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, November 13, 2015


How I think of Paris,  How I want to continue to think of Paris.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


As regular readers will know, I’m a fan of street photography, not least of Ron Galella (above), who is obviously a special case, and I suppose really a paparazzo (not that I see an absolute difference).  He seems to have been a fairly “square” guy who nevertheless had (and since he’s still alive and well as far as one can tell - he’s 84 - I hope still has) an intense, instinctive understanding of modernity and the nature of images, news, celebrity, fame and whatnot .

He was also fortunate in his obsessions.  He befriended and then endlessly photographed Andy Warhol, who if not exactly a kindred soul, was at least a fellow traveler.  They shared data.  In part they wanted the same thing - to photograph and be around celebrity, though they wanted this in rather different ways.

Galella’s other obsession, one that eventually got him into all kinds of legal trouble was Jackie Onassis.  He followed her, photographed her, by some definitions stalked her.

Now, personally I was too young to “get” Jackie Onassis at the time.  To mine youthful eyes she always looked like a middle aged woman.  I can now see that different opinions are possible.

Still, as a Hollywood walker, I did come across the above picture taken by Galella showing Jackie walking down the street with a kind of “Hollywood sign” behind her.  In fact the sign belongs to the Hollywood Twin Cinema in Manhattan, from which she was emerging, having seen Death in Venice.   It seems the building’s still there, but apparently no longer a cinema.

There’s also this picture of Jackie being pursued by Ron, taken by – which seems wonderfully meta.  The picture shows Galella following her to take the Hollywood Cinema picture, even as this photograph itself is evidence of further, supplementary stalking.

And if I was too young to understand the appeal of Jackie Kennedy, I was DEFINITELY too young to understand the appeal of Aristotle Onassis.  In my innocence and naivety I didn’t realize that women might be attracted to dodgy, unattractive old billionaires.  A lesson learned there.

 I’m not sure that Jackie absolutely always walked behind Onassis, but evidently she sometimes did.

And equally I’m sure she didn’t absolutely always walk alongside or in front of JFK, but again the photo evidence suggests that she surprisingly often did.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


A lot of people seem to find spiritual solace while walking in the desert.  It makes them feel closer to god, or something.  This has always confused me.  If god is anything he must surely be omnipresent, so the nearest shopping mall must be as spiritual and godly as the desert.  Other people, of course, see the desert as a kind of hell,  which creates a whole different set of problems.

Maybe St Jerome would have understood. In the middle of the fourth century, in order to become more godly, he headed out for “the remotest part of a wild and stony desert burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there … this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts.”  He assumed this mortification would be good for the soul. but when he got there he found himself thinking about the dancing girls of Rome, and that was obviously no good whatsoever for his spiritual ambitions, and so he decided to learn Hebrew to take his mind off things, and that apparently did the job.  St Jerome is also the patron saint of librarians

I’ve often wondered, in an “idea for novel” kind of way, what would happen if a true blue agnostic, not entirely unlike me, was walking in the desert and heard the voice of god.  Would that make him a believer or would it make him think he’d gone insane? Or both?

Probably it’s only a short story, though one perhaps suitable for adaptation into a short film.  In which case the Desert Christ Park in Yucca Valley would be a very fine location for at least part of it.  I went there, not for the first time, at the weekend.

Desert Christ Park is, for want of a better term, a kind of Christian theme park, built on a hillside overlooking the town, a patch of high desert scattered with white statues, many of them arranged in tableaux depicting scenes from the life of Jesus.

The park dates back to 1951, though it’s changed location over the years, and it was conceived by one Eddie Garver, known as the Desert Parson.  The sculptures themselves were made by Frank Antone Martin, an engineer from Inglewood.  They’re made of reinforced concrete and not all of them are in the very best condition, as you can see from the rebar poking through here and there, but that doesn’t really matter.  There’s nothing wrong with a bit of desert ruin.   

Walking there is an interesting experience.  You go there thinking it’s going to be a bit of a joke, and certainly the place is not without its elements of absurdity, but as you walk around you realize it’s rather a decent, honest attempt to express a genuine religious faith, and regardless of whether you share that faith, it’s hard not to be moved and impressed by the effort and belief that went into making it.

If you drive down to Palm Springs and walk around the downtown there, you’ll find on the wall of the Union Bank a kind of bas relief tile mural containing the rather dubious headline – “The Desert is the test of the worth of your spirit.”  Well again, surely the worth of your spirit is tested every day wherever you are, even in a bank in Palm Springs.

The best thing about the mural – it shows an image of a man taking a photograph of a cactus.  Being a cactus enthusiast myself, I took a photograph of the man taking the photograph.  And I rather wished there could have been somebody there taking a photograph of me taking a photograph of the man taking a photograph; but you can’t have everything.

