Sunday, October 31, 2010


Just before the sun went down and the little ghouls and vampires started appearing, there was an intense burst of golden light, making the dead ivy on the trunk of our big pine tree look spectacular, and all the other leaves ("peak," the NYT leaf map suggests) look pretty good, too.   When I first moved to the US I couldn't believe that the Fall was something so chartable that there was actually a map on the weather page that told one whether leaves had yet to come into their full glory or were past their best - but there it was, and is.

But.   I don't think the ivy - which we deliberately killed off - could have itself have killed the pine, could it?   Maybe it's just the dry summer that's making it suffer from needle wilt.   But it doesn't look at all happy, and believe me, the last thing that my check book needs is another tree that needs felling.   And I don't think its demise would necessarily do wonders for Curb Appeal, either (though, admittedly, under such circumstances, a stump is a great deal better than a brittle and swaying trunk).   We will see.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

how long does it take to sell a house

Halloween has hit Highland Park in a big way - and it isn't even the 31st yet.   I have my little bags of miniature Twixes and Snickers etc at the ready, though I'm sure we won't get any callers - they think that we are real witches, living here with our cats, I suspect ...

But this is quite the scariest decoration ... even though factually, this house has been on the market two days less long than ours, one has to admire the sense of black humor that's led its occupants to adorn the For Sale sign with thick cobwebs ...

Friday, October 29, 2010


Believe me, I never feel comfortable going to the hairdressers.   It's no problem in Santa Fe, where Edward runs a one-man salon - but heading off to Princeton, I feel like some kind of battery hen, in an establishment where I am clearly the Wrong Kind of Woman - the rest all come clutching their Danielle Steele novels or their small children who are still in their Hallowe'en costume from school that day.   There was, indeed, one woman wearing a very bright vermillion wig, which she was having primped and coiffeured for its own Hallowe'en appearance.   At least these days they don't plug us all in under huge electric teacosies, as they did to my mother when I used to accompany her.

I think my apprehension about hairdressers goes back to when I was around fourteen or fifteen, and first had an allowance.   Before then I'd been to the hairdresser precisely once, when I was ten, to have my long pigtails chopped off to around shoulder length, and made do, after that, with the dressmaking scissors.   But I thought ... maybe ... I should do something about my hair.   So ... I wasn't going to go where my mother went, in Wimbledon Village.   And the only other hairdressers that I'd heard of was Vidal Sassoon.   So I went, as a walk-in, to Vidal Sassoon's in Knightsbridge, where I clearly was the entertainment of the afternoon for the couple of gay boys who pounced on my meek brown hair.   Did I - asked one of them, when I was inverted, having my hair washed in a basin - did I think that all hairdressers were homosexuals?

Now - for a polite fourteen-year old - what's the right answer?   It was, after all, a topic I hadn't thought about.   I hadn't even imbibed much by way of cultural stereotypes.   "Not necessarily" - or something like it - I said, cautiously.   But oh, the awkwardness.   I was, in any case, as nervous as if I were at the dentist's: they had to tell me to relax so that they could make me bend my neck, turn my head - it was as rigid as Lot's wife turning to a pillar of salt.   I don't think I've felt at ease in a hairdressing salon since ...

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I couldn't believe my eyes: there, in Highland Park this afternoon - in the parking lot where the Farmers' Market is held on Fridays - were three trailers with horses, and carriages done up in Hobby Lobby-style autumnal decorations.   This horse was still in his trailer: two other very handsome chestnuts, with flaxen manes and tails, were tied up alongside.   I was slightly puzzled by them - they looked like Suffolk Punches, but slightly less chunky.   So ... what kind of breed are they? I asked.   Belgian Percherons, came the reply.

That's puzzling.   The horse above, a very light grey, was quite possibly a Percheron.   But Percherons are a breed from Northern France, not Belgium.   I thought, in any case, that one can only get grey and black Percherons - which would rule out the chestnuts - though I've found out that in the US, you can register browns and bays and chestnuts - though not in the UK.   However, the chestnuts looked far more like Belgian - or, indeed, Brabant horses - which are far more common here than in England, for some reason (though they were common enough once - they were one of the three usual breeds of medieval warhorse).  

