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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


It being a Sunday afternoon, I combined my afternoon drift with a visit to Skylight Books to see Lynell George read from her book After/Image.  And to get a signed copy, of course. Lynell George is a flâneuse, a pedestrienne, and above all a woman who walks and looks and takes photographs and writes about it.  Also an Emmy winner.  Cool.  

As is the way of these things, I opened the book at random and found a reference to Dorothy Parker describing Los Angeles as “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.”  This is apparently a well-known sneer but I’d never heard it before.  You’d think I would have.  And as, Lynell says in her book, some of us don’t think that’s such a terrible thing.  One of the 57 books I regularly think about writing but probably never will is titled In Defense of Suburbia.

I’ve been trying to find the source of that Dorothy Parker quotation, and as far as I can tell there isn’t one.  Adrienne Crew president of the LA Chapter of the Dorothy Parker Society and a tour guide says in a blog post, “I am asked on a regular basis if Dorothy Parker actually said that Los Angeles is ‘72  suburbs in search of a city.’  The answer is...probably not. 
“The quote has been attributed to Dorothy Parker but it's really a paraphrase of Aldous Huxley's bon mots found his 1925 book, Americana. He wrote that Los Angeles was "nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis" and he was probably quoting someone else who initially said Los Angeles was seven or six suburbs in search of a city. The witticism expanded from there. At times it was attributed to H.L. Menken, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker.  Most likely it was Mencken who used the phrase in an essay published in the April 1927 issue of Photoplay magazine after visiting Los Angeles for three weeks in 1926.” 
         And yes, it does sound like the kind of thing you might say after three weeks.

I don’t know if Dorothy Parker got around much when she worked in LA but the only places she lived were Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, thereby leaving her some 70 suburbs short.  This is her, perfectly nice suburban bungalow on Norma Place.

But I did wonder about the basic premise:  just how many suburbs are there in LA?  Wikipedia has a “List of districts and neighborhoods of Los Angeles” which numbers just under 200, but by no means all of them are suburbs. “The Old Bank Distrct” for instance is just the area where the banks are in downtown, and therefore part of the “urb.”  And some of theplaces I’ve never heard of such as  the “Platinum Triangle.”

As a local, I could probably tell you the difference between Hollywood, East Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Hollywood Hills West, and Hollywood Dell, though I’m sure you wouldn’t thank me for it, and suburban though they may all be, I’m pretty sure they don’t constiture four separate suburbs.  Still, with bit of casuistry, I think you probably could identify 72 distinct and separate suburbs in LA, if that’s your pleasure.


While I was in the bookstore I saw this intruiguing volume by Ed and Deanna Templeton titled  Contemporary Suburbium.   The suburbian in question is Huntington Beach, and the book is one of those concertina jobs and I was tempted to but a copy, but I had already spent my book dollars for the day.  Next time.


Some of the suburban stuff I saw on my walk looked like this:


And this – Jesus and the Gnomes (which could easily be the name of a band from Huntington Beach):


And I couldn’t help thinking they were raising expectations a little too high at the Dresden:







Monday, March 19, 2018


So here’s another thing that happened.  I went to the see the newly refurbished Beverly Hills Cactus Garden (note for pedants, it’s more correctly a xerophile garden – there are plenty of plants in there that aren’t cacti).  

Also, as I remembered it, it wasn’t a place that was likely to benefit much from refurbishment – surely the whole point about cacti is that you just leave them alone and let them do whatever it is they want to do.  Still, it was a walk, even though I knew it wasn’t going to be much of one, since the place just isn’t very big.  


The real joy of the Beverly Hills Cactus Garden, refurbished or not, is that it’s a chunk of desert that sits right there alongside Santa Monica Boulevard – the old Route 66 – you walk among the opuntia and the pachypodia as the traffic flies by.


You know me, I can look at cacti all day, every day, but once you’ve walked back and forth a few times you’ve pretty much “done it.” If you think, oh maybe I’ll sit on a bench and soak up the vibe for a while, well you’re out of luck.  There are no benches and although you can sit on a wall, you’re not going to be comfortable lingering for very long.  This is no doubt deliberate. I suppose they want to keep out the riff raff, the homeless, and in fact just about anybody with time on their hands.

And so being in need of a bit more of a walk I took a stroll around the neighborhood.  I always say that I'm surprised they even let me in to Beverly Hills.  And I saw a house with a fabulous patch of color in front of it, with a gardener standing in the middle of what turned out to be a sea of flowering ice plants.

