"Thoughts come clearly while one walks," wrote Thomas Mann. Travelling around Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin thought that "if you walk hard enough, you probably don't need any other god". Pablo Neruda strolled along "serenely, with my eyes, my shoes, my rage, forgetting everything". Emerson said you could measure a person's health by the number of shoes they had worn out. "Our nature," wrote Pascal, "is movement. All man's unhappiness stems from his inability to sit quietly in a single room." Often the best form of medicine is to simply put one foot in front of another.
I was feeling cooped up in Odessa. The weather was bad, there was nothing to climb but the steps to my door, and life was no more or less interesting than a beer after work and football once a week. And so I walked. From the Opera House to the Potemkin Stairs, south through Taras Shevchenko Park and down to Otrada Beach. When two routes presented themselves, I always took the longer: past a synagogue, a Catholic cathedral and a two-sided football stadium. The only time I checked a map was when I thought I was lost.
There were monuments to old poets, dead sailors and teenage military conscripts, empty beer bottles and cigarette ends littering the ground, stray dogs and kosher food kiosks, a homeless woman singing hymns outside a church. People smiled and frowned, strolled hand-in-hand, took photos, climbed onto plinths, sat on cold, white sand with bottles of vodka, nodded off on park benches, or found broken-down walls with a view of the port.
But mostly we all just walked.