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 Tintern Abbey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tintern Abbey. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The idea behind walking through LA’s downtown adjacent to the SCI Arc building was to look at some interesting post-industrial desolation before it gets gentrified out of all existence.  And in fact it’s probably too late already.  The transformation process is well advanced: factories are being turned into luxury lofts, coffee roasters are springing up like mushrooms.  The area is actually referred to on certain street signs as the Art District, and I like art well enough, but designating an area of the city as “arty” seems somehow incredibly dodgy.

Sure, there’s some spectacularly good street art around, including the piece above, but there is something a little schooled about most of it, not that I necessarily yearn for ugly, unschooled street art.

Be that as it may, between the pockets of gentrification there’s still some pleasant grit and neglect to be found. And not least of the joys of walking around there, was that on most streets there were very few other walkers.  It was perfectly possible to imagine some of the empty streets as pockets of post-apocalyptic abandonment, which is always a pleasure.

The odd thing, or maybe it wasn’t odd at all, was that most of this abandonment looked pretty damn good.  It had a certain enduring noble, it was photogenic, it looked a lot like a movie set.  But then, gosh darn it, came the terrible realization that some of these places actually WERE movie sets.  Of course they hadn’t been built as such, but that’s what they had now become.  In fact the cooler, more elegantly rugged the structure, the more likely it was to have a sign on it saying “Film Site Rental,” with a number to call.

This cast a strange suspicion of inauthenticity over everything.  The railway crossing sign below might have been real - there were certainly active railway lines running through the streets at one time - but didn’t it look just a little too perfectly antique?  Couldn’t it have been manufactured by some Hollywood prop maker?

And below here, a railway siding running to a disused trackside building.  The building was very handsome, a fine, honest bit of workaday industrial architecture.

But wait a minute, one's appreciation might not have been spoiled but it was certainly changed by the presence of a sign that read “Set Dress Truck Only.”  There was no room for real trucks, only movie trucks. 

It wasn’t quite a simulacra, but it no longer seemed to be exactly a “real” example of post-industrial desolation either, which seemed a shame.  It wasn’t that the building was unpicturesque, or that it was too picturesque, but rather that it was too knowingly picturesque.

In Of the Turnerian Picturesque John Ruskin writes, “he (Turner) has admitted into his work the modern feeling of the picturesque, which, so far as it consists in a delight in ruin, is perhaps the most suspicious and questionable of all the characters distinctively belonging to our temper, and art.”  That's Turner's Tintern Abbey above, painted in 1794.

Of course Ruskin never visited Los Angeles, nor did he ever see a movie.  But he was a great fan of architecture and he wrote, “When we build, let us think that we build for ever.”  He was also a great walker who wrote, “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you,” which sounds very similar to what you hear said on certain movies sets as the sun goes down and they start "losing the light."  

That's Ruskin in the picture above, the man in the middle with the walking stick