Simone de Beauvoir's Inspired Hikes in the Alps
Simone de Beauvoir started hiking in 1931, when she was in her early 20s and assigned to Marseille to teach secondary school. She wrote in her memoir “The Prime of Life” that she at first viewed her post with dread. It was 482 miles from Paris, from her friends and from Jean-Paul Sartre, her lover. But she was surprised that she liked the city, “the smell of tar and dead sea urchins down at the Old Port” and “the clattering trams, with their grapelike clusters of passengers hanging on outside.” And then she found an obsession, hiking, “transforming my exile into a holiday.”
For the duration of the school year, she made it a rule to be out of the house by dawn on her days off, “winter and summer alike.” She would map walks that would last five or six hours, then nine or 10, traveling on some days as much as 25 miles. She was gripped by a “mad enthusiasm.” She climbed every peak in the region, “explored every valley, gorge and defile” and would organize vacations around her walking expeditions for the next 20 years.
From “A Six-Day Walk Through the Alps, Inspired by Simone de Beauvoir” by Emily Witt for the New York Times, 2016; Photo of the Austrian Alps by Paul Gilmore
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