Saturday, October 31, 2015

ghouls and cabbages

Halloween at Durham Farmers' Market is a dressy affair ... here are a couple of ghouls;

a crazy cat lady;

an elephant buying a pastry from two Vikings with bread-breastplates;

and some kids hanging out trying to look cool - which is hard when there's drumming in the background ... The DFM is just as excellent as I remembered it (with, indeed, very many of the same stalls).

Friday, October 30, 2015

halloween costumes

So ... the Halloween Party at the National Humanities Center didn't exist when I was there eight years ago, and a disappointing number of Fellows seemed to think that it still didn't exist ... but I digress.  The staff were there en masse, including Brooke, the librarian (on the right), who walked away with the Scary category, dressed as someone from the Bacchae (you can't see the severed head that she's carrying ...).  Here are some prize winners ... right on the left, the Project Themed category - there's a statue of a Civil War confederacy soldier, complete with pigeon shit.  And there are a sweet pair of Chinese eunuchs, and a Ghanian something or the other.

I much enjoyed making my own costume, though who knew one could cut one's fingers on silver foil duct tape?  I was the Spirit of Flash Photography.  A hula hoop; much silver crape paper.  And then I was so happy to find LED illuminated balloons in Target.  You'd have thought that - given my project, after all, that would have been easy to work out (and presumably was, after we all had to introduce our selves, our costumes) - but evidently not.  One colleague asked if I was an anemone.  WHY would I have gone as an anemone?  And who voted for me in the "scary" category?  Maybe, judging by the picture below, it's because my feet seem to be on strangely, but that's hardly deliberate.   And yes, of course I wished that I'd won ... ah well ...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

the more than bearable lightness of apartment living

This is by no means my new apartment's best view - but that's rather too occupied - or was this morning - with a tangle of coaxial cables, the dismantled feet of a tv, and so on.  I can see my problems with the cables that TW gave me - they lacked the all-important screw-element. Harrumph. The past couple of months have been very instructive - not just about the folly of believing in a handful of photographs and in an owner's loving praise of their property, and taking it without seeing it - but about what I do and don't feel comfortable writing about in this public, albeit small-public, forum.  Because if I'd gone into every detail about the house I'm moving out of - as I might in a one-off email, or in conversation - what if the owner comes upon my prose? (admittedly, you might say that I've said quite enough for this person to feel legitimately distressed, as it is ...)  I was reading, a week or so back, John Collier's book on Visual Anthropology - a terrific manifesto for the importance of recording and studying the everyday, complete with a lot of his photos from the 40s and 50s, especially of the Navajo reservation, showing the complete cultural syncretic jumble to be found on top of a bedroom dresser, for example.  I was very struck by his concept of a "cultural inventory," taking photographs of such personal clutter and then carefully cataloguing and analysing the resonances of the objects on display.  It would have been so tempting to have done that ...
... but something held me back: a sense of reticence in the face of someone's personal life so relentlessly on display (but not explained, of course, in any terms that made sense of how these things bore memories and meaning); or rather, perhaps, reticence when someone is a quasi colleague - that is, on some spectrum of North American collegiality, when leaving quite so much on display is a kind of act of trust (even if it drove me crazy, and made me very uneasy).  Certainly, when FTBL's ten years is up (three years, two months to go ...) and I write the piece I intend to on it as a practice, a project, the tension between revelation and discretion that I've been maintaining for the last couple of months will feature prominently.  I'm just so happy to be in a light, air and light filled space.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

the porchetta truck

Look what was parked outside my new apartment at lunchtime today!  I was, of course, too frazzled to partake - dealing with moving in through pouring, pouring rain and deep puddles; getting to Time Warner to pick up a variety of cables that don't seem to screw together how they should; and being on the phone/email to Alice to hear the latest on not just Walter Gomez, but Lucy Fur, also having bladder problems.  Advice: don't ever let your vet put your cats on Paxil, even in tiny doses.  There's a long story here, involving WG getting aggressive towards LF.  Lucy seems ok, now that she was given Valium to help her relax enough to pee - though is staying in vet hospital for another day or so, as is Walter, whose problems are more serious, and involve very inflamed and thickened bladder walls ... thank you, dear people who inquired after feline health, and apologies to those who would rather see what a lovely, comfortable, converted tobacco warehouse apartment looks like.  After the last eight weeks in the Sad House, this is bliss ...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

the aptness of St Francis

Last night in this house; last time of looking along the bookshelves full of someone else's Things. And tonight my eye comes to rest on St Francis and a donkey - small Neapolitan figurines - and St F seems rather apt tonight, thinking of Walter Gomez 3,000 miles away, spending his second night in veterinary care, with some as yet mysterious bladder problem.  Sometimes it's very hard being away.

