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 surrealism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label surrealism. Show all posts

Monday, April 13, 2015

ONE MORE STORY ABOUT WALKING THAT I DIDN'T KNOW TILL NOW



One day in June 1935 Andre Breton was walking along the Boulevard du Montparnasse and happened to encounter Ilya Ehrenburg, who was at that point part of the Soviet delegation to the International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture (do I see you reaching for your revolver?)


Ehrenburg had recently denounced the Surrealists for their “pederasty, sodomy and onanism” so you might argue that he wasn’t very far off the mark, but Breton was having none of this.  He grabbed Ehrenburg by the lapels and slapped him across the face.  Next day the Soviets threatened to boycott the congress if Breton was a speaker.


The job of sorting out this mess fell on Rene Crevel, who was both a genuine Surrealist and a genuine communist, also, at least, a bisexual. Will it come as a surprise that after a whole day’s wrangling he failed to square the circle between the Soviets and Breton.    It appears that he’d also recently been diagnosed with renal tuberculosis. He left the meeting, took a good long walk through the night and at the end of it returned to his apartment and committed suicide. 


By the end of the war Ehrenburg had other things on his mind than Surrealism.  He wrote the notorious pamphlet Kill“The Germans are not human beings. … If you have not killed at least one German a day, you have wasted that day .... Do not count days, do not count kilometers. Count only the number of Germans killed by you.”

By the time he wrote his memoir People, Years, Life published in English in 1972, he had, apparently mellowed. “When I come to Paris now, I feel inexpressibly sad - the city is the same, it is I who have changed. It is painful for me to walk along the familiar streets - they are the streets of my youth.”  Perhaps not quite painful enough, some might think.
        

Thursday, October 24, 2013

LOST(ISH) IN NEW YORK





I’ve been in New York, the city and the state, doing some walking among other things.  On the first day there I went to my publisher’s office, a place I’d been before and it’s right there in the middle of town, on 18th Street, and so I had no worries about finding it and getting there on time.  And so, I set off for a meeting, and in due course I got completely and utterly (and inevitably) lost.  I suddenly couldn’t tell whether I should be on east 18th or west 18th, and in any case I had some kind of brain fade and couldn’t tell east from west anyway, and so I got there late and sweaty and panicky, and feeling like a complete rube, who couldn’t find his way around the big city.  This was not precisely the impression I was trying to convey to my publisher.


Of course, when I’m in my walker/urban explorer mode, I think that being lost in the city is a very good thing, but it’s not nearly so cool when you have to be at a certain place at a certain time.  The ­real problem, I told myself later, is that you never get quite as lost as when you’re certain you know exactly where you’re going.  If I’d had any doubts about where I was going, where the publisher’s office was, I’d have double checked the address, consulted a map, taken the map with me, but I had no such doubts, and in the event my unmerited confidence undid me.

I was staying in the apartment where photographer Dudley Reed and his wife Betty live, and the place was full of photographic books, including Susan Sontag’s On Photography, a book I’d read a very long time ago, and I thought I remembered it pretty well, but it seems not.  Or perhaps it’s that I now have a different set of priorities and obsessions, than I did back then when I first read it, and there seemed something very fresh about a couple of paragraphs from the book.


Sontag writes, “…the earliest surrealist photographs come from the 1850s when photographers went out prowling the streets of London, Paris, New York, looking for their unposed slice of life.”
         Then later, “In fact, photography first comes into its own as an extension of the eye of the middle class flaneur, whose sensibility was so accurately charted by
 Baudelaire.  The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising, the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes.”
Interesting and significant, I think, that she doesn’t categorize either the flaneur or the photographer as male, though historically (and with notable exceptions) the majority of both flaneurs and street photographers have been men.

As you wander the streets of New York these days it seems that everybody is taking pictures, women just as much as men.  One or two seem to be “real” photographers, brandishing bulky SLRs, but the majority are using their cell phones.  I don’t know how many of them are looking for the Surrealists’ “chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella,” but I’m sure they’d take a picture of it if they saw one.


And of course a lot of people are looking at their cell phones, texting rather than taking pictures with them, and of course they walk into others, and others no doubt walk into them, which seems a kind of rough justice. They can’t say they haven’t been warned.  The streets of Manhattan now display posters like the one below, which is actually on the side of a public phone booth.  Does anybody use public phone booths anymore?

As it happened, there were was a Banksy street art exhibition going on all over New York while I was there.  One of the pranks involved some guy on the street selling “real” Banksies for the price of fakes - $60 as opposed to the $15,000 or so they’d cost in a gallery.  Of course $60 does seem a bit steep for fake Banksy. 


But knowing that the man himself was in town and in action meant that as I walked the streets of New York I kept seeing Banksy-esque stenciled graffiti, and asking myself is that a real or a fake.  Only a fool would have claimed to know with any certainty.  But I did spot this on 24th Street at 6th Avenue.


Of course I couldn’t have sworn it was the real thing, but I thought it might be, and I definitely thought it was worth a picture; and having got home and done some research it seems that yes, as far as I can tell, I was looking at a REAL Banksy. I walked past it again a couple of days later, and it seemed it was being surrounded by other, much less artful-looking tags and graffiti, which you might think spoiled the effect, though for all I know Banksy might have been doing those too.