Milano master-class

26. The Art of Being a Guide: The Light at Nightfall

#lesson4 #lesson2 #5rules #morningandevening #groups #camping #meals #contributors #swimming

Boris : I think my practice as a guide is much more practical than for Nicolas, who is a true master of performance. At the heart of my hikes is the path, and if the path does not function on its own, then I’m lost. I can’t save the experience with my performance—something Nicolas can no doubt achieve.

What I’m about to say is very practical.

First, don’t talk about things that don’t interest you. Those things can be found in books; there are other spaces for that. On a hike, we’re together in a situation. We are sharing a situation; we’re traveling together. And when I’m traveling, I’m not going to speak about things that don’t interest me personally.

Second, don’t talk about things you can’t see. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about a space’s past or things like that. Here, for instance, I would never speak of the World’s Fair pavilion because we can’t yet see it. If we walk 500 meters farther, we can see it in the distance: now it’s interesting to talk about it. And when we’re really standing on the site of the World’s Fair, now that’s a good time to talk about it.

Third, you should always leave space and time for people to experience their first impression before you start talking. When you arrive in a space, you should always give people a chance to experience it. And after, you can give explanations. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything because the things speak for themselves.

I also think that since this is a group situation, it’s important not to be the only one talking; you should encourage others to talk. That’s how it often is on my hikes: we stop in a place to talk. And the choice of that place is very important. What view do you want to have? Is it noisy or not?

Later when we start walking again, there are people who come to see me—and I’m in front, so they run to catch up—and tell me this and that on the place we’ve just left. So, I ask: “Why didn’t you mention that before?” And I stop and say: “This person has something to say on the place we saw earlier.” And they never say, “Never mind, you should tell them.” No, they always tell the group what they wanted to tell me.

Paul: Do you speak loudly?

Boris: I’ve always considered myself a loud talker; but people often tell me, “you need to speak up”.

Baptiste: What’s your preferred length of time for a hike?

Boris: Personally for me, the best hiking moments are …
At the beginning of the day, I talk more than at the end. Because I’m always afraid people won’t understand why we’re there. “But why? Why has he taken us here?” So, I talk a lot to explain why we’re there. Some part of me thinks it helps them understand. It’s a bit contradictory considering my faith in the trail. But even after twenty years of practice, every time I take a new path, I’m afraid it won’t speak for itself.

At the end, during the last hours of a hike (or the second or third day, since I often do multi-day hikes), people have “entered” this mind frame and flow, so there’s much less to explain. The nicest moments are when I’m walking 20 meters ahead, and behind me I hear a line of people chattering amongst themselves. These are people who didn’t know each other before. They aren’t just talking about the things they see, but about all sorts of things. There’s a timbre and melody in their voices that makes me feel, “Oh, this is the best part of the hike”, because the environment inspires them, and it’s that inspiration, in a very general sense, that makes them communicate with each other.

So, I have to be very careful as to where and why I’m going to interrupt that beauty, because if I stop everybody at a given moment and say, “Quiet down. I’m going to explain something,” everybody needs to be there and the chattering will stop for a moment, and it’s not a given that it will start again. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. So, when a group dynamic is good—and that’s thanks to the beauty of the path and the environment—you have to be very careful about when you decide to speak and for how long. For instance, if people begin to sit down, then you’ve gone on for too long.

Baptiste: I have the impression that the mornings are fairly intense and a bit professorial. In the morning, we listen a lot, we speak a lot with the guide, and so on. With the picnic, people get to know each other. There are other outlets for speech that emerge. As you say, I have the impression in the afternoons that people start talking amongst themselves. It happens organically, and the guide almost doesn’t need to intervene anymore. Is that your impression as well?

Boris: Yes, I think it has something to do with the light. For instance, right now, the light in the afternoon and early evening is … how can I put this? I’m not very religious, but when I was religious, it was at that time and not the morning or midday.
The physical component also probably comes into play. You’ve found a walking pace. People have found their walking pace. Perhaps you’re a bit tired from walking, and of course you’ve seen a lot of things. Our work as Metropolitan Trail guides is not thematic. Our theme is the landscape. In the beginning, after you’ve seen three or four points of interest, participants may start to wonder about the overarching theme. They may ask: “What’s the relationship between these sites?” But after twenty different sites, they understand that there is no overarching theme.

Alexandre: And what about mealtimes? Do you have other people come to speak or make a presentation? How do outside guests figure into planning an outing?

Boris: Meals are of course important moments. For me, this has been one of the only ways to create a scene within the landscape. You can set up a nice table; if somebody sets a nice table, somewhere, with a long table, it gives a sense of purpose. It’s a very simple architectural or artistic way of creating an experience, and I allow it because it’s 100% linked to the situation. That’s the most important thing for me: being present in the situation. You’re in a situation together, and that’s what’s different from a Mooc or a lecture. We’re in a situation together. I partook in tours organized by others guides on a visit to Cologne, and at one point, there were musicians playing in a corner and some very contrived things, and I hate that. But a shared meal in a beautiful setting, with a well-set table: that’s part of the situation, so it’s not contrived.
And then there’s swimming. Swimming together in a lake, for instance. That’s also very important because diving into the water is a way of diving into the landscape, in a very literal sense, but also on another level. And of course, eating together creates community.

Paul: And sleeping?

Boris: Sleeping in a hotel, less so. We share a moment together, then everyone goes into their own rooms and we don’t see each other again until the next morning. So, sleeping, even if it’s at the same hotel, is taking a break from the group, which can be very important as well. As Denis did yesterday, we should be able to take a break with the group.

Paul: Do you ever camp on multi-day treks?

Boris: Yeah. But even when you’re camping, you have to set up your tents rather far from one another to have a break from the group.

Alexandre: And what about contributions from other people? Because it’s not always easy to arrange a meeting or know how to introduce someone into a moment, and begin a conversation with someone who wasn’t there for the earlier moments. It’s not always easy to incorporate a guest speaker into the day.

Boris: The hike I took you on in Cologne isn’t representative of what I usually do, since we hardly saw anyone. That was in part because it was winter. Typically, in Heckpfade, I plan for a group meal prepared by locals with ingredients from their garden. But if you go into their homes, it’s not very pleasant because there isn’t much room. The garden is nice, but it’s not doable in winter.
I always try to accommodate these kinds of moments when it makes sense for the situation. But for me it’s a bonus. I like to do it, but it’s not vital.

On the other hand, for me, using a path to build community is connected to the question of the power of interpretation. I can reuse the interpretations I arrive at through my research in speeches to companies, politicians, etc. And others can use them, too.