Monday, October 26, 2015


You'll be deeply relieved to learn that this critter isn't anything to do with my soon-to-be-vacated house, but was hanging out on the outside of my office window.  NB the leaves becoming beautifully autumnal in the background.  This was a sharp enough macro shot to be able to see - when at 100% - the rather surprising fact that the whole front part - the thorax - is very furry underneath - rather endearing.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

things that go bump in the basement

I'm slightly apprehensive about the basement in this house - it's not just the cockroaches (dead and alive), nor just the fact that the first time I used the drier, a dead lizard came out with my clothes, nor even the expired refrigerator, propped open with an oar.  There's just something faintly sinister about it ... Today, I thought I'd satisfy my curiosity and open a half-blocked-shut door.  Inside, as I'd suspected/feared, was, indeed, an old toilet (all ancient US basements have redundant toilets, so far as I can see, until someone gets round to removing them).  But there were also some very strange wall-paintings, which manage to bring together a whole lot of styles and symbols, glimpsed in one thin crack of light.  I decided to close the door on them.  Three more nights here ...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

ghosts of slavery

This must be one of the first ever times that I've been truly grateful for someone dipping their head in front of my lens, but it's the perfect silhouette ... This is a huge barn - big enough to hold 40 horses and 40 mules - on the Stagville Plantation, or what's left of it.  Once the largest plantation in North Carolina - 30,000 acres, 900 slaves - this is inside the Great Barn, built in the summer of 1860, and quite possibly the largest agricultural structure built by slaves in NC.

This was inside the slave quarters - a little row of them (below) have been preserved.  One of the most remarkable things about the Stagville tour (conducted by a retired high school English teacher ...) was that it was a tour and approach that completely emphasized the slave experience, and that didn't attempt to exonerate their owners (or glorify plantation life, other, perhaps, the idea of communal meals out back here in the slave quarters, round a fire pit, and sharing corn or roast squirrel or whatever).  It was made very clear that these 1850s upgrades of slave log cabins were designed to ensure better, more healthy living conditions - so that labor wouldn't be lost because of sickness.  And due weight was given to the experience of sharecropping, too - economic as opposed to legal slavery, as the guide put it.  I totally recommend this experience (it's about twelve miles north of Durham).

It's very striking that the plantation house was, relatively speaking, a modest one (a couple of slightly grander ones were built later on, for descendants, but this remained at the core of the enterprise).

It was an afternoon of complete fall beauty;

with those strange big fruits/seed pods that one gets on the east coast lying around, like pale green brains.

Googling Stagville this evening, it doesn't surprise me at all to find that there are numerous reports of hauntings on the plantation, especially in the Great Barn and in the slave quarters.

Friday, October 23, 2015

pumpkin time

It wouldn't be late October without a pumpkin picture ... Actually, it wouldn't be late October, I'd have thought, without a Halloween Decoration picture, but the decorations are few and far between around here.  A house round the corner has a number of small polystyrene skulls placed at rather too regular intervals on its front lawn, and I saw another, on my drive to the Center, with some rather flimsy and apologetic spiders' webs, but to date, that's disappointingly It.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

blurry bluegrass

I spent a lot of today reading about John Vachon - one of the less well known FSA photographers, and very undeservedly so - Miles Orvell has hypothesized very convincingly that this is because he never had a Big Hit (like Lange's Migrant Mother).  What I really enjoyed were his increasingly depressed letters to his (long-suffering) wife from the road - staying in crummy boarding houses in freezing cold Montana, his car continually breaking down, and worrying that his current batch of flash bulbs would run out.  They gave a much, much better sense of what it could be like working for the FSA, trying to keep Stryker happy, trying to adhere to his shooting script, than all those letters to Stryker, which even if they might try and be joky - even flirtatious (cf Marion Post Wolcott) were fundamentally letters to an employer, and a hard taskmaster at that.

