Oku no Hosomichi the travel of Matsuo Bashô the walking poet

Months and days are travellers of eternity. The passing year and the year to come are also travellers. To those who let their lives floating in their boats, or tho those who get old riding horses, all days are travel days and even their home is travel.

Matsuo Basho 1689 (from a translation of Octavio Paz)

The japanese poet Matsuo Bashô devoted his life to the contemplation of nature and to the literature. Many of his poems were written during his long walks. In 1689 he started a journey towards the region of Oku, in northern Japan. Bashô wanted to visit all the places described by the ancient poets, especially those that Saigyo, his beloved teacher,  had visited in the past. Traveling in Japan in the seventeenth century was very dangerous but nothing stopped the poet: during156 days he traveled thousands of kilometers, mostly on foot. On the way he wrote a collection of haiku (short poems of three verses of 5 and 7 syllables). This small poems are as unicellular impressions of daily simple events, moments, insects, weeds, water reflections. Back at home he published the poems in a book called “Hoku no Hosomichi” which became one of the most popular japanese poetry books, also translated into many Western languages. The narrow road to the deep North, Back roads to far towns, La sente étroite du bout du monde, The narrow road through the provinces” are different translations of the original japanese title.  We can see the difficulties of translating concepts from ideograms. We like very much the translated title “Paths of Oku” by  Octavio Paz, himself a poet too.

“Los meses y los días son viajeros de la eternidad. El año que se va y el que viene también son viajeros. Para aquellos que dejan flotar sus vidas a bordo de los barcos o envejecen conduciendo caballos, todos los días son viaje y su casa misma es viaje” Matsuo Basho 1689 trad. Octavio Paz

Grand Tour, the gift of the journey

Grand Tour was a tour in Europe made by the artists and the young students who could afford it. The custom was imposed from 1600 until the long distance trains in the twentieth century. The trip used to be associated with a predetermined path, each artist and each traveler had “their” Grand Tour though few left to visit the ruins of Rome, the paintings by the Flemish Primitives in Amsterdam and Bruges, the streets of Paris or the Renaissance architecture in Florence and Venice.
In several cultures it is customary for the young to take a trip before setteling in life, have children and form a family. Indian bramacharyas were young students sent away from home to learn a trade or be taught by a teacher before becoming a parent. Also in medieval Europe the applicant had to go to the forest and face the danger of the unknown before being knighted. Even today, many european students make a trip during or just after finishing their studies.
The Grand Tour had then an initiation ritual sense because in the journey the traveller was leaving home for the first time and opening to the world. Despite some impoverished forms of modern tourism (where the farther we go the more global and uniform is the environment) there are still a thousand places and thousands of ways to let everyone do their own Grand Tour and that’s why the trip is still alive. We travel around and walk because we think that traveling is more than going to a site. It is also allowing a particular exception, an exception in daily attitude. And this exceptional change brings us to all that is foreign and makes us see our life from the outside and in contrast with other landscapes, natural or human.
The Grand Tour of today also gives us the opportunity to choose what is worth watching, listening and sharing. In our case, territories, artists, crafters, walkers, people, many things despite being very close we cannot always live in full because we canot always give them the time they need.

The time, which is the gift of the journey

Picture: Un grand pic Marmuré ou Balaïtous. Frères Cadier “Au pays des Isards” 1904

Walking, an art

Walking is a way of living and can be an art.
Grand Tour is an invitation to travel and to learn the art of walking.

It must not be imagined that a walking tour, as some would have us fancy, is merely a better or worse way of seeing the country.There are many ways of seeing landscape quite as good; and none more vivid, in spite of canting dilettantes, than from a railway train. But landscape on a walking tour is quite accessory. He who is indeed of the brotherhood does not voyage in quest of the picturesque, but of certain jolly humours–of the hope and spirit with which the march begins at morning, and the peace and spiritual repletion of the evening’s rest.
Robert Louis Stevenson Walking Tours 1876