Thursday, May 31, 2012

before and after

Here's our team, warming up in a small village (4, 000 strong, including the surrounding communities) that's a real volleyball center - with a member of the next generation of stars watching them (our tour leader Cory's daughter, Mia - already completely at home with the yellow and blue balls.

We won 3-1 - a good fight - and then it was party time - in an awning put up between gym and school, with people grilling sausages and ladling them out at with some tomato at one end, and beer being passed round at the other.  And then the beer can piling activities, and the accordion, and the dancing, and the - yes - drinking shots (brandy, Jagermeister, whatever) from glasses that had been glued to old skis.  And then a quick tour of the scout house (given the general lack of sobriety among Slovenian men, we weren't too sure about that, but it proved to be full of lots of cheerful pictures of and by Slovenian children.  And then we swayed back fast down wet leafy roads in the bus to Maribor. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


And here is a fraction of our number, enjoying the quite amazing view and the first of - what was it? - seven, or eight, types of wine produced by the Doppler vineyard in Slovenia.  The concrete benches might slightly mar the rural idyll, but the sunset (after the rain) was spectacular.  

I've been rendered utterly self-conscious by the fact that people figured here - and people not figured here - may well end up reading this.  Alice and I - after breakfast - gave a fifteen minute blast of a session on Writing a Blog Entry - inspired (or uninspired, in a sense), by the entries, or some of them, that we'd read on line (the team are meant to post a daily blog - written in rotation).  I felt very bad later (given that we came down heavily on them) when I found that apparently some of the entries had been edited back at USC - edited not just for typos, but Cut.  All the same, it felt good to be able to pass on some ideas and expertise about what might work ... (memo: don't try and post after an evening in a winery?).

Other than that - we ducked out of a morning swinging in harnesses on ropes and balancing on the tops of telegraph poles, and went into Maribor (a pretty small town, indeed, even if the museum with the painted beehive doors was closed), and bought strawberries in the market, and back at the hotel - after the match, when we beat the Slovenian team (yay!!), went for a walk until it started to pour with rain ... admiring the local art stenciling.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

where our lunch came from

Here's the Venice fish market, being hosed down - our lunchtime fish (San Pietro for Alice, bronzino and clams for me) came from it, and very finely cooked they's been, too.  But oh, the banishment of the two middle aged women to a far corner (I don't mind them taking their conversational time over some very Venetian-dialect speaking locals, but fawning over a threesome who were busily discussing the Prada Marfa installation whilst having expensive wine and mini-lobsters and spider crabs was just irritating.  It took me five asks to prize some bread out of our waiter.  So - whilst very grateful to Jonah and Nancy for suggesting the Antiche Carampane, we won't be going back in any hurry.  Or rather, maybe, won't be going back if we're in a relative hurry.  

Venice was extremely hot, shook twice with earthquakes whilst we were having lunch, and was packed with tourists, and generally reminded me why I like it best in January (despite, of course, managing to be one of my favorite places, despite its flaws ...).

And others among us had a very successful day's shopping ...

Monday, May 28, 2012

crushing the eggs

Ah, we were landed with the world's most hapless tour guide today, taking us on a walk round central Milan.   I earned my keep by filling in at opportune moments - pointing out interesting gargoyles on the facade of the cathedral; explaining that Milan wasn't just a center of commerce, but a center of union growth and labor militancy in the late C19th, the lampposts offering useful platforms for speaking from about ten feet off the ground (well - maybe - I think I'd rather misremembered a Longoni painting); and translation.
Hapless tour guide: And here we have famous mosaic with the bull's eggs.
Assembled USC team: Huh?
HTG: The bull's eggs.
KF: Balls.
HTG: What makes the bull - a bull.
KF: (louder): BALLS.
HTG: Ah, yees - so for good luck, you put your heel - yes - there - in the bull's balls.  Eeees good luck.  
Etc.  Except all the team did their dutiful swivel, and then lost their match to a team of hungry Italian weasels - aka the Italian junior team, who were a ferocious lot.  So we all - that is, the non-students - went off to the bar and drank spritzers.

