Monday, March 31, 2014

eating in the sky

If I'd set out to create a photoshop montage of a Magritte, I don't know that I'd have done much better ... but in fact these tables are set out (no manipulation necessary) at the Keck Medical Center (i.e. the USC medical sciences campus).  Do people actually sit out there?  Or is this just some piece of aspirational architectural design?

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Part of my definition of spending a productive afternoon involved sitting on a chair in the back yard reading David Batchelor's The Luminous and the Grey - part of my vague conviction that I'll teach a course on color, some day - that is, as something that I want to know more about, not that I actually want to write about, so maybe this gets written up as a proposal for our new General Education syllabus?  But interesting though Batchelor is on grey, and on the way that "grey is almost always the fall guy to colour, the dull-to-the-point-of-lifelessness monotony that threatens to engulf everything and everyone"(92) - whilst trying to redeem its importance from dull monotony - it seemed to me, looking round, that he doesn't give nearly enough weight to shadows.  The whole of the back of the house was dappled, by 3 p.m., with leaf-shadows that were certainly turning the yellow grey, though admittedly not quite the same dull grey as is created by the mesh netting in the back door (a back door that I go in and out of all the time - my study is the other side of it - that warning about los gatos has been there a year, I realize, as a directive to the very painters who turned the house yellow from its previous shade of old-lady-underwear pinkish beige).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

having time to enjoy the ordinary

It's been quite shocking how little down time there's been this semester (I suspect one gets to this point every semester, and feels exactly the same way), but today, at least, there was time to notice the sunlight on drying mugs in the kitchen, and time to sit and read in the back garden (after, that is, I'd sent off 1,000 words on The Victorians and Reading to the British Library, who've commissioned it for their web site).  I really think that I've said all that I have to say on that topic, possibly for ever - and it's very strange seeing that my thoughts can actually be boiled down and reduced, like stock from old chicken bones, into a thousand words.

blue building

Another view on the way to work; another cheerfully painted building (if one ignores all that gang tagging on the left hand side).  The day that I stop recording new things (I can hardly say stop seeing new things - this has had the capacity to raise my spirits for a while), I'll find a new route.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

on top of the armoire

OK - it's a long week, and here's some unbearable cuteness to keep us all going - Walter Gomez, on the left, and Moth, who have somehow jumped on top of the armoire in my study and are posing, shamelessly.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


A very fine corner on my way to work.  And no, I don't know who these worthies are: one of these days I'll stop properly, and have a close look.  This is the kind of non-showy, but completely idiosyncratic Los Angeles that I hope ever so much appeals to the potential graduate students whom we were wooing hard today ...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the language of flowers

Those of you who are long-term readers, or who know me well, will understand that usually, it's very, very ominous when I post a picture of flowers.  Except when I'm visiting my parents, it tends to be shorthand for the fact that I really can't write about the day's contents.  Let's just say that there are some days when being a department chair is much more fun than others, and this was one of the others.

the unbeautiful side of admin

... that is, of ADM, the acronym for Bovard, our administrative center on campus.  This is what you see if you peer through some net curtains, not at the beautiful vistas towards the library, etc, but into the bowels that are in the center.  Down there, spray painted in a rust red, is an anarchist symbol - quite a triumph to have got out there and to have executed it, although whether as a serious political act or a more random and possibly drunken prank is not exactly discernible.  There's some symbolism in all of this, somewhere.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

objects in particular locations

One particularly delightful aspect of going to New Mexico at spring break - or at any time when we don't have a crazy-cat-lady worth of felines in the car - is being able to put out our more precious objects, like this relative of Tippoo's Tiger consuming a human.  So … we feel free to make nominations about which particular colleague is being devoured at any one time.  Curious, of course, that somehow it always is is colleague.  But it is.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

small things against big skies

Here, on a branch of a probably defunct (drought) tree just outside our back wall is - trust me - a bluebird.  Our bluebirds are already nesting in the bluebird house.  It's probably a good thing that we're off back to LA tomorrow, since this spares us from worrying all the time about how the nest and fledgelings are faring.

