L.A. Walk

Fairfax Ave – a strip of vintage clothes shops
Fairfax Ave
Silent Movie Theatre – getting ready for Halloween
Corner of Fairfax and Melrose looking towards Hollywood Hills
“In the early 1970s, the Improv was the hippest room in town, possibly in the world”
View across the basin from Sunset Boulevard
First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills
beneath my window I hear the the parking valets chattering in Spanish


Landor’s Tower on Sunset Boulevard

Went wandering this morning and ended up in Book Soup Bookstore on Sunset Boulevard.

The first book that caught my eye just inside the door was Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. I took this as a sign to have a further rummage.

I held Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon in my hand for a while – it has a nice feel to it – but eventually put it back.

I flicked through the pages of Mike Davis City of Quartz but with only two days left in LA I can’t see me cramming much of this opus of Los Angeles cultural history into my still jet-lagged head.

On my third circuit of the shop, at the back, on a bottom shelf in a dark corner where the discount books are hidden, I find Iain Sinclair’s Landor’s Tower, priced $4.98. It was meant to be. The book genie had led me here to one of the few Sinclair works I don’t already own.

I purchase the book (along with a copy of Knoedelseder’s history of the golden era of 70s stand-up in LA – partly as a momento of the brilliant team of comedy writers I’ve been working with here).

Back in my room, now, I open Landor’s Tower at the page where the shop assistant has placed a bookmark – a message from the book genie will possibly emerge from the page:
“The world had been stood on its head: landscape was a scum of dancing particles, rocked in a soup bowl.”
A description of Los Angeles and a reference to the shop where the book was found.

Never lose faith in the book genie.

Mink City Journals

There is a small red suitcase in the cupboard under the stairs that has been following me around for just over 10 years now.  About half-way down the pile of papers inside are the journals that I scribbled down long-hand in the kitchen of a large house in Via Morane, Modena.

They call Modena The Mink City, due to its wealth derived from a proud Ducale heritage and its association with companies such as Ferrari (my landlord baked the celebration cakes for the F1 team), Lambourghini, Ducati and oddly, Tetra Pak. Most people know it as the place where balsamic comes from, but the thick sweet gloopy liquid that is drizzled over lumps of parmesan in the bars of Modena is a far cry from the thin acidic industrial balsamico de modena you buy supermarkets here.

I find one of the most powerful experiences of place is the way that it unlocks and colonises the imagination. You may be walking along a workaday street but sometimes you are in a different era or location altogether. Almost every Sunday a part of me returns to Modena at some point; why Sunday? I don’t know.

I don’t think I’ll ever publish the manuscript that I cobbled together from the journal entries now – it’s messy and inconsistent – too full of spleen, a necessary ally as I struggled to adapt to life in a prosperous, conservative northern Italian town and about to turn 30 wondering where I was heading in my life. But there are bits that I love, so I’ve decided to share them here – maybe a blog would have been the best place for these ramblings if that had been around at the time.

The journals start eleven years ago in October 2000. Here’s a fragment that I pulled semi-randomly.

I watch the late night football show on TV – my unofficial Italian teachers. Reggina go 2-0 down at home to Brescia and it all kicks off – seats get ripped up and thrown on the pitch, bottles lobbed, the lot. When they go 3-0 down it goes ballistic and the game has to be abandoned 6 minutes before the whistle.
There’s violence as Napoli lose 5-1 at home to Bologna. The police wade in wielding batons, crowd scattering across the half-full stadium.
A player in Serie C is punched in the tunnel after a game by a member of the opposition who he got sent off. His head hits the marble floor and he falls into a Coma. If he dies, the player could be charged with murder.
Football hooliganism seems so un-Italian. It’s ugly, organised, in-yer-face.

Sunday morning riding around on my bike all seems well with the world. Light mist over the streets, groups of families wander around in their Sunday best carrying bunches of flowers. Incredible roasting and baking smells gathering in clouds around the backs of restaurants.
I try in vain to find somewhere to watch the Liverpool – Everton match. After a circuit of the town I stumble upon the public gardens with the Civic Gallery in the middle, occupying what my guidebook tells me was the Summer Palace of the Este.

Lock up the bike and wander into a small exhibition of contemporary photography. Thoughts of football recede, the white walls erase the outside world. I’m all alone in the space, left to summon up images of summer balls and aristocratic garden parties. The gallery is a haven within a haven, the gates to the gardens close out the town, the paths lead you through the shrubs neatly laid-out in geometric patterns to the glass doors of the gallery which bathes you in warmth, light and visual curiosity.

I leave in the dusk heading to the other branch of the Civic Gallery for the continuation of the exhibition this time attended by a small smattering of well-healed middle-aged types and the young alternative-arty set. I move amongst them, like a spy, hoping not to get found out as an interloper, not here so much for the photos as just to be there, in company, observing them, classifying them into groups so that I can understand this society. I imagine them variously as teachers and students, parents and children, members of the gallery, frequenters of the same bar, inhabitants of the artist quarter, the intelligentsia.