Going around Milan with a group of very tall blonde women wearing very short shorts certainly attracts a fair bit of notice.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

doggy paddle

Sunday morning in Como - what is there for Italian guys of a certain age to do other than hang around and throw sticks into the lake for their dog to collect?   Shortly afterwards, we went for a boat ride up just a little bit of the lake - enough to see rusty boats and many, many, many enviable houses ... and then back to Milan to see the Women of Troy beat the Italian junior team ... a nerve wracking experience ... involving a comeback in Game 3 ... 

Saturday, May 26, 2012


By now, we are so tired that we can hardly stand (though not as uncomfortably so as these two figures on the Duomo door), and quite how our companions managed an hour and a half of volleyball practice I can't imagine ... (though they are obviously younger and a very great deal fitter).  As you can see in the picture below ... with Milan Cathedral in the background, all clean and shiny.  We went to pay homage to Pellizza da Volpedo's Il Quarto Stato - the picture that was the shining star of my MA dissertation, in the days when one had to make all kinds of maneuvers to go and see it in, I think, the Banco di Torino, and now it's the centerpiece of the rather good but very small Museo del Novocento right bang next to the Duomo and opposite the Galleria.  And we are all full of pasta - being around this crew makes me feel very noticeably full of pasta indeed.

ready for takeoff (May 25th)

EWR - how strange just to be changing planes there ... especially in the company of a very fit and very tall posse of volleyball players ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Packed (nearly), and ready to roll.  This could be the most unlikely (working) vacation of our lives.  Tomorrow, at the crack of dawn, we are off to Europe with the USC Women's Volleyball Team.  I guess that makes us some kind of honorary Women of Troy.  At the very least, we assume that we've been asked to go as the shortest two women they could find, and therefore as some kind of suitable mascot.  We are - we believe - in some ways Representatives of Culture, and are supposedly going to provide some Cultural Insights about the places we're visiting (but in no formal way, so that means that I've packed/downloaded a couple of guidebooks, and will after that point trust to the best, and to the fact that I speak Italian and British English, albeit no Slovenian or Serbian).  Truly, it's a great adventure, and completely, bizarrely unexpected - I had an early morning phone call asking if we'd be interested in going, a couple of months ago, and who could possibly have resisted?

So - above - our team sweat shirts and caps - not the best of colors on us, I fear ... and we also went and bought a couple of tee shirts today so that we can jump up and down on the sidelines and sing the fight song (I can't imagine we've been asked along for our singing abilities), or whatever.  If nothing else, I'll know more about volleyball at the end of this than I do now - I have a dim memory of Miss Dinn, at school, once trying to get us to play it in the gym, but I don't think anyone really knew the rules.  Wait for updates ... wish us luck, when you've stopped laughing at the improbability of this ...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


So ... here is an image of a Russian Sage plant in our back yard in Santa Fe, which I lovingly watered this morning. It's a pretty hardy plant - it should make it, even if it doesn't rain again in the next week or so. But will the image show? Will this post even vaguely normally? I've just downloaded the image courtesy of a little attach-to-iPad trinket made in China - will I dare to travel without a whole computer? I have the photoshop touch app with which to do some fairly rudimentary picture editing - but can I divest myself of a whole computer (???????, etc.). testing, testing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Just outside our front door, we have a portale - with the standard New Mexican ristra, and a rather sonorous wind chime.  Only - we came back last week to find that a finch has made her nest rather precariously on top of both ristra and chime.  You can see her tail sticking out at the top: she's sitting.  So ... we have our summertime bird non-disturbance predicament back.  We've moved the bluebird house round the side, now visible only from the kitchen window.  And, so far, the parents go back and forth, back and forth, with deliveries - but they don't mind too much if we walk past.  But this cute little finch?  We try and limit going in and out of the front door as much as possible, and trip through flowering cacti and gopher holes at the side of the house in our quest to avoid disturbing her.  This hardly looks like an entry for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition - our bathroom window has got a mesh screen, and hence the grid effect.  But it does give a pretty good sense of the predicament.