So how my heart went out today - went out twice today - to Vachon complaining that he'd sent a whole lot of photos off to Stryker that he thought were good images.  And so they appeared - from the contact sheets.  Stryker had them blown up to 8x10, printed out on on good paper, and sent them back - to show him that they were shaky and blurred.  Similarly, this image, looking down at the bluegrass band at today's NHC reception, looked absolutely fine - indeed, quite a good composition of curves - when looked at in the very small window at the back of the camera.  But it's not, obviously ... and nothing that I can tweak in Photoshop can make it look very much better, alas.  Vachon learned he should be using a tripod; I could, given the light, have deployed the balcony edge, at the very least.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

back yard

Early fall justing starting to show in the leaves.  Pretty though this is, I'm not sure that a day working - once again - on FSA photography, interspersed with David Harvey on neoliberalism for light reading - maybe that's not the right term - for non-immediately-relevant-to-the-book reading - equips me very well, if at all, to think or write about pleasant, if bland images like this.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Today at Duke University's Franklin Humanities Institute - I was honored to be invited as part of a series of colloquia on The Future of The Humanities - and what (bearing in mind interdisciplinarity, the Digital Humanities, etc. we believe the Major Issues in our field to be.  Subjects are being grouped together and then emphatically not paired - so today, two art historians, two African-Americanists, two Comp Lit people - but each of us on a different panel from our co-disciplinarian. This is the other art historian, Claire Bishop, from CUNY Grad Center, being super-interesting on the question of "the contemporary."  It was, indeed, a terrific day of discussion and idea-sharing and cross-disciplinary talk.

But.  Nowhere - I swear nowhere in my correspondence about this event was the word "translation" mentioned.  Maybe it wasn't part of the original plan?  But it was certainly there, after the colon, in the title for the day.  We all had to write and submit position papers a couple of weeks ago, and then talk for 15 minutes to introduce them, today.  Luckily, I could insert "translation" in one or two spots verbatim, and it was, indeed, an underlying theme in what I'd written.  Perhaps the title was added after they'd gathered together our paper drafts? It certainly pulled all of our conceptual speculation together, very well.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Traveling through Texas

or, more precisely, through DFW airport, but I like the alliteration.  Is this self-satire, or meta-commentary on state stereotypes, or someone's sense of humor, or just normal?  I do rather like this young heifer's parents, too.  They look very straightforward (and doubtless vote Republican) - but she has a mean girl streak as she looks at you sideways.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

luminous in the gloom

This is our favorite weekend of fall - on or around October 15th - to try and be in New Mexico, because of the aspen trees (and also for practical reasons - it should be before the first frost, so we can bring in the geraniums; leave all the faucets on a very slow drip, and so on).  This morning, we'd planned on getting up early and driving up into the Ski Basin - even it was disappearing into a cloud.  What was quite extraordinary was how the aspens bounced out of the gloom - their color was almost more shockingly vibrant in the dull light than it would have been in full sun.  And we had them almost entirely to ourselves.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

farmers' market - october version

It's easy enough taking pretty pictures of the farmers' market at this (or indeed any) season - the produce is just impeccably gorgeous - apples, squash, chile, garlic.  But after a month reading about documentary photography, that really wasn't enough - I wanted people, this time.  So here are a quick assortment (ok, in the top picture, dogs, rather than humans, though there is a pair of ankles there, too.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

sunrise, sunset

Morning over Albuquerque; evening from Cuesta Road ... (and no - the leaves aren't off the trees yet - that tree has been dead for a couple of years, and we just can't quite get round to chopping it down, because the bluebirds like to sit on it).  It is so very wonderful to be back in NM and see skies again, after NC ...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

another day, another airport

DFW, this time, en route to New Mexico.  Currently in a hotel in Albuquerque waiting for Alice to fly in in the morning - in what appears to be a hurricane.  Well, ok, very strong winds.  I'm just hoping it's not blowing every single fall leaf off the trees, but I fear the worst.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

mystery object

Does anyone know what this is?  It's hanging in the kitchen, and apart from being a repository for dust and creepy-crawlies, I can't quite guess what it does.  It may be purely decorative.  It says "Made in the Philippines," but that may not be a big help in identification.  For all I know, you'll say - but every American kitchen had one of those in the 1960s!  However, since I don't know what it's called, I can't google it.  Maybe you could keep spills in it for lighting the gas stove?  (though the pilot light probably still worked at the time that this was hung).  I look forward to elucidation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

a lot of bird

Look who was in the parking lot at the Center this evening - between me and my car.  Happily he chose to stand still and stare, rather than charge in with a sharply-angled beak.  There's rather a lot of a wild turkey - very magnificent (not quite so much so as the red-shouldered hawk whom I saw in the yard at the weekend, but he was ill mannered enough to fly off before I could so much as raise my camera).  I like surprises like this to cheer me up as I'm on my way home ...

Monday, October 12, 2015

outside my window

This one isn't a sculpture - it's very much alive, chewing through the wood that the rain barrel is resting on, and periodically stopping to scratch its fleas.  I will be glad when this three day weekend is over, and there are people around again other than squirrels to talk to (that last comment is, of course, unfair.  A neighbor came over to introduce himself this evening, and we had an instructive conversation about black mold.  I have my suspicions: the last time that I had allergies like I currently do was in Murray Hall).  Or maybe I'm allergic to squirrels?