And, it being windy, it was perfect kite flying day.  Not us, but two families in the road.  A predictable scene - two guys flying kites and having a completely wonderful fun time; three kids howling and yelling and being miserable; two harassed looking women trying to calm them and not being allowed any kite flying at all, so far as I could see.   Can you find the kite?

I promise you that - like the bluebird - it's there …

Friday, March 21, 2014

as zen as possible

So what counts as the best part of Spring Break - at least the part that I've spent in the US?  A long, long soak in a hot tub at 10,000 Waves, followed by dinner at the extra-good new Japanese restaurant there, Izanami (have the miso eggplant and, if it's on the menu, Japanese sweet potato …) - not just because of its sybaritic pleasures, but because for four hours I had no cell phone coverage.  No emails. No admin.  No sorting out who should have filled out what form, or what names go on a requisition order, or whether a small check did or didn't reach its destination, or or or.  Just - quiet.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

coyote of the day

Handsome, indeed - but he seems to have taken up residence outside our back garden gate.  He occupied himself for some time there this morning, sitting up looking for interesting activity;

taking a nap in the sunshine;

practicing his coyote howling posture for a photo-shoot for the NM tourism board;

and, finally, trotting off about twenty yards to join up with his friend, and fall asleep again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

semi-transparent horse's head

Here's an image for the "strange windows of Santa Fe" series … I like it not just because it's benignly surreal, but also because it reminds me (despite being fanciful, and decorated) of one of the best Christmas presents I ever had, when around 10 or 11 - a whole plastic kit called "The Visible Horse," doubtless designed for would-be veterinarians, and fiendishly difficult to put together.  Indeed, maybe it was made for would-be vet students?  It was certainly a 3-D step up from the anatomical drawings that I slavishly copied from the horse veterinary books that I borrowed from the public library.  No prizes for guessing what I wanted to be.  I was so angry (young feminist, c. 1966 or 7), when our local stable vet, Mr Simons, when I asked him for career advice, told me that women who wanted to be vets should specialize in domestic animals, like cats and dogs, because we wouldn't have the strength to cope with a horse or a cow.  This was depressing, and of course also incentivizing.  It might have been more to the point, though, if he'd inquired after my maths skills, which were to prove a rather more immediate block to my ambitions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

hunt the coyote

So where is he?  Half way up, and two thirds over towards the right hand side, just on the left of the chamisa bush - and right outside our kitchen window.  Beautifully camouflaged in the evening light.  Very sleek; lovely golden tawny ears, and predation on his mind.   Just after I took this, he settled down comfortably, like a dog in front of a log fire, knowing that he was well-nigh invisible.  Once it was dark, and we were eating supper, a little chorus of howls and yips went up, and there was, I suspect, one rabbit the less.

still life with fruit (for March 17th)

Yesterday turned into pretty much a 24-hours-of-travel day - and a large chunk of that time seemed to have been spent in the customs hall at LAX (where I would have had a worse time, of course, if I'd brought any of this fruit with me).  But I wouldn't have done - this is my parents' healthy supply (to last them until Thursday), and despite my mockery and moaning at all the unhealthy stuff they put into themselves (Waitrose prepared dinners and creamy desserts, very overcooked vegetable, and, in the case of my father, pipe tobacco), I have to admit (proudly) that it's balanced by this.  That cat plate (I love the tail as handle) was a retirement present to my mother. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

very small house

Here is my young friend Sophia: I was honored that she both shows me her very small house in her garden - I would have loved a house like that - with an upstairs bunk bed-style layer, and a settable in downstairs - to bits when I was her age (6).  I was also very honored to be introduced to her stupendous collection of owls (here she is holding Tweet) and to be given an owl drawing to take home to LA.  She knows an extraordinary amount about these birds: who (whooooo) knew about the Philippine Eagle Owl?  Sophia can tell you.  Hoot.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

black butterfly

I've been determined to look at Oxford as though I've never seen it before, today, rather than finding that every layer beneath every step I take is sedimented with memories.  So here's a black butterfly on a wall panel that belongs to Balliol.  And I've never noticed that hinge, either.  

