Saturday, March 31, 2012


It's a wet Saturday night in Los Angeles, and I'm sitting at my desk catching up with Tasks, and doing some teaching prep.  So this is what I see if I turn my head - I can't even be bothered to rise from my chair and go and hunt down, say, a live cat.  I've been appalled, speaking of cats, to find that H. G. Wells's The Invisible Man (yes, the Invisibility course has just one month to go) has, in Chapter 20, a dreadful example of Cruelty to Cats.  The Invisible Man - before he's invisible - practices on his landlady's cat, and reduces it, in visible form, to its claws, and to the tepitum, the pigment at the back of the eyes.  So when he strikes a light, "there were just the round eyes shining green - and nothing round them."  It would have been fine if it had been allowed to escape through the window, and Wells had left the matter there, but the IM narrates a follow-up - "It was alive four days after, I know, and down a grating in Great Tichfield Street; because I saw a crowd round the place, trying to see whence the miaowing came."   Indeed.  I've now lost sympathy with the IM. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

waiting room

Out of yesterday's travel lemons, I made the lemonade of getting my car serviced, at very long last.  I wouldn't choose to spend my time at Lexus of Glendale - unlike other places where the car's been serviced over the last nearly five years, this one doesn't have a quiet room.  But at least it now has a quiet *space* for those of us who want to wait and work rather than driving a loaner car around for a day.  Even the pair of children waiting with their mother were remarkably quiet ... a pair who looked straight out of the 1960s, apart from their electronic toys.  They even had the long faces and haircuts to go with the period.  I normally have the flash on my iPhone turned off - the better for clandestine people-snatching - but this time, I'd forgotten, and I was so glad - the expression of startled faint outrage is far, far better than anything that I could have posed.  To be filed under the category of "flash: aesthetic advantages of."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

the travel that wasn't

No leaving on a jet plane for me, today.  I arrived at LAX to go - not to New Mexico, as my state-loyal baggage tag would suggest, but to Charlottesville, for a day's meeting tomorrow.  Only my flight was, apparently, so very delayed that I wouldn't make the connection in Chicago, and so they'd rebooked me for tomorrow.  Not much use, when I was traveling to a one-day event.  So I pleaded in my best pathetic and eloquent manner, and had the cost of the non-refundable flight refunded, and slunk back to campus, where I felt (next Tuesday's H. G. Wells class reading doubtless has something to do with this) every bit the Invisible Woman.

What's shattering to me is how much I found myself angst-ridden and bereft at having two days' worth (today and Saturday) quiet airplane space snatched away from me (o.k., I was also crowing at having snagged upgrades for the two big legs of the trip), let alone the quiet of a hotel room.  It's not that I don't enjoy being at home; and it's not that I wasn't pretty upset at missing friends and good discussion, too.  And it's not that I haven't just been Away.  But I so enjoy the cocoon of traveling (even if the flights had had wi-fi, I would have pretended to myself that they didn't), whether to get work done (plenty of that), or to read (my latest download, Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works, is particularly compelling, even if I've learned that my best ideas come in the shower not because of something mysterious involving water ions, but because I'm relaxed, so my right brain works more flexibly and happily).  There is, of course, a moral in all of this, but I wish that I hadn't taken this way of discovering it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

the blank page (in memoriam, Adrienne Rich)

Whilst this works, in a stand-alone way, as a beautifully reference-less abstract placard standing outside Taper Hall, it also signals, for me, sad silence.  I'm so glad that I got to meet - if very briefly - Adrienne Rich, and to have dinner with her before she read at Rutgers two and a half years ago.  I've never reposted a blog entry before, but here's the picture that I took of her that evening, and what I wrote in homage then.  I don't have anything more that I can say, apart from feeling so extraordinarily sorry that someone whom I admired so much, and whose writing taught me so much, is no more.


to Adrienne Rich, who read at Rutgers this evening - or more precisely, read at Douglass College, where she taught for three years in the 1970s. For me, one of the highlights of this evening was being privileged to be at a small dinner party there, with Rich and others reminiscing about this time - which, in turn, reminded me very strongly of the women's college background in Oxford where I was a student around the same time. Rich read both from her last volume, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, and (which I liked better - more of the terse, angry, committed, poignant voice that I so strongly associate with her) some new poems. But this photograph, for me, is spoken to by a line in the first poem of Telephone about "Secret codes of skin and hair". Although I've ended up posting a relatively conventional portrait (book-signing, although one could always pretend that this was her engaged in a more imaginative form of composition), I spent some time cropping and wondering about posting little segments of forehead and hair, of ear-lobe and neck - in other words, the quiet, unnoticed private areas of a person: not what one would focus on if one were talking to them; not what one would oneself (I imagine) focus on if one were looking in a mirror, but parts of a person that are both public and exposed, and yet, because unregarded, often surprisingly, disarmingly, intimate (like looking at the back of someone's knees). And yet, to be playing around with facial segments in this way felt surprisingly invasive, as though the picture of the body part was somehow far more stolen than commemorating the public, performative face.