And for those of you who like a good map (and I know some do), here's rather low res one of the Desert Christ Park.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


 Sometimes a man sits at stool in his house in Hollywood, and reaches out for a book, more or less at random, which he hopes will deliver some walking inspiration.  And so I reached out and picked up my copy of Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge (To be honest I’m not absolutely sure where one ends and the other begins) and opened it, more or less at random.

My eyes fell immediately on this paragraph:

“One of my proposed companions for the night walk did not escape the word of the pyramid either; was opened to receive the appropriate message.  He got a varicose vein on the male member.”

Leon Kossof
Hard to beat a passage like that.  I closed the book and finished my paperwork.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


I went out and about t’other day.  I didn’t exactly, or solely, “go for a walk” - I essentially went out for lunch – but some walking was involved, and it was a very familiar kind of urban walk, though one with a specific Los Angeles flavor, which is not without its absurdities. 

The process was this: Get in the car, drive down the hill, park, walk three quarters of a mile to the subway station, take the subway six miles downtown, emerge from the station, walk a mile from station to lunch venue which included a stroll through Grand Park, which is nice enough not really all that grand.

So I had lunch, then afterwards I went to the Japanese American National Museum to walk around the fourth Giant Robot Biennale, an art exhibition arranged by the good folks at Giant Robot, that being and I’m quoting here obviously, “a staple of Asian American alternative pop culture .., at various times a magazine, a store, a restaurant.”  Now mostly just a store.   Then afterwards I went back the way I came and did it in reverse: walk, subway, walk, car.

I understand, of course, that no serious walker would consider this a serious walk, and I didn’t.  Maybe a psychogeographer would have considered it a psychogeographic drift, but you know, what isn’t? My mother would probably have said I was just mooching about.  But isn’t this what a lot of walking is like?

And what (you may ask) did you see, my blue eyed son?  Oh what did you see, my darling young one.

Well, first thing, you know, I get it that walkers are supposed to really hate cars but the fact is, I don’t, not really. There are times when I enjoy driving (though admittedly these times get rarer and rarer).  But there are still many occasions when I enjoy seeing old cars, appreciating them as a kind of kinetic sculpture.  Of course it helps a lot if they’re parked and not likely to run you down.  On the way to the station I saw this local beauty – I think it’s those crude nostrils in the hood that really make it for me.

Then, still on the way to the station I saw this.  I’d noticed it before without thinking about it too much – the natural world poking up through the urban surface and then being attacked by a different bit of the natural world: 

I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to identify the fungus on the tree, and I think it could be Smoky Bracket (Bjerkandera adusta) and if it is, then that’s very bad news for the tree.  The website I found suggests that when this stuff appears it’s time to cut down the tree, though in fact the website belonged to a company that specializes in cutting down trees so maybe they have a vested interest.  Further research suggests it could possibly be Artists Fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) but that’s no better for the tree either.  Once a tree sprouts fungus, it’s in big trouble, as I understand it.

And then on the station platform, and this was something I hadn’t noticed before, though obviously it’s not new – you can walk right up to the end of the platform and stare into the tunnel mouth and you can see there’s kind of a catwalk that you could easily stroll along if they’d let you. 

Of course there’s a gate and a stern sign telling you not to, but obviously some urban explorer has been in there and done a bit of scratchy graffiti, though frankly it didn’t look like their heart was in it.

And then out of the subway and walking through downtown there was this amazing and fairly alarming statue of a cyclist right in the middle of Grand Park   – part of temporary monument to “fallen cyclists.”

I know we’re coming up to Halloween, and there is a Day of the Dead feel to the monument but I don’t know whether this is an entirely respectful representation of a dead cyclist.  It seems both too spooky and too playful, though I noted that he is wearing a safety helmet.

Then lunch, which is a whole other story, and then the Giant Robot Biennale – which was very cool and full of good stuff – not a vast exhibition but pretty much the right size, I thought.  I especially liked the work of Yoskay Yamamoto – I’m a sucker for art that includes model houses - who had an installation that looked like this:

And I loved the work of Luke Chueh who does paintings like this one, titled Headphones.

To be absolutely honest I can’t quite remember if that picture’s in the exhibition or not, but I include it here because I found it in a website, alongside an interview with Cheuh in which he says this is a kind of self-portrait – he reckons that’s the way he looks as he’s walking around his neighborhood, though without the ears, I suppose.

 Outside the museum there’s a piece of sculpture by Nicole Maloney that looks like a big, mirrored Rubik’s cube, and loads of people photograph it, which usually involves inadvertently or not, taking their own self-portrait.  Being a man who still needs a viewfinder on his camera, and also man who doesn’t really understand the current urge for the selfie – I feel pretty well disguised in this picture.

The other person you can see in there is my pal Lynell George – my lunch companion – and she’s working on a book about serendipity – so of course we were concerned with all things random and accidental – but even so it wasn’t till I looked at the picture afterwards when I got home that I saw that pair of detached legs walking in the reflection.  Serendipitous?  For sure.  Spooky?  Kind of.  Comical?  Definitely.