I move through them and away as discreetly as I entered. Down the steps into the courtyard of brisk late-autumn air. Out into the streets, clanking away on my machine so antiquated it could be a velocipede, Cinema Cavour catches my eye with its poster for Ken Loach’s ‘Bread and Roses’. Modena is a City of Cinemas; the streets are littered with them. The Raffaello, Michelangelo, Astra, Nuovo Scala, Metropol, Principe, Olimpia, Splendor, Capitol, Arena, Embassy, Film Studio 7b, Cavour’50.  Shining brass door fittings, lush red carpets, purple velvet curtains draped across the entrance. They taunt me with their programmes of dubbed films.

I’m tempted to go into the Cavour to catch Loach’s latest but I know the novelty will wear off soon enough and I’ll regret spending the 12,000 lire on a sentimental whim. Instead I move on to the Embassy, the least attractive cinema in Modena, where I was told they had films in English on Wednesdays. I pop one their tiny fliers in the back of my notebook anticipating the screening of The Wonder Boys in three days time.

To Piazza Grande and the cavernous Duomo di Modena. The amplified sound of a service going on in a brightly lit lower chapel like a ghostly echo bouncing round the walls jumping out of the bricks every now and then when the priest raises his voice; “Recreatione!” These spaces were built to house god himself and the ceiling here seems to stretch up to heaven forever trapping the breath and whispers of medieval minds full of superstition. I came in mainly looking for a carving on the Porta della Pescheria, showing King Arthur fighting Modroc.

Emerging out into the thick mist hanging over Piazza Grande, floodlights marking the farside, military cadets in uniform manifest from the mist draped in cloaks with swords swinging at their sides.

Around the back of the Duomo I find the door I’d been looking for, hidden away in a narrow passageway. A tingle of excitement. A piece of English mythology carved into the walls of this majestic Cathedral by 12th Century stonemasons. It feels like a secret. An indulgence by craftsmen who’d laboured away their lives making into stone the word of the church. In this dark recess they’d strayed from the gospels, King Arthur and the adulterous Guenevere showing the clergy the way to Avalon.

I buy a Guardian from the Giornale on via Emilia just before they shut; it’s the Saturday edition and should get me through the cold evening in my room. The woman behind the counter asks me if anyone had won out of Bush and Gore. I said in bad Italian that I hadn’t read the paper yet, then glancing at the headline of “Allies tell Gore to back down” and wondering how on earth to express that in Italian I say “Nessuno vinto”. The husband looks up, “Sempre loro vinto!”. “Exactamente,” I reply and I almost have a real conversation in Italian for the first time.


Suburb-hunting in Modernist Metroland

SPB Mais

“To the believer in the influence of the environment – and I am certainly one – it comes as something of a shock to discover that what we are pleased to call the suburban outlook – that is, the narrow outlook of the stereotyped – is shared by the owners of castles in the Cheviots and studios in Chelsea, and is actually rather rare in the suburbs which are supposed to engender it. The truth, I thought, must be that the suburbs are not quite so uniform in character as they are made out to be.”

This is the opening to a chapter on the London suburbs in England’s Character by SPB Mais (1937). I keep coming back to Mais – I think he is one of the most resonant forebares of this art of wandering around and recording your thoughts about what you have seen. That must have been why I took this book down off the shelf this evening.

Mais’ ‘suburb-hunting’ started out in Harrow with its gasometers and he praises North Harrow for a “surprising moment of courage in building a series of dazzling white flats with green tiles, recessed balconies, multitudinous glass, and terraces fronting a communal public unfenced garden.” Sounds like he’s describing the now Grade-II listed Pinner Court designed by local architect HJ Mark and completed in 1936 at the time Mais would have been writing the book.

Pinner: Pinner Court, Pinner Road (Nigel Cox) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Large chunks of Pinner and Rayners Lane have now been placed in a conservation area to protect its modernist and art deco inspired buildings and streetscapes – and it seems that HJ Mark was at the centre of this suburban Bauhausian outpost, particularly in Eastcote Town Centre.

This makes me wonder whether Mais, a self-professed ‘man of the hills’, was in fact a closet modernist, further evidenced by his belief in the influence of the environment it re-enforces my vision of this tweedy BBC radio presenter of Microphone At Large as a proto-psychogeographer. Was he drawn out to Harrow to discuss the modernist project with Mark and take a topographical ramble through the dreamscape that Marks had created in the Harrows and the Weald.

More modernist wonders of the suburbs can be seen on the brilliant Modernism in Metroland website.


Occupy London LSX Sunday 16th October

Headed down to Occupy London Stock Exchange earlier today to see what was going on. I was partly drawn in by the public reclamation of the sacred pagan spot of Ludgate Hill. The Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral had given the protestors the right to congregate on the Church land around the Cathedral. The adjacent private property of Paternoster Square was heavily defended by riot police. After some poetry and megaphone rants people broke off into small discussion groups to work out what was trying to be achieved. I filmed one group and their deliberations – all very clear headed and well-informed, no old-school Marxist-Leninist theory or anarchist vitriol. You can read the final statement that was produced on the Occupy LSX website



Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Swandown

My sister Cathy Rogers took this photo of Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair enjoying a well-earned pint beside the river Medway as they make their way along a series of inland waterways from Hastings to Angel Islington in a Swan shaped Pedalo. The project is called Swandown and had already began to garner a mythic status before they plonked their vessell in the water in late September – two of our great topographers on an epic crazed quest – I’m just waiting for Joblard to emerge from the Medway mist.

There’s more info, pictures and video on the Swandown website http://swandown.info/