Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pineapple, with Suzanne

I knew that it would be wonderful seeing the Visual Voyages exhibition at the Huntington under the guidance of its curator, my colleague Daniela Bleichmar - but I didn't realize quite how much I would learn about what was outside the show.  Somehow, I hadn't quite noticed that the gardens in front of it had been temporarily planted with Central and South American plants and fruits and all manner of botanica that would, indeed, have been strange and wonderful to the first European visitors.  This included pineapples - Suzanne and I - Suzanne's in the background, presumably contemplating the issue - wondered if we can grow pineapples here in Los Angeles.  I mean, surely the evidence above would suggest so?  The whole existence of the pineapple - how to draw it; how to describe it to someone who'd never seen or smelt or tasted or felt one - was a running theme in the first part of the exhibition.  The whole of Visual Voyages is stunning - the illustrated books, atlases, herbaria; the botanical illustrations; a large, contemplative portrait of Humboldt, is terrific - go, if you haven't already been - or even if you have, go again.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

different leaves

Two different sorts of leaves in the Huntington Gardens - some vine leaves, and some palm leaves.  The vine leaves were spreading over a canopy in the Ranch garden - only open for a couple of hours each Saturday - it's an urban agricultural experiment and teaching tool, and is a wonderful corner of the Huntington I didn't know existed, full of butterflies and bees and fennel and artichokes and kale and native plants and fruit trees.  As the people who run it said: it's the edible side of the Huntington (this was whilst offering me slices of blood orange, and chocolate persimmon - that is, vaguely-chocolate flavored persimmon, not some gussied-up Christmas treat), as opposed to the ornamental.  It was the antithesis of the hothouse (despite being around 82 degrees - surely not natural for December?), and extraordinarily peaceful.

Friday, December 8, 2017

the translucency of whiskers

It's time that LucyFur had her chance to shine (aka, for those of you who decipher the hidden message behind these things, it was a long, long, long, longer than that, long day of meetings).  But - what strikes me most of all her is not just the intelligence of her profile, but those extraordinary, thick, translucent whiskers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

why it's worth living with the danger of fire ...

I could have sworn that I would never buy a house that was vulnerable to fire - I have a long-standing fire phobia; used to wake up, as a small child, with screaming nightmares about fire; and have a tendency to hyperventilate when near burning logs in a fireplace.  I haven't the world's best sense of smell, but I can sniff out the scent of burning at a hundred paces.  Yesterday's skies of smoke made me on edge, jumpy.  (Yes, I know that I've just co-edited an issue of 19 on "fire," but that's either perversity, or a form of aversion therapy).  So why would I ...?   Here's the answer: the view from our living room early this morning.  It's a trade-off - vulnerability for view - but it's pretty wonderful to have (only) a 10 mile drive to work, with this vista (that bright green spot? The umbrella shading my precious avocado tree is still there ...).

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

all the air is full of smoke

The view from my parking structure at USC today - that smoke is coming up from the Bel Air fire.  The air is anything but Bel: of course, at work, and in Los Feliz, it's nothing like as dense and horrible as further west, though it's making my already scratchy throat scratchier, to be sure.  We're lucky; friends of ours who live down where that smoke is - waiting to see.  But in a way, so are all of us, especially if, like us, our homes back up against tinder-dry brush and woodland.  This means that we're always looking anxiously outside, wondering where sirens are heading, wondering if the sound we hear is helicopters circling overhead for some ominous reason, picking up cell phone messages about red flag conditions being declared again (and that means we can't park on the street), gauging how much the warm Santa Ana winds have picked up.  Of course this is the price one pays for living on a hillside, having amazing views, enjoying the rural.  But I wish it would rain.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

a photobomb

A long, long, long day, mostly spent doing Skype interviews, with occasional pauses to eat dried mango.  The kind of day when one comes home and casts desperately around for something to photograph, and once again, hits on the bright bowl of tomatoes.  But.  What is that, in the top right hand corner?  Moth really can't bear not to be the center of attention ...

