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.

Friday, February 15, 2013


I just found it right there in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.  Portnoy, is questioning whether his childhood was really as terrible as he now remembers it:

“What else? Walks, walks with my father in Weequahic Park on Sundays that I still haven’t forgotten.  You know, I can’t go off to the country and find an acorn without thinking of him and those walks.  And that’s not nothing, nearly thirty years later.”

The story of all our lives, if we're lucky.

Friday, February 8, 2013


There’s a great piece in the current New Yorker by Joseph Mitchell titled “Street Life: Becoming Part of the City.”  It’s from a previously unpublished memoir: Mitchell died in 1996.  He’s one of those writers that people have either never heard of, or are absolutely besotted by.  There seems to be no middle ground.  He was a great walker and explorer of the whole of New York, and he writes in this piece: “What I really like to do is walk aimlessly in the city.  I like to walk the streets by day and by night.  It is more than a liking, a simple liking – it is an aberration.”

Mitchell was employed by the New Yorker from 1938 until his death, but in 1965, after the publication of the book Joe Gould’s Secret, he essentially stopped writing, though he continued to go into the office, going out for an hour and a half lunch, during which he presumably did a some walking.  He wouldn’t even let his old work be reprinted until 1992 when he allowed Pantheon to published an anthology in called Up In The Old Hotel.

Here’s another extract, from a piece also titled “Up in the Old Hotel.”
“Every now and then, seeking to rid my thoughts of death and doom, I get up early and go down to Fulton Fish Market. I usually arrive around five-thirty, and take a walk through the two huge open-fronted market sheds, the Old Market and the New Market, whose fronts rest on South Street and whose backs rest on piles in the East River. At that time, a little while before the trading begins, the stands to the sheds are heaped high and spilling over with forty to sixty kinds of finfish and shellfish from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast and half a dozen foreign countries. The smoky riverbank dawn, the racket the fishmongers make, the seaweedy smell, and the sight of this plentifulness always give me a feeling of well-being, and sometimes they elate me. I wander among the stands for an hour or so. Then I go into a cheerful market restaurant named Sloppy Louie’s and eat a big, inexpensive, invigorating breakfast ...”

That’s pretty great.  It’s a benign piece, and yet that opening mention of death and doom hangs obligingly over it all.

I was reminded obliquely of Pico Iyer’s introduction to A Wanderer in the Perfect City, a collection of writing by Lawrence Weschler; I always misremember that title and think it’s a walker in the perfect city.  And then sometimes I think it ought to be the perfect walker in the imperfect city. Anyway ...  Iyer writes, “Curiosity is the engine that drives a traveler out into the world, and the true traveler is the one who see (sic) that the world points in two directions. He is fired by his eagerness, his interest in the world, but what it gives back to him in turn is often a strangeness, a confoundingness that is the other half of what we mean by curiosity.”  That’s pretty great too.

Above is the cover of Weschler’s book, that truly amazing photograph is by Helen Levitt.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


 If you’re a Facebook friend of Sonic Youth (and let’s face it, they’re an easy bunch to befriend), you get to see all sorts of stuff, including images of the band when they were more youthful, if not necessarily more sonic.  The above picture of them walking, or at least standing, at Stonehenge must have been taken pre-1985, before Steve Shelley was the drummer, before Kim Gordon was even a blonde.

walked around Stonehenge for the first time last year.  I’d driven past it in a car a few times but for some reason had never got out and investigated.   These days the casual visitor can’t get very close to the stones at all, and is kept at a distance and has to walk around a pedestrian loop, though I think special “walk among the stones” tours are also available at certain times.  Once it was evidently much easier.

The fact is, just like Sonic Youth, everybody I saw there wants to be photographed posing with the henge in the background, including this Buddhist monk who I thought might have been there with a higher purpose.

Very few of the visitors seemed to be experiencing any deep mystical vibe, but thinking of Britain’s ancient stones led me to Julian Cope, and eventually via the eternal present of the internet, to an interview he did with Sirona Knight and Michael Starwyn at the time his album 20 Mothers was released, in 1995.  The link to the full interview is here:

I haven’t followed Cope’s career all that closely but I know he wrote a book, and did a TV series titled The Modern Antiquarian, which everybody seems to think is a pretty good guide to the ancient sites of Britain.  There’s now a website with the same name.   What I didn’t know, but should probably have guessed, is that he’s apparently a great walker.

In the interview he says he visited over 500 ancient sites, and walked along ancient trackways. "I walk on the sacred landscape with a dictaphone and I sing my songs straight out as the Spirit moves me. That's an artist's duty--to recognize what flame moves within him and I recognized a totally different flame."
“I write on the land. I just walk. Normally it all comes at once. I've walked over 1500 miles in the last 8 months, always on the neolithic trackways. The whole Avebury system is this huge grid of neolithic trackways, ceremonial trackways. Whenever I am reenacting these walks, I am reenacting the walks of people who repeated these ritual walks for 1500 years. I am now able to descend into the mist, into the other dimension.”

         Well, there was certainly none of that going on at Stonehenge when I was there, which is a shame.  Cope also wrote a song titled Gotta Walk.  Lyrics here:

Greedhead policestate
Admit your mistake
Here to go, baby
Here to beat Daddy
Here to catch a falling star
Save yourself some money
Run behind a taxi
Walk behind a funeral car.
Doomy doomy doomy
Yet I'm feelin' gloomy
Still I hate to screw my Ma...
I gotta walk - walk walk walk - gotta walk - I'm hip... I'll walk

Video here if that's the kind of thing that you're into:

Monday, February 4, 2013


 The question is this: “But is it safe to wear high heels when exercising?”  Don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue, but Elise Sole (a made up name surely) has some answers on shine.com. in an article headlined "Would You Exercise in High Heels?"  You can look it up, I'm sure.  She certainly doesn't seem to regard walking as exercise.

She tells us about a class taught by certified (in some sense anyway) fitness instructor Kamilah Barrett, 35, called “Heel Hop”  “a no-impact hour of strength-training that helps women develop cardio vascular strength and the confidence and skill to rock high-heeled shoes.”  Yes, it’s the lack of confidence that’s really the root of the problem, I expect.

Then there are Stiletto Fitness Classes in Kansas City, M.O. "core and lower body high-impact strength and training fitness class." That’s high impact as opposed to no impact.  “Created by former dancer Coryelle Abney in July 2012, her class helps women look graceful wearing heels while offering a serious calorie burn.”  No downside to that.

But then of course a doctor gets dragged in, Dr. Elisa M. Kavanagh, DPM, who treats the New York City Rockettes. She says, "I wouldn't advise women to bring their Jimmy Choos to a class like this.  If you're curious, wear character shoes (they look like a classic Mary Jane with a chunky heel) that are flexible and designed for stomping, kicking, and twirling.”  I see: character shoes with a chunky heel.  You haven't quite grasped this concept, have you doc?

And above, for no very good reason, is Lindsay Lohan – I’ll bet she does a lot of things in high heels that aren’t entirely safe, walking being one of them.