Monday Writing Motivation: Thinking about walking in Venice

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

I’d like today to write a disquisition on walking.  The subject might fascinate me because I am myself so bad at it. Whatever the reason, though, I’m sitting now on a turn of the Rio Malcanton, a few metres from Ponte Marcello, at an outside table of a small but busy wine bar on the Salizada San Pantalon. It’s a busy thoroughfare with pedestrians passing to and fro heading for the Frari to the left, and the bus station to the right.

A perfect place, in other words, for people watching, one of my very favourite activities in Venice.

And today, I’m focusing not so much on the people, as on their walks. I have a vague hypothesis in mind: that a person’s style of walking reveals something interesting about their characters or their personalities. And if this is the case, then this is another idiosyncrasy that can be imported into the writing of fiction, or deployed to say something about real people in non-fiction.

Of course, we’re all accustomed to writers saying things like “He walked into the room with a confident swagger”. But how about a few more nuanced details? Something that more accurately captures the precise nature of a walk?

So, with a birra rosso on the table before me, and my notebook at the ready, I wait and watch.

Monday Writing Motivation: Thinking about walking in Venice

A man walks by. He’s dressed in nondescript clothing. A khaki tee-shirt, blue pants. And his walk is as nondescript. And I wonder whether walker-watching requires a more discerning eye than I currently possess.

But then a woman passes by. She holds her head erect, her back is straight, she strides out with, I have to say, confidence.  But it would be enough to note the straight back and the erect head for the reader to conclude: confidence.

A man rolls past. Not literally, you understand. He holds his shoulders high, he has wild black hair that falls to his shoulders, and he walks with a slight roll, his hips swaying, as if each leg reaches forward slightly more than it should.

Then a painfully thin woman in her forties picks her way past. Her shoulders are slightly stooped, her beak, sorry, nose, thrust forward. I think at once: heron.

A walk, I realise, is composed of a number of elements: the legs, the arms, the shoulders, the heels, the head. It’s because of these variables that it’s difficult to get the details right.

But I draw various conclusions after observing a couple of hundred people passing by. Some walks could accurately be described as careless. These are the people who saunter. They have time on their hands. They have no particular goal in mind.

Then there are those who walk with intense concentration: they have a goal, there is a deadline; they need to get there before the clock strikes the hour. Their upper bodies are bent forward, their arms pump, they move.

Then there’s a lovers’ walk: two people, arm in arm, or hand in hand, their strides matching, their bodies turned slightly towards each other. They have eyes for each other only, and so they meander slightly, drifting from their path, indifferent to the shops they pass or those on the margin of the calle, like me, watching.

There are those who walk contemplatively, their eyes cast down for the most part, adrift in a slow meander of thought and memory.

Some walk like scissors snipping at the fabric of the morning, snip, snap, snip, snap. They’re industrious individuals impatient with those less driven by goals and agendas, impatient to get to their next rendezvous with another pair of scissors.

The dog walkers walk leaning slightly backwards, their charges tugging doggedly at their leashes. They try to appear unperturbed, but there is about all of them a slight air of anxiety. Are they dogged by the thought of their animals breaking free of their leashes and disappearing into the labyrinth of Venetian calles and passages?

The owner of the establishment at one of whose tables I am sitting is a man in his late thirties with short black hair, a close-cropped beard, piercing green eyes and a sardonic expression. He has a predilection for alcohol and by eight each night is more or less pickled, declaiming raucously in a rasp, the result one imagines of both drinking and smoking.

I’m wrapping up my observation post for the afternoon, pop into the café to pay my bill and the owner, remembering that I had a few nights ago called him “a machine” which he took to be a compliment (which it was), pulls out a bottle of vodka and splashes generous tots into a couple of shot glasses. We clink, and knock them back.


As I meander home, hoping that no one is observing my walk, I wonder whether my hypothesis holds any water.

Happy writing



How about joining us in in Venice in 2024? We’ll be back at Ca’ della Corte from 2 to 16 October. Email Trish to reserve a place.

Or join me in Stow-on-the-Wold for a weekend writing retreat from 24 to 26 November.


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