But - whatever they were - there's a case to be made for an article on transatlantic horses ... I thought that a few years ago with Buffalo Bill's Wild West - and the international enthusiasm not just for Indians on horseback, but for his internationalizing of Cossack horses and riders.   It turns out that the transatlantic history of the Percheron is a fascinating one, too.   In the late C18th and C19th Arab blood was added to the solid warhorse stock (although one theory of their origins is that they were, in any case, captured C8th Moorish warhorses, so they were already Oriental, and later on, more Oriental blood was introduced by the Comte de Perche when he came back from the Crusades).   After the Civil War - which hugely depleted the number of horses here - many were imported to the US, largely from France.   And then in the late C19th, American Percherons were shipped back across the Atlantic, to be used as draught horses to pull large urban buses.   In 1900, 325 were shipped off for the British Army to use in the Boer War...

Somehow it would have seemed a little surreal to have stood in a carpark in Highland Park arguing about European heavy horse breeds.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

cooking for class

I'd promised my Memory class home made cookies ... and because we'd been talking about Food and Memory recently, it seemed only apt to make some cookies that make me think of home - home, that is, meaning my parents' home, the home of my childhood, and all the occasions - wet Sunday afternoons - that I made these over the years I was growing up.   And I have a fail-safe recipe: cream together

2 sticks butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar

add a teaspoonful of vanilla essence

cream in 2 cups all purpose flour
two tablespoonfuls chocolate powder - preferably Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate
and add a handful of chocolate chips

Bake at 350 for 13-15 minutes

... though I'm not quite sure that these are the exact same quantities, because I grew up using pounds and ounces, and talk of cups always has me rushing to the back of The Joy of Cooking.

However.   I didn't exactly plan ... and because of Alice and my self-imposed boycotting of the Highand Park Stop & Shop this year, there was no dashing out.   Indeed, I didn't plan at all ... so confectioners' sugar was replaced by soft brown sugar, and vanilla by some cinnamon and chipotle chili powder, and the chocolate powder was Green and Black's, and the chocolate chips had to be hand carved from a bar of dark chocolate.   So they didn't quite taste like I had wanted - no madeleine factor.  I could have pretended that they were an ancestral recipe, but instead of which I told the class that although I knew where the recipe is written down (in my best nine year old italic handwriting, in a green paged recipe book my mother keeps), I don't remember where it came from before that.   I've emailed my mother to ask ... and have also asked her to write the origin of other recipes into the recipe book, if she can.   Where, for example, did she get the recipe for what I remember as a perfectly delectable butterscotch pudding, even though I don't think I've tasted it for forty years?


Note for Lynn: I only cook for classes smaller than 20!   But yes, you were in a small seminar, and so ... I owe you not just an apology, but, I guess, some cookies.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

an antidote to internet procrastination

I've tried, over the last year or so, a number of those little gadgets and widgets that one can use to stop one accessing the internet when one's trying to get work done (here's a useful list of ways and means).   And then there are other methods, like taking pen and paper into computer-less room (yes, really!).   Ah, yes, and then there are airplanes, so long as one can resist paying for internet access on them.   But here is one of the most effective methods of all: a sleeping tabby cat.   Admittedly LucyFur's presence meant that I couldn't write anything, either - but she didn't look disturbable.

Monday, October 25, 2010

a curious chapter of (non) disasters

Today could have been so different - thank goodness it wasn't ... I woke up with the very, very strong feeling that the lecture that I was due to give this evening in New York - to the Friends of the American Museum in Britain - really wouldn't quite work - it was too academic, not fun enough.   So that meant re-writing talk, and collaging together a power point.   And then, when I was heading off to campus to teach - with precious little spare time - I read on line of the derailment outside of Penn Station.   Nightmare.   Trains running an hour late?  So I apologized, explained, ducked out of class early - promised home-baked cookies on Wednesday - what else, other than graded papers, can I do to make up to them? - and fled at top speed to the railroad station.   If the image above looks gloomy, that's because I had no idea whether or not the rails would ever have a train on them, a storm was forecast, although I didn't realize until somewhere like Metuchen that somehow, in my rush to the station, I'd dropped my Very Expensive Raincoat.   You'd have thought I'd have noticed earlier?

