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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I don’t know if you’ve come across Arianna Huffington’s new book Thrive.  It has an initially baffling subtitle “The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder”  Third metric?  Well, apparently it’s a metaphor based on the milking stool – you need that third leg to have a solid foundation.   Although of course when you’re walking you only need two.  But maybe I'm being too literal.

There’s a chapter in the book titled “Walk This Way” (not a reference to Aerosmith and Run DMC as far as I can tell).  Arianna is a great walker apparently.  When she lived in Los Angeles she got many of her best ideas while hiking.  A lot of the planning for the Huffington Post was done on hikes.  When she was pregnant she walked around the grounds of the LA hotel she was staying in.  And no, I don’t know why she was staying in an LA hotel during her pregnancy.  And no, I haven't been able to find a good picture of her walking.

In that walking chapter she quotes Cavafy, Thomas Jefferson, Hemingway, Thoreau and “British author Geoff Nicholson.”  “Words inscribe a text in the same way that a walk inscribes space,” he says.  “Writing is one way of making the world our own, and … walking is another.”

Naturally I’m not going to argue with that, since I wrote it, but I thought it might be instructive to point out that the quotation in full runs, “Modern literary theory sees a similarity between walking and writing that I find persuasive: words inscribe a text in the same way that a walk inscribes space. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel De Certeau writes, 'The act of walking is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian; it is a special acting-out of the place ... and it implies relations among differentiated positions.' I think this is a fancy way of saying that writing is one way of making the world our own, and that walking is another.”  Arianna must have thought that even mentioning De Certeau was too fancy.  That's him below, walking.

Oh, and if you think I’m being a little presumptuous by referring to Ms. Huffington as Arianna – trust me, we’re on first name terms.  She sent me an advanced proof copy of her book, along with this card:

Online evidence suggests it’s her actual signature.  That’s what I call attention to detail.  I also read on her Twitter feed, and elsewhere, that she describes herself as a “flat shoe advocate” – well nobody’s perfect.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


And sometimes you just go for a walk.  I had 45 minutes or so to kill, so I decided to walk along a bit Sunset Boulevard from the Crossroads of the World, where my wife works (nobody seems very sure whether crossroads is one word or two). down as far as the Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse (quite a long way off Broadway, though not very far from the Crossroads of the World) and then walk back again, skirting Hollywood High School and popping into the newish cactus nursery.

The Crossroads of the World, by some accounts, was America’s first shopping mall, built in 1936, a collection of “programmatic” buildings in slightly exotic faux styles; a continental village, a middle eastern building one central structure shaped like a boat.

I understand that in a philosophical and indeed geographic sense, the center of the universe is wherever you happen to be, so every crossroads might be the crossroads at the center of the world, except that these particular Crossroads of the World aren’t at a crossroads at all.  See - at best it’s at a couple of T junctions:

Not far away, a foot clinic, which every walker might need one of these days, this one sheltering in the shadow of a giant ad for American Apparel, the model apparently not much of a walker.

And so along past Hollywood High.  I never know whether it’s supposed to be a good school or a bad school, but it’s a cool building, and obviously they having resources, including a sports field right in the middle of Hollywood, which means some prime real estate. 

It also has some famous alumni: Fay Wray, Lon Chenay Junior, Mickey Rooney, Cher, Terry Richardson.  Not Shakespeare, but that doesn’t stop him getting his name on the building.

And so to the shoe warehouse, which used to have a rather fetishy red high heel on the side of the building but I see that’s gone now.  And yep, I unexpectedly found myself buying a new pair of walking boots.   My old pair have done great service but now the soles are worn smooth and create the occasional probable when struggling up rocky trails.  The new boots are Eddie Bauer, and they claimed to be 60 per cent off, so a triumph all round.  And the real triumph: having bought the boots, this was a walk that would enable me to continue walking, and to walk better.

Oh, and the cactus place is selling this thing below: a faux cactus, a Hollywood cactus.  I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Just for the sheer heck of it, I decided to Google “Lady Gaga walking.”  I mean Lady Gaga’s OK with me.  I don’t suppose I’m ever likely go to one of her concerts or buy her music, but her existence seems to add to the general gaiety of the planet, and that's to be respected and embraced.

