Friday, July 31, 2015

wheat pasting, decay, and Denver

As long term followers will know, I love wheat pasted images on public walls.  With Alice back in the State Archives in Denver today, I shot round the corner to see if there was anything new - or rather, anything new that had satisfactorily decayed - in what I think of as Wheat Paste Alley, just off 13th street.  There was a bumper crop - so I went into a store called Pandora to see what they would tell me about it all, and I found that the photographer Mark Sink is behind the project to bring art to Denver's streets.  A number of these images are, I think, by Sink himself - they do, at least, bear his trademarks of sultry women and semi-gothicism.  Above all, though, I was just delighted by the marks of aging and tearing and fading, and the occasional piece of graffiti, and leaves, that come into the images.  Half way through my shooting a van roared down the alley and killed a pigeon, which somehow was in keeping with the mood of the images themselves ...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

the surprising parrots of colorado springs

When Alice's book is published, or when the last bit of proofs has been checked - oh, no - when the Colorado Springs book launch and reading has taken place ... I may stop coming to this strange town, which is the closest I have to some weird version of a family home in the US - if only by marriage.  In very many ways, I won't be sorry - but there again, there's always some new, unusual attempt to adorn the streets.  Here, hanging across the entrance to an alley on N. Tejon, are a large number of inflatable parrots.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

one knows that it's going to rain when ...

... the early morning sun hits the Cerrillos Hills, with the dark sky behind, so that it looks like they're covered in snow.  And it spattered and dripped on and off throughout the day, and then started to come down in true earnest this evening, with my favorite iPhone weather app, Dark Sky, pinging excitedly to tell me that lightning had struck - say - four miles away, and move to a safe place, now.  The Peaceable Kingdom didn't like being disturbed as I drove up after an evening out - a tiny rabbit sheltering under Alice's car felt obliged to hop off into the damp, and the bird that roosts on the light by the front door flew crossly out into the downpour - but I'm so very grateful for it all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

the absurdity of Moth

Moth is clearly hoping that these metal quails (crafted in the workshop of some New Mexican jail, and very much loved pieces of vernacular art) will come alive, and jump into her mouth.  Maybe she's thinking of the ones outside the wall - one adult (there must have been a Bird Tragedy involving the other), and eleven bustling adolescents.

Monday, July 27, 2015

back in NM

One knows that one's back in New Mexico when the sunset from one's back yard looks like this ...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

a long day

Here's an orchid that I gave to my mother on my last trip back - it's doing extraordinarily well (as her orchids do).  From my current vantage point, in the Sheraton at Albuquerque airport, this morning, in Wimbledon, seems a very long time ago ...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

ah, England ...

Truly, I don't know any other country where one encounters a tethered concrete sheep grazing on a front lawn.

Friday, July 24, 2015

the most adorable house in London?

I stumbled upon this today whilst making my way from Senate House (keynote delivered! questions answered!) to the BL - somewhere in the wilds of Kings Cross, or south KingsX, in a land of council flats and cheap hotels - and this was down a dog-leg side street, and was covetable beyond words - tall, thin, plant-bedecked, and with St Pancras in the background.  Given that I'd just been talking (among other things) about the allure, from the early C19th onwards, of London's hidden places that reveal themselves like little intimate secrets, this seemed amazingly timely.

And yes, it was a very, very wet day.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

folded roses

One of the real delights of Bloomsbury and roundabouts these days is the rapid proliferation of little shops and cafes and artisanal thingies - and of looking in their windows (en route to the British Library, for a mash-up of putting together my presentation for tomorrow's Loving London talk, and some healthy self-plagiarism from the intro to To the Lighthouse that I wrote some - ouch - nearly thirty years ago - I needed the quotations, at the very least, for a very short, very simple piece I'm writing for the BL's own website.  I was sure that my parents would have a copy - but no: hence the BL).  These origami roses were in the window of a wedding dress designer's: I was so hoping that they'd be made of some of the pages about Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, but alas, 'twas not to be ...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

a lion and a unicorn

This is pretty terrific - St George's, Bloomsbury.  I could have sworn, though, that I'd never seen this magnificent lion and unicorn before - how could I have missed them, in all my years in working at the British Library before it moved?

Turned out that I didn't: the church was in disrepair and financial difficulty a long whiles, but in the 2000s obtained (among other funding) money from the World Heritage Foundation, and now it's very striking.  This is a Hawksmoor church, built after the 1711 Act allowed for the building of 50 more London churches, and it's had a veritable history (Anthony Trollope was christened here; Emily Davison, the suffragette who threw herself under the King's horse in the 1913 Derby.  But the Lion and the Unicorn - they (re)arrived in 2006, sculpted by Tim Crawley, after original drawings.

