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.

Monday, May 21, 2018


I was walking up Beachwood Drive, which leads to Beachwood Canyon, and used to give pedestrian access to the Hollywood sign, although currently it doesn’t: the neighbors complained - they had a point.  Not that this deters people from driving up there for a “good look” at the sign.

This is, in many ways, absurd. The sign is visible from miles around, and was in fact designed so that it could be seen from Wilshire Boulevard, which at its nearest point is six and a half miles away.

And, of course, tourists always think that Los Angeles is a kind of theme park and so they stand in the middle of the street and take pictures of their friends or themselves with the Hollywood sign looming behind them.

And the most annoying thing of all, nobody ever runs them down, much as I will them to.

Still there are sights to be seen on Beachwood. Obama still rules up there:

And there are Simpsons-esque amusements:

And best of all this house, which admittedly does reinforce the theme park idea, not quite a ruined castle, but close, and I guess it’s being refurbished.  

And I do wonder if they’re going to keep that hell’s mouth arch (or possibly porte-cochere) - though I suspect that may make the place harder to sell.  It reminds me of the l’Enfer Cabaret (the Surrealist met there occasionally) on Boulevard Clichy, a street I have certainly walked down a few times over the years, though I gather l’Enfer has been a Monoprix supermarket since 1950 or so, which would explain why I never saw it.

And it also reminds me of this mouth at Bomarzo (the Park of Monsters) where I still have hopes of walking one of these years.

And now, and obviously this is the actual inspiration, Mr. Matthew Licht send me this image of the facade of the Biblioteca Herziana, the German Academy, on Via Gregoriana in Rome.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


I recently interviewed the Los Angeles-based photographer Mike Slack for the British Royal Photographic Society.  Inevitably a certain amount of our conversation ended up on the cutting room floor and some of that concerned walking.  
Mike is creating a series of books with the overall title Walking in Place, in which he walks around various cities, photographing what he sees.  The first book featured New Orleans.  This is a spread from the book:

Perhaps inevitably, we mentioned psychogeography in our conversation.  Now, I’ve learned from experience that when you mention psychogeography to most civilians their eyes just glaze over, so that was one of the first things to be cut, but since I imagine readers of this blog are made of sterner stuff, here’s how the exchange went:

GN: I see that notions of walking, maybe psychogeography, pop up in your work.  Can you say anything about that? 

MS: The aimless wandering aspect has always been a really fruitful method for seeing new things and making new pictures. An increasingly important part of it for me is the randomness, just rolling the proverbial dice and ending up somewhere and zeroing in a specific scene, a picture, at whatever scale, which always seems to link somehow to another specific picture from another time and place, and so on, all of the pictures somehow connected. I don’t know if that’s strictly a psychogeographic approach, but the “game” aspect of it is really appealing, using playful methods to tune into your immediate surrounding, and letting chance dictate the content or pathway. 
Here's Mr Slack with an image that appears in the New Orleans book: 

And here's the link to the RPS interview:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Perhaps you saw, a couple of weeks back, an obituary for Ninalee Allen Craig, who died in Toronto at the age of 90. If the name isn’t immediately familiar, one photograph of her is very famous indeed.  It's generally known as "American Girl in Italy."

It was taken in 1951 in Florence by Ruth Orkin.  The two women were staying in the same cheap hotel, and Orkin was working on a piece of photojournalism about American women traveling alone in Europe.  She enlisted Craig (who was known at that time as Jinx Allen) to be her model.  The end result appeared in Cosmopolitan the following year. Some sources say the title of the piece was, “When you travel alone … tips on money, men, and morals,” others say it was “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.” I’ve not been able to locate the interior of the Cosmo in question and look inside, but I think it’s this one:

         Of course the very fact that single women were being offered advice about traveling alone in Europe in 1952 is some indication of female freedom and independence, even if it was surely a minute number of women who actually did it.