And the thing is, even if you’ve never seen a concert or heard a note of her music, you’re still aware of her, and at the very least you’ve surely seen pictures of her in some laughable outfit or other.  And as often as not she’s wearing these outfits while walking in the street, not always walking very far admittedly, going from her car to a party or club or whatever, but other times she seems to be just out and about, and somehow the street setting and the just plain folks we often see walking in the background, make the image even more startling.

In one way, walking in the street looking like this seems quite a brave thing to do, but in another way it’s actually very self-protective.  The “real” Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) is clearly not on display here. 

And maybe, in a way, this applies even when she’s without clothes. As Catherine Millet, the author of The Sexual Life of Catherine M,  once said to me, “My body is not me.”  I believe she said this had something to do with Gnosticism.  Here she is walking, kind of:

And so even when Lady Gaga is walking naked, doing that ludicrous promotion for the  Marina Abramovic Kickstarter campaign - "The Abramovic Method helps participants to develop skills for observing long durational performances through a series of exercises and environments designed to increase awareness of their physical and mental experience in the moment."  Well again, it still looks like the “real” person is somewhere  else.

I’ve written elsewhere about the piece “The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk” from
1988, in which Abramovic and her then boyfriend Ulay decided to mark the end of their relationship with an art performance, setting off from different ends of the Great Wall of China and walking for 90 days until they met up in Shaanxi province.  There they embraced and went their separate ways forever.

Now, I am not a performance artist, but I do know a little about break ups, and I think that if I’d been Ulay I’d have stayed right where I was – he was actually at the western end of the Wall on the edge of the Gobi Desert, a pleasant enough spot I imagine – and I’d have hung around there until La Abramovic arrived, presumably 180 days later.  “Hey kid, you’re the art superstar who uses endurance as an essential part of her artistic praxis!”
Anyway, for the further heck of it I Googled “Abramovic walking” and up popped this image:

The Abramovic (actually Abramovich) in question is Roman of that ilk, the “Russian businessman” and owner of Chelsea Football Club. The caption reads “After the final whistle in Chelsea’s turgid 1-1 home draw with Rosenberg of Norway in the Champions League Group B opener in 2007, Abramovich was seen marching into the dressing room.”  
I’ll bet that was a performance, if not necessarily art.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


As we all know, there’s a ton of walking in the Bible.  And Proverbs 10:9 has something very definite to say, although the specifics of what that something is vary considerably depending on the translation.  

Those of us who like language and literature, as well as walking, might be interested in the ways that an apparently very simple thought has been molded by various translators.  I had always assumed the King James would get it spot on, but now I’m not so sure.

He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.

Look, I reckon I walk “uprightly,” I mean my posture could be better, but whose couldn’t?  And I don’t reckon I’m a man who “perverteth his ways,” certainly not while walking, and surely if you believe in an all-knowing deity, all your ways shall be known anyway, right?

As you see below, various hands have taken a stab at changing the language, insisting on “integrity” while walking though sometimes “safely” or securely” or blamelessly,” which strike me as a bunch of different things, but then also there’s an insistence on rejecting the “crooked path.” 

I mean OK, I know it’s a metaphor and all, but really I do enjoy walking the occasional crooked path, and honestly I don’t think that makes me a pervert.  Others, evidently, take a different view.  Here are some translated variations, a couple of which don't even include the walking aspect all:

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

He who walks in integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will be found out.

The one who lives with integrity lives securely, but whoever perverts his ways will be found out.

Whoever walks in integrity lives prudently, but whoever perverts his way of life will be exposed.

The one who conducts himself in integrity will live securely, but the one who behaves perversely will be found out.

He that walks in perfection goes in hope, and he who perverts his ways will be known.

Whoever lives honestly will live securely, but whoever lives dishonestly will be found out.

He that walks in integrity walks securely, but he that perverts his ways shall be broken.

He that walks uprightly walks securely: but he that perverts his ways shall be known.

He that walks uprightly walks surely: but he that perverts his ways shall be known.

He that walketh uprightly walketh surely; But he that perverteth his ways shall be known.

He that walketh sincerely, walketh confidently: but he that perverteth his ways, shall be manifest.

He that walketh in integrity walketh securely; but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.

He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.

He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.

He who walks blamelessly walks surely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.

Whoso is walking in integrity walketh confidently, And whoso is perverting his ways is known.

Language and walking and metaphors; it’s a minefield innit?