Wednesday, April 30, 2014

santa monica seaweed

Seaweed on the beach in Santa Monica.  One of the very best things about having a friend from out of town visiting is that one takes a whole chunk of the day off to go and walk on the beach - before she comes back to USC and, quite properly, talks about what lies in the depths of the Victorian sea. So many thanks to Clare Pettitt for making the last week of the semester into a far, far better few days than one normally anticipates at this time of year ...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I spend a great deal of time staring out of my office window ... revise: I occasionally glance out of my office window, and, magnificent though it is, sometimes it just looks as though I'm in EUR - that is, Mussolini's plan for a new part of Rome - or maybe something just slightly earlier: let's say - this has all the emptiness of a De Chirico painting.  It just needs a train passing overhead in the background.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

not an eyeball

nor a mis-shapen planet, but the bottom of one of the little wells in the bottom basin of our waterfall.  This waterfall needs cleaning out every six weeks or so - emptying, and then cleaning with - well, what?  What's good for getting rid of algae, and is also ecologically sound?  I always turn to baking soda and vinegar, because I think that's good for anything (smelly drains, etc), but who knows?  It's a lengthy and messy operation.  At the bottom of this little pool are some mosquito larvae (another good reason to perform the clean-up).  I remember one summer in Wimbledon, when I was about eight or so, finding some mosquito larvae in a bird bath in our garden - I was so excited: I thought they were baby newts.  I don't remember being disabused of this fantasy - but alas, they never turned into the full grown amphibians that I was hoping for ...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

silent Los Angeles history

Sometimes, you think that it's going to be easy excavating a little piece of local history, and it's not - at least, not without going down to the Public Library and reading City Directories, which just isn't going to happen on a Saturday night.  We were on La Brea, just south of Olympic, in a futile search for a lampshade (Moth having destroyed one - and don't even ask how a small cat can murder a lampshade) - and a building under considerable reconstruction had laid its front bare.  Look at that rising sun!  But as one or two other people on line have noted, there's at first glance very little available on the internet that tells us anything about this.  Back in 1940, in The Progressive Grocer, W. J. Warren of Caler's Food Center wrote "Experience has taught me that the public prefers nationally advertised products.  That's why our shopping bags carry the slogan, 'Nationally Advertised brands at the lowest prices,'" but that's it.  And who was W. J. Warren?  I can find someone of that name who was involved in the LA oil industry in the 1920s - who wasn't? - but no guarantee that it was the same one.  I thought that it might not have been open all that long - the couple of dozen references to it in the LA Times are all from 1940-41, and mostly these refer to their bowling team.  But back in 1932, there was an advertisement for Caler's Grocery Department, attached to the Beverly Farms Market, on Crenshaw ... so chasing down Caler's Grocery, I eventually found that this La Brea establishment was certainly in operation by 1934, for in that year Don Caler, head of the Food Center, purchased an additional large market on N. Vine.  So I don't know its subsequent history ... but I felt quite proud of an evening's sleuthing when at first I thought there was nothing ...

Friday, April 25, 2014


How long?  Really?  How long till the end of this semester?  Some (long, long) days one's just glad of the solace that the reflection of one's pencil case can give. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Liberty Foundry

So here's a puzzle.  I was watering plants in the front yard before heading off to USC today - and looked, for the first time, at the little iron door (for what?) in the neighbors' wall.  It's labeled Liberty Foundry LA CA - and that, you'd think, would be easy to track down (I was mildly intrigued by the existence of Los Angeles iron foundries, presumably around 1929, when the house was built.  At least ours was, and probably theirs, too - it's a similar style).  But no mention of Liberty Foundry around then - at least not on line.  Penton's Foundry List for 1918 has a whopping 39 foundries listed in LA - not all iron - some are brass.  They locate Liberty at 3429 S Main, which oddly enough is just five blocks from my office.  But the Southwest Builder and Contractor (a fascinating source for urban history), vol. 51, March 29 1918 firmly lists Liberty Foundry, of the same address, under "Fictitious Firm Names" - whatever that may mean.  And was it still fictitious in 1929?  Or was this another firm entirely, by then - albeit one that's been very coy about leaving a digital footprint?  Almost certainly I won't be pursuing this further, although it did strike me that it would be a fascinating piece of sleuthing to track down where building supplies - and builders themselves - came from in LA in the late 1920s.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

celebrating Joe Boone's *The Homoerotics of Orientalism*

Alice with David St John, in the always-picturesque cloisters of the Philosophy School, after Joe Boone spoke about his terrific new book, The Homoerotics of Orientalism - and where Joe sat on a wall, signing copies.  

