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.
Showing posts with label INHERENT VICE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label INHERENT VICE. Show all posts

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Two quotations for your consideration (as Mr. Rod Serling might say):

ONE: “If I do not walk I cannot make a work of art.  The physical involvement of walking creates a receptiveness to the landscape. I walk on the land to be woven into nature. A road walk can transform the everyday world and give a heightened sense of human history.”  Hamish Fulton.  That's him below, and yes, that's a map of Paris - stay with me on this.

TWO: “Under the paving-stones, the beach!” which is the translation of a graffito seen on the streets of Paris in May 1968, and I suppose for some time after that.  I wonder when they cleaned it off.  It also happens to be the epigraph of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice.

Frankly I’ve never been very sure I understand all the nuances of what “sous les pav├ęs, la plage” really means, and perhaps that very ambiguity is the reason it’s had such wide currency, why it’s become such a hit.

Certainly we all know that some of the paving stones of Paris were dug up and thrown during the events of 1968, but as images from the time show, there was no beach beneath them, which of course we all knew anyway.  Paris – believe it or  not - was not built on a beach.

The slogan does fit a little better with Pynchon’s novel set in the fictional Gordita Beach which bears a striking similarity to Manhattan Beach, just 2O miles down the road from Hollywood, and where Pynchon lived in the late sixties and early seventies while writing Gravity’s Rainbow.  I’ve walked there and it’s a good place to walk but I think very few, if any, early-career novelists can afford to live there these days.

As for the Fulton quotation, well, after you’ve read and thought about Hamish Fulton’s heroic walking activities, any walk you’re likely to do in your own daily life is likely to seem a bit trivial and timid.  At the weekend, for instance, the Loved One and I were in Yucca Valley, and we went up to Landers, driving, walking, poking around in ruins, including a walk partly up and partly around Goat Mountain.

Walking and poking around is what I do (it may even be my “art”) – but I’m always aware that certain walkers would turn it into something more thoroughly programmatic - maybe ten circular walks around Goat Mountain at different times of the day, at different phases of the moon, stopping and taking a photograph or picking up a rock every hundred yards.  Well, why not?

And something that occurred to me while I was in Landers: I like walking in cities and I like walking in “nature” but I actually think I may have done the majority of my walking in suburbs.  Now, I think that suburbia is surprisingly hard to define, but I know it when I see it, and I’ve seen plenty of it.  I grew up in various suburbs in Sheffield.  Vast swathes of London, where I lived for a long time, are by any measure suburban, and Los Angeles where I live now is, by many accounts, the most suburban city in the world.  You might think I’m attracted to suburbia.

And it so happened that the motel where we were staying in Yucca Valley was right next to a thoroughly suburban subdivision.  My knowledge of Yucca Valley is patchy, but as I remember it this suburbia scarcely existed even ten years ago: it was just naked desert.

And so these suburban bungalows and ranch houses have descended on the desert like alien presences.  I can’t say I found it especially horrible (though it would surely have been better left untouched), and as I walked around the sidewalk-free streets there was always something interesting to look at, some interesting architectural features, some quirky gardens, and what you see in most cases is a willingness to let the desert show through – to celebrate the desert, within the confines of a domestic plot.

Some of this, admittedly, seems less than authentic. I did see a few garden-bound saguaro cacti, and I think no saguaro ever got to Yucca Valley except on the back of a truck. 

The gardens with Joshua trees seemed a little more “natural” but even here I couldn’t shake the feeling that some of the trees had been, at least, moved around and transplanted for the sake of the picturesque (see John Ruskin, op cit).  The presence of desert quail and jackrabbits was far more convincing.

At the time I was walking, early morning, people were leaving home and going to work – some in very clean trucks, some in surprisingly fancy cars, and one or two of them seemed to slow down to take a good look at me to see if I was up to no good, but maybe that was just my paranoia: an honest enough Pynchonian trait.

