Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

Strolling with Obama and Sadat and Reading Rather than Browsing

Posted by Stephen Lewis on August 1, 2008

In Obama: The New Sadat? on Atlantic.Com, Jeffrey Goldberg quotes US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama as saying: “Actually the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking.”  Goldberg reports the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat lived by the very same principle, taking time out each day for a long stroll along the Nile.  Indeed, Goldberg suggests, it was on one such walk that Sadat envisioned his peace mission to Jerusalem.

I am proud to find myself in the company of Obama and Sadat both.  Wherever I may be, I try to make hours-long urban strolls part of my routine most days of the week.  The walks provide opportunities for self-reflection, for plotting out and articulating thoughts, for envisioning images to photograph, and, not least, for observing urban realities, absurdities, and change.

In each of the cities along my well-trodden path of work and projects, I have my favorite habitual routes: In New York: Westward across the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges and then through lower Manhattan or eastward out to Brighton Beach, either “cross-country” from Prospect Park or via Sunset Park to Bay Ridge and from there along Brooklyn’s seemingly endless waterfront.  In Istanbul, as often as not, my strolls take me from Tophane through now-fashionable Cihangir and Beyoglu down to the conservative quarter of Kasimpasa and finally back to Taksim or along the Golden Horn from Karakoy across the Galata Bridge to Eminonu and then via Fener and Balat to Ayvansaray. In Sofia, Bulgaria, I invariably wander along the romantic tree-lined side-streets of Iskr and Exarch Iosif, into the Women’s Market, past the late-19th-century shopfronts that line Pirotska Street, through the one-time Jewish quarter of Uc Bunar, and finaly through the Ilenden and Zakharna Fabrika quarters to the Zapadna Park at the city’s western extreme.

Long walks occassion long thoughts, not unlike the leisurely unfoldings of plots and intertwined ideas one experiences when one reads long books.  Also in the current edition of Atlantic.com, Nicholas Carr revisits to the oft-asked question “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” with a fresh take on linerar reading vs. associative surfing and on the difficulties many of us experience when switching from one form of thought and attention-span to the other.

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