Alice introduced Joe: this picture quite clearly needs a caption of some kind ...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

not the image I expected

Believe me, you should be looking at a team of USC hip-hop dancers, practicing on the roof of Parking Lot D as I extracted my car at the end of a long day.  Only ... I reached out to insert the memory card into the lower of these two slots, slid it into the top one by mistake, and it's swallowed it.  Completely.  I don't even know if, when I dig out a piece of firm but bendy wire, it'll be reachable.  Probably not.  Probably I won't be able to insert any CDs, either.  Ever.  

It was that kind of a day.

Monday, April 21, 2014

the shrine, from the ground up

I normally admire The Shrine from the roof of the car park, not from the sidewalk - something that I remedied en route to CVS today (where I was asked if I had a Senior Card.  That so did not make my day I don't know where to begin.  And it's not as though I was looking particularly decrepit and downtrodden - indeed until that very moment, I'd been walking along very happily, thinking what a perfect spring day it was).  This was erected in 1925/6 - in full Hollywood orientalist mode - just a couple of years after the previous incarnation had burned down - in 45 minutes!  Here it is, going up in flames ...  That building in the foreground, on the USC campus, is Old College - standing where Taper Hall (home to the English Department) is now ...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

easter lilies

It would, certainly, have been more appropriate to have taken this image of calla lilies during the glorious sunny day that we had today, but I wanted to see how far I could get with showing their shining beauty in the night time, without using flash (which, of course, bleaches out all those lovely shadows).  The answer is "not very far at all" ... not in terms of how they almost glow in the greeny-black dark.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

reading for fun

On a junction box between Gelson's and Trader Joe's, in Silver Lake - certainly reading the newspaper is presented as the most fun, family-bond-building thing in the world, here.  I'm confused by whatever ethnicity is or isn't suggested - maybe Guatemalan, but there again, maybe not.  It's certainly a great piece of street art, positioned - from my logistical point of view - halfway between artichoke hearts and lentils.

Friday, April 18, 2014

californian poppy

One of these days, when I have nothing else more horribly pressing to do, and when we have unbounded funds at our disposal, our back yard will be transformed into an oasis for native plants, with occasional sections devoted to European roses and lavender and vegetables.  But until then, I content myself with getting terrifically excited when something unexpected appears, like this Californian poppy (I threw down a large number of seeds last year, optimistically, and a few have actually managed to flourish).  The trouble with the Yard Renovation Project is that to be done properly, it requires a good deal of rebuilding and reinforcing and removal of concrete and and and - not a happy prospect when there's only a long steep narrow flight of steps leading to it, and no access for machinery of any size.  "But what do people DO?" I asked our realtor, when we were buying the place - "I mean, if we WANTED to put in a pool" (which we don't - nasty things, in my experience, that fill up with leaves when you're not looking) - "however would we go about it?"  "Oh!" she said brightly.  "People would use a helicopter to drop everything in!"  Just like in a construction site on a Swiss mountainside.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

the ominousness of palm trees

Most of the time, I look at palm trees and equate them with the craziness of living in an urban sprawl of well-nigh reliable sunshine that makes even difficult days (think: office politics) seem cheerful once I'm driving home.  But today was grey and cloudy, and these belong in some Walter Mosley novel.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

california spring

I know that it counts as spring - know that it counts as nearly the end of the semester - when I see the jacaranda trees come into bloom.  This is the most magical color, and they're just beginning, all over Los Angeles.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Equador, equator