I was, it goes without saying, absolutely overwhelmed, grateful, and overawed to meet someone who's been such an inspiration - in human, intellectual, compassionate, justice-seeking, feminist, poetically-moving terms ever since I first read her, way back, indeed, the 1960s - though I didn't know then, of course, how much everything that she was to go on to write was to resonate round and round my consciousness, and how influenced I would be by her passionate commitment to memory, history, seeing, and feeling.   [September 23rd, 2009]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

signs of spring

And here we have the cacti in front of our front door beginning to sprout.  Although they aren't exactly nopales, I think that they're edible - we've seen a little old lady breaking them off and gathering them before now, although I can't say that the gas fumes of Hoover St. can have made them particularly delicious.  Still, I guess they would count as organic.

Ah, organic.  Tonight's sad, sad news is the demise of our local eatery in Eldorado - or just outside Eldorado - Real Food Nation (I know that there are others of you who will mourn it, too).  This served quite excellent organic and ethically sourced food: salads and soups and sandwiches; cakes and coffee and posole and lasagna and burritos and and and.  They grew plenty of their own vegetables and herbs on site.  More recently (indeed, all of this has been chronicled here) they opened The Supper Club, in the next door building, which served up some wonderful dinners.  So what happened?  So far as one can tell from the Santa Fe New Mexican - too little experience; too little tight financial control (but why did they keep expanding? why launch The Supper Club? why, just this last fall, extend the kitchen?); too many people working for them (one wouldn't necessarily say this if they hadn't, on occasion, conspicuously had the world's most daffy service); too few customers (ah, recession).   RFN has become so much a part of our lives and routine - it was so conveniently there; felt so much like the local community place that it was - that it's hard to take on board that it's no more.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

the benefits of an early start

include the post-storm vistas: grey and exotic at the same time, without revealing that there are any hills behind this.  I drove up to the top of the car park especially to see what version of the view the damp and chilly morning offered up, before heading over to English to do an early morning Skype defense (congratulations, Jacob! and it was excellent to see a couple of RU friends in virtual form ...).  So early, indeed, that English was all shut up, and I had to scurry over to my Art History office.  Swivelling the computer to show the view out of the window couldn't give anything like a sense of what the morning really looked like: maybe I should have sat and done the defense in my car ...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

st pancras

Since we traveled back from Paris to London by train, and since we had to catch the Piccadilly line to Heathrow this morning (only this morning?  seems like a very long time ago), how could we resist the temptation of a night in the renovated St Pancras hotel.  Here's the main staircase; our room overlooked the interior of the station, or at least the part that's now been turned into a bar.  I was last here some seven or eight years ago, photographing it in all its ruined and dusty internal decay: the architecture's just as ridiculously grand, but I have to say (and much though I admire all the reconstruction), I did rather like its earlier faded and peeling moodiness.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

last morning in Paris ...

Last walk by the Canal St Martin ...

Last view of Paris reflected in the panes of different kinds of glass in the windows of a glass store ...

Last bit of street art - vachement drôle ...

... and can't wait to come back again: it's been too long.

Friday, March 23, 2012

exhibiting fashion

... although, to be honest, we didn't go to this particular show - I just couldn't resist the Art Nouveau nymphete posed between two latter day figures on the outside of the building.  Instead, it was the Berthe Morisot exhibition in the morning, and in the afternoon the Beaute Animale one - just opened - that stars everyone from fluffy white cats to hippos to Henry Moore sheep.  In between, and around, that, so much delicious eating that it's a good job that we'll be heading home soon ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

the streets of Paris ...

Another canal view, this time at night - with illuminated panels under the revolving bridge (indeed, this morning, we had the treat of seeing the bridge revolve, and let a barge into the lock behind it).  This evening, all the banks of the canal were lined with La Jeunesse drinking wine and beer and eating pizza, in what really is a wonderful and laid back neighborhood.  We, ourselves, were walking back from everyone's dream neighborhood bistro, La Philou ...

