Los Angeles

I find it difficult to render my experience of Los Angeles into words. I kept wondering whether it was a place at all. As an image it seems to work best in panoramic – doesn’t stand up to close inspection. The lights of Sunset Strip are hypnotic from the Hollywood Hills – low-rent and grimly gauche from the ground. I found Downtown like a colony where the poor, mishapen, the pedestrians are contained – isolated amongst the tall buildings – ghosts of the city’s beginning. But now I’m running out of adequate words so I’ll hand you over to Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

Walking through Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown LA

“The ordinary practitioners of the city live ‘down below’, below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk — an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.
The walker, through her/his everyday practices of life, resists the organizing power of both the gaze and the map. The city is produced every day, inscribed with her/his journeys, journeys that create the city but ‘elud[e] legibility’. “
Michel de Certeau, ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’ (1984)

I wonder what de Certeau would make of Los Angeles, a city (or federation of cities) where walking is considered aberrant behaviour. Can a city be produced by daily car non-journeys. The contrast when I went to Downtown the other day was palpable – the fact of poverty, of diversity in body size, of people conducting the usual transactions of city life – walking from place-to-place, the possibility of random encounters, the ability to narrate your own transit through the space. These are things absent from the rest of the city that I have seen.

Christine Keeler’s first drive to Cliveden

I’m currently reading Christine Keeler’s autobiography, ‘Nothing But’, and was intrigued to read her description of her childhood home in Wraysbury, “a couple of converted railway carriages” that backed onto a river.
Stephen Ward turns up there unexpectedly one Saturday after he’d met Keeler at Murray’s Club in London where she worked as a dancer. Ward then whisks her off for a drive to his weekend cottage at Cliveden and the seeds were sown for what was to become one of the biggest political scandals of the 20th Century – the Profumo Affair.
This is the route that they most likely took from Wraysbury to Clivenden that first time. I very pleasant drive I should imagine.


Recently stumbled upon this forthcoming publication by Phil Smith – Mythogeography.
Phil describes it thusly:
“The book takes the form of a documentary-fictional collection of the internal documents, diary fragments, letters, emails, narratives, notebooks and handbooks of a loose coalition of artists, performers, ‘alternative’ walkers and pedestrian geographers. All Illustrated in full colour by Tony Weaver, who designed the Wrights & Sites’ Mis-Guide books.

The fragmentary and slippery format recognises the disparate, loosely interwoven and rapidly evolving uses of walking today: as performance, as exploration, as urban resistance, as activism, as an ambulatory practice of geography, as meditation, as post-tourism, as dissident mapping, as subversion of and rejoicing in the everyday. ‘Mythogeography’ celebrates that interweaving, its contradictions and complementarities, and is an attempt at a handbook for those who want to be part of it.”

I first came across Phil’s work via Wrights & Sites he’s written some key work on the practice of walking. These two essays are particularly good
A Short History of the Future of Walking
Dread, Route and Time: An Autobiographical Walking of Everything Else

Mythogeography is available from Triarchy Press