You'd think, wouldn't you, that I'd have made the direct link between the name of the republic of Ecuador and the fact that it's on the Equator - I mean, what did I think that it signified? - but it wasn't until I looked at the representation of the Equator on the far right hand panel that the penny dropped, as they say in England, and for all I know here, too.  This is one of my favorite murals (on S. Hoover St.) that I pass on my way back from USC: the details are very delicately painted, but I've rarely been in a position when I was both stopped in traffic and the view unimpeded.  It's very good to be back.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Sometimes one's lucky enough to take a picture that just makes one happy, and this is one of them … it's the carousel in Bryant Park, just behind New York Public Library.  it wasn't actually open when I went past - the horses and a rather morose frog were behind drapes - but I'm sure that later on today, or later on in the season, they'd have been rotating to their usual cabaret music accompaniment.  You'd think that this gorgeous, beautifully laid out urban park, continually referencing the most demure of Parisian leafy urban spaces, had been there since the late C19th - but I remember it in the late 1970s, when it was a seedy and dangerous little patch that you wouldn't want to go near (except of course I peered at it, constantly fascinated by the edginess that I found in New York, although usually remaining street smart enough to retrace my tracks if I found myself on a seedier than usual patch).  It didn't really get remade until the early 1990s, and this apparently historical remnant, Le Carrousel - it dates from the early 2000s.  Faux heritage, but it's very pretty.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

subway seats

I have seen many strange things on the NY subway in my time, but they are usually at the level of mariachi bands or bagpipers (I don't count the obviously crazy, or the obviously fancy-dressed, like the woman I saw earlier in the day, tall and beautiful, walking down a street wearing angel wings).  Never before have I seen a couple come on with chairs, and sit on them.  They didn't seem to be performance artists - at least, they weren't performing - or that was, perhaps, the performance.  Their chairs certainly seemed a little more comfortable than average subway seats.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

without a road map

From afar, this looks like a campus map, with two faint grey trackways crossing it, like prehistoric lanes just visible in a pasture - and then with little red flags stuck on top, signifying Important Places.  In fact, it's nothingness, for now, and hence a metaphor that I'm working on for free space: just one article to finish before I can turn back to my book - no more papers, reviews, stray bits of stuff (other than admin, always admin).  

Friday, April 11, 2014

wrapped up

Your guess is as good as mine (actually, if you know Princeton well, it's probably much better).  Is this a horse's head?  Is it a head of a sporting dog?  Why is there a whole row of them?  What's the other thing?  Are they protected against the frost, or are they about to be unwrapped having traveled from somewhere else?  I tried to pretend that they were a whole long line of outdoor chess pieces, but unless anyone's playing a strange game with 12 knights, that's probably not where they belong.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

a formerly impressive experience ...

A long time ago - it might have been 1989, it might have been 1990 - I came to the US, and gave some lectures, when The Woman Reader was still being written - and Elaine Showalter graciously invited me to come to Princeton, and put me up in the Nassau Inn.  I could hardly sleep, because I was so excited at its opulence, at the marble (or so I thought - I'm now questioning) counter tops, at the folded face flannel, etc - very unlike all those Italian pensione that constituted a lot of my hotel travel experience, apart from Youth Hostels.

Twenty five years on - well, maybe I'm not so impressed (there was another stay here in 1999, I might add, but I was miserable, and had to console myself with eating the chocolate chip cookies laid out at bedtime - no sign of those on this stay, which is probably a good thing, but there's also no minibar, and no room service after 10 p.m., and I'm hungry).  All of which goes some way to explaining my rather tired and crumpled face in the makeup mirror ...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

one unhappy sheep

This is one dismal, unhappy sheep.  There are some strange things carved by way of decoration into parts of USC, and this is one of them.  What kind of affect could it be possibly meant to have on the beholder?  I think that a Ruskinian interpretation would settle for the fact that it surely displays the feelings of some completely miserable worker - probably an Italian immigrant, wondering whatever he was doing so far away from home.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

1001 nights

There's something very Oriental-cliché, very Scheherezade-like about all these literary festival tents that are sprouting over campus - though I'll miss the festival itself, since I'll be in Princeton, grappling with Democracy and the Novel, and more specifically with the problem of the Voice of the People in C19th fiction - and whether such a voice is reducible to a question of words uttered, or is something more embodied, more - well, I think I'll have to borrow from Jameson's latest - more affect-like (I should add - I'm a respondent, and these aren't terms and topics that I'm cooking up for myself).  I thought I'd fill part of my 10 minutes by addressing the issue through the translation of dialect in C19th British fiction into French, only to find that the nearest copies of Marie Barton and Nord et Sud are in the Bibliotheque Nationale, and - though this might be more to the point - when Wuthering Heights was first translated in 1892 (as L'Amant - not as the wonderful title it's subsequently borne, Les Hauts de Hurlevent), the problem of Joseph's impenetrably thick Yorkshire speech was coped with very practically - by leaving it out ...