Monday, December 4, 2017

last class

I will miss this class! including the other ten students who are out of this picture, but seated somewhere around our living room ... We ended with 5-minute presentations from everyone about their final project (and that had me looking forward to each of those final projects, very much indeed).  This was, however, interleaved with a pot-luck dinner that included some truly excellent food - I so enjoy having students round to the house (although, I have to say, gatherings these days are much more decorous than some that I remember from many decades ago, especially in my flat in Bristol).

Sunday, December 3, 2017

you can't go away again

Moth is adamant.  No more traveling, for an age.  (Little does she know - in just over a week we'll be off again - but with her and LucyFur in the car, too).  We crawled home after an 11 hour flight a couple of hours back; left the bags in the front hall whilst we foraged for dinner, and Moth made it quite certain that we couldn't leave again - at least, not without her ..

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Victoria Regina, reflected

I've long been very fond of the statue of Queen Victoria that stands outside Kensington Palace - the palace in which she grew up.  It was designed by her daughter Princess Louise in 1893, and shows her mother aged 18, in 1837, wearing her coronation robes.  Here she is, upside-down, reflected in the little moat round the plinth, with a few floating late autumnal leaves.  I'm sure this ought to function as a metaphor for something ...

Friday, December 1, 2017

two Oxford walls

One new; one old.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say - one piece of new (to me) graffiti, on a fairly old wall at the top of Great Clarendon Street, and one elderly (so far as I know) piece of Virginia Creeper, on what's almost certainly a very old wall fronting Trinity College.  I was on my way to and from a radio interview with a Dublin station that I recorded at OUP.  Quite how I kept the shredded remnants of my voice together enough for it I don't know (although a cup of hot herbal tea and endless Strepsils surely helped): for the rest of today I've been painfully, frustratingly laryngitic - my old-time response to using my voice after a cold.   Really, I shouldn't speak for a week, but returning to a full week of meetings and teaching is going to scuttle that plan ...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

well and truly launched

walking back from dining in Linacre tonight, with Flash! well and truly launched on the world, or at least on the UK.  It was a long, surreal, and wonderful launch-day - and I have now completely lost my voice (which will not be useful when I do some broadcast interview for Dublin in the morning).  It moved from an interview at the BBC with my old friend (and former undergrad and DPhil student) Matthew Sweet, whom it was truly terrific to see again, to London's Google Headquarters - a magnificent, glass and airy building at the back of Kings Cross, which was just as much a fantasy playground as one would imagine (although alas, even in signing in, one had to sign away one's right to take photos) - I gave a lunchtime talk to a room of people who asked great questions, before being whisked off to the world's (well, London's) most wonderful free and extensive cafeteria ... and then to Oxford, for a smaller party at my (old and current) college, Linacre, followed by dinner.  Gosh.  This has been the first, and I'm sure only time that I've written a book that's been treated with such enthusiasm, and it's been utterly due to the quite fabulous publicity team at OUP.  I'm now out of superlatives, but thank you, everyone.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Geometry of Bloomsbury

... staying at the Bloomsbury Hotel, for my book launch at Birkbeck tonight (a truly wonderful event, so a million thanks to Lindsay Smith, for a Response, to everyone involved with the Photography Research Centre and the Nineteenth-Century Studies Group, and of course OUP, for making everything possible).  Apart from the slow elevators, the Bloomsbury Hotel has much to recommend it - but it is becoming (like so much of Bloomsbury - and I'm not counting the fact that I was speaking in the Keynes Library, with three large Vanessa Bell oils on the walls) very Bloomsbury-Group-ized.  Yes, that's VW on the breakfast menu.  But the true coup de grace (or disgrace) - the notice by the Dalloway Restaurant saying "They lived in squares.  They loved in triangles."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Magdalen, Oxford

Three utterly picture-postcard-perfect views of Magdalen College: top and bottom of the Cloisters, and then in the middle, the New Building - so-called; begun as late as 1733.  Startlingly modern, one might say, compared with the Cloisters, which date, give or take bit of rebuilding, from 1474-80.  Such a fabulous place to be spending the night, post-talk ...

Monday, November 27, 2017

late