‘my first post ever, from 2010. i need to get deriving again….’
Will Self once said that people today are “decoupled from physically geography.” He observes that walking “blows back the years, especially in urban contexts. The solitary walker is, himself, an insurgent against the contemporary world, an ambulatory time traveler.” A little bit wordy, a little bit wanky, but not far off the mark. La dérive is a term that was first coined by the Situationist movement in France that rose to prominence in the 1950s. With theories that sat somewhere next to or between the Anarchist and the Marxist movements, the Situationists thought of the dérive as a sort of ‘emotional foot journey’: following the innate emotions that lead one to certain corners and areas of a city or region. Cities are organized to encourage or discourage citizens in or out of certain areas: the dérive ignores these and acts on the instincts of the walker. They explored the theory of psychogeography: how your surroundings affect your emotional and psychological well being.
Without realizing it, I’ve been on my own little dérives for years, in every city I’ve lived in. Not to the extreme that our French friend or Mr Self have gone to, but it’s how I’ve settled in to new homes, and as a natural introvert, it’s how I’ve spent weekends: a takeaway coffee, a soundtrack in the headphones, and a general curiosity of finding places I’ve seen on a map, without actually using the map. Will Self wrote an entire book about it called Psychogeography (which, shamefully I’ve neglected to read), and his theory that people are less inclined to form a bond with a city, or explore outside their natural and immediate community is one I tend to agree with.
I come from a family of fast striders: we’re the ones that are walking at break neck speed for no other reason than we enjoy it, and we do it often. Ten years ago I left country NSW, where cars or bikes are a necessity and public transport is non-existent and headed for Sydney, home of the traffic jam. Never fond of cars, I had my provisional licence only 8 weeks before moving and it wasn’t used for 2 years. I managed to get on to an open licence with about 10 drives under my belt. How did i get around in Sydney? I walked. I was broke, and whatever money I did have never managed to get saved for transport costs; so walking was the cheapest way around. With my discman (remember them?) and a coffee, I stomped my way around Australia’s biggest and arguably most beautiful city for three years. A sabbatical in Newcastle (with a car for some of the time – not mine), and walks around the steel city eventually lead back to Sydney, and then to Brisbane. I’ve never lived further than 4kms from the city centre in the last three places I’ve lived, and consequently have never been able to justify the cost of maintaining a vehicle when I can usually get to work within 30 minutes of walking. Besides, Australian cities are somewhat unique in that nearly all of them are on water, which makes for some pretty spectacular views, and all of them have sunshine and mild weather for at least two thirds of the year. I’ve been making my way around Brisbane for the past three and a half years; a city built for bicycles and pedestrians. I’ve found plenty of village type suburbs in the inner central circle of Brisbane along the way: Rosalie with its gourmet delis and foodie delights; Bulimba, with it’s old fashioned charm and rows of restaurants; New Farm, with it’s urban village and sophisticated hipster vibe, and West End, where the Greeks, the hippies, the arty, the professional, the rich and the poor seem to meet harmoniously and congregate in the famous markets every Saturday, or nurse hangovers on Boundary St together.
Now I’m moving to Adelaide, my fourth main city in Australia (yes, Newcastle is a big one so I count it as a ‘main’ city), and this time I’m keeping notes. I’m not following the strict rules of the Situationists – I’m allowed to use public transport, and I’m not trying to analyse anything from a psychological view (unless it’s “how much does a bad coffee really affect the psyche and stress levels?”); I want to explore, and get to know the local areas, customs, history etc etc etc. I’m still avoiding maps though: any bets on how long it takes me to get lost?