Unfortunately this resolution to behave as though defamiliarized extended to my getting on a wrong train, and heading off on the Banbury line, when I was trying to get to Charlbury.  Mistake.  So I got off at Heyford, somehow managed to persuade a cab to come and take me to my destination - who rushed me (competently) down tiny English lanes, including one that said Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles ( a sign that was like catnip to my father, when I was little) - lanes that made Maui's Road to Hana look like a freeway ..

Friday, March 14, 2014

haunting the place

Holywell churchyard in the morning mist, en route to the English Faculty Building - where I realized that I was talking in Lecture Theatre 2, where I lectured on a pretty regular basis for 15 years.  So I felt decidedly like a revenant.  And it was a very bitter sweet kind of haunting - it's quite lovely to be back, and Oxford always looks stunning when it's misted up.  But I woke up to the news that Marilyn Butler had died - and even though she'd been ill with Alzheimers a sad long time, that was a piece of my past perishing that was especially poignant as I walked into a space that I very much associated with her.  I heard Marilyn's lectures on Jane Austen as an undergraduate; and then we were friendly when I was a grad student - and then when I returned, after 5 years at Bristol (where, by some gloomy coincidence, I worked on Tony Benn's political campaigns - and he died today, too - and he was David Butler's tutorial partner when they were both undergraduates, and so the world is very small, in England) - when I returned, Marilyn was a simply wonderful mentor to me as a junior colleague.  I wish I had some nugget of an anecdote to share, but nothing jumps out - though what I remember best is the time that she came round to a meeting in my tiny terraced house - my first house! no wonder I won't get rid of the sofa, to this day - in Marlborough Road, and we were caballing about how to set up the Women's Writing Option in Oxford.  To think that that was then - 1985 or 6 - a real local political hot potato …But throughout that, and for years to come, Marilyn was a model of integrity, academic sanity, and enthusiasm.

So this is, deliberately, a Gothically- souped up memorial picture.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

jude the obscure territory

I've been excited for a couple of months, since the organizers of the conference that I'm speaking at tomorrow told me that they were putting me up in Magdalen.  Which piece of golden architecture or weathered cloister-stone would be on view?  Would a deer look through my room's windows?  Would I be able to crane my neck and see a gargoyle?

Instead of which - I have a very pleasant undergraduate room in a house on the High - and - well, that's the view.  Alas ...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Unbelievable - it is England, and it's not raining.  Admittedly I'm here for a few days, and there's time yet.  But everything in my parents' garden is blossoming - the magnolia, the daffodils, the crocuses, the primroses - I think it's the first time in several visits that I've been able to walk round it without sinking deep into the mud.

shiny bits

The international terminal at LAX is still looking good.  The irony was that despite the assortment of Destination Restaurants, I didn't feel in the slightest bit hungry, and so didn't get to try their scaled down version of the Border Grill.  Next time ...

Monday, March 10, 2014

corporate branding

Even the lampposts.  Somehow I'd never noticed them before today.  USC has been the Trojans for 102 years and a couple of weeks - before that they didn't really have a name, but were on occasion called the Wesleyans or the Methodists (why?) - or the Cards (after cardinal and gold, the school colors).  That last moniker, anyway, was what the LA Times called them, so the then director of athletics (Warren Bovard, son of university president George Bovard - sounds ferociously like the Trojan Family was already a rather liberalized concept) asked the sports editor of the Times to find a suitable name.  So that's the story for today.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

citrus identification

At last!  We've identified the mysterious orange fruit on our tree!  We couldn't quite place the taste ... was it a tangerine?  But yesterday, in Gelson's, I saw the identical thing on sale.  It's a Minneola!  Who knew?!  These are a cross between a Duncan grapefruit and a Dancy tangerine, and were apparently released in 1931 by the USDA Horticultural Research Station in Orlando.  And they give a good crop every other year, which would explain why there were only a few on the tree last year, and why there are many more this (here are a few fallen ones, nestling up to some iron work as though they're forming themselves into the design of a William Morris wallpaper).