Would I like to live in a desert suburbia?  Well no, not much, since in the case of Yucca Valley there’s no adjacent “urbia” where I could go to get my city-boy thrills.  The desert fantasy is to own 100 acres of sand and scrub, big enough that a couple of laps of the boundary would constitute a reasonable walking expedition, though I’m sure some would still find that trivial and timid.

On the other hand, I’d quite like to walk a few laps of this place, though I can’t tell you exactly where it is.  The photograph is by Christopher Gielen and is titled (as it were) “UNTITLED XXXI Arizona” from the book Ciphers.

Under the desert, another damn desert.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Lately a fair bit of traffic has been coming to this blog for a posting from 2013 titled “Pedestrianizing With Pynchon,” my response to Thomas Pynchon’s novel Bleeding Edge, wondering whether the great man is a New York flaneur – conclusion: probably.  That post can be found here:

And maybe that traffic is arriving because of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie of Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice, which I saw at the weekend.  It’s a noirish tale, and there are a cool cars a plenty – the hero Doc Sportello (played by Jaoquin Phoenix) drives a 1964 Dodge Dart, and it’s definitely not a walking movie per se, but there’s some interesting walking in it: stoners detectives, cops, hippie chicks, dodgy dentists, dodgy doctors, dodgy lawyers, all moving in their own special way.

One big problem the movie had to overcome was to make sure that Doc didn’t resemble the Dude from The Big Lebowski too much – and I think it pretty much succeeds in that.  Did the Dude do any walking in the Coen brothers movie?  Surely he must have, but I can’t immediately recall much of it.  Does walking in a supermarket count?

For most of the 160 minutes of the movie of Inherent Vice, I was gently bored, then sometimes I was savagely bored, and occasionally I was quite entertained.  I have no desire to be a film critic, but I’d say (and my fellow scribe and psychogeographer Anthony Miller said this first and put into words exactly what I was thinking but hadn’t quite verbalized) the movie manages to be utterly unPynchonesque.

Still, seeing the movie did remind me how little I remembered of the novel. I deliberately didn’t reread any of it before seeing the movie, but returning to the book now, I see some very interesting mentions of walking, pacing, wandering and strolling.

Within the first ten pages Doc meets up with his pal Denis (it’s pronounced to rhyme with penis):  “They walked up to Dunecrest and turned left into the honky-tonk part of town.  Pipeline Pizza was jumping, the smoke so thick inside you couldn’t see from one end of the bar to the other.  The jukebox, audible all the way to El Porto and beyond, was playing ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by the Archies.”

A little later Doc meets up with Hope Harlingen, the wife of a missing sax player:
“She got up and started pacing.  She was not a weeper but she was a pacer, which Doc appreciated, it kept the information coming, there was a beat to it.”
I think this is a very shrewd observation about walking, talking and pace.  In the movie the actors just sit there and deliver the lines.

About a third of the way into the book Leo and Elmina (full disclosure  - I had absolutely no memory of who these characters were – they turn out to be Doc’s parents) are staying at the Skyhook Lodge, “which did a lot of airport business and was populated day and night with the insomniac, the stranded and deserted, not to mention an occasional certified zombie.  ‘Wandering all up and down the halls,’ said Elmina ‘men in business suits, women in evening gowns, people in their underwear or sometimes nothing at all, toddlers staggering around looking for their parents, drunks, drug addicts, police, ambulance technicians, so many room service carts they get into traffic jams, who needs to get in the car and go any place, the whole city of Los Angeles s right there five minutes from the airport.’”
         Yes! Hell yes! This is why we love Pynchon (if we do).

And then in Vegas Doc goes into The Kismet casino: “Doc got out and strolled under a Byzantine archway and into the seedy vastness of the main gaming floor, dominated by a ruinous chandelier draped over the tables and cages and pits. Disintegrating, ghostly, huge, and, if it had feelings, likely resentful.”

Sure, it’s going to be really, really hard to put that idea on film,  but if you’re going make a version of a Pynchon novel, I think you really ought to try to find some filmic equivalent.

Oh, and another, not really all that relevant thing, I did find this very sweet picture of Bridges and Goodman doing some fancy walking at a Big Lebowski event.