Monday, May 21, 2012

downtown indian

I'm really not sure why there's a wheat pasted image of an Indian carrying what looks like a bazooka on the side of a concrete pillar on Cerrillos Road, but it has unmissable presence.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

shadowing the eclipse

I was excited all day about the annular eclipse - oh, I'll admit, I've been excited for days: obviously I was a soothsayer in a former life.  But when it came to the point (and I was watching for that point carefully, since it was due to happen over Albuquerque around 7.34, which I reckoned must make it a tiny bit earlier for us) - the most exciting aspect was the shadows.  Here's the tree in our back yard - its normal very clear-cut leaflets swirled up into a curiously textured mass.

But photographing the actual eclipse was a different matter.  I knew it was happening - or when it was about to happen fully, having made my own pin-hole contraption so that I could project it onto a white board.  Below - in the middle - there's just a tiny sliver of the sun left.

But of course I couldn't point a camera directly at the sun itself.  One, I just shot off numerous times in the right direction - and managed to produce a wonderful image of New Mexico turned into a kind of Victorian tropical landscape under the strange eclipse-light.

I thought I'd do much better with the other camera, which has a screen that one can fold down, and therefore use like a periscope, and point the lens at the sun.  Ignoring the missile-like clouds that determinedly came across at eclipse time - I realize the problem.  One needs a strong, strong lens filter - my usual UV one was very underwhelmed - there's simply so much solar flare that one couldn't guess that the moon's sitting in front of the sun at this point.  Ah well - I'll know better the next time round, in 2023.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Down by the rail yards, en route to the farmers' market, outside Warehouse 21 - two very fine metal giraffes, and a painted junction box.  I've been battering away at the first chapter of my Flash photography book all day - how much history of the technology does one put in? how much leave out? just because I'm fascinated by C19th magnesium prices probably doesn't mean that anyone else will be - and so the serendipity of street art is just fine by me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

flower identification

This is, in just about every way, a very unremarkable picture, but I need help - what is this plant?  I'm sure someone knows ... They are blooming, in little clumps, all over Eldorado, and what I really need is the equivalent of Shazam - hold my iPhone up to a plant, and see what identification comes back.  Maybe I could market an App for that, but I suspect it wouldn't quite hit the market value of Facebook shares today.  It's unremarkable, yes - but on the other hand, it's totally wonderful to be able to walk around in complete peace and quiet, with the wind blowing strongly, and with the department 870 miles away, and only bothering me via email.

saber toothed

One of the animals to appear in relief on one of our campus buildings - the Hancock Memorial Building - next to some wolves, an elephant, and so on.  They are by Robert Merrell Gage, and represent Pleistocene era mammals found during the La Brea Tar Pit excavations (which doesn't quite explain why they're there).  Oddly, another colleague - at least, I assume he was a colleague - passed me, also waving a camera, also taking pictures of this stony wildlife.  And now we're back in Santa Fe, with our normal-sized cats ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

some of us ...

... are very relaxed and happy to be back in New Mexico.  Others of us ... are about to get in the car again, drive down to Albuquerque, and fly back to Los Angeles in order to meet with our new Dean.  Bad timing.  I wish I were a cat.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