You think you've seen the spire somewhere before?  Yes!  It's in the background to Hogarth's Gin Lane.  Since my current (wonderful) hotel, the Bloomsbury Hotel, has given me a two-for-the-price-of-one card for the bar, Gin Lane my still be alive and kicking in 2015.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

visitors! and everyday life in SW19

Almost like Christmas ... but in July.  From right to left, my aunt Nancy, my cousin Gaynor, her (and Mike's) daughter Ellie, and her husband Mike.  In the middle, some treats that I went and foraged in Wimbledon Village.  What was for decades and decades a traditional baker, Gravestock's, is now a chi chi but completely excellent artisanal bakers (Gail's) - I am addicted to their spelt and sunflower seed loaves, and here is a lemon drizzle cake and some almond biscuits/cookies.  Then, of course, some macarons from Paul's.  This rather reminds me of one of those Thomas Struth family portraits that I'll show to a class and invite them to contemplate the dynamics of the scene.

Then here's my father, buying fish from the traveling fish van - just like Victorian London, minus the street cries;

my mother and Simba;

both of my parents, forcing Simba to have some ointment put on his eczema;

and the very, very, very peacefulness of an early, sunny summer's morning from my bedroom window.

Monday, July 20, 2015

homesickness ...

... or some kind of strange version thereof.  For this is a very strange object (abandoned, lying forlornly on the damp grass on the way to Wimbledon Station) - when did you ever see a local baseball cap in these colors, which look more suitable for a toy elephant?  The very un-rightness of it paradoxically made me feel more homesick.  I don't think I'd ever anticipated - before moving there - quite how much I'd miss LA when I'm away for any length of time (and yes, I know that sets up some challenges for next year ...)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

requiem for a tree

Ah, this makes me sad.  It's the execution order on the big horse chestnut tree at the top of Hillside - a tree I've known since we moved there in 1961.  "Diseased."  Yes, the paperwork talks about its replacement - but it's not going to grow this tall and full again in my lifetime.  It had those lovely horse chestnut candles in spring, and was a very valuable source of conkers in the autumn.  And more than that - it still gives a very distinctive shape to the top of the road - a piece of rounded vertical perspective, pulling the sightlines together.  It doesn't look bad - I'd thought it must have some kind of leaf blotch.  But I fear that the problem is Aesculus hippocastanum - a bleeding canker of horse chestnut trees, which apparently has been increasing exponentially in the UK since around 2000.  Of course, it seems to come from the US.  We get sparrows, you get chestnut canker.  At least it's not the Invasion of the Giant Hogweed, which seems to be driving the papers into some kind of frenzy this summer.

And no, the ivy at #3 doesn't look too good, either.  But maybe that's deliberate.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


I'm not sure if I'm the target market (nostalgia), or if it's aimed at the retro-chic young, but Waterstones on Malet Street have it right: this is how they are selling 2nd hand Penguins.  And opposite this wonderful forest of orange spines are all the deep blue Pelicans.  If Peter Mandler were on FB I'd tag him, since he's writing about their intellectual and cultural heft - and don't I know it: my social/cultural history interests were formed by them - Tawney, Asa Briggs, Carr, Richard Hoggart, Michael Young and Peter Wilmott - all there.  Waterstones has gone weirdly folksy, though - lots of labelling in chalk on slate boards, as if instead of books, they're trying to sell one a cheese scone and a kale smoothie.

Friday, July 17, 2015


OK - it would have been terrific if I'd put a camera card in my camera this morning ... at least that will ensure that I'll remember the shots that I took, since they'll exist only in my head (quick shout out to the book of essays edited by Will Steacy, Photographs Not Taken, where photographers write about - well, when they didn't have a camera on them, or chose not to press the shutter, or whatever).  I'm convinced that the untaken photos are what one remembers best ... Luckily, I didn't miss anything special.  Here, feebly, is part of the dark Russell Square view from my window: a very English corner of telephone boxes.  People still use telephone boxes? - or is that just where people leave business cards advertising spanking?  (I once had a graduate student who used to purloin these from where they'd been left, and leave notes on them, instead of a message pad ...).

