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 Raymond Chandler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Raymond Chandler. Show all posts

Sunday, March 11, 2018


When I first read The Big Sleep back in England, back in the day, I must certainly have read the passage below, but just as certainly I must have skimmed over the term "porte-cochere."  As follows:

     “There was dim light behind narrow leaded panes in the side door of the Sternwood mansion. I stopped the Packard under the porte-cochere and emptied my pockets out on the seat. The girl snored in the corner, her hat tilted rakishly over her nose, her hands hanging limp in the folds of the raincoat. I got out and rang the bell. Steps came slowly, as if from a long dreary distance. The door opened and the straight, silvery butler looked out at me.” 
(“Silvery butler” is just stupendous, isn’t it?)

When I moved to Los Angeles I reread the Chandler novels and I remember it was time to get serious, and so I looked up porte-cochere.    Merriam Webster offers two definitions:
     1: a passageway through a building or screen wall designed to let vehicles pass from the street to an interior courtyard 
    2: a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles.

      I guess it's an American thing, and I think the latter is more common - you’ll find version at thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of American motels.  However if, as many people think, the Sternwood Mansion is based on the Greystone Mansion (aka the Doheny estate), then it’s more likely to be the former, though of course the two things aren’t mutually exclusive.  Here’s the porte-cochere at Greystone, through which I have walked:

I’d have thought the term was fairly rare in British architecture although Wikipedia offers this image of the one at Nottingham station - though I'm not at all sure that anybody in England would refer to it by that name:

You know, off hand, I can’t tell you whether a porte-cochere appears in the Bogart movie of The Big Sleep, but anyway, here’s a picture of Martha Vickers – the snoring girl, here fully awake, with the silvery butler in the background.

     So, the reason I mention this now is because the other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills where, compared to the rest of LA, there isn’t so very much building and redevelopment going on.  But there was one lot where a house had been demolished and a new one was being built.  And there was this sign on the fence describing the project as a “NEW 2 STORY SFR WITH PORTE COCHERE” (SFR stands for “single family residential” – keeps out the riff-raff).

I knew I was out of my comfort zone, and I'm also pretty sure you'd have to go a very, very long way in England before you saw a sign like that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Do you ever have one of those moments when you think, “Oh my lord I just made the most amazing discovery”? And then two minutes later you think, “Wait, everybody but me probably knew this already.”  I just had this experience with Raymond Chandler.

“Everybody” knows his passage from “The Simple Art of Murder,” the one that runs “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything …” and so on.

Now (and stick with me on this) I happened to be reading Gore Vidal’s review of  Robert Calder’s  Willie: The Life of Somerset Maugham.  

Maugham trained as a doctor in London at the end of the 19th century, and Vidal says this was “still Dickens’ great monstrous invention,” and then he quotes Maugham, “The messenger led you through the dark and silent streets of Lambeth, up stinking alleys and into sinister courts where the police hesitated to penetrate, but where your black bag protected you from harm."

Much of the world, and certainly much of the literary world, seems to have fallen out of love with Maugham (to be fair, Gore Vidal seems never to have been much enamored) but I think that’s rather a good sentence.  It’s from Liza of Lambeth, Maugham’s second-written, first-published novel, from 1897, when Maugham would have been 23 or so.

Vidal writes, “Maugham raised the banner of Maupassant and the French realists but the true influence on the book and its method was one Arthur Morrison.”

And if you wonder who this “one Arthur Morrison” was (that's him above), it turns out he was the author of a book published three years before Liza of Lambeth, titled (hold on to your hat) Tales of Mean Streets. Did Chandler read Morrison?  Well, it seems perfectly possible, doesn't it?

Morrison went on to write detective novels, his hero was named Martin Hewitt, but Tales of the Mean Streets is a series of short stories, sometimes described as "slum fiction" though there’s plenty of anthropological interest there.  His East End of London doesn’t sound much less daunting than Maugham’s, or indeed Chandler’s Los Angeles.  But I do wonder whether Morrison and Chandler would have had the same understanding of the word “mean.”  Morrison would surely have favored the sense of poor or paltry; Chandler would have favored cruel and nasty; but maybe both senses are there in both.

Well that’s pretty much the extent of my great “discovery” except to note that there’s a certain amount of walking in Morrison’s mean streets.  In a piece titled “A Street” he writes, “When love's light falls into some corner of the street, it falls at an early hour of this mean life, and is itself but a dusty ray. It falls early, because it is the sole bright thing which the street sees, and is watched for and counted on. Lads and lasses, awkwardly arm in arm, go pacing up and down this street, before the natural interest in marbles and doll's houses would have left them in a brighter place. They are 'keeping company'; the manner of which proceeding is indigenous—is a custom native to the place. The young people first 'walk out' in pairs. There is no exchange of promises, no troth-plight, no engagement, no love-talk. They patrol the street side by side, usually in silence, sometimes with fatuous chatter. There are no dances, no tennis, no water-parties, no picnics to bring them together: so they must walk out, or be unacquainted. If two of them grow dissatisfied with each other's company, nothing is easier than to separate and walk out with somebody else.”

It sounds to me as though he’s being unnecessarily mean to his characters.