traveling lily

There are many advantages to traveling with flowers - gathering up those that one thinks will make the trip, and cutting down their stems so that they fit in a jar or vase (those shape-moldable plastic vases that fold flat when not holding liquid are very handy), and placing them in the car's cupholder.  Things to be careful of ... not having pollen laden stamens so that one ends up with a yellow dusty elbow likely to attract bees and lead to a lifelong stain, and taking them out of the car at night if the temperature's going to drop below freezing.  That wasn't a problem in Winslow last night: rather, the car smelt of lily this morning, and now we have a very handsome flower at home, without having pick any of our own fading yellow irises or blue flax.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Packing up the car this morning, I heard a violent and raucous screeching, and a large  flock of red-crowned Amazonian parrots was flying in, with a great rush of green feathers.  I think there were around 35 of them - by the time I'd gone indoors for my camera, only fifteen or so were left hanging out like musical notations on the telephone wires.  The rest were in some of the trees in front of the house, where they were guzzling on some small round orangey-brown fruit.  Apparently these all come from north-eastern Mexico, where they're an endangered species - not so, it would seem, in Silver Lake.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

departmental party

Ten minutes worth of photos at this evening's party to say goodbye to Jim Kincaid and Tom Boyle, who are both retiring - Los Angeles garden (at Leo and Dorothy Braudy's) and mid May sun at its best.  So here are Emily and Owen, above; David and Richard, below ...

Michelle, Dana, and Emily and Owen (again);

T. C. Boyle, whom I admire to the point of speechlessness, and have therefore never spoken to, and now probably never will;

Jim K, Meg Russett, Leo, and Heather James [please supply your own captions];

and Emily and Owen, once more, hidden inside a leafy arbor.

And then the perfect sunlight went behind a roof.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

None of these trees are what one would exactly call alive.  Today we went on what I think of as the right-hand hike up into Griffith Park - the one that starts off by the side of a golf course where one's in danger of getting hit on the head by a badly whacked ball (I pooh-poohed Alice's apprehension about this, which seemed to me to be an exaggerated form of disaster-oriented magical thinking: a minute later a little round golf ball dropped down through the trees and rolled and bounced off down the road in front of us).  We hadn't been up here in years: this was the area that was particularly badly burned in the big fire a few years back, and was closed for some time.  It was amazing (but this is California) to see how much has regrown.  All the same, there are still some big bare skeletons, like this one up by the water tank, which itself seems to have been repainted with its arboretum of camouflaging foliage.

Friday, May 11, 2012

fly past

USC commencement 2012: this is only one of the 13,700 or so people present today.  And close on a hundred white doves, released at the moment the students were officially declared to have graduated.  Here they are, enlarged ...

I was, of course, worried about them: do all the hawks in Los Angeles send out alerts the day before commencement, telling each other that the annual feast is about to be released, and suggesting that they hang out in the trees until the right moment?  What happens to all the doves?

But I needn't have worried.  They aren't doves: they're pure white homing pigeons.  They're rented out for special events - a wedding, a funeral, the start of the Dodgers season, our commencement ceremonies (coming after Christiane Ananpour as the commencement speaker, who was excellent, too, and before all the satellite ceremonies with the roll call of names, and parading across the platform in impossible shoes, and wearing orchid leis - orchids, and occasionally interspersed with origami dollar bills - and Pomp and Circumstance).  And after swooping round a bit to test their wings, the doves fly away home to Riverside.  I don't know how long it takes to get there, but it's the sweetest way to let our graduates symbolically loose upon the world.

loving humanity with equality [May 10th]

God and mammon: our Business Payments and HR Office is, rather bizarrely, situated on the 2nd floor of the building that houses the university church (or one of them).  This means, however, on the occasional visit to this branch of things, one walks past pillars that are simulating a cloister - or, I suppose, might even be said to constitute a cloister.  And these pillars have strings tied round them, and little notes attached - like a kind of prayer wall, or message-to-God-and-the-world wall, or whatever.  This morning - the day after Obama came out in support of gay and lesbian marriage - it was great to see a little heart there, with the equality sign in the middle of it, and the inscription "Loving Humanity with Equality."  Quite so.

[my apologies for not posting this last night - I was felled by a vile migraine that had been escalating for two days, and couldn't bear the light even of a room with the lights turned off ...]