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Just like the Titanic

I hope that's not a metaphor for my talk tomorrow morning at the Arts and Feeling conference ... but rather, a description of the Hotel Russell's dining room (breakfast!).  Charles Fitzroy Doll designed in in 1898 - and then went on to design one more or less modeled on it, that's now two and a half miles under the ocean ...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

the unloveliness of LHR T3, and a strange Victorian coincidence

Is it any wonder that my heart sinks every time I stumble off a plane at London Heathrow Terminal 3?  Is it possible for an international terminus's walkways to look any more unwelcoming?

That being said - I am having the rare, rare treat (because of conferencing) of staying in a central London hotel - to be exact, the Hotel Russell in Russell Square, a magnificent late Victorian pile - all terracotta on the outside and fleshy marble within - built in 1898.  I was here just once before, in December 1998, recording a radio program on "Victoriana," with the producer David Olusoga. Presumably we were here because it's so totally Victorian.  We were also in a very small bedroom (unlike my current perch, which has a huge bay window overlooking Russell Square), in which we were both of us trying (like a bad, or indeed illegal, MLA or CAA interview) to ignore the fact that at least one of us was going to have to sit on the bed.

And what do I find in tonight's Evening Standard?  That David O is presenting a program tonight - the first of two - on "Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners" (I'm not sure who's meant to have forgotten them, but that's a different question).  I'll be watching this (if I can stay awake) - I call this a very strange coincidence.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

living in airports

At least, that's what this summer feels like, at times.  I thought I'd be posting a picture of the Kogi Barbecue Truck in Terminal 4 at LAX, but the line was so extraordinarily long that I've settled for the AA Admirals' Club and a G&T and some spicy mix, and a washed-out Hipstamatic filter to mimic how I'll feel by the end of 11 hours more flying ...

Monday, July 13, 2015


It's a cliché!  A veritable Hawaiian cliché!  But no less beautiful for that ... and now, sitting in a hotel at LAX (and with the prospect of rather too much to do at work tomorrow), it seems a very long way away ... 

sand sculpture

For a couple of days now, there have been a couple of very impressive sand-sculptors in the lobby of the Sheraton in Waikiki (why are we visiting the Sheraton? - because there's a Peet's coffee there ...) - a woman and a man, with scalpels, very finely and delicately (with lots of damping) carving out these very fine bas-reliefs.  OK - very fine in technical terms: aesthetically, there's something very Tomorrow-Belongs-To-Me about these guys, or at least the bottom one.  The top one may be about to spring into life and thump the sculptor over the head with his lumpy mallet.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

lights up above

A day of NAVSA papers, plenary, banquet, etc etc.  You mean there's a beach, and sea out there?  Really?  There are, however, some rather striking ceiling lights in one of the main conference rooms - like illuminated glass necklaces.  I'm always a great fan of spirals, which, even in this form, are very reminiscent of some of the most striking Hawaiian tattoos that one sees around - there are torsos out there that are true works of skin art, celebrating indigenous designs and traditions of all kinds.  So I just found myself wondering ... what happens to this after the owner of the body underneath the skin passes on?  There's a Dutch foundation that will preserve your tattooed skin for you - as a piece of art; as a memento for your loved ones... Hmmmmm.  I think I'll want my own small blue spiral to end its existence when the rest of my body does, thank you very much ...

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Let's say that these fireworks are being let off by the NAVSA organizing committee in celebration of Seth Koven winning this year's NAVSA book prize for The Match Girl and the Heiress.  At least - we were just setting out to walk up the beach to go and have dinner and celebrate this super-well-deserved achievement, and the timing was just right ... and they did give us (Seth, and then John Plotz and myself, as the judges of the prize) leis at the start of the Book Prize panel, so why not light up the skies as well?

Friday, July 10, 2015


There are just a few old buildings left in the concrete jungle of Louis Vuitton, Sportsac, Tumi, and clothes stores that's downtown Waikiki - but here is a wonderful collection of pale blue tin balconies. Doubtless some developer would dearly like to tear these down and build high-rise in their stead, but for now, there's a corner of old Hawai'i left.

Of course, some of us are benefiting from the view from the 29th floor of a hotel high rise.  This is a very surreal place to have a NAVSA conference, to be sure ...

Thursday, July 9, 2015

not doing very much

It's been a long long time since I've done very little other than walk around; look at beaches;

encounter a very large banyan tree;

walk to more beaches;

and encounter a WW2 pillbox (indeed, this is a form of defensive architecture that I associate entirely with England's South Coast).  Yes, I know it's conference time tomorrow, and it'll all change again ... but it was so terrific to have a day off.