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 Lynell George. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lynell George. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


It being a Sunday afternoon, I combined my afternoon drift with a visit to Skylight Books to see Lynell George read from her book After/Image.  And to get a signed copy, of course. Lynell George is a flâneuse, a pedestrienne, and above all a woman who walks and looks and takes photographs and writes about it.  Also an Emmy winner.  Cool.  

As is the way of these things, I opened the book at random and found a reference to Dorothy Parker describing Los Angeles as “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.”  This is apparently a well-known sneer but I’d never heard it before.  You’d think I would have.  And, as Lynell says in her book, some of us don’t think that’s such a terrible thing.  One of the 57 books I regularly think about writing but probably never will is titled In Defense of Suburbia.

I’ve been trying to find the source of that Dorothy Parker quotation, and as far as I can tell there isn’t one.  Adrienne Crew president of the LA Chapter of the Dorothy Parker Society and a tour guide says in a blog post, “I am asked on a regular basis if Dorothy Parker actually said that Los Angeles is ‘72  suburbs in search of a city.’  The answer is...probably not. 
“The quote has been attributed to Dorothy Parker but it's really a paraphrase of Aldous Huxley's bon mots found his 1925 book, Americana. He wrote that Los Angeles was "nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis" and he was probably quoting someone else who initially said Los Angeles was seven or six suburbs in search of a city. The witticism expanded from there. At times it was attributed to H.L. Menken, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker.  Most likely it was Mencken who used the phrase in an essay published in the April 1927 issue of Photoplay magazine after visiting Los Angeles for three weeks in 1926.” 
         And yes, it does sound like the kind of thing you might say after three weeks.

I don’t know if Dorothy Parker got around much when she worked in LA but the only places she lived were Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, thereby leaving her some 70 suburbs short.  This is her, perfectly nice suburban bungalow on Norma Place.

But I did wonder about the basic premise:  just how many suburbs are there in LA?  Wikipedia has a “List of districts and neighborhoods of Los Angeles” which numbers just under 200, but by no means all of them are suburbs. “The Old Bank Distrct” for instance is just the area where the banks are in downtown, and therefore part of the “urb.”  And some of the places I’ve never heard of such as  the “Platinum Triangle.”

As a local, I could probably tell you the difference between Hollywood, East Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Hollywood Hills West, and Hollywood Dell, though I’m sure you wouldn’t thank me for it, and suburban though they may all be, I’m pretty sure they don’t constiture four separate suburbs.  Still, with bit of casuistry, I think you probably could identify 72 distinct and separate suburbs in LA, if that’s your pleasure.


While I was in the bookstore I saw this intruiguing volume by Ed and Deanna Templeton titled  Contemporary Suburbium.   The suburb in question is Huntington Beach, and the book is one of those concertina jobs and I was tempted to but a copy, but I had already spent my book dollars for the day.  Next time.


Some of the suburban stuff I saw on my walk looked like this:


And this – Jesus and the Gnomes (which could easily be the name of a band from Huntington Beach):


And I couldn’t help thinking they were raising expectations a little too high at the Dresden:







Monday, May 11, 2015


Photo by Victor Cabelero, via Twitter

Having been a talking head last weekend, I was an “expert” panelist this weekend, at LitFest Pasadena.  The title of the panel was simply “LA On Foot” something I do feel reasonably able to talk about, although in many ways sitting on a panel feels like the opposite  of walking.  Since I live 15 miles from Pasadena some driving was required, and of course I thought about walking there and back, but it seemed a bit much for a Saturday afternoon.

Chairing the panel was Stephen Reich who is, among other things,  one of the producers of a show titled City Walk “the only television series that journeys by foot across the country for a ground's eye view of urban America. Experience the vibrant streets and sidewalks of Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, Portland, Las Vegas, Denver, and Washington D.C. while discovering stunning architecture, magnificent monuments, serene parks, and communities transformed by a new breed of pedestrians who march to the beat of a different drummer.”  Well yes.

On the panel were James T. Rojas, an urban planner, who made the fascinating point that Latino immigrants are accustomed to having large public squares to walk in back home, and so when they arrive in LA many of them turn their front gardens into a miniature version of the public square complete with benches and a fountain, though I suppose the opportunities for walking are considerably reduced.

Also on the panel was Lynell George, a fine journalist who among many other things runs a photoblog titled wanderingfoot (which I must admit I first read as wandering fool) with some pretty fab pictures, such as these:

In a piece for “Which Way LA” she wrote “So first with just a notebook, later with a camera, I began to walk Los Angeles—its grittier neighborhoods, cul-de-sacs and alleyways—in the early less-cluttered hours to see what I might find. Often, hiding in plain sight, I’ve found souvenirs of the last century—backyard incinerators, rusting hulks of past industry, hand-painted ghost signs hawking nickel movies or the promise of ‘Nice Rooms.’”
Sounds like psychogeography, right?  Though that deadly word wasn’t mentioned in the course of the session in Pasadena.   I have learned this is a word that makes 99 percent of people in the world glaze over with mystification (at best).

It being a literary panel, Steve asked us whether we had a favorite literary piece about walking, and I mentioned Jim Harrison’s “Westward Ho” – a novella about a man who walks across LA, from Cucamonga to Westwood.  Harrison writes that this is a 47 mile walk. 
A few people in the crowd thought this sounded like an impossible walk, and also that the distance was more that 47 miles.  I was in no position to argue, but when I got home it checked it on MapQuest, and they (or at least their algorithm) reckon it’s a doable walk, if a few miles longer than described by Jim Harrison.  

I know that Harrison is at least something of a walker – that’s him below with Gary Snyder.

Of course when you're on these panels you usually come away wishing you’d said something other than what you did say, but I had a strangely different experience this time.   At one point I found myself saying, “We all want to be safe when we walk and the more people walk the safer we’re all likely to be.”  It sounded true, and a perfectly reasonable thing to have said, but you know, it just didn’t sound like the kind of thing I’d usually say.

Some links right here: