Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruinswithcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
I was walking, a couple of weeks back, in Whitley Heights, or perhaps more precisely Hollywood Dell. Whitley Heights was once a very ritzy little enclave in the Hollywood Hills, home to the likes of Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. Then they built the Hollywood Freeway and split the area into two - Hollywood Dell is the name given section east and north of the freeway, though I think it still counts as Whitley Heights.
It’s still fairly ritzy in places, a bit funky and hippyish in others. No doubt a few Hollywood types still live there but nobody with the star power of Bette Davis, I think.
One of the special “only in Hollywood” places to walk by is the Vedanta temple, tucked up against the freeway wall. Vedanta is a form of Hinduism. “All fear and all misery arise from our sense of separation from the great cosmic unity, the web of being that enfolds us,” says the website. Aldous Huxley was a fan, and for a while Christopher Isherwood slept in what’s now the bookshop.
It was a good and interesting walk, and of course, if you have enough obsessions, even minor ones, a quite modest walk can feed quite a few of them. Along the walk I saw a headless Buddha:
An extremely emphatic no parking sign:
It was also a good walk for spotting Volkswagen Beetles, well only one of them in fact, but it was a beauty, this gorgeously distressed little number:
In fact enjoyed the walk so much that I want back and did a longer version of it, although of course I know that you can't walk on the same water twice. Nevertheless I saw more flora and architectural curiosities, in fact at the same time:
And more VWs, wrapped and unwrapped:
And when I passed the distressed Beetle, the trunk and hood were open, and then a rangy, very friendly, young black man appeared and looked forlornly at the car’s innards. I said it was a fine car – and he agreed, and said it usually ran pretty well, but it had rained earlier in the week and he thought water had got into the electrics. I made sympathetic noises, and I thought about taking the guy’s picture but it didn’t seem the right moment.
I used to be quite good at dating Volkswagens, but I’ve lost the skill lately. I knew this one was old but I was still surprised and impressed when he told me it was a 1960. You have to have some cojones to drive a 58 year old car in Los Angeles.
A legit auto and a ban on assault weapons – ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, although in the current American climate it seems to be asking rather too much.
A closer inspection of the picture reveals that this photograph was taken (by me) at the corner of Eleanor Avenue (and Gower). Eleanor Avenue is where Buster Keaton had his movie studio from 1920 and 1928 – not very far from the above spot, at the corner of Eleanor and Lillian.
The above image is from Silent Echoes by John Bengtson, a work of superhuman scholarship in tracking down Keaton locations.
Now, in 1940 Keaton married his third wife who just happened to be named Eleanor (nee Norris). She was 23 years his junior and they stayed together until Keaton’s death in 1966. She’s widely credited with saving him from alcoholism and salvaging his career. This is the two of them walking on their wedding day.
I don’t really imagine that Keaton married her because she shared a name with the street where his studio was once located, although people have married for worse reasons.
Here is a picture of Keaton with a very legit auto.
I’ve been reading Walks with Walser by Carl Seelig. Robert Walser (1878 – 1956), has been discussed elsewhere on this blog. He was a German speaking Swiss who published quite a few things in his early life, including the long short story “The Walk,” but spent his last 27 years in a mental asylum. He was eventually celebrated by Susan Sontag and WG Sebald but if it hadn’t been for Carl Seelig, Walser might well have slipped into an obscurity from which he couldn’t be rescued.
Seelig (1894-1962) was an editor and writer who’d read and admired Walser’s work. He visited him at the asylum, befriended him, promoted his work, and eventually became his literary executor.
Carl Seelig walking with Albert Einstein
On these asylum visits, which took place between 1936 and 1956, Seelig took Walser out for a walk and lunch. The book recounts these occasions, and he did some Boswell-style setting down of the things Walser had to say about his life and his work, and about the works of others. Of course there was a war going on for some of this time and Walser was by no means oblivious to events.
Walser and Seelig sometimes took spectacularly long walks and they had some spectacular lunches. Seelig writes on April 23, 1939,
“We make our way from Herisau to Wil in three and a half hours. We feel as if we’re on roller skates.” Well yes. Google maps suggest various routes, but all of them are about 14 miles long, and none of them take less than four and three quarter hours. Anyway, the pair do arrive in Wil, and Seelig writes, “we eat at Im Hof; we are tremendously hungry and stop for a bite at one pub after another. Five in total.”
That’s quite a walk. That’s quite a pub crawl.
And then on March 21, 1941, Seelig reports Walser as saying, “I tried to visit him (the author and painter Max Dauthendey) in Munich once. But I found only his wife, who told me that her husband happened to be in Wurzburg. I therefore took this as an opportunity to set off in that direction, in light sandals and without a collar. I covered the distance in a little over ten hours. That was the fastest walk I ever took. My feet were full of blisters when I arrived.”
I would think so. This time Google has the route as 154 miles long, and they reckon it takes 51 hours to walk, which sounds about right. Even on roller skates Walser’s time seems unlikely.
But perhaps the most interesting thing in that entry is that Walser felt it worth mentioning that he wasn’t wearing a collar. Of all the many items of kit that “serious” walkers find necessary these days, a collar really isn’t one of them. The vast majority of pictures I’ve seen of Walser show him in a three piece suit with a collar and tie, sometimes there’s a hat, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photograph of him wearing an overcoat, or anything waterproof, although he does usually carry an umbrella.
I was walking up Beachwood Drive, which leads to Beachwood Canyon, and used to give pedestrian access to the Hollywood sign, although currently it doesn’t: the neighbors complained - they had a point. Not that this deters people from driving up there for a “good look” at the sign.
This is, in many ways, absurd. The sign is visible from miles around, and was in fact designed so that it could be seen from Wilshire Boulevard, which at its nearest point is six and a half miles away.
And, of course, tourists always think that Los Angeles is a kind of theme park and so they stand in the middle of the street and take pictures of their friends or themselves with the Hollywood sign looming behind them.
And the most annoying thing of all, nobody ever runs them down, much as I will them to.
Still there are sights to be seen on Beachwood. Obama still rules up there:
And there are Simpsons-esque amusements:
And best of all this house, which admittedly does reinforce the theme park idea, not quite a ruined castle, but close, and I guess it’s being refurbished.
And I do wonder if they’re going to keep that hell’s mouth arch (or possibly porte-cochere) - though I suspect that may make the place harder to sell. It reminds me of the l’Enfer Cabaret (the Surrealist met there occasionally) on Boulevard Clichy, a street I have certainly walked down a few times over the years, though I gather l’Enfer has been a Monoprix supermarket since 1950 or so, which would explain why I never saw it.
And it also reminds me of this mouth at Bomarzo (the Park of Monsters) where I still have hopes of walking one of these years.
And now, and obviously this is the actual inspiration, Mr. Matthew Licht send me this image of the facade of the Biblioteca Herziana, the German Academy, on Via Gregoriana in Rome.