Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Monday, April 13, 2015


One day in June 1935 Andre Breton was walking along the Boulevard du Montparnasse and happened to encounter Ilya Ehrenburg, who was at that point part of the Soviet delegation to the International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture (do I see you reaching for your revolver?)

Ehrenburg had recently denounced the Surrealists for their “pederasty, sodomy and onanism” so you might argue that he wasn’t very far off the mark, but Breton was having none of this.  He grabbed Ehrenburg by the lapels and slapped him across the face.  Next day the Soviets threatened to boycott the congress if Breton was a speaker.

The job of sorting out this mess fell on Rene Crevel, who was both a genuine Surrealist and a genuine communist, also, at least, a bisexual. Will it come as a surprise that after a whole day’s wrangling he failed to square the circle between the Soviets and Breton.    It appears that he’d also recently been diagnosed with renal tuberculosis. He left the meeting, took a good long walk through the night and at the end of it returned to his apartment and committed suicide. 

By the end of the war Ehrenburg had other things on his mind than Surrealism.  He wrote the notorious pamphlet Kill“The Germans are not human beings. … If you have not killed at least one German a day, you have wasted that day .... Do not count days, do not count kilometers. Count only the number of Germans killed by you.”

By the time he wrote his memoir People, Years, Life published in English in 1972, he had, apparently mellowed. “When I come to Paris now, I feel inexpressibly sad - the city is the same, it is I who have changed. It is painful for me to walk along the familiar streets - they are the streets of my youth.”  Perhaps not quite painful enough, some might think.

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