... having had a pretty wonderful day: coffee and croissant in a quiet back street a couple of blocks back from the canal, with blossoms in the courtyard of the old hospital behind; some good exhibits at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie (especially the hand-colored portraits by Yousef Nabil); a picnic lunch in the Luxembourg gardens; the Artemisia Gentelleschi show (so many different versions of Judith beheading Holofernes); catching up (sigh) with the day's admin, and then out to dinner.  Somewhere in this we passed a real large scale street artist, thus firing me up for my keynote at the Dickens and Visual Culture conference later this summer on Dickens and C19th pavement artists - a bigger, fatter, more thoughtful version of my NAVSA talk.  I doubt, though, that I'll be able to say much about 2012 Parisian chalk representations of Georges Brassens ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

canal st martin, again

... and, facing the canal, it's a shop front.  An old cafe front, now a shop front.   Indeed, as street art goes, I think that it even beats Silverlake.  

If I wasn't falling asleep, I'd write more about a conference about les annees '68, the counter culture, and Alice's excellent paper, at Nanterre, a former Hotbed of Radicalism, which today looked much like any new university anywhere, apart from the fact that - alas, no camera at the ready - there was a small flock of dark grey sheep being shepherded round the lawns.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

canal st martin

... and here we are in a new area of Paris - new to me, at any rate - courtesy of Alice's conference: the Canal St Martin (seen here at dusk, with a slick greasy sheen on the canal's surface).  It's just like Silverlake - hipsters, and homeless people rustling through the recyclables.  I'd write more ... but A had the computer ... her paper, now finished, is early tomorrow!

Monday, March 19, 2012

two meals

Ah, lunch ... and dinner ... Lunch at Le Trumilou, on the Quai de l'Hôtel de ville - where I've been eating for more decades than I dare think, and where, happily, nothing much has changed (dandelion salad, and some roast suckling pig and gratin dauphinois off the menu), apart from, alas, the absence of the large fat feline (presumably deceased a long time back), whom I always used to think of as the Trumilou Tabby.  And then, much later, dinner chez nous in the hotel - after extensive (but successful) research to find a cheese store open on a Monday - Marie-Anne Cantin, at 12 rue du Champ-de-Mars, next time you need such a thing.  Throw in a hunt for the hotel where Alice's mother and grandmother stayed in the late 20s, and the Eiffel Tower (seen from underneath, not above), and, given that there was paper-writing and admin  thrown into the mix, it was a pretty good day.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

regarde le ciel

... though if one did any regarding of the ciel at all today, one saw that it was deep grey, and sometimes raining.  The only consolation was that it was even colder in Los Angeles - and with fewer distractions, quite probably (despite the marathon) - distractions like seeing teams of fireman practicing making the water coming out of their heavy and hard to direct hoses go where they want it to.  Luckily the Seine provides a good testing ground for novices.

As ever in Paris, I walked and walked - we walked and walked - and only took the Metro to head out to dinner and back.  But the Metro has changed!  It doesn't smell the same (have they changed the brake fluid?  How long has there been a smoking ban?  Do people no longer pee down there as often as they used to?) - and the tickets - when did they stop being yellow?  It's very disconcerting to find the everyday building blocks of memory changed - like going back in a dream.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

the French dream

It's weird to think that I haven't been to Paris since the mid 1990s - but here, at last, courtesy of Alice speaking at a conference on the 60s, I'm back again. Back in a city that was hugely influential on my whole personal development back when I was a teenager - learning to think on my own (abstract thoughts are/were so much easier in French); learning to look at different paintings for myself (the Gustave Moreau museum and the Delacroix studio were stand-outs here); taking a sketch book to all sorts of corners (I have a drawing from a room in the rue du Bac that's one of my all time favorites, made during a strange six weeks during which time I was nanny to Marie-Eve, Severine, and Christophe, and then parked in an apartment whilst Granny visited for Easter - an apartment with hissing flaring radiators, that drove me to wish that I hadn't left a copy of Ulysses - in French - back at their country house.  It would have served to take my mind off imminent combustion, but I drew, instead, and ate cheese).  And here I am, back in the Marais, staying in the Place de Vosges for three nights - and it's not a part of Paris I know at all well, so I'm exploring as well as Doing Nostalgia, all at the same time.

Friday, March 16, 2012


One handsome portrait: Simba, my parents' cat.  Adopted as a more senior feline a few years ago, from Battersea Cats' Home - Cattersea - he was described in his adoption details as being a "gentleman," and determinedly lives up to the epithet.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

the abandoned toys of Hillside

I don't know what it says about consumer culture that this is left out for the taking outside my parents' neighbors - better than throwing it in the trash, to be sure, although I'm not sure how many table-football players are likely to be passing by at the end of a cul de sac.  It looks fun - I can remember playing with a big bagatelle board that was somewhat similar, but that had little nails stuck into the board that caught the ball, and allowed one to score.  This wasn't mine - it belonged to a girl called Lucy Garrard, and I deeply envied her possession of it.  Playing with it probably ensured my later fascination with pinball, which got me through all kinds of evenings in Italian cafes when I was a graduate student.