Saturday, March 8, 2014

garden view

This has all the hallmarks of a stock inspirational picture (strongly reminiscent of my fervent repetition of Psalm 121 when settling into the dentist's chair, aged 10 or 11 or so).  But in fact it's the view from our back garden this afternoon.  I just love it when there's snow on the far mountains ...

Friday, March 7, 2014

the slightly surreal and surprising

There were a number of things on campus that were just a little strange or surprising.  There were the two buses that passed me as I came out of the parking lot this morning - normal, excursion-style buses - heading off to the Norse sector of town, I suppose, since one was labeled Thor and the other Odin.  Then there were the two Chinese students who passed me, talking in - I guess - Mandarin Chinese - with two identifiable words - blah blah blah blah blah Judith Butler blah blah blah blah.  There was (very heartwarming, this), the UPS delivery guy who parked his little cart and came into the gallery in Roski where a very mixed bunch of undergraduate works were on show, and had a look around.  And then there was this huge bunch of blue and white balloons (some stray Greek festival?) that had somehow got loose and floated up to the ceiling, so that they were hanging outside the stair window leading up to the Art History department.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

stopped in mid-thought by the marching band

Today was meant to be - today needed to be - a hard writing today.  Instead of which, I was interrupted by piece of admin after piece of admin after piece of admin.  And then, a moment of calm, and I had something that might be termed a thought, and felt my brain switching into gear … and then, out of the main administration building, and straight past my window, in full regalia, came the Trojan Marching Band.

In news of other distractions, I have Lorrie Moore's new collection Bark in front of me, and it's so deliciously written that I may not write anything again, in any case, ever.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

on set

Sometimes, LA at night looks just like a vacant movie set - even like a stage set - even when it's not.  This is just about where Rowena joins Hyperion, in Silver Lake.  Alternatively, it's what a Dennis Hopper painting would look like if it suddenly developed patriotic stripes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Eating Roden Crater

I've been fantasizing all day about what my dessert would look like.  Because if you eat at Ray's, at LACMA, whilst the James Turrell show is still on, and present your tickets for the show, they give you a free Turrell-themed dessert.  So I'd decided that this would be a rectangle-with-curved-edges slice of semi-freddo, deep blackcurrant on the outside, merging into a warmish mango center.  Or maybe the same shape, but an apricot outer rim, fading to pale peach.  This had been such a vivid fantasy that I was quite perplexed when this arrived: I guess that I was right about the mango (and those little cylinders?  They had ice-cream inside, which I guess was at least a dark to light experience, like some of the rooms in the show).  Overall, though, I think this has to be some kind of homage to the impossible-to-get-to-see project, the transformation of an extinct volcanic crater, that Turrell's been working at, somewhere north-east of Flagstaff, since the very late 1970s.  I dream of getting to see this, one day, whenever Turrell thinks that the public may visit it ...

I think, too, that this should have been on a sky-blue plate.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

evening commute

I like my drive to and from work well enough - all that news, all those features on NPR - but sometimes, like tonight, there's a super-extra sunset bonus ...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

after the rain

Things are just emerging from the damp ... This is the surface of our glass topped table out in the back yard.  You can see through it to the azaleas underneath; the rain has brought down all the leaves from the asian pear that turned orangey-red in the fall, and some are lying on top ... the whole ensemble was an unexpected and impossible-to-plan assemblage of beauty.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

watching the water flow

If you park your car near to the kerb, and your street is on a hill, then all the water rushing past will splash up and lo! even come in through the not-very-tight seal at the bottom of the car door.  In other rain-related news, that rabbit (for all those of you who were concerned about its damp, depressed state yesterday) was last seen at dusk, happily chewing through some plants that Alice dug into the back yard last week.