The Orkin photograph seems easy enough to interpret from our current perspective: an attractive single women can’t walk down a street in Florence without being hassled by lecherous Italians, although in fact the magazine caption rather contradicted that.  It read, “Public admiration . . . shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.” Well …

In later interviews Ms. Craig also felt the picture showed an essentially benign interaction. “Women look at that picture and feel indignant, angry,” she said. “They say, ‘That poor woman. We should be able to walk wherever we want to and not be threatened.’ As gently as I can, I explain I was not feeling fear. There was no danger because it was a far different time.”

No doubt it was, but there are other issues here too, I think.  The image may not strictly speaking be “staged,” but some of those men certainly appear to acting up for the camera.  But the real problem is the expression on Jinx Allen’s face.  She looks at best uncomfortable and pained, and at worst frightened.  And this too may be put on for the sake of the picture – but that only reinforces the problem.  Was she actually feeling comfortable but the photographer asked her to look pained for the sake of a good picture?

         I don’t know, neither did I know until very recently that there’s a whole bunch of other pictures by Ruth Orkin that show Jinx Allen being a solo tourist.  And the fact is she doesn’t look very comfortable in most of them, but again whether this is “natural” or a pose I can’t tell. 

You can see some of the other pictures for yourself on this website run by Ruth Orkin’s daughter:

Monday, May 14, 2018


Laura Kipnis is an interesting writer and I think an interesting character, the author of Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, about the moment when Liberalism becomes Stalinism, a contrarian perhaps, though most of what she writes makes pretty good sense to me, but that’s probably an argument for another time and place.


       Her appearance on a blog about walking, and I realize I’m a bit late on this, is because of a headline I saw on the Sun website that read, “LABOUR PERV - Minister ‘stuck his hand up young woman’s skirt 10 minutes after they met’.” Say what you like those tabloid guys, they know how to write a headline.

The young woman in question is, of course, Laura Kipnis, and the Sun refers to an article she wrote for the Guardian, part of which reads as follows:
“The culprit was a future MP and Europe minister, the friend of a friend. We were in a group of people heading into a restaurant, and this guy, later to become so politically illustrious, who was walking behind me, and whom I’d met maybe 10 minutes before, reached forward and goosed me.”

Goosing is a curious word, isn’t it?  It sounds kind of friendly and innocent, although I suspect that if you’ve ever been bitten in the bum by a goose you might think otherwise. 
Kipnis continues, “By goosed, I don’t mean he touched me on my butt, but in my butt, through the thin skirt I was wearing. I turned around and glared at him – I was young, jetlagged, and confused. Was this customary in Britain? What he’d done felt humiliating. I turned ahead and resolutely kept walking, whereupon he did it again.
“When I say things turned out well, what I mean is that he later went to prison. The ostensible reason was for cheating on his expenses, but I like to think it was cosmic justice for his crimes against my person.”

The best line here of course is the question “Was this customary in Britain?”  And I wonder how different things might have been if goosing had been an old British custom.  Would that have made it OK?  I don’t think so.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


I was walking in Culver City (named after its founder Harry Culver), not a place I go very often, and usually I’m there with a purpose that doesn’t leave me with much time on my hands, but on this occasion I organized things so that I had time for a bit of a drift.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and a lot of the time I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at.  I know for example, that this thing below is part of Sony Studios but I don’t know why it’s all wrapped and Christo-ed up like that.

And I assume these giant dishes also have something to do with Sony but lord knows what, and I’ve never seen anything like them on an ordinary city street before.  I kind of liked them, unless of course they cause cancer, which I'm sure somebody says they do.

And I definitely had no idea who Saint Rita of Cascia was. 

Turns out she was born Margherita Lotti, and lived in the late 14th and early 15th century in Italy. She was a victim of spousal abuse, then a widow, then a nun, and in 1900 a saint, at which point she was given the title Patroness of Impossible Causes.    Sounds good to me.  She’s also known among some believers as a patroness of abused wives.  
And no, I don’t know if there’s a person lurking behind that shopping cart, but there very well might be.

Oh yeah and don’t ask me why any dentist would call their business Picasso Smile:

You see the problem?

And currently one of great sights of Culver City is a very large hole, which is in fact best viewed from the Metro station platform.  