But in Hillside itself?  I played cricket (stumps chalked on a wall; tennis ball as ball); played with bows and arrows; had a short lived go-cart (planks on some kind of a chassis) - those were days when one played in a quiet street, without any danger of being run over, or of scratching someone's Porsche.  In other people's houses?  As well as racing small toy cars, I helped construct complicated battles with first world war and second world war soldiers, or cowboys and Indians, or medieval knights, or revolutionary forces (many of these were probably all mixed up).  And I took part in "drawing competitions," in which we - that's the other kids of around my age - badgered someone's mother into setting a subject (I sulked if it couldn't be adapted to feature horses), and then judging it.  If you detect a certain gender bias in these pursuits, it's true that the other kids were either boys, or Girlie.  Which I wasn't.  I did have my toy horses and stables and farm animals, to be sure, but playing with these was something of a solitary pursuit.  And none of these would ever have been left out in the street.  I did, when I no longer had a need for it, sell my collection of Lego bricks, which in their turn succeeded Bayko (anyone else remember Bayko? which involved slotting red bricks between thin metal wires stuck in a base, and then sticking a green tiled roof on.  Boring.  No wonder Lego took its place.  So I don't know what the story behind this abandoned board might be, but I hope it's found a good home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

the juxtaposed headlines of the Great British Tabloid Press

I don't suppose for a minute that this is deliberate, but it's delicious.  Obviously England is anticipating another hot summer, in many respects.

So - what is it about British Prime Ministers, American Presidents, and the Special Relationship?  Tony Blair crossed over to the dark side - if he wasn't there already - with George W.  And now Obama is heading off to a basketball game with Cameron like they're deep in a bromance.  Cameron has just given Obama a ping-pong table, for heaven's sake.  This is deeply worrying.  Is this for show?  Will they really care in Kansas?  Or is it true - as the Guardian states this evening, before they tuck into their bison - that they both share a passion for home grown vegetables?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

the journey home

I had two alternative ways of coming home from school - by Tube, or by bus.  Both involved a change - from the Piccadilly line - or another District line branch - to the Wimbledon line of the District, at Earl's Court; or from the 220 bus to the 93, on Putney Bridge.  These days, I tend, when heading back to Wimbledon, to take the tube as far as Putney, and then catch that 93 bus - two chunks of nostalgia on one journey (and that way, I don't have to walk up Wimbledon Hill, either).

I end up rerunning memories every time I take this journey - for example of the time I was coming back from a school summer fair (yes, I fear it was 1967), with bare feet and, I'm embarrassed to recount, daisies between my toes.  That was Earl's Court - my strongest memory of Putney Bridge (other than endless bad weather - waiting for the bus in chill sideways rain) is an extraordinarily vivid one - but it's of a dream.  When I was - oh, fourteen or fifteen - I dreamed I was standing on Putney Bridge in a golden sunset, and down the river, slowly, flew a peacock, with its big tail streaming out behind it.  So what did that mean?

Monday, March 12, 2012

front door

This painted front door in Cambridge speaks for itself ...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

kitchen window sill

I've known that blue hyacinth vase, on the left - well, if not all my life, then for a very long time.  The bottle on the right - because it's such a similar blue, I could be made to swear that I've known it for decades, too.  Apparently it's very new - my father said that he thought it had come with sherry in it.  That sounds deeply implausible - does anyone know of blue-branded sherry?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

spring posy

Real spring - that is, English spring: primroses, narcissi, and something faintly purple the name of which I seem to have forgotten.  And, outside the window - at least whilst it was still light - blackbirds.  Regular readers will know the sentimental significance to me of the little vase of flowers on my bedroom windowsill at my parents' house, and the ritual of posting an image of this ritual ...

spring # 3 (belatedly. The post, not spring)

Spring # 3 = spring break, really happening, at last. One person's vacation palm trees are another person's spot in which to wait for A to drive me to the airport. My inability to get on line on my computer at LAX is probably my administrative self not too unconsciously going - well, if not on strike, at least on go slow. So this will post to FTBL tomorrow .... [and it did!]

