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.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I have on my shelf a book titled The Art of Walking, edited by Edwin Valentine Mitchell, published in 1934. It’s a short anthology, a gift book I suppose, with extracts from Dickens, Hazlitt, Leslie Stephen, Hilaire Belloc and others.  And now I’ve been sent a book titled The Art of Walking: A Field Guide, edited by David Evans, published by Black Dog Press, "the first extensive survey of walking in contemporary art.”  I love this stuff, but I’m pretty sure that Dickens et al wouldn’t recognize any of it as art.  I’m not certain they’d even recognize all of it as walking.

         Some of the new book's contents will be familiar enough to anyone interested in modern art, even if not interested in walking per se; works by Richard Long, Francis Alys, Marina Abromovic and Bruce Nauman all put in appearances.

     But I suspect very few will be very familiar with all of it.  This is encouraging, a sign that the ways of walking are inexhaustible.  I was enormously taken with Regina Jose Galindo’s Who Can Erase the Traces, a performance piece created after she learned that former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos was to stand for president, despite this being against the country’s constitution.  She walked barefoot between two government buildings in Guatemala City, the Court of Constitutionality and the National Palace, carrying a basin full of blood.  She would step in in from time to time thereby creating a trail of bloody footprints as she went: not a very long walk but a very moving one.

         And I had only vaguely heard of Ukrainian-born Oleg Kulik, seen below on hands and knees being walked, like a dog, through the streets of Moscow; a performance which may or may not be some sort of post-communist allegory.  Apparently things took an unexpected turn when he started biting people.

         Kulik makes an interesting contrast with a series of photographs from the 1970s by Keith Arnatt, portraits of people and their dogs, taken while they were out walking.  The images are benign and humane, and they now seem like very telling historical documents of their time.  They also raise all sorts of questions about whether people resemble their dogs or dogs resemble their owners.

Right there in the introduction Evans also reveals (and I never knew this though I probably should have) that after 9/11, as America considered all aspects of its national security, it was mooted that analyzing people’s gait as they walked might be as reliable a form of identification as fingerprints, and very possibly it might.  The problem was that gait is too easily modified.  A change of shoes or a pair of extra tight trousers surely change the way we walk completely.  And of course the bad guys would deliberately walk out of character.

I once had a conversation with the actor Frank Harper (that's him below) who said he never thinks he’s really nailed down a character until he’s worked out the way that character walks; which means of course that as an actor he constantly changes the way he walks from one part to another.

 The book also has a small but pithy bibliography, containing The Lost Art of Walking, by yours truly.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


You know, as I wander the world, and indeed my own neighborhood, I see a surprising number of “professional” dog walkers on the streets, ambling along awkwardly with a handful of not especially happy-looking dogs.  I even see flyers stapled to trees and telegraph poles from people offering their dog walking services.  I guess there must be a market, and I suspect a really good dog walker is hard to find. 

And in fact I find something not quite right about this.  I mean sure, I can see that if you’re very old or feeble or sick it might be permissible to get somebody else to walk your dog for you, but otherwise it seems to me it’s something you really ought to do yourself.  Nobody put a gun to you head and forced you to have a dog, so now that you’ve got it, do your duty, and abase yourself by picking up the poop while you do it.  Here is a picture by Hunter S. Thompson, from the 1960s, titled, “Sandy Walking with Agar” – I’m guessing she’s not a professional dog walker and I’m guessing this was in the days when people got much less upset about dog poop.  And like you, I can only guess what’s happened to the poor dog’s ears.

Somehow I can’t imagine that Victoria Beckham walks her own dogs, much less picks up their poop, but it does make for a good photo op, thus:

Friday, June 7, 2013


My pal Steve Kenny has just been in Rome, walking in, or at least among, the ruins, and also doing a fair amount of walking on cobbles, which he reminds me can be very hard work indeed.  And he sent me this picture (mild shades of Garry Winogrand) and an accompanying email:

“For the benefit of your readers, here's a pic of a girl showing how you shouldn't dress when exploring ruins and walking on cobbles and uneven ground.  It was in the Forum - she gave up after 50 yards and went back to the car.  She looked nice but everyone was laughing at her.”
I’m not sure that I’d have laughed at her. I think I might well have cheered.

Anyway, while trying to find some supplementary information about walking in Rome, I came across an item saying that a new law has been passed in Rome forbidding tourists (and I don’t suppose it only applied to tourists, but I think the idea is that the citizens of Rome have more class) from eating pizza, ice cream and whatnot as they walk the streets of the ‘centro storico’ of the Eternal City. 

An activist named Viviana Di Capua says, “This is a way to re-educate people, especially tourists visiting Rome in awe about how to behave in this city. We’ve let standards fall.  At the moment tourists can do anything they like in this city. We need to restore respect. It’s just a first step – a lot more needs to be done.”  Who could argue with a woman named Viviana?  And actually I suspect that if you looked like Audrey Hepburn you might still get away with it today.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


I only just found this, a wonderful correction in the New York Times dated May 19, regarding an article by Andrew O’Hagan, who for some reason they don’t mention.

It runs  “An article on May 12 about traveling alone quoted incorrectly from a letter that Henry James wrote to his brother William from Rome.  He boasted about roaming the streets ‘from midday to dusk” (not “dust”).

Oh come on, “roaming till dust” is so much better.  “Walking from dawn till dust” is better still.