day 11 – in Paris and wishing I were in Wales

Yesterday had a great day at the GeoHCI workshop, lots about mobile maps, and sense of place. I talked a bit about Frasan, the mobile app in Tiree and a bit about the Wales walk including the Monmouth campsite community, which I wrote about in previous posts (days 4, 8, 9), and which is interesting in being local and yet not local, permanent and yet transient.

This morning Clare Hooper shared a link on Twitter to an Atlantic Monthly article "How the Internet Reinforces Inequality in the Real World", which discusses how both Google and Wikipedia, whilst ‘open’, effectively reinforce the strength of voices of countries who have traditionally held power, while the poor and marginal are digitally silent and unseen.  So different from the facile article in Friday’s Times "Maps are no longer controlled by the mighty", which saw Iran‘s intention to create an alternative to Google maps, an "Islamic Google Earth", as reactionary compared to the ‘neutral’ nature of Google. While not decrying Google‘s attempts to maintain a level of neutrality, the idea that any representation is without bias and viewpoint is at best naïve and at worst dangerous from someone who is a regular Times columnist.

Eiffel Tower from hotel window

Despite feeling buoyed by the workshop yesterday, this morning I woke feeling miserable.  I’d kept waking in the night (maybe a phone is beeping occasionally, I thought I’d turned them off), and this morning realised I couldn’t find the fine tipped pen I use for writing in my new Moleskine. The pen is not expensive, just an ordinary roller ball, but was just right for writing in the small notebook.  I must have left it in the workshop room yesterday.  It added to my general dislike of being in a big conference hotel, and having five more days of conference.  I wished I had a flight back tomorrow after award dinner this evening, and could get back on the road walking.

Going down for breakfast, I sat down to read Rachel Joyce‘s "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry".  I had heard an extract from it on the radio some time ago, and then someone recommended I read it. Only a short while in, reading Joyce‘s accounts of ordinary yet poignant lives, I suddenly felt the stupidity of feeling sorry for myself for being in Paris (where everyone else wants to be), and an overwhelming urge to pray for all those with deep pains and regrets, that are often invisible and yet so mar lives.  I found myself with head bowed over my bowl of half-eaten fruit in the midst of a crowded breakfast room. We notice disasters and wars, illness and death, but can forget the day-to-day misery that lies behind so many people’s eyes.

Harold Fry is about an unexpected walk, literally setting off to post a letter and then simply keeping going. It makes me feel positively well prepared! However, whilst better shod, I recognised the blisters and stinging nettle burns, and sudden realisation of thirst and hunger.

I was struck particularly by a sentence on page 107, "As a passer-by, he was in a place where everything, not only the land, was open."  While in a way the Monmouth campsite community is interstitial, in the gaps, as walker and traveller I am much more so, whether walking along the chain-fenced path between industrial buildings and quarry side on the approach to Chepstow, the alleyway between estate houses, or the green lane level behind gardens, and bitumen-blackend rooftops.  And no less in the meetings with people, slipping not so much between their lives, but touching them briefly.

At Monmouth they asked whether I would be back, and I did not know.  And so many times already people have said they were jealous of me, or how they wished that they could do or had done something similar. I am struck by the privilege of this journey, and also the strangeness that people now look at me as one of those people that "do something", whereas I always thought that was others.