In the winter of 1974, the filmmaker Werner Herzog learned that his good friend Lotte Eisner had fallen ill in Paris, so he grabbed a jacket, compass, and duffel bag and began walking the 500 miles from Munich to Paris, “in full faith, believing that she would stay alive” if he could make it to her on foot. Covering those hundreds of miles with no car window separating him from his surroundings allowed him to engage with the journey itself in a way that would hardly be possible any other way. On his first day, Herzog writes: “If I was sitting in the soundless plane right above me, I would be in Paris in one and a half hours. Who’s chopping wood? Is that the sound of a church clock? So, now, onward.” Along the way he walks in pleasant sunshine and during a howling blizzard, makes his way through the Black Forest and sneaks into roadside chapels and dilapidated huts to take refuge for the night. His journey is a private one, as he seems largely unprepared to even greet those he meets on the road, but his wounded feet quickly become symbols of achievement as he asks himself, “Why is walking so full of woe? I encourage myself, since nobody else encourages me.” Herzog treats his loneliness on the road in and of itself as a victory, and his journal reads as an ode to the independence that comes with solitude. The journal of his wanderings was originally published in German in 1978, but the English translation has long been out of print. Thankfully, last year the small Free Association press reprinted the journal as Of Walking in Ice in a beautifully designed volume with an attention to detail that very nicely compliments the subtlety of the observations between the pages.
Francis Reynolds is an editorial assistant at Guernica. Read his last recommendation, of Breece D’J Pancake’s short stories, here.