This will be Culver Steps - a huge development featuring 65,000 square feet of office space, and 45,000 square feet of commercial space - I'm not sure I absolutely understand the difference, but I'm sure there is one – Amazon are moving in.  

There’ll also be, apparently, a 10,000-square-foot staircase leading to a 10,000-square-foot plaza.  It will be, and needless to say I’m quoting here, “a walkable urban hub.”  Why does that make me feel so weary? 


Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Some of us LA urbanists like to complain about the lack of public space.  Yes, there are parks – Griffith Park being the main one – 4,210 acres – and it’s a fabulous resource, and of course there’s MacArthur Park op cit, but it’s not the same as those little, unspectacular, out of the way parks I know in London (and to a lesser extent in Paris), places where you can go and read a book or eat your lunch or just sit and think, or not think.

A couple of weeks back I found myself in the Bank of America Plaza, in downtown LA - it's the green rectangle in the photo above - formerly Security Pacific Plaza - and the very name encapsulates all the issues. It’s public space in the sense that anyone can walk in there and nobody stops them, but it’s obviously not part of the public weal because it’s got the Bank of America’s name on it.

Even so, on a Friday afternoon, when there’s a farmer’s market with food stalls, it seemed a pretty decent place to hang out for a while and have something to eat, a break from the Nicholsonian drift.  There’s grass, places to sit, a nice water feature, and you get a million dollar view of the Bonaventure Hotel.

I bought my lunch from the Happy Inka: Peruvian food, you won’t be surprised to hear.  I had the fish and rice plate, and yes, I did have to dig around in order to find the fish.

It went down pretty well and then I went home, and for most of Friday night it came up – and down – from both ends, and I took to my bed for most of Saturday. I can’t absolutely swear that it was the Peruvian fish that was the cause – I ate other things as well that day - but the next time I’m offered Peruvian fish, the memory (which is coming back strongly as I write this) will definitely make me hesitate.

         Researching matters later I discover that the Bank of America Plaza is where Richard Gere wanders barefoot in Pretty Woman – a movie I’ve never been able to face watching – though I often feel as though I have seen it.

And that got me thinking of Barefoot in the Park, the Neil Simon stage play turned into a movie with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.   She’s a free spirit, he isn’t, though in the end he becomes one, and he walks barefoot (and indeed drunk) in New York’s Washington Square Park as a sign of his newfound free-spiritedness.  In this picture Jane keeps her shoes on.  The cops look on.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


As I walk around Hollywood, I still see a few patches of open, undeveloped land. It’s been a wet spring and they’re still green now, in early May.  Of course, as the building bubble continues to stretch and inflate, I think, “Well, that won’t be there long much longer.”  And I'm generally right.
And as I look, and sometimes take a picture, I think to myself, there’s an art project here – "The last patch of green in Hollywood."  It isn’t a project for me but it definitely could be for somebody.

For instance, there used to be a patch of bare ground on Franklin Avenue that stayed empty all year and then each December some local entrepreneur rented it and sold Christmas trees from it.  This was recently paved over and it’s now the staff parking lot for Gelson’s supermarket. I don’t know what will happen come December.

And a couple of days back I was looking at a patch of land on Hollywood Boulevard, empty and still with a few remains (rather than ruins) of whatever had previously been there. 

As well as some greenery there were also, naturally, piles of rubbish, although you can see worse piles of rubbish in this city, in pretty much any city.  There was even this surprisingly stylish, abandoned bra (although maybe it's half a bikini):

And as I was taking these photographs I heard a woman shouting, “That’s right.  Take more pictures.  Take more pictures.”
         She sounded annoyed although not specifically with me, and she did, in some sense, mean what she was saying.
“Take more photographs and send them to the mayor,” she said, with passion rather than anger.  “I’ve written to him but it does no good.  Maybe he should see some pictures.”
         So we talked, and she said that this empty lot had become a hangout for homeless druggies, hence the garbage, though it was uninhabited at that moment.  She lived in the apartment block next door and she thought this lot was disgusting and dangerous, and you could definitely see her point.  Sympathy with the homeless doesn’t necessarily mean you want them as immediate neighbors.
And then she said, “Ah well they’ll be building there soon,” which was undoubtedly true.

