Walking off the pain of divorce

There must be simpler - and less strenuous - ways to get over a midlife crisis following a divorce.
Walking the whole way round the Mediterranean does seem to be a bit extreme.

But American journalist and author Joel Stratte-McClure doesn't seem to be the type to take the easy way out.

After living in France for 35 years, working mainly in Europe and Africa, his marriage to a "still-lively, still-brazen blonde'' Franco-American woman broke up. So he decided to give himself a 50th birthday present and attempt the walk.

In the end, it took him 10 years on-and-off to do both the walk and write a book from it, The Idiot and the Odyssey: Walking the Mediterranean.

His main travelling companion apart from his dog, Bogart, and occasionally other people, including his son, Luke, was his copy of Homer's The Odyssey.

The book makes frequent allusions to The Odyssey as well as Buddhist sayings, his own alcoholism, trekking and descriptions of the people he meets along the way.

Stratte-McClure explains an odyssey like his teaches valuable spiritual lessons such as patience and persistence.

"One of the many themes in the book is the goal is the path and the path is the goal ... all these nice little Buddhist refrains that keep me going at times of woe. So I never say to myself, My God, I have 10,000 kilometres left. I always take it a day at a time and don't stress where I am.''

He was still working while he was doing the walk, with the longest break eight months.

'I've walked further than I have in the book and I've kept as close to the sea ... as possible (apart from Morocco where there was a military installation).

'' ...I went back to one place after nine months and it was like I was there yesterday.''

Now a fit-looking 60-year-old, he's always walked, including six week treks in the Himalayas and other countries.

"The problem with a walking book is that if it's just about walking you can sell one copy - to your mother. This books works on, I hope, the right balance of different levels integrating everything from Homer's Odyssey, which has kind of been a muse of mine since I bought it in college for $6, to the various populations and cultures, historical, social happenings (of the places he visited).''

He had been told by a Buddhist monk that one of the best forms of meditation is not just walking, but walking for other people.

"After I'd walked for 30 or 40 km, at the end of the day I'd be feeling tired...and I'd invariably see somebody who would be incapable of walking, whether they were old or handicapped or whatever and it gave me a feeling of how lucky I am.''

As part of his walking meditation, he always picks up his litter, gives stuff away and tries to stay calm.

He says his book, with its title a combination of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot and Greek mythology, has been described as Eat, Love, Pray for the male.

The bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert uses her divorce as a premise for her travels and spiritual journey.

And in some ways Stratte-McClure does something similar, although his book is denser and perhaps more literary. But they both share a form of self-deprecating humour.

He describes his devastation after his ex-wife came home from a five-day trip to London and informed him she had a 24-year-old male lover, a nightclub bouncer half her age.

"The decline and demise of almost any long relationship is complicated and, as any student of Greek literature will tell you, even the gods had problems with their wives,'' he writes. ''But Cyclops was not as blind as I was.''

He did tell his ex-wife later that she was included in the book, but agreed to change a few aspects including her name.

His son suggested he leave the whole episode out, but as his divorce was a major earth-shattering event in his life he felt he had to keep it in, even though his daughter boycotted the whole thing.

He has since re-married and now lives in West Hollywood. His current wife, who is also a journalist, came up with the title of the book, but she too wanted her name changed.

"A guy can pick up this book to get some advice on how to proceed in life, a kid can give his father this book or read it himself...to show some of the richness that can be established between father and son,'' Stratte-McClure says in his best promo voice.

"And a woman can read it for spiritual reasons or give it to her husband and get him out of the house for three or four years ...that gives a whole new definition to the expression, take a hike.''

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