The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

November 20, 2007

Memory of a Walk

I walked last Wednesday from the MCM building at Brown University to the
train station downtown. I took the 6:16 to New York. It arrived around
9:50 at Penn Station. On the way I remembered the walk. I followed myself
step by step, reconstructing as I went along. This was six days ago. Now
again I remember.

What did you think you were doing?

Memory and reconstruction worries me. I wanted to follow myself. I didn't
think of this at the time, that is the time of the walk itself, but only
later. I conductor asked if I were a philosopher; I think I appeared deep
in thought. I wanted to remember as much as possible. Later, several times
in the past six days, I thought I would try and remember again, try to
write everything down. But I thought this would take too much effort; it
wasn't until now, Tuesday, that I've had the energy to proceed.

What did you take with you?

I'm clearing my belongings out of Leslie Thornton's office. This trip I
took, in addition to what I brought up, a Cambodian bowed instrument, a
pair of slippers, some extra toiletries, a white towel. The towel and a
plastic bag were wrapped around the instrument and inserted into a cloth
bag. It was damp out. I added a polka-dotted umbrella as well, in case I
needed it.

Where did you go?

I went down the stairs and out the front door. Susan and Ellen were in the
office talking. I didn't say anything to them. I walked out the door and
turned right.

What did you do then?

I walked to the corner. I thought about going straight down as usual, but
instead crossed the street. I began walking up a slight hill to the Brown
Quadrangle. I passed two people as I turned into the Quadrangle. I took a
diagonal left, which would leave me out between two libraries.

Wait, I remember crossing the first intersection. I think there was little
or no traffic.


Then I walked diagonally through the cold mist, almost but not quite a
rain. I went through the gates to the top of the street. I didn't notice
the sculpture on the left; usually I look at it. I crossed the street. I
was surprised there was no traffic. I thought that usually there was
traffic. I began the descent of the hill. I passed the location of the old
Brown Music Department, where I had played several times; I thought about
that. I didn't think about the arts building that replaced it. I went
straight down the hill. I arrived at Benefit Street.

At Benefit Street you had several choices. What did you decide here?

I crossed Benefit street; I believe there was some traffic, but I'm not
sure. I continued going down the hill. I passed a corner building and
looked in a window. I wondered whether the window was where my studio at
Rhode Island School of Design used to be. I thought again about the
accusation I had stolen equipment and wondered how S. could possibly think
that since I had no place to take it but the school itself. I looked in
other windows on the way down; they were studios. I think they might have
been drawing studios; I'm not sure. I reached the bottom of the hill.

Now you're into the city itself, or at least the outskirts of the city, by
Providence River. What did you do?

I crossed the intersection here. This one I remember being easy. I arrived
at the bank of the river, the bank nearest the hill. I thought that the
time before I had crossed and taken the other bank. I found that the river
split, and that I was thrown off-course, that I ended up guiding myself by
the Statehouse dome. This time I felt tired, and stayed on the nearer
bank. I looked into the water as I walked towards the train station; I
couldn't see anything. I reached the next corner.

Then there was traffic?

There was a lot of traffic. I ran across the street; I was almost hit. I
continued on the other side.

Did you press the button for the traffic signal?

I remember a button, but it might have been farther on. I didn't press it,
I think. Perhaps I did.

And then?

Then I continued walking. I think it was either this block or the next,
possibly the end of this block, still by the river, that I heard foot-
steps. Or possibly saw someone ahead of me. But I think it began with the
footsteps. At the next intersection.

We're then at another heavily trafficked one?

Yes, the footsteps belonged to a woman, I think possibly a student, carry-
ing a backpack or small suitcase of some sort. I didn't see her full-on; I
couldn't identify her, but thought she might be blond.

What happened?

She had crossed the street and I crossed as well, somewhat behind her.
This was the second time I was almost hit; I wanted to make the light,
since the signals were long.

And then?

The road curved up ahead. Wait, there was a four-way stop intersection.
She continued up the curve on the left. I walked part of the way across
the bridge, crossing the Providence River. I stopped and looked down in
the water. I was looking for the herring or shad family fish I had seen
there before, in large schools. It was dark out; I looked for ripples in
the water. The week before I was guided by ripples. This time there were
none. I couldn't remember the name of the fish, something like mulhagen; I
still can't remember. I was frustrated, worried that I couldn't remember.

After looking in the water for a while?

I crossed the street. There was hardly any traffic. I looked up ahead to
see if the student was heading to the train station. I thought I saw her;
I couldn't be sure. I stopped on the other side of the street, which was
the other side of the bridge. I looked again down at the black water; I
was looking for the fish on the other side. Most of the time I had seen
them on this, the other side. This time again there was nothing, no
ripples, at least none visible. But wait.


On the first, left-hand side of the bridge, I saw a leaf in the water; it
was large, and looked like one of the fish on its side; I wondered if it
was in fact one that was dying. When I looked on the other, right-hand
side of the bridge, I saw several more, and it was clear that they were
leaves, slowly going down the river.

Which way were they going?

I'm not sure; the river flowed slowly, but I believe from the right-hand
side to the left-hand side and beyond.