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

contemplating commencement

If I go in to my office around 8.30 in the morning, every day there's a middle aged Chinese man who's standing in front of the reflective pool, doing very slow movements - much more contained and restrained than tai chi, I'd say, but stylized, in their own discreet way - and standing in perfect, still contemplation.  He's unfazed by what's going on round him (he manages to stand out of the way of the crazed skateboarders).  Today, he'd move a little away from his usual spot - there are, after all, rows after rows after rows of white commencement chairs sprouting up in all directions, rather like a military cemetery.   But there he was, looking calmly at these serried ranks.  I wish I'd had my camera - a rare bit of doubtless travel-induced forgetfulness - and not just my iPhone.

brooklyn morning

On a grey morning in Brooklyn, there’s nothing like a small girl with a stuffed jaguar to cheer up the day.  Thank you to Silvia for posing for me (and to Starks, that pure black furry ball on the ottoman, although he was a less active participant).  Yes, it would have been a sharper, clearer picture with flash, but I wanted to capture something of that dull flat light; show off the rose and delphiniums and kitty grass growing on the fire escape beyond; give a sense, indeed, of how light an apartment can be even on a damp and cloudy day.  It was a huge treat not just to stay there, but to have Silvia draw me a picture (a happy girl, with a huge smile since it’s her birthday, wearing a violet dress and top and shoes, walking along under a huge blue moon).  It’s going straight onto my filing cabinet in my office, to beam happily back at me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

library time (a rant)

Today found me working in Rutgers's Alexander Library.  I was reading an apparently very rare book about the history and workings of the Dream Machine - an electronic strobe that functioned as a gallery piece and talking point in the 1960s, flickering at one so fast that one started (whether one's eyes were closed or open) to see hallucinatory patterns and visions.  Ingesting a few other chemicals didn't hurt the process, either - it was an arty, would-be sophisticated version of the disco strobe.  I say "rare" - WorldCat fails to locate one, oddly, in Los Angeles.

And of course, no longer a faculty member, I couldn't borrow it and cart it off to a quiet lair.  No, here I was, in exam week, in the company of what seemed to be one big jokey revision party.  And these guys were not just Loud, but were eating very smelly burgers.  With fries.  At the next table, a girl was eating from a huge styrofoam box of mac 'n cheese.  I was rendered speechless by the noise and food - and I'm some who prides myself on being able to work anywhere.  There didn't seem much point in complaining, like an angry old bat, to the hapless looking student worker at the front desk.

But I don't know how justified I am to wail.  No, this isn't how a library should be.  But then, when I was back in the elevator taking the book back to its shelf (I probably shouldn't have been doing that, but I wanted to be sure of finding it tomorrow) I found that floors 2A and 2B are designated "quiet floors."  I'd been working on Floor 1.  The thought of needing to designate certain library floors as "quiet floors" evidently shows me that I'm way out of touch ...

Rant, rant.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

the beauties of New Brunswick railway bridge

Maybe it was the light, but the railway bridge over George Street - as one walks towards it from the Rutgers campus - was looking stunningly beautiful this afternoon - this photo doesn't bring out well enough the contrast of the orange paint with the white and black stripes under the bridge itself.  I'd been spending a couple of hours in the Zimmerli art gallery - in the first instance, to see a wonderful show by  Rachel Perry Welty, whose work celebrates/records the everyday in a way that's both obsessive (in an endearing kind of way), and that also makes a more polemical point about stuff - the amount of it that we consume, throw away, give away, or just take for granted.  To this last end, I'd recommend the pieces that show her disappearing behind countless price tags, or those little stickers that one finds on fruit or vegetables in the supermarket.  My favorite piece was her Deaccession Project - a daily documentation (since October 5th 2005) of an object that she threw out, or gave away, or gave to Goodwill, that day, with an annotation about what it was - whether it belonged to herself, or her husband, or son - and why it's surplus, or redundant, or doesn't fit, or is too worn, or is stale, or broken, or downright unidentifiable.  As one of the short written commentaries in the spiral bound catalog/artist's book that accompanies the show puts it, "her vast, obsessively updated 5+ year project indicates that while she may be giving stuff away, she really can't let it go."  Those words "obsessively updated" give me pause for thought - is it "obsessive" to update on a daily basis?  As you might imagine, the project is one after my own heart (but one could hardly imitate it, even if one wanted to - the beauty lies in its conception).