Thursday, March 8, 2012

more signs of spring

Purim's one of those festivals that I know nothing about - I realize - but it sounds rather fun, involving lots of dressing up in a carnivalesque way, and sharing food, and getting drunk (probably not the kids pictured above - they were too busy tie-dying t-shirts).  And reading the Book of Esther.  Esther, being a brave woman, seems a fitting person to celebrate on International Women's Day, too - though the different celebrations occupied different corners of campus today, albeit within fifty feet or so of each other.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Don't let anyone ever believe that there aren't seasons in Los Angeles!  It has been cold, a little windy - ok, we're not talking snow, even mild frost - but chilly.  But that's not what makes one aware of the changing seasons - for what feels like the first time in an age, I was home today in daylight, and there, on the vine growing up the steps by the front door, are all the new little leaves coming out.

But even if I'd got home late, and hadn't seen them, the academic year has its rhythms.  We're definitely sniffing the air heading into the final strait - and "spring" as a word always looks good qualifying the word "break" (nearly there, nearly there) ...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I can't decide which sentiment wins out: to be proud and happy that we have radical students, or deeply depressed that it's 2012, and evidently we still need to have a pride day for feminists ... And indeed, I should check my own vocabulary - "radical" in relation to feminism?  What is this - post third wave?  It was, nonetheless, good to meet Maggie (on the right) and Clara (on the left), and indeed I posed for my own photograph, which I guess will be part of their massed display on Thursday, grouped round Tommy Trojan.  One hopes that the entire administration will come out of Bovard and pose too.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Here, indeed, are two perfectly ordinary coffee mugs - that is, mine contains coffee; Alice's is of tea - sitting on a bench on campus on a not yet sunny morning: a perfectly dull picture.  Only one so rarely does take pictures of ordinate moments that nonetheless manage to be very good ones - we snatched a quarter of an hour when we got to campus (both with admin snapping at our heels) just to sit and talk and contemplate an improbable sight on a university campus: a woman with a cloth and a spray (a white, administrator-type of woman) cleaning the rail on the top deck of the Sol Price School of Public Policy.  Someone has the energy, the resources, the - the what? the anxiety about donors, or Special Guests? - to go out and polish a balcony rail?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

kitty treats

are very useful as bribes when one's trying to get one's elderly companions to take their medicine without complaint - somehow the alleged tuna flavor in the suspension doesn't quite have a compelling enough effect.  These are Wild Salmon, or some such - which are guzzled down fast enough, but don't quite have the same fishy white cuboid attractiveness of the tubes (from Waitrose) that my parents gave them for Christmas.  I came upon this packet this evening, sitting by the lamp as though it was a deliberate part of the bedroom decor.

very like a whale

or a dolphin, or some kind of aquatic mammal - swimming, in a very weather beaten way, on a lamppost at Whole Foods in West Hollywood.  It was completely unclear what it was advertising, or protesting.

Friday, March 2, 2012

palindromic library

It's a long time since I've done picture-flipping - but here's the very top of the Doheny Library, sliced off, and then turned upside down.  That weird white speck?  Dust on the lens?  No, that's the moon.  The image is of course symbolic - it's been a hard hard hard week's work (not, alas, in the library), and all roads lead, revert, double back on USC (no one ever told me that chairing a small department is much harder work than chairing a large one).  But - as I keep saying to people, and I totally mean it - the sheer beauty encountered when walking from one meeting to another - or my regular exercise, from Art History to English and back again (and if that doesn't sound like exercise to anyone who knows the topography of campus, Consider The Stairs ...) - makes up for all the hours spread in front of various knotty problems and bits of uploading and signing and budget analysis ...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

parents' dinner

I hit lucky with my dinner companions tonight - a man who'd flown in from China with his daughter - a potential English major - on my left; a cheerful woman from Boston with a son who may want to major in neuroscience on my right.  After Michael Quick's talk (he's our Executive Vice Provost), I would think that the whole room wanted to major in neuroscience. I was completely intrigued by the whole process (indeed, I'm intrigued by the whole admissions process, here and elsewhere).  We were kept at such a distance from it at Rutgers, but here we're encouraged to get close up and personal - as with the dinner for prospective parents tonight, as with the interviews for prospective scholarship candidates that I'll be doing next week.

Somehow, I got onto the topic of the Thematic Option course I'll be teaching next year - a kind of interdisciplinary course for incoming honors students of all stripes - which will be a new version of my Writing and Photography course, which was, of course, the origin of this blog.  And I described the blog ... and at the same time the woman on my right was recording the dinner table on her iPhone (producing what looked like far better pictures than this one), and I promised to capture her in photographic action.  Talking about the course made me so excited to start teaching undergrads again ...