But the train arrived on time, the lecture was pitched just right - I think - and then, o miracle - walking back - at 11.20 at night - there on the grassy bank on the side of George Street, lying limply, like a big dead fruitbat, was my raincoat.   Thank you, o thank you, to the person who put it there, to all the people who didn't steal it, and to all the forces that meant that today didn't implode, as it so nearly could have done, into all kinds of disaster.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

(gypsy) tea parties

This political appeal is posted on the side of Route 1 as one drives away from Princeton.   It turns out to be a slightly odd conjunction of signs - and not just because one might think that Nancy Pelosi overflowing, not draining, the swamp would be something to be welcomed by the large flocks of southward migrating geese that are hanging around this highway at this time of the year.   Sipprelle - on inspection - doesn't seem like the worst kind of Republican: he's a finance guy and a fiscal, rather than a social conservative: indeed, he calls the gay marriage controversy "a semantics issue," which might pass over the heads of some tea party-goers; he thinks that the lead of the chain of command (i.e., presumably, Gates and Mullen) should be followed on DADT; he thinks abortion should be "rare but legal."   A lot of his answers, indeed, come down to questions of semantics, and show him to be a fairly smart fence sitter.

But he certainly doesn't sound like a tea party person: he has a strong Wall Street background, and owns a big investment firm that's the lead investor in the Bank of Princeton, BlogTalkRadio, and Zhena's Gypsy Tea, among other things.   He has the backing - not that this suggests one thing or another, but it's beautifully satirized by the Burger King background - of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, and of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, whom I'd never thought of as taking particularly strong party lines on anything, though for all I know they're in bed with the NRA.   So here's the conundrum: do the most homespun of Tea Partiers support Republicans at all cost, as this badly drawn handmade placard would seem to suggest?   It's been my hope that they mightn't - indeed, that the co-presence of their tactics and that of more moderate, old fashioned GOP members might cause an irrevocable split - but this seems like  some depressing evidence to the contrary.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

what is America reading?

On my way back from lecturing on "Books in Photographs" at Vanderbilt, it seemed only fitting to photograph books.   Unfortunately these are very static books - I was intrigued by the person who asked me if there were any photographs of books in motion.   I instantly started to think (in vain) of photographs of people hurling books in fury or frustration across rooms - though there are probably plenty of Victorian photographs where sitters forgot that the volumes they were holding were designed to help them keep their head or hands still, and turned the page, causing a pale blur.   Or he might have meant books that are inadvertently in motion - that is, they are being held by people in trains or omnibuses (or airplanes).   Or he might have meant mobile libraries - of the kind that used to deliver books to us in rural Cumberland in the 1950s (I was pleased to find this picture of a 1920 Ford - Britain's first mobile library - less pleased to find that in June, Cumbria decided to cut its mobile library fleet from 6 to 3, in order to save eighty thousand pounds a year).

But these books are static - indeed, I was pleased not to see the Tea Party Manifesto, in its tasteful, patriotic cover (rather like a mock-vintage teatowel) move off its shelf - though I have, on this trip, seen at least one woman - an intelligent-looking woman, too - immersed in a volume by Glenn Beck.   I noted its prominently displayed presence, though, with a very sinking heart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

war and memorials

So ... I come out of my Nashville hotel into the warm fall sun, and go for a walk through the golden fallen leaves, first to the war memorial for 1917-18 - a woman holding a dying man in her lap - and then up to the Parthenon (the placards telling one about it, and its dates, showing that I - or rather some spurious internet site - was wrong with its date yesterday: it was later than I thought, being constructed in  1897).

And on its steps was a family group, taking photographs of this young member of the USAF by the side of a flag that they'd brought along.   And she was bubbly, and very very happy, and then made a little speech: "I want to thank everyone for coming ... I'm really excited...I'm really excited about my move to the base ... I'm really excited."   It was heartbreaking.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


The striped curtains of my hotel room perfectly mirror the pillars of the Nashville Parthenon (c.f. Altman's movie) - which was erected in 1876 to celebrate the nation's first centenary.   Ah, all that Greekness - certainly USC is still jumping up and down celebrating the Reign of Troy (probably a good thing that they are taking part in earthquake drills - a quick check shows that Troy VI - probably the one before Homer's Troy - was destroyed around 1300 BC by an earthquake).   This Parthenon was actually somewhat late in the day: Jefferson got the craze going, it would seem, through owning a copy of The Antiquities of Athens, associating Greek architecture with democracy, and then appointing Benjamin Latrobe as surveyor of public buildings in 1803 - who went on to design a whole lot of major Greek Revival buildings - and then Latrobe's pupils continued the fashion.   Sometimes it breaks my heart to think of all those early ideals poured into the country (and yes, I'm saying that whilst acknowledging all the contradictions that were rolled up into the very being of Jefferson).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

flash ...

