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Sofa Dérive

Mz Mary Brown’s feet on a Greek island. My temporary inability to walk has reminded me of all the photos Mary and I took (separately and together) of our feet while traveling.

It has been a little more than two weeks since I have left our apartment and I have six more weeks to go. I could leave. But that would entail getting off the sofa, still an ordeal, scooting down our three flights of stairs on my bottom, shuffling into the backseat of a car that we do not own, being dropped off within ten feet of a location, a restaurant perhaps, and then hobbling in on crutches and sitting down immediately to elevate my broken foot and bring down the swelling with a bag of frozen peas. It is possible, and I may attempt such a voyage next week, just before the cabin fever completely takes over.

In June we visited New York City. I wish pedestrians in San Francisco would walk in rhythm together on the crowded sidewalks like New Yorkers do. New Yorkers know to walk in rhythm with each other; young people to the quick snare beats, and older people or parents with babies to the slower bass beats, but they are all in sync, and that makes navigating the pedestrian traffic smooth and musical.

In my dreams I am walking all over the place, in Manhattan, London, San Francisco, on the marble sidewalks of Athens. I walk quickly, and then I panic, “My doctor said that I have to use crutches or I will ruin my foot forever!” My foot reflexively kicks in my sleep; it is confused; it thinks it can kick the bandages off, and then a sharp pain in the last joint of my big toe shocks me awake and I am back on my sofa.

As one who never has enough time for reading, films, radio shows, and writing, I thought that being stuck on the sofa in my apartment for weeks on end was the best thing to ever happen to me. But what I would give now to spend an hour walking the streets and avenues of New York.

Mz Mary Bad on a Greek island dérive

Mz Mary Bad and me on a Greek island dérive.

While on the sofa, I have spent countless hours online looking at places I would like to travel. These images feed my mind, but without my body in motion there, without my senses taking in all the scents, sights, textures, and sounds that are there, my spirit feels hungry and trapped.  I understand more profoundly now, I know in my body, that the body is the mind is the spirit is the body, etc. etc. And I know that all these need to be tended and integrated. Doing, walking, cooking, participating, are necessary in equal measure to reading, writing, and watching films. And even more importantly, I miss wandering about, the anticipation of possibilities, the experience of the unknown, that mystery around the corner. One feels the beauty not simply by looking at the buildings, but in the ambiance, and the sum of possibilities, in the possible situations that may arise.

I am reminded of my dear friend, geographer and psycho-geographer Mz. Mary Brown. On her birthday every year she would lead a dérive through the geography of San Francisco.

Guy Debord defines the dérive as “a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” It is a wandering through a landscape, usually a city, in which those walking drop their everyday associations and relations to work and the mundane, and “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.”

Pyscho-geography = “the study of the effects of the geographic environment on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

On Mary’s birthday, a group of us would dérive through San Francisco neighborhoods, past gorgeous Victorian or deco buildings, through gardens and stairways, up hills, over Twin Peaks, under the radio tower, into the woods, and back down the west side through mid-century modern boxes toward the ocean and sunset viewed while sitting on a WWII fort constructed to watch over the Golden Gate Bridge. Mary would often give a short explanation about a bit of architecture or tell an historical tale inspired by something we may have stumbled upon along our way.

Mary on dérive in Paris, France.

Mary on a dérive in Paris, France.

She had worked for the city of San Francisco, walking through the city, documenting the historical architecture of each neighborhood.  She had traveled the world, wandering through Paris, Athens, New York, among other cities, and she rode her bicycle solo from the west coast to the east coast of the US. She was an expert at the dérive, and she gave all who were lucky enough to join her the gift of the dérive as a practice, as a way to counteract the deadening effects of long hours at meaningless jobs and fleeting highs of consumer consumption. She gave us a practice for living in a more deeply engaged, joyful, and conscientious way.

During the last year of her life, when she was weak from cancer and could no longer sustain long walks, she brought a cat into her life. His name was Drift. “Dérive” literally means “to drift” in French. As William S. Burroughs pointed out, cats are not as efficient as terrier dogs or mongooses at hunting rats, so perhaps the reason cats were domesticated lies more in their skills as emotional or spirital guides than it does in their usefulness as rodent eradicators. Mary was amazed that she loved her cat Drift so much, for she had never had a cat before and did not expect such an intense emotional bond. The last few sentences that Mary and I spoke to one another were about Drift. Though I am not quite sure what I believe, at that moment, I said to Mary that time is not linear, and so, maybe Drift was her past lover who had come to help her pass into the spirit world. She replied that no, he was not her past lover. He was her future lover.

Drift

Drift