“at times like this it’s such a pig being emotionally unstable” Ffyona Campbell, ‘The whole story: A walk around the world’

“Then something really caught my attention. A street artist, who had covered himself in white cement and a white toga, was standing perfectly still on a pedestal like a Greek statue with his arm raised and his eyes closed. In front of him an empty bag of cement for collecting coins. I was amazed by his composure in all this drunken chaos. He was invisible to those who believed him. To those who saw he was real, he commanded a wide space in front of him out of respect; the wider the space, the more respect. To drop in a coin, you had to expose yourself, feel small and awkward in the might of his presence.” Fyona Campbell

I finished reading ‘The Whole Story’ whilst at the hairdresser’s earlier this week. I almost gave up on the novel as Campbell had been painted as a bitch of Elizabeth Wurtzel portents (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/mar/03/biography.features2). Towards the end Campbell described a scene from the Bull run in Pamplona, Spain, in which a statue performer captures her attention. This reminded me of Amanda Palmer’s hat, her 8ft bride. Along the way we have precious, magical moments with people that are made up of eye contact and smiles alone. It wasn’t the vista of walking across the world that captured Campbell’s attention, it was the kaleidoscope of  human connections she experienced that made an indelible footprint on her soul.

In ‘The Whole Story’ Campbell had largely described only those difficult, awkward and self-absorbed moments during her walk across America and Africa. Towards the end of the novel, Campbell starts to share the magic of that experience, this had been made up by shared moments and not epic vistas of America or Africa, despite Campbell’s fierce desire to “run with wolves.” I had read ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed earlier this year, again, the landscape and the scenery sink into the peripheral of her story about circumnavigating the Pacific Crest Trail. These two women that lose themselves in the beauty of the world, share mostly the weird, odd, awkward, uncomfortable and toe-curling moments they had. If only Rebecca Solnit had edited Campbell and Strayed, perhaps I’d be more taken with walking great distances across the world on my own. Solnit taps into what it means to be in nature, on Earth, alone with nothing but a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Solnit is more of an intellectual nomad: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/may/06/featuresreviews.guardianreview16

Campbell and Strayed are emotional nomads, their expeditions and adventures occur within their own intimate worlds. The last images of Campbell pushing a dog in a pram across grimy America because she did fibs about walking across America, were sad and odd in equal measures. On the other hand, I was happy that I had stayed with Campbell, to the very end of the novel as what she did was bold, brave and pretty fucking fearless. She may have lied about her earlier exploits but it made no difference to me. Her account of her journey were as raw and genuine as the gigantic blisters she lanced and nursed walking alone. Women are often blown out the adventure literary waters for no reason other than that they aren’t Sir Ranulph Fiennes. I don’t think that Campbell earned all of the respect that she deserved. I thought that Campbell and Strayed told a similar story and that this made them literary equals. A good read taken for the image of Campbell walking across Africa on Newsround (BBC) when I was growing up. I’m glad I followed that memory and found out what her walk was all about.


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