As an image, taken into the bright Texas sunlight, this might lack a great deal; as an omen before I gave a talk on ... flash photography, this seemed pretty good ...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monumentality and the 1930s

This magnificent piece of Art Deco isn't a power station, but is the Landmark Pioneer Tower above the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth, Texas (and my big sorrow is that I'm not in town for the National Appaloosa Horse Society show this upcoming weekend, when it will be full of spotty horses).   It was built in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Exhibition - it's 208 feet tall.   Alas, you can't see its lit up corners at night from where I'm staying ... (I'm in town to give a lecture and co-conduct a seminar).

I was so very struck by its similarity, in its solidity, to some of the big New York buildings photographed by Berenice Abbott that are on show in an excellent exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum (so much fun C19th US painting! including the Thunderstorm on Narragansett Bay, by Martin Johnson Heade, that has a very jagged streak of lightning cutting open the sky, and that by coincidence features in my talk tomorrow).   The show is called American Modern, and puts together work by Abbott, Walker Evans, and Margaret Bourke-White.   I've always liked the Abbott images of street life and windows, and her fascination with printed notices and prices and the clutter in cheap storefront windows, but here, as well, were pictures of deep New York "canyons" - sometimes taken at very vertiginous angles - that also look very like the kind of images that O'Keeffe was painting in NYC in the 1920s.   But here, this tower just sits up, in a rather lonely way, like a square lighthouse.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Ornamental Cabbage

It's that time of the year again, when that peculiarly American plant, the ornamental cabbage, surfaces.   There have been an overpriced cluster of them on the kitchen table this last week - part of the Staging.   Only today, I noticed that they were wilting, and starting to smell decidedly Cabbagey.   So it was off to Roberts Florals, and back with another slender armful of gerberas and carnations and other things that might possibly last the week.

In my fantasy world, the phone would have rung around 10.10 this morning, with yesterday's repeat viewers anxious to make an offer.   By around 9.59, I'd already planned, in my head, that they would want to be in by Christmas, and I'd make a celebratory car trip westwards with the cats the moment I finished teaching.   By 10.30, I'd decided that this couple must be living, still, in the age of Mad Men, and I was waiting for the Husband to make the crucial phone call to the realtor during his lunch hour.   By mid-afternoon, I'd convinced myself that they were talking to their bank this afternoon, to make sure that getting a mortgage was going to be a breeze.   By this evening ... oh, the narratives one weaves oneself in this whole house-selling business.   You'd have thought that I'd have garnered enough experience over the years.   At least this house isn't known to my friends - with warped affection - as The Crumbler.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


yes, it's the elusive Bitzi - courtesy of the Photo Fx app on my iphone, which makes her look suitably elusive.   But here she is - a rare sight - glaring at me when I woke up this morning, so I just about had time to reach for a photographic instrument of torture before she moved.   At least she's one item that no house viewer is likely to catch a glimpse of: she self-declutters.

So ... did today's repeat viewers like 113 enough?   I will be listening nervously for the ding-dong chime that I have - with a decided degree of irony - assigned to the realtor's number ...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

light shining

I've been writing a different version of my lecture on flash photography and lightning today - one which tries to tackle it from a transatlantic perspective, which proves to be bizarrely hard - since flash photography, and its language, was very transhemispheric - photographers didn't seem all that much to be in competition with one another, as they were when it came to late C19th art photography, say, or even over technical excellence at the time of the 1851 Great Exhibition (the jury, in giving the photography prizes to the Americans, remarked, sniffily, that it was small wonder that the quality was so good - the atmosphere was so much less polluted over there).  

But I've also been reading Jane Brox's Brilliant.   The Evolution of Artificial Light, and learning, among other things, about the harnessing of electricity to make light (and yes, I remember when I was three, living briefly at Knorren Lodge, in Cumberland, which still had oil lamps.   Online, I find I could buy its derelict outbuildings and turn them into holiday cottages for a mere 395,000 pounds - more than I'm asking for this house! and even though they may be Grade II listed buildings, just look at them now!   I remember when they had hens in them ...).   I am so glad that the brilliant, weird C19th scientist couldn't properly explain electricity, even though he was fascinated with it from an early age ...