After Welty's show, I wandered around the American section - in part I wanted to see the little "Fluxus at Rutgers" installation - and found - yes! - a picture by John Jesse Barker, View of the New Brunswick Railroad Bridge, c. 1856.  What a beautiful and tranquil piece of NJ this once was.  That's Highland Park - although I'm not sure that at the time, it knew that it was - on the left, and on the right - where J&J was to flourish - it's either a wallpaper factory or a rubber factory, I think, judging by a quick bit of on-line history digging.  But that last supposition is unchecked.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I'm more than capable of feeling nostalgia for New Jersey (though not so much so that I was happy, yesterday, when I realised that I was flying back here today, and not, as I thought, tomorrow ...).  Especially at this time of year, I think of its blossom, and driving out to Lambertville and walking over the Delaware, and that faintly steamy sense that summer is coming.  But.  My nostalgia doesn't extend to arriving at Newark airport at 10 in the evening, and finding that the air train isn't running, and that there's a dearth of substitute buses, and then when one clanks through security gates, and and sways past all those lots with Russian limo drivers playing cards, and new cars that no one has the money to buy, and then eventually deposits its load of cross people at the station, discovering that the train I wanted has just left ... On top of this, New Jersey Transit on a Saturday night, together with the tobacco smelling rusty shared taxi cab from New Brunswick station work their customary magic, and make me very, very grateful to live in Los Angeles.

Friday, May 4, 2012


This is truly one of the most ridiculous sights: spotted at Santa Monica beach today, a - a what?  a shoal? a rumble? a spin? of people all bowling along on segues.  These strange scooter thingies look silly enough when they're propelling our campus security officers around, but one can see their point.  But on the beach?  On the jogging, biking, skateboarding path?  Even a skateboard would require a little more effort than one of these.  Perhaps they're a security officers' annual outing?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

old car

Those of you who envy us living in Los Angeles - I'd like to point out that there are days, like today, when it's unaccountably grey and chilly, and when one wonders why one lives on a street where people seem to like to abandon old cars. This one may, in fact, move - we'll see tomorrow, which is street cleaning day. Meanwhile, my computer track pad has decided to stop working, so this is enough composition for today ...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

out of the corner of my eye

Brightening up a very dull day, here are two murals glimpsed on my drive home up Vermont.  I'm not sure what that feathered warrior intends to do with the rather limp young woman whom he's carrying off - or rather, I'm sure enough - but where does the papaya come into it?  It all adds up to one of the many, many possible sites that one might want to think of in relation to my Intro to Visual Culture / Los Angeles course next semester - that is, if this semester can ever be persuaded to come to an end.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

the time of the year

It's that time of the year when college flowerbeds, the length and breadth of the nation, start being planted out in proud, institutional colors.  Rutgers red was, when converted into petals, bearable.  Cardinal and gold (for so goes the official description of USC colors) - well, let's just say that these are very municipal-looking plantings.  But there are other good things about the end of an academic year, and one was this evening's award ceremony for outstanding English department students.  I was most honored to speak for Julia Cooperman, whom I'd nominated (it gives me such a kick to think that she'll be in London next year, doing an MA at UCL - and then I look forward to seeing her name as a screen writer - but the whole evening was a real tribute to the talents of all six of the winners.  I'm well aware that in a week's time, when it comes to seeing them graduate, that my Oxford DPhil gown is going to clash quite violently with the ghastly flowerbeds.