Not very far away, in a corner of a newly built apartment block, I did find this patch of green.  It’s a (very, very small) dog park.  The “grass” is Astroturf.

Monday, April 30, 2018


Maybe you saw this recent walking story.  It was all over the news this weekend. It’s so remarkable, so improbable, so “good,” that it’s hard to believe it’s true, though nobody seems to doubt that it is.

Jacob Cartwright, aged 22, (that’s him above) set off in his tractor trailer on Tuesday, to deliver a truckload of potato chips from Portland to Nyssa, in Oregon, a 390 mile trip according to Google maps, through snow, intending to make the delivery by 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.  And he went missing.

         There was a land and air search, which failed to find him.  After 4 days Cartwright’s wife went home from a meeting with local officials about the search and found him sitting in their house.   He’d been walking.  He’d walked home. He told his wife he was “hurting real bad” and she took him to the hospital.

Almost certainly not Jacob Cartwright's truck, but it's from the company he works for.

The story Is that he punched the wrong address into his GPS and so it sent him up the wrong road. He became aware of that sooner or later, and he had the GPS recalculate, but then it sent him up a forest service road which started out paved but then became dirt and so the truck got stuck.  Cell phone service was patchy and in any case his battery had died, so he got out of the truck and started walking to his home in La Grande, which at that point was about 36 miles away.

He walked without any food or water from just after midnight Wednesday and kept going, wading through snow at some points, and by Saturday morning he was near enough to La Grande, to hitch a ride to his home.

         I’m well aware that people can go long periods without food, but surely he needed water.  He could have drunk the snow, I suppose, but apparently he didn’t.  According to his boss Roy A. Henry, owner of Little Trees Transportation, “He was so dehydrated that his kidneys stopped functioning.”  On the other hand, the nursing supervisor Danita Thamert at Grande Ronde Hospital said, “He looks to be pretty good. He’s a big boy. He kept moving and stayed warm enough. So it doesn’t look like he’s going to have too many injuries.”

And the punchline: despite having a truckload of potato chips he didn’t touch any of them. According to Henry again, when he asked Cartwright why he didn’t take some potato chips with him for the walk, Cartwright said, “That’s worth money. That’s the load I was hauling and I didn’t want to damage the property.”
         The man’s a walking hero, though I don’t think he’d be any less of a hero if he’d taken a few bags of potato chips with him for the walk.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


Somebody’s been making art in my neighborhood and leaving it in the street, which I think is not quite the same as making street art.  So far, I’ve only seen it on Franklin Avenue but it’s perfectly possible it’s elsewhere too.

Some pieces look more skillful than others, some more crazy than others.  Some
of it seems kind of paranoid, and potentially offensive, and possibly racist, but at this point in art history who knows whether lack of skill, craziness, and offensiveness aren’t just artistic strategies.  Quite a few people were walking by as I was taking these pictures, but nobody paid any attention either to me or to the art.

Of course much of Hollywood, like the rest of the Los Angeles, perhaps like the rest of the world, continues to be demolished and rebuilt at a frenetic pace.  There are plenty of ruins and building sites, and some structures that look like both simultaneously.

And some new buildings require the digging of deep holes that will eventually become subterranean parking garages. Do note how “nature” is still coming up through the ground – though that won’t last long.

Some short sections towards the eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard remain much as they were when I first arrived in LA, over a decade and a half ago, even as things change all around them. There are at least three old school motels, which remain in business and you imagine may be kind of sketchy - the yelp reviews are mixed.

 The Harvard still offers in-room “adult movies” but you suspect that may be just a retro affectation.   The whole place looks a movie set and may well be used as one.  

 The Hollywood Dowtowner, a place I’ve photographed a few times in passing over the years, is certainly my favorite from the outside, and I was quite cheered to see these guys below working on the neon sign.

I guess they knew what they were doing – they certainly had a very big truck, but I did wonder if they really needed those high visibility yellow vests.  When you’re 30 feet in the air in a cheery picker, people are going to see you with or without a fluorescent jacket.