     Now, I must tell you of a strange experience which bore fruit in my later life.   We had a cold [snap] drier than ever observed before.   People walking in the snow left a luminous trail.   [As I stroked the cat] Macak's back, [it became] a sheet of light and my hand produced a shower of sparks.   My father remarked, this is nothing but electricity, the same thing you see on the trees in a storm.   My mother seemed alarmed.   Stop playing with the cat, she said, he might start a fire.   I was thinking abstractly.   Is nature a cat?   If so, who strokes its back?   It can only be God, I concluded ...

Friday, October 15, 2010

best feet forward

These are in the window of Martin's, a largely Hispanic-serving store in George Street, which has all kinds of different very cheap things, from hardware to electronics to velvet pillows.   I tend only to go in there if I want keys cut - for a grumpy man does them very efficiently and cheaply - but I'm always looking around me convinced that there might be a bargain if one looks closely enough.   That way madness lies, and I'm worried I've inherited a gene from my father, who's just discovered the Pound Rite, or similar, in somewhere like New Malden - something like a marginally upmarket 99 cent store.  

This window full of shoes, though, had me thinking about my hypothetical course on color (which will most certainly include an article I read earlier this week - Oliver Sacks on a painter who suddenly found himself color blind, and everything that this tells us about where the color-making properties of the brain are located).   And this, in turn, has me gazing panic-struck at the USC course numbers, for I'm meant to be coming up with some courses before Monday - which would be easy enough, if only they fitted somewhere.   Does British Literature really stop in 1945?   Surely not ...  I feel like a rather shy, pink nosed rat, just starting to sniff at a very complex maze.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Ah, I love the Polaroid app on my iphone ... Doubtless I could tweak this in Photoshop and return it to something approaching natural coloring, but no way am I embarking down that normalizing route.   This has rendered the inimitable Cheryl Robinson into a true 60s icon.   Did the USA have Thunderbirds?   Does anyone know whom I'm talking about if I mention Lady Penelope, driving the bright pink FAB 1 ?   If not, I feel lonely.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

copper bowl

Doubtless our realtor would class our latest acquisitions under the heading of Clutter, but we love the two small copper bowls that we've brought back from Minnesota - the right kind of size for paperclips, or spicy pumpkin seeds, or flash memory sticks (those were the days before I discovered DropBox, which I now use as my main means of file transfer - and very efficient it is, too).   These bowls were made by Patrick Shannon at the Forest Edge Art Gallery, in Vergas.   Our innkeeper told us about his big copper plates - but it was the end of the season, and there didn't seem to be any plain ones around.   What did impress, too, were his inventive sculptures in the sculpture garden outside - on lawns, nudging up against one of Otter Tail County's 1,058 lakes.   These included some big, big bowls that can be used as planters: he stages them on top of sturdy, but twig-shaped supports, and in downtown Vergas (if one can use that language of a tiny, tiny conurbation), there's a lovely recent memorial to the innkeeper's mother that's made out of these, with plants just starting to fade with the fall.   I'm not sure how heavy one would be to FedEx to California, but, one day, I might well investigate this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

locked out

Truly, one doesn't want to return from Minnesota (or for that matter, from Rite Aid in Highland Park, say - but Minnesota makes it worse) to find that one's locked out.   More precisely - I arrived (from speaking at UM-Morris) on a flight that preceded Alice's (speaking at St Olaf's), and had enough time to do some admin and put some vegetables to roast in the oven before heading off to meet her train from EWR.   And then.   The cylinder spun.   We were stuck.   We couldn't get in again.   The smell of roasted vegetables was becoming increasingly carbonized.   I don't know what we'd do without our friend and contractor Pat (that is, I guess that I do know, and it would involve Highland Park police, and be neither pretty nor cheap), who wonderfully came round with a very large wrench, and saved the day.

Yes, that solid chunky thing on the door is a lock box.   No, the house hasn't yet sold.   Yes, the porch floor has been re-done.   But the overall effect, in the dark, is rather like the suburban house in Richard Marsh's totally creepy 1897 novel The Beetle.   There might be anything sliding around in the gloom.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Opposite the guest house cum faculty club cum luxurious ranch house that I'm staying in that belongs to the University of Minnesota-Morris is a greenhouse, and a curious domed building that turned out to be a  tropical plant house, with tall ferns and palms and a whole gang of cheerful tropical finches flying around.   In its small and perfectly formed way it acts as a kind of synecdoche for the University as a whole - which couldn't be a more different kind of state institution from Rutgers if one had sat down and invented it.   Essentially it's a liberal arts college, 1,812 students, in the middle of agricultural eastern Minnesota - and I'd never have known about it if I hadn't been invited to give their annual Barber lecture, and had thus been given a chance to spend time with both faculty and students today, and come to see how very happy the students are.   And they showed me the horse barn!   And the original site was a Native American boarding school, so there's all that side to its history, too.   I'm so lucky - these are a great few weeks coming up for academically inflected travel ...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