Monday, April 7, 2014

books return

It's that time of the year: the return of the Los Angeles Festival of Books to campus.  I do think that someone has missed a golden opportunity here: they should insert an "s" at the end of "Book" in order to mark the occasion...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

the ugliness of copper mining

A fitting conclusion to the "Land" conference was the view at Salt Lake City airport of the huge copper  mine that's just by the airport (I was, of course, lucky, in a sense, to see this view - not from of the terminal I'd planned to fly out of - my flight was canceled, I had to be rebooked, etc.).  On the way to the airport, the cab driver suddenly launched into a eulogy of the mine's owners, Rio Tinto Zinc, which to anyone who knows about their activities in Indonesia, Bhopal, and so on, was a little hard to take, especially when he started to say what wonderful employers they are.  Which may, relatively speaking, be true in SLC, but is a more contestable view when advanced on a global scale.  There's not much aesthetically/environmentally that can be said in favor of this ripping apart of a hillside, to be sure.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

these boots are made for talking

One of my tasks for the day - once I'd ceremoniously handed over the Presidency of the Society of Novel Studies to my successor - was to take some photographs that can go on Novel's blog, to illustrated the gathered assembly … I asked our keynote speaker, the brilliant Ursula Heise, if she minded if I took a couple of pictures of her whilst she was on stage.  No, she said, so long as I managed to show her boots … Her talk, on "terraforming for narratologists," had me thinking that although I might lay claim to an interest in environmental writings, both fictional and non-fictional, that I am woefully under-read in theoretical writings in that area.  I wanted her bibliography.  I was frantically writing down titles.  I feel as though I'm probably the only person at the conference who isn't already fluent in the language of the Anthropocene, a concept that I must surely have read about time and again, or at least grazed up against, but which has never quite managed to stick.  ("Anthropocene"?  That would be the period in which we're currently living - in which we've been living since the Industrial Revolution, in Western countries, in which humans have made a permanent, definitive impact on the earth and environment.  At least, I think that will do as a working, rather amateur definition).  I also, of course, wished that I could wear kick-ass boots like that - most suitable for the delivery of a kick-ass talk.

Friday, April 4, 2014

talking about the land

Salt Lake City is a pretty good place for a conference about The Land, although, this being a conference about the novel, no one has yet - at least not in my hearing - mentioned Spiral Jetty.  There's a tiny sliver of the salt lake visible to the right of the picture: this is the bridge that you cross to get from the tram station to the part of the campus where the conference is being held, with snow covered mountains as the backdrop.  As you can see, spring hasn't quite arrived yet.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

not easy to leave

Of course I (almost always) enjoy going to conferences - both the people and (with luck) intellectual part of it, and traveling to a different place, and and and.  And, if truth be known, I really relish a night or two or three in a hotel room where one doesn't have very many responsibilities other than trying to get up to date with one's email/grading/sleep.  But Salt Lake City (and yes, you're right, there's no alcohol in the hotel minibar) is not a sunny morning in Los Angeles.  Nor do I have a view from my window (I protested: I'm promised something other than office towers tomorrow), though if I slant my head a little bit I can just about see a sliver of mountain.  Nor are there Cats.  They were all out and about (well, not the by-now-segregated orange one) this morning, anxiously sniffing my suitcase.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

rainbow over campus

Oh, I'm sure it's deeply cheesy to post a rainbow - next stop, a unicorn - but this isn't New Mexico, it isn't Hawai'i (where actually, we didn't see rainbows at all) - it's our campus in downtown LA, and this is therefore a pretty rare sight.  Or, in other words, four weeks and two days to go.  There's a pot of something at the end of it, isn't there?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

bring on the dancing girls

Overall, they were in rather short supply today, but these ones at the corner of Lucile and Sunset helped a little bit.