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 Walking In Ruins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Walking In Ruins. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


A couple of days ago I picked up my old copy of Don DeLillo’s The Names which I read a long time ago, and had only vague (though positive) memories of.  I did know that it was set in Athens, and if I’d been forced to guess I’d have assumed the Acropolis featured in there somewhere since it’s pretty hard to write a novel set in Athens that doesn’t mention it.  I found this picture of DeLillo, sort of walking, though I'd guess some way from Athens:

In the years since I read The Names I’ve written a book titled Walking in Ruins, and how I wish I’d thought of the DeLillo novel while I was writing it.  It would surely have been worth a mention and a quote.  And now, as I open it again, I find this on the very first page:

“For a long time I stayed away from the Acropolis.  It daunted me, that somber rock.  I preferred to wander in the modern city, imperfect, blaring.  The weight and moment of those worked stones promised to make the business of seeing them a complicated one.  So much converges there. It's what we've rescued from the madness. Beauty, dignity, order, proportion. There are obligations attached to such a visit.
            “Then there was the question of its renown.  I saw myself climbing the rough streets of the Plaka, past the discos, the handbag shops, the rows of bamboo chairs.  Slowly, out of every bending lane, in waves of color and sound, came tourists in striped sneakers, fanning themselves with postcards, the philhellenes, laboring uphill, vastly unhappy, mingling in one unbroken line up to the monumental gateway.
            “What ambiguity there is in exalted things.  We despise them a little.”

Between my first and second years at university I went to Greece for a chunk of the summer.  I’m no longer really sure why.  I had some vaguely hippie acquaintances who were living on the island of Samos, and they said I should stop by and see them, but I think they were mortified when I actually showed up.  This was well over a decade before I read, or DeLillo wrote, The Names.

And while I was in Greece, and particularly in Athens, I did do a lot of walking, and I certainly saw a lot of ruins, and I can’t say I found them utterly gripping at the time.  But unlike De Lillo’s hero I did happily walk up to the Acropolis. I think I walked up there more than once: I wasn’t sure what else to do in Athens.  The description of handbag shops and discos seems accurate enough, though I definitely didn’t wear striped sneakers.

And on one occasion while I was there at the Acropolis a man came up to me with a fairly serious-looking movie camera, which was not a common thing at the time, and he put it in my hand and asked me, in very broken English, if I would film him walking among the ruins, walking towards the camera.

I said sure.  I was thrilled.  Unlikely as it now seems, I had some ambitions back then to make movies, though this was the first time I’d actually held a movie camera, and the man showed me the basics of how to operate it, and I asked him if he wanted to me to do anything fancy, panning or zooming or tracking or whatever.  And he said, “No.  You hold still.  I come, I go.”  So I did, and he did, and if this were a novel there's be some exciting second act involving ruins and doctored movie film and international men of mystery.  But in real life we went on our way without any further contact.

Inspired by rereading Delillo I dug out some old slides taken on that trip (seen above and below), and what do you know, it seems I took a photograph of the man before or after I’d filmed him.  I’m left wishing I’d mentioned this in Walking in Ruins, too.

Monday, February 24, 2014


If you go to the website caughtbytheriver.net (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll find and extract/sampler/cut up from the opening of Walking in Ruins.  It starts like this:

By Geoff Nicholson

  If, like me, you happen to have written a book titled The Lost Art of Walking, people tend to ask you, “What’s your favourite walk?” I always find this a really difficult question. I want to answer honestly, and I definitely don’t want to be evasive or pretentious, but the answer always escapes me.
More and more I find that if I’m in walking in an area of unspoiled natural beauty, or in a city of great vistas and magnificent architecture, I’ll be impressed, I’ll be appreciative, but the truth is, I’m often slightly bored in these places. Only a fool would bad-mouth the Champs-Élysées or the Lake District, but I just don’t get very excited about walking there. Whereas if I’m walking along a beach and discover some ruined bungalows, or if I’m at the edge of a city and find a wrecked and abandoned warehouse or barn, then I’m fascinated, I’m moved. And that’s why I’ve written a new book titled Walking in Ruins.

You can read the full piece (and much more besides) on the website here:

Thursday, October 3, 2013


So there's this, the first review of Walking in Ruins, in the new issue of the Spectator


Walking in Ruins, by Geoff Nicholson - review

Mark Mason 5 October 2013

Geoff Nicholson is the Maharajah of Melancholy. The quality was there in his novels, it was there in his non-fiction book The Lost Art of Walking, and it’s there in the latter’s successor, Walking in Ruins (Harbour Books, £12.50). He savours the comfort to be gained from accepting decay as an inevitable part of life.
Ruins are his muse. So he spends the book doing exactly what its title suggests. Locations include an abandoned Los Angeles zoo, now inhabited by two homeless men, a Sheffield housing estate whose road layout survives even though its houses don’t, and a desert town that’s been, er, deserted. Nicholson keeps finding shoes there, though never a matching pair.
If you share his mindset, you’ll love the philosophical ruminations that result. Can you, for instance, ruin a ruin? John Ruskin preferred dilapidation to the ‘lie’ that is restoration. It’s only when a graveyard falls into disrepair, argues Nicholson, that it ‘really comes alive’.
We also learn that there’s a town in America called Zzyzx, and that Albert Speer thought buildings should be designed with one eye on how they’d look when falling down. He even did Hitler a drawing of a Nuremberg grandstand with its ‘masonry crumbling, its fallen columns covered in ivy’.
At one point Nicholson finds the left-hand half of a ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ sign. ‘Sponta Combu’, he notes, would be a great name for an Indian fusion dish.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about ruin, war photography and walking, and the way in which the walker so often becomes a compositional element in an image.  Well, it won’t be stopping any time soon. 

Last week, supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi attacked dozens of Christian churches in Egypt, justified on the basis that Christians have in general supported the military takeover.  Last Thursday the Evangelical Church of Mallawi (Mallawi being an Egyptian town, south of Cairo), was ransacked looted and burned.

These pictures by Roger Anis show the ruins and the people walking there, and they strike me as wonderful: informative, moving, infinitely depressing.  But even as we resist the aestheticization of ruin, we also know that if the photographs didn’t contain walkers, they wouldn’t be nearly so effective. 

This brings me, in a bathetic sort of way to the cover of the next Nicholson book, titled, perhaps unsurprisingly, Walking In Ruins.

There’ll be far more plugging nearer the time of publication: October.  I didn’t have a whole lot of input on the cover design but the one thing I was absolutely certain of, I didn’t want the image to show a picture of someone walking in ruins.  I didn’t even discuss it with the designer; he simply got it.