On long treks through France, Spain and remote Australia, I discovered the rich wonder that comes from reading to a friend
It began seven years ago in the hamlet of Ferreira in northern Spain. It was the sixth day of a long-distance walk and my feet had become increasingly sore. I sat outside the hostel, my feet up on a chair, feeling utterly dispirited.
Ill read to you, said Anthony, my long-distance walking companion. Thatll fix you up.
I was too tired to protest. Anthony hadnt read aloud to me before well, not more than a paragraph or two, which Id always felt as an imposition. I was too impatient for the slow pace of reading aloud.
He pulled out his phone and started reading Salman Rushdies Anton Joseph. Rushdies memoir of the fatwa, the years of separation, hiding, boredom and danger, was the only book he had downloaded before we left. I listened at first with the usual impatience its so much faster to read silently on the page but after several minutes, I suddenly noticed the flatness had lifted. My feet were still sore, but I could feel my energy and resilience return. I was ready to go on.
Every afternoon after walking from then on, Anthony read Anton Joseph aloud. He read, I listened: in bars, dormitories, gardens, sitting on benches or beds or on the grass, usually with a beer or red wine in hand. In this way, we travelled with Rushdie through his disturbing, alienating years. It was a two-way process: the reading was coloured by walking, and the walking was coloured by Rushdies remembered world, adding a curious multiplicity to our own daily minutiae of buying food, finding somewhere to sleep, washing clothes, fording streams, trudging along dusty lanes.
Since then, during every long walk, we have read aloud every afternoon. Well, Anthony reads and I listen, but it feels as if we are reading as one. We both feel an extraordinary closeness in inhabiting the same parallel world at the same time. A shared inner world, generated by words, is a most intimate experience.
The next year, walking 270km westwards across the Massif Centrale in France, The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier came with us. I remember one evening on a farm, sitting on the front veranda of our cabin, waiting for a rare blue moon to rise as Anthony read of the glorious blue tiles on the Royal Mosque at Isfahan.