Drifting and striding 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.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


For the last seven years or so I’ve lived in Hollywood, at the very eastern edge, where, if you were a realtor, you might argue was actually part of Los Feliz, but you’ll get no such argument from me.

Naturally, Hollywood is where I do most of my walking. The fact that I live within easy strolling distance of Hollywood Boulevard, and even Sunset Boulevard, still gives me a bit of a buzz on certain days.

You can’t actually see the Hollywood sign from where I live, but any time I go walking in the neighborhood I’m guaranteed to get a sighting, although a lot of the streets around here have triangular, yellow warning signs that say “No access to the Hollywood sign.” But this is just a provocation. If THIS street here doesn’t have access, which street does? Simple answer, no street gives real access, in the sense of being able to go and examine the sign. Once you get within reach, all manner of cameras and warning sirens (and for all I know SWAT teams) swoop into action.

I don’t altogether understand why I feel so affectionate towards what is really a fairly crass and ugly bit of lettering, but a lot of people evidently feel the same way. As I write there’s a nail-biting end to a campaign to buy the land the sign is on and add it to Griffith Park, and preserve it for all eternity. Maybe we won’t need it quite that long.

Hollywood, of course, is a real place, not just a theme park and tourist attraction: a place with real gas stations, grocery stores and hospitals, but the moment you put Hollywood in the name of your business it becomes somehow different, less serious. Maybe that’s because Hollywood has become an adjective as well as a proper noun, so that to describe something as “Hollywood” is to condemn it as falsely glamorous, borderline sleazy, vaguely meretricious. This isn’t so bad if you’re running a nail salon or a jeans store or restaurant, but it still strikes me as a bit of a liability if you’re running, say, a dialysis center.

Of course I don’t only walk in Hollywood, I walk wherever I happen to be. I’m particularly enamoured of the cold, damp melancholy of the English seaside for instance, though I don’t get there very often.

The photograph above was taken in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. You might argue they haven’t got the typeface quite right, but that would be nitpicking. Even here in East Anglia (not quite Joseph Conrad and W.G. Sebald country, but near enough) the name Hollywood still has a currency and the resonance. To be able to walk there on a daily basis makes me feel oddly, and no doubt meretriciously, glamorous.