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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I was walking in Miami at the weekend.  I hadn’t gone there to walk, and I can’t imagine that anyone ever does: it’s the heat and humidity you know, and on one day the rain, and the howling wind that made the palm tress flap like the hair of a lead singer in a certain kind of grindcore band. 

I was there for the Miami Book Fair, yes I’m “big” in Miami, and I wasn’t the only big thing.  Take this tennis ball for instance:

And the giant plant pots below.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Pot of Basil” in the Decameron: high-born Isabella falls in love with Lorenzo, one of her brothers' servants. The bros find out, kill Lorenzo and bury him. Isabella digs him up, cuts off his head and sticks it in a pot of basil.  With plant pots like this you could accommodate the whole corpse.

Even the street art was big, especially this thing on the side of the Ace Hardware store. 

It’s an ambitious work to be sure and it can’t have been easy to work at that scale, but obviously there were some problems with the feet.  Painting feet is hard.

And did I walk among ruins in Miami?  I most certainly did, sir.  Not just this gas station:

 Or this elegant crumbling wall, which was probably my favorite:

But especially I walked around the ruins of the old Miami Herald building.

Yes, there were a few fences and some parts of the ruins looked very unstable, but there wasn’t much to deter even the most casual urban explorers. 

And anyone would be encouraged by this sign posted nearby:

If that signs means what I think it means, it appears that you can walk through the ruins to your heart’s content right up to the moment when a cop tells you to stop.  Can that be right? And I didn’t see a great many cops policing these ruins.  But there on the water front, I did see this unambitious but apparently heartfelt graffito. 

Given the liberality of the no trespassing sign this didn’t seem like much of an achievement, but maybe it was something much worse that someone had not been caught doing.  Hey, I know what goes on in Miami - I’ve seen the TV show.  And just in case you were wondering, no,  I didn’t see anybody walking around Miami who looking anything like this:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


A couple of days ago I picked up my old copy of Don DeLillo’s The Names which I read a long time ago, and had only vague (though positive) memories of.  I did know that it was set in Athens, and if I’d been forced to guess I’d have assumed the Acropolis featured in there somewhere since it’s pretty hard to write a novel set in Athens that doesn’t mention it.  I found this picture of DeLillo, sort of walking, though I'd guess some way from Athens:

In the years since I read The Names I’ve written a book titled Walking in Ruins, and how I wish I’d thought of the DeLillo novel while I was writing it.  It would surely have been worth a mention and a quote.  And now, as I open it again, I find this on the very first page:

“For a long time I stayed away from the Acropolis.  It daunted me, that somber rock.  I preferred to wander in the modern city, imperfect, blaring.  The weight and moment of those worked stones promised to make the business of seeing them a complicated one.  So much converges there. It's what we've rescued from the madness. Beauty, dignity, order, proportion. There are obligations attached to such a visit.
            “Then there was the question of its renown.  I saw myself climbing the rough streets of the Plaka, past the discos, the handbag shops, the rows of bamboo chairs.  Slowly, out of every bending lane, in waves of color and sound, came tourists in striped sneakers, fanning themselves with postcards, the philhellenes, laboring uphill, vastly unhappy, mingling in one unbroken line up to the monumental gateway.
            “What ambiguity there is in exalted things.  We despise them a little.”

Between my first and second years at university I went to Greece for a chunk of the summer.  I’m no longer really sure why.  I had some vaguely hippie acquaintances who were living on the island of Samos, and they said I should stop by and see them, but I think they were mortified when I actually showed up.  This was well over a decade before I read, or DeLillo wrote, The Names.

And while I was in Greece, and particularly in Athens, I did do a lot of walking, and I certainly saw a lot of ruins, and I can’t say I found them utterly gripping at the time.  But unlike De Lillo’s hero I did happily walk up to the Acropolis. I think I walked up there more than once: I wasn’t sure what else to do in Athens.  The description of handbag shops and discos seems accurate enough, though I definitely didn’t wear striped sneakers.

And on one occasion while I was there at the Acropolis a man came up to me with a fairly serious-looking movie camera, which was not a common thing at the time, and he put it in my hand and asked me, in very broken English, if I would film him walking among the ruins, walking towards the camera.

I said sure.  I was thrilled.  Unlikely as it now seems, I had some ambitions back then to make movies, though this was the first time I’d actually held a movie camera, and the man showed me the basics of how to operate it, and I asked him if he wanted to me to do anything fancy, panning or zooming or tracking or whatever.  And he said, “No.  You hold still.  I come, I go.”  So I did, and he did, and if this were a novel there's be some exciting second act involving ruins and doctored movie film and international men of mystery.  But in real life we went on our way without any further contact.

Inspired by rereading Delillo I dug out some old slides taken on that trip (seen above and below), and what do you know, it seems I took a photograph of the man before or after I’d filmed him.  I’m left wishing I’d mentioned this in Walking in Ruins, too.

Monday, November 17, 2014


And speaking of streets, in a generic sort of way, here is a wonderful/terrible poem by one Hamish Beamish, titled “Streets”

Grim, relentless, sordid streets!

Miles of poignant streets,

East, West, North,

And stretching starkly South;

Sad, hopeless, dismal, cheerless, chilling


The poem and Hamish Beamish are the creations of PG. Wodehouse in the novel 1927 The Small Bachelor, a novelization of a 1917 musical, “Oh, Lady, Lady!” although a quick look at the cast list of that musical reveals no such character as Hamish Beamish.

Elsewhere in the novel Molly Sigsbee tells her father about a wedding proposal she’s received.

        "Well, anyway, we walked around for a while, looking at the animals, and suddenly he asked me to marry him outside the cage of the Siberian yak."

          Hilarity, of course, ensues.