morning in minnesota

Really, waking up this morning was so beautiful - this should pass without comment.   If you look very closely, there's a big V of migrating geese in the center - probably heading down for all those fields that border Route 1.   But Minnesota heading into winter reminds me so much of Rod Stewart's "Mandolin Wind" - from Every Picture Tells a Story, released May 1971, with its lines "Oh the snow fell without a break / Buffalo died, by the frozen lake" - except.   But.   When I check the lyrics, that long remembered line is a mis-remembered line - it's "Buffalo died in the frozen fields you know / Through the coldest winter in almost fourteen years ..."   "By the frozen lake" would be much more romantic, and would rhyme.   I wish my memory had been right ...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

keeping warm in minnesota


Although the temperature was in the mid-70s today, one imagines that the cold here in NE Minnesota is responsible for people knitting little scarves for flagpoles and lamp-posts, and small hats for the knobs at the ends of street benches, in the tiny town of New York Mills - an old Finnish settlement.   Or maybe not - but the town does seem to have a thing about knitting.   There was a large knitted stars and stripes in the window of the Cultural center.

The perfect bed and breakfast not only delivers wonderful breakfast (local maple syrup on the French toast with local sausage), but delivers a cat - called Steinway - and a little bowl of cat food, too.

And the scenery is quite stunning.   This is Otter Tail Lake - so beautiful that I inverted the picture, so that one gets it twice over ...

Friday, October 8, 2010


Just about nine miles up the road from where I'm staying, in a quite exquisite small B & B overlooking Spirit Lake, is the little town of Pelican Rapids.   Through this runs the Pelican River, and overlooking the falls themselves is the largest plaster pelican I have ever seen.   (That's unsurprising - a quick google search tells me that it's the largest pelican sculpture in the world.   And I though that it was only Australia that went in for this kind of thing).  And here are some more pelicans painted on a wall, which, in turn, belongs to an artificial windmill.   Happily, there's only natural wildlife to be seen from our own tranquil balcony - and stars, and more stars.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

realtor photography

There was, of course, a certain inevitability that I'd end up taking the photographs of 113 that will be going up, any moment, on and elsewhere.   I think that our realtor is going out to buy a wide-angle lens, now that she realizes that, yes, one can fit in more of a room, and make it look decidedly more spacious, through using one.   But it's such a strange business, putting one's house on the market - much more performative than in England.   And ours seems to grow builders dust and spawn little clumps of cat fur every time that we turn round.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


When is a hat a hat?   To be sure, I placed this cotton bag (decorated with rather stylish lobsters on the outside, spots inside) on my head in class, very briefly, to demonstrate that it was a hat - in other words, we could draw little pieces of paper out of it ...

I'm perennially scratching my head for new ways to get discussion going.   The "come to class with three questions that you really want to ask about the reading for today" exercise is as good as any - often much better than supplying reading prompts myself - but the problem is how best to get those questions out there.   Driving in today I hit on a new method - get everyone to write out their questions on separate pieces of paper, together with a quotation that related to that question.   Place pieces of paper in hat.   Get one person to draw out a question.   Discuss.   Person whose question it was gets to pluck the next piece of paper, and so on ... it worked not too badly, in that I felt that it wasn't my voice going on and on, for once ...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

(fine) diner

I've never exactly got into the culture of the New Jersey diner, but I might have to make an exception in favor of the Skylark Diner, up on Route 1 in Edison (which also doubles as a bar and restaurant in the evening - we may have to try that, too).   But we were there for breakfast - a very tasty take on huevos rancheros, for my part - which was (mercifully) not nearly as substantial as its NM counterpart, or I mightn't have moved again for the rest of the day.   My breakfasting companions had an excellent looking mediterranean frittata, and "a little bit of everything," which indeed involved eggs and pancakes and a sausage and bacon - I think everything would be recommended.   Next time I'll try and remember to take my camera with me to the Ladies Restroom - diner architecture looks spectacularly good reflected in the curving aluminum surface of a hand drier ... The whole place may be aiming at a vintage look, but in fact it was designed by Morris Nathanson, and has been open only since 2006 ... it's bright, and fluorescent, and very much like Route 66 comes to New Jersey.