And then?

Then I began walking up the hill towards the train station. I had again to
go out into the street because the sidewalk was partly closed due to
construction. I walked past a number of parked cars on the right, in this
fashion. I noticed the construction was coming along, and remembered
hearing that apartments were to be built here. As I walked up the hill I
walked over a recently-asphalted entrance to the construction site, or
near the entrance. I wondered why the asphalt had been poured; it could
only be temporary and didn't seem to serve any purpose. I continued up the

Did you see any birds?

No, often in the daytime, particularly in the spring, I had seen birds
around the site and in the trees directly to the left of the train
station. But this time there was nothing. I looked down into the huge
excavation beyond the immediate construction and noticed for the second
time, the train platform, I think it was the platform for the number 1 and
2 tracks, jutting out into it. The platform looked oddly spacious and
beautiful in the dark. I continued walking past the trees.

This was near the taxicab stand?

This went directly past the taxi stand. I saw a number of drivers standing
around; they were speaking a language I didn't understand. At first I
thought, this might be Pakistani, but then I thought Italian; I couldn't
hear well enough. The drivers all seemed to know one another. I wondered
what would happen if a new driver came along, who didn't speak the
language - would he or she be accepted in the group? Would the group, on
occasion, speak English to him or her? Would the driver be ignored? This
went on only for an instant. I reached the station doors and went in.

Just went in?

I remember looking at my cellphone on the way, at least twice, checking on
the time. I was early as usual; I think I arrived at 5:34, for the 6:16,
but I'm not sure. I was hungry.

How long did the walk take?

I think it took about twenty-one minutes, but I couldn't be sure. If I had
gone directly, it would have taken between seventeen and eighteen.

You were hungry? Were you hungry the whole time?

I was hungry the whole time; I had only breakfast at Louie's, a #1 with
orange juice extra, I think, beforehand. I was going to drink some Red
Bull to keep me going through the day, but had a large coffee with skim
milk instead; the Red Bull is still in the office.

So what did you do?

I went to the small cafe inside the train station. The man who served me
wasn't there; the woman was. I had often wondered about their relation-
ship; they seemed tight. I ordered, I think, something with apricot; I'm
not sure. I do remember eating it without getting sticky; I didn't have to
wash my hands afterwards.

And this whole time you were carrying both your camera bag with various
things you had brought with you, as well as the cloth bag contraption with
the Cambodian instrument and other things?

Yes. I believe I also took back a copy of The Structure of Reality with me
on this trip. I had a copy of Claire's demo DVD, since I'm writing a
recommendation for her. I remember I didn't change clothes; the clean ones
were still in the bag. I had some trail mix left over from the ride up. I
didn't want to order anything on the train.

And you were reading?

Yes, I had books with me, but I'm not sure I remember them. I definitely
had Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which I had read; now I wanted to
finish Sanditon which was in the same Penguin volume, which of course I
did. And I had a copy of David Hume's Enquiry with me as well; I had been
reading about miracles. But I think there might have been a third book.
The week before I had carried a relatively medieval history of the tantric
schools of Tibet, but I don't think I had it with me this time.

What else were you carrying?

Other than the usual identifications, I had a small Olympus solid-state
recorder for notes. I didn't use it - I had been hoping to. The camera bag
was somewhat heavy of course. Another item - a small power supply for the

Do you remember going down the stairs from the office?

Not very well. I do remember having to negotiate the stairs because of the
awkwardness of the instrument package. Once outside, things were easy. I
had been afraid of rain; the skies were threatening all day. But as I
said, there was none, or rather just a light misting, slightly, nothing


I had taken sixty dollars with me, but had spent very little. I spent
nothing on the train on the way up, so I had all of that. I spent little
there, and little on the train. I had walked down to Wickenden or
Wickendon street to go to an antique shop; I was hoping to find some
useful books, but nothing seemed promising. So I had most of the money
with me of course. I also had four rolls of unused Tri-X and Plus-X (the
new Plus-X) 16mm movie film to shoot in the winter and spring. And on the
way up I had brought a mini-DV tape for transferring the second roll I had
shot, but the roll wasn't back and the tape stayed in the office.

Anything else?

Some recommendation forms from Claire; I had to fill these out. I was
afraid they would get bent. I put them between the pages of something else
I was carrying back - I don't remember, a pamphlet of some sort.

Were you tired when you walked down to the train station?

I was extremely tired; I had hardly slept the night before - I coughed a
lot, there were sounds around, etc. I should add I sleep in the office to
save money; there's a futon. So I was glad that the air was bracing. I
went down to the train platform itself - #1 as usual - at 6:04 - I
remember looking at the clock - because it was open to the air and would
wake me up. I walked down; I haven't taken the elevator for a long time. I
noticed that the construction inside the station was down for the first
time - there were new escalators installed, but the one for track #1 only
went up.

Anything else?

Only that I remembered, as I approached the station, that I would be too
tired, and it would be too late, to go to the Border's bookshop in the
nearby mall. When I went into the station, I wouldn't come out again, at
least until the train I boarded left, which it did, two minutes late.

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