I took a picture and the guy saw me, and he shouted to me, quite cleverly I thought, “Hey, am I doing something wrong?”
And I said, “No, looking at that garden I’d say you’re doing something absolutely right.”
This both amused and wrong-footed him.
“Because the other day,” he said, “I was working, and this guy from the power company came by and he took my picture with his phone.  And I said to him, ‘Hey, why did you take my picture?’ and he said he hadn’t taken my picture but I saw him take my picture.”
         He seemed more indignant about being lied to than about the picturing-taking itself.
So I said, “Well yes, I suppose I did take your picture but really it was the garden I was photographing.  It looks fantastic.”
And of course since he was the man who looked after the garden, he was obviously pleased and flattered by this, and of course I did actually mean it, and also from the way I was talking I was obviously not threatening.
So we had a conversation about gardens, and he said the ice plants didn’t usually flower at this time of year, but there’d been rain and then a very hot spell and this had confused the plants and they’d burst into flower.  Usually July and August were the times when those particular ice plants looked their best.

I said I’d like to come back then and take another picture and he said, “If I’m here and you take my picture I’m going to want paying.”  I said I thought that sounded very reasonable.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


I’ve been seeing articles much like the one below for pretty much all my adult life.  Yes, high heels are sexy, yes most men like to see women in high heels, yes quite a lot of women like wearing high heels, but we know that they’re bad and wrong, unhealthy, symbols of sexual oppression and whatnot.

A stroll along Hollywood Boulevard on a Friday or Saturday evening would suggest that not every woman in town has got the memo, but obviously this isn’t really a walking issue.   Nobody wants women to walk miles in their high heels, it’s enough just to strut across the floor and perch on a bar stool.  It’s enough just to slip on the Jimmy Choos and pose around in the boudoir.  I know that human sexuality is a savage garden but even so I find it hard to believe anybody ever asked a woman to pose around the boudoir wearing sneakers.

And now as fate would have it Gal Gadot has become the new face of Rebok.  According to her Twitter feed she’s "pumped."  Apparently $10 million dollars is changing hands.

On the other hand, when Gal Gadot is at an event celebrating “the power of women,” different imperatives apply.  It's a minefield, isn't it?

Oh, and I did come across this while digging in the archive for something completely different, a quotation from Alexandra Schulman of British Vogue, "If god wanted us to wear flat shoes, he wouldn't have invented Manolo Blahnik" although if you ask me I think Manolo may have lost his mojo in recent days:

Sunday, March 11, 2018


When I first read The Big Sleep back in England, back in the day, I must certainly have read the passage below, but just as certainly I must have skimmed over the term "porte-cochere."  As follows:

     “There was dim light behind narrow leaded panes in the side door of the Sternwood mansion. I stopped the Packard under the porte-cochere and emptied my pockets out on the seat. The girl snored in the corner, her hat tilted rakishly over her nose, her hands hanging limp in the folds of the raincoat. I got out and rang the bell. Steps came slowly, as if from a long dreary distance. The door opened and the straight, silvery butler looked out at me.” 
(“Silvery butler” is just stupendous, isn’t it?)

When I moved to Los Angeles I reread the Chandler novels and I remember it was time to get serious, and so I looked up porte-cochere.    Merriam Webster offers two definitions:
     1: a passageway through a building or screen wall designed to let vehicles pass from the street to an interior courtyard 
    2: a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles.

      I guess it's an American thing, and I think the latter is more common - you’ll find version at thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of American motels.  However if, as many people think, the Sternwood Mansion is based on the Greystone Mansion (aka the Doheny estate), then it’s more likely to be the former, though of course the two things aren’t mutually exclusive.  Here’s the porte-cochere at Greystone, through which I have walked:

I’d have thought the term was fairly rare in British architecture although Wikipedia offers this image of the one at Nottingham station - though I'm not at all sure that anybody in England would refer to it by that name:

You know, off hand, I can’t tell you whether a porte-cochere appears in the Bogart movie of The Big Sleep, but anyway, here’s a picture of Martha Vickers – the snoring girl, here fully awake, with the silvery butler in the background.

     So, the reason I mention this now is because the other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills where, compared to the rest of LA, there isn’t so very much building and redevelopment going on.  But there was one lot where a house had been demolished and a new one was being built.  And there was this sign on the fence describing the project as a “NEW 2 STORY SFR WITH PORTE COCHERE” (SFR stands for “single family residential” – keeps out the riff-raff).

I knew I was out of my comfort zone, and I'm also pretty sure you'd have to go a very, very long way in England before you saw a sign like that.