Monday, October 4, 2010


And after the de-cluttering - mostly accomplished, apart from some of the farther reaches of the basement - comes the Staging.   Most prominently, this involves the strategic placement of pots of chrysanthemums - a flower that I always regard as depressingly funereal, even when pink - on the front steps, in the back yard.   Plus flowers on tables.   Plus - oh, well, we're never going to get Emmett to clean up his grey derelict lumpy fur appearance.   At least the other cats are likely to hide under beds.   Officially, the house is listed from tomorrow - but it's anybody's bet whether it will sell in a month, or sell in six months, or whether we'll be looking to rent it out at the end of the academic year (I pray not that) - or or or.   At least it seems to be the only house of its type currently on the market in Highland Park ...

Sunday, October 3, 2010


It was only when a pastor asked us  - at the end of tonight's candle-holding vigil for Tyler Clementi - to go home and bear witness to the fact that we'd been there that I got out my camera.   Not only did it seem inappropriate to do so earlier (although, of course, there was an aesthetically hungry part of me that saw all those serious faces illuminated by candle light, and found the possibility a tempting one that had to be resisted), but the vigil itself was continuously orchestrated, in a low key way, by the clicks and whirs of shutters and camera  motors, and by the slow progress of television camera men.   This, of course, was in addition to the unmistakable background vrrrrooom of the Rutgers buses, and the occasional clatter of a skateboarder.

How many does it take to make a crowd?   Two hundred?  Three hundred?   I'm not sure how many were there tonight: it was a respectably large gathering, but one would have wanted many, many more - it seemed strange and disconnected that there were students sitting fifty yards away at Au Bon Pain and getting on with their evenings, drinking coffee and chatting on their cell phones and maybe studying - let alone all of the others who were just generally strolling around College Avenue.   This made the vigil seem more like the strong showing of a special interest group - whereas one would have wanted it to be spreading out down College Avenue in all directions.   I needn't have been worried for a minute (as I had been) about getting a parking space.   I was so very delighted to see Richard McCormick, Rutgers's President, there - he has quite admirably made all the right moves and pronouncements in all of this (though I couldn't help but be amused by the fact that amid all of our white tapers, he had two solid Rutgers Red candles - does Old Queens keep a special stock of them, or had he made a special trip to Michael's?).   So I was simultaneously very moved by the fact that we could turn out, solemnly and thoughtfully, as a community for this occasion - but wanted the crowds to be huge, disappearing out of view, full of people angry, saddened, but determined to forge a better world.   Sometimes, though we think we've come so far, compared with thirty or forty years ago, it also seems that we have far too far to go.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


The Squirrels of Highland Park are particularly busy at this time of the year, digging holes everywhere that you don't want them to.   I put out some birdseed earlier this morning, and this squirrel spent a good part of the morning swinging on the supposedly squirrel proof bird feeder and trying to make it spill on the ground - a noisy business, since that involves a leap from a swinging wind chime.   Since I was going back and forth, back and forth to the garage with boxes and boxes of things destined for Goodwill, and dislodging the squirrel, briefly, every time, it must have had a very active morning.

And then, in the afternoon, the quintessential Highland Park sight scampered across the road: a squirrel with a half-eaten bagel between his teeth.

Friday, October 1, 2010

another dilemma

I am deeply, deeply getting to dislike the verb "to declutter."   What to do with this vase?   On the surface, it's a poor candidate for retention: it's been so badly looked after over the years that its dust-encrusted surface flakes off if one so much as touches it.   I completely blame myself here - I first, when I didn't know any better, kept it on a window ledge in the sun, and that baked and crackled the glaze.

But ... but I like the color and patterning so much (so far as there still is color - ironically, it photographs better than it looks).   And above all ... I bought this for - was it four, or five pounds? - with my first real academic pay check, in 1980, from a junk shop (and I mean junk shop - I wouldn't dignify it with the name of Antique Shop) in Bristol.   Oh, I suppose that owning up to such sentiment means that it's not heading off to Goodwill ... but I need to find what I can possibly coat it with - can I coat it? some kind of fine varnish? to stop it flaking and peeling any more ...