Sunday, October 11, 2015


When showing me round, my landlady pointed with great gusto to the fig tree, and told me to expect Fruit.  Here it is - the one and only fig.  It's quite tasty (I'm ceremoniously eating it as I type) - but there's only one, apart from a few other withered looking specimens that never developed.  Oh - and the people who looked round the house on Friday turned it down.  I knew they would ... (guess the potential fig harvest didn't look promising enough ...).

Saturday, October 10, 2015


I've got surprisingly fond of this frog sculpture on the wall by the front door: he seems very welcoming, and to share my sardonic sense of humor about the very damp weather.  Maybe I can find a way to slide him into my seduce-a-new-renter script? (not that there's been anyone today - and that, in turn, is possibly just as well, given that this house looks great in the sunshine, and when it's as grey and dark as today - well, less so).

Friday, October 9, 2015

flowers in every room

One thing I've learned, after the past few years, is How to Stage a House - in this case, not for sale, but for prospective renters ... so I did a good deal of tidying of various surfaces, of changing around paintings so that they better matched the rooms they were in (I took a good number of "before" pictures, so that I'll be able to replace things), and of placing flowers everywhere - some cut flowers, some, like orchids, in pots ... so of course the house now looks wonderfully - well, flowery.  I think I should have purchased the upmarket scented soy candles that I now have burning discretely upstairs and down earlier - but maybe some other people will want to see the house?  Or today's viewers will return?  Maybe?  Please?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

apartment hunting

Full of gleaming, shining possibility, no?  This isn't, in fact, the converted loft space that I'll be renting - it's its twin, opposite, but this has a less good view - I will have courtyard and trees.  It seemed a very good omen that, walking towards it, there was a very pretty orange and white cat lounging in a window (yes, this is pet-friendly).  Indeed, it's the same complex, though not the same building, that I lived in eight years ago, and I will be very very happy (on Oct 28th) to be returning - and to be returning to the transformed vibrant city space that's now downtown Durham (yes, I know all the arguments about how new money has displaced Those Who Made Durham Great, but when I was here 8 years ago it was full of boarded up and half derelict buildings).  Keep every digit that you possess crossed that I can do a convincing job at showing the house I'm living in right now to some people tomorrow afternoon ...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

trotting away

I came to terms with something today: that renting someone else's fully furnished house (very fully furnished, very lived-in house) is perhaps not the wisest thing to have done.  It's not easy to feel as though one has, or can make, an identity of one's own when one's living with someone else's taste, mementos, bits and pieces.  So I've broken my lease (let's hope she can find a replacement tenant, or this will be very expensive), and will go a-hunting for some place else ...

It struck me that I haven't lived in rented furnished accommodation since 1979 (and that had, I swear, some pretty much identical furniture) - but even then, one could make some kind of [pause to kill v small cockroach] dent in the decor by wielding a paintbrush (Linda - if you're reading this, I fully acknowledge that painting that very small room at 244 Abingdon Road a horrible green was a big mistake, but not as big a mistake as painting the oven door, too.  But then, Mr K was never going to come round and see what we were doing there ...).

So - it will be farewell to the Russian, or maybe Finnish horses on the kitchen windowsill.  I'm proud of my own decisiveness ...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

sun, trees

It really was like a mirage this morning - blue sky, slight breeze, no rain ... I know that there will be many, many pictures of trees this fall around the Center - the sunlight today, shining through them, was, I hope, a harbinger of much quiet beauty in the month or so ahead.

Monday, October 5, 2015


(a semi-inadvertent homage to Laura Letinsky, whose still lifes I love ...).  I was worried that, on returning to rain-sodden NC, that this heading would read Leaks, but all in the house seems ok ... meanwhile, back in LA, Alice has just emailed me to say that water from the current rainstorm has just washed over her car (how far over??) and a warning light has come on ... I was going to write about how one of the few upsides of living in different places is that each of us can eat food that the other one doesn't much like - such as leeks - but that seems a little mean-spirited, given the circumstances.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


There's a reason why I have this season's USC poster featuring Samantha Bricio up on my NHC office wall - she's such a fearsome and inspirational attacker.  In this, her senior season, she's probably the best volleyball player in the country, and it's terrific watching her.  Here she is serving (yes, it was an ace ...) as USC beat Washington at the Galen Center today - I was so happy to be in town for this match (by design, indeed - not accident) - which was very, very good, even if I do now have USC's fight song firmly ear-wormed.