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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


The Japanese have a word for it, apparently.  Hanyauku:  the act of walking on tiptoes across warm sand.

The illustration is from Anjana Iyer’s “Found in Translation” series - words that have no direct English equivalent.

Perhaps a Japanese speaker can tell me, do they have a word for walking in pain on really, really hot sand that burns the soles of your feet?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Life being what it is, right before the atrocities in Paris last week I’d been reading Luc Sante’s The Other Paris, in which he says this about Paris:
“It virtually demands that you walk its length and breadth; once you get started it’s hard to stop.  As you stride along you are not merely a pedestrian in a city – you are a reader negotiating a vast text spanning centuries and the traces of a billion hands …
“The great text of the streets was given voice by those relentless walkers who were also writers.  Many of the flâneurs were compulsively garrulous types who played the city the way they’d work a party, (or perhaps in the case of Restif, like a pervert at an orgy).”

He’s referring to Restif de La Bretonne, of course, and Sante’s book sent me off reading and researching many things, among them Restif de La Bretonne’s  - Les Nuits de Paris,  a preposterous book in many ways, in which our hero walks the night streets of Paris, encountering and surviving all kinds of vice, tut-tutting about it, but also recounting it in salacious, lip-smacking detail.

Also, more or less randomly, if there’s really any such thing, I’d taken out of the college library, William Eggleston’s Paris, which is full of good stuff like these, pictures no doubt taken while walking the streets of Paris:

Paris is indeed a place where the visitor inevitably does a lot of walking and takes a lot of photographs, and I do believe – i.e I’ve said it in print, and in person to a number of photographers, including Martin Parr, and nobody’s ever called me on it, that Paris was the place where the first ever picture of people walking was taken: this one by Charles Nègre.

It goes by various titles, but “Chimney Sweeps Walking” is good enough for me.  It’s generally dated 1851/2.  More to the point, I think it’s actually a posed photograph, and the people are standing still, not actually walking, otherwise they’d be a complete blur.
         Still, I don’t doubt that people in Paris as still walking and will continue to walk, and perhaps to pose, regardless of the danger and the horror that’s thrown at them.

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.