagger. Grief guides my steps, grief and then regret, grief and then regret and alcohol, griefs and then regrets and alcohol and the grief that comes from regrets and alcohol. My mind is foggy. The town slips by around me as I stagger along. I don’t walk straight anymore, what’s the point? I walk in a zig-zag, I undertake the twists and turns of a drunkard.

In spite of it all, I carry on. It’s the only thing to do to go on living.

I walk.

When you walk, are you going or coming back?

But where are you going like that? With all that naivety that you wear like a smart jacket. Clear-headed, your ideas distinct. You don’t know what’s waiting for you, you advance without knowing what will happen. Your bodies say, however, that you are certain, frank, almost categorical. Your movements are intelligible and you even have a kind of limpid grace. We watch you go by and you seem not to see us. When you breathe out, if we watch you carefully, we can see your chests heaving. It’s that, deep down, beneath your jackets cut from your simplicity, you are sighing. It would be enough to undress you a bit to slow you down and witness your lamentations rise up to the clouds. But all’s well, you’re a group. You are together. You protect each other. You might even start running.

You’re walking so as not to cry. You are innocents on the run.

As for me, I can hardly walk anymore. Age prevents me. I need a walking stick, a third leg of wood that follows me like a shadow. I advance crookedly. My hips are stiff, I can’t run any longer, I limp, I waver. They all overtake me. They don’t look at me. They walk without looking at me, they walk past me, they jostle me. I stagger on with my body that doesn’t know how to be a body anymore. Me and my three legs, we stop often to get our breath back.

In spite of it all, I carry on. It’s the only thing to do to go on living.

I walk.

When you walk, is it to keep vertical?

Where are you running so fast? You’re rushing about like madmen, twisting, jumping, breaking the lines, the diagonals, you’re going in all directions, doubtless you think you can go on all your lives like that, that the music will never stop, that it will last until the light fades, until the hands are too damaged to play it, doubtless you think that tomorrow does not exist, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow. Why are you running like that? Where are you going? You seem so jolly, so young, even the old have a youthful air; in reality you have no age. You are a troop, you are together. And you run. You’re running like mad. Twisting. Fluttering.

You’re marching to create disorder. You are chaotic swaggerers.

As for me, I walk as best I can. Running, dancing, I’ve never done it. My eyes are closed. I never see the horizon. I walk as if stuttering, stammering, stumbling. I imagine my walk, I imagine my feet advancing one after the other without ever touching each other, I imagine my legs bending and straightening and it’s as if I could see them. Blindly, the blind man! To oblivion, forgetfulness! I remember everything. I can’t see but I can remember. My memory, that’s my dance. I move forward in the dark. The music blinds me. So I float, I walk as best I can, I dither in order to get through, I have doubts about everything.

In spite of it all, I carry on. It’s the only thing to do to go on living.

I walk.

When you walk do you turn round?

Where have you come from, you three? You are the same and you’re different. You walk as if you were going to the cemetery, with a grave air and your hands in your pockets. You’re wearing black but you are a bit nonchalant, you’re wearing black for no particular reason, to see what will happen. You walk with a rhythm that isn’t like you. You walk off beat. You’re like spring, like the first sunshine that makes the buds bloom on still cautious branches, sombre and dirty with clumps of snow. You have this power. You are a choir. You repeat what you say. You think you are right. And that you only say important things. But sometimes you interrupt yourselves. Where have you come from, where are you going? You have a pace all your own. You are resolute. At the cemetery, you will place flowers here and there, you will embark once more on a mischievous dialogue.

You walk to hear the echo. You are melancholy mountains.

As for me, I walk bent double. Two, there are two of us in my body, for a few moments more. I converse inwardly with the child that is to come, I tell him that it is possible, that this is the moment, that it could be now. That he could come into the world. It hurts so much that that’s all I can do, walk the length of a circle that I’ve imagined for myself, walk in a circle, round and round, with my belly even rounder. I carry him or he carries me, I don’t know any more. As I walk I imagine myself dancing, I imagine his face. I walk thinking of the echo in the mountains, of the voices that sometimes answer each other. I walk bent double, flooded with pain.

In spite of it all, I keep going. It’s the only thing to do to go on living.

I walk.

When you walk, do you know that you could fall?

Where are you going like that? With that elegant look on your faces. You seem solid, harmonious. You are exuberant, voluble and full of vivacious joy. When you jump, you seem to touch the sky. You jump so high. Together, you are together. Momentum. Together. Thrust. Together. Suspension. Together. Land. Together. You seem to cherish the bubbling activity in which you move. You raise your legs, you stretch your arms. Together. Two here, three there. Others over there. But together. You are a people.

You walk to calm your passions. You are tumultuous birds.

As for me, I walk every day stuck in the narrow space they call a cell. Once a week, I can walk in the prison courtyard. I long to raise my legs, stretch my arms. Jump, touch the sky, climb over the thick walls that strangle us. But I walk meekly, behind the others, as I’m supposed to. I imagine the jump of a lifetime, the jump that would land me on the pavement the other side of the wall, into the teeming life of which I can only hear murmurs. The jump of a lifetime, momentum, thrust, suspension, land. I repeat these four words to myself like a magic spell. I may get them tattooed on me when I get out of here. Momentum, left shoulder. thrust, right shoulder. Suspension, left calf. Land, right calf. In the meantime, I walk in my little cell, five paces one way, five paces the other, I touch the wall, I turn round, I retrace my steps, five paces, another five paces, I touch the wall, five paces.

In spite of it all, I keep going. It’s the only thing to do to go on living.

I walk.

When you walk, is it to move forward?

Where are you going like that? With your dark suits, your expressions half serious half mocking. You confront each other, is it for a joke? A duel from an operetta, a pretend fight? You confront each other whilst walking and you never stop walking. You walk in a straight line. You confront each other. Is it the better to love each other? The better to help each other? What are you measuring yourselves by when you advance like that, together? What are you fighting against? Are you frightened? And where are you going, like that? With your dark suits, your inward smiles. You challenge the skies, you risk your lives. Take aim! At the straight line, you are a crowd, but you’re waiting for the divine order. You provoke it. You want the Last Judgement, now, straightaway. Almost straightaway. You are a cloud. You walk, with your dark suits. The Last Judgement after the fight. Take aim, fire!

You walk to commune. You are solitary grammars.

As for me, I walk towards the absolute, towards eternity. When I walk, I talk to Him. I beg, I demand, I implore, I request. In invoke. I call to Him. I weep. When I walk, I pray. I’ve given Him my body. I walk for him. Along a line that you cannot see, it’s my promenade, it’s my prayer. I walk towards the absolute. I lift my head towards the sky, my eyes closed, I look for Him, I lift my breath, I murmur litanies to Him known by me alone. I walk because I am standing. I am between Him and the earth. He passes in me as thunder pierces concrete. He is my Lord, He is my destiny. I know that to have a body is a miracle, I know that it is to Him I owe this miracle. However, I often long to reach His presence more quickly. To be no more than a spirit at the side of the divine.

In spite of it all, I keep going. It’s the only thing to do to go on living.

I walk.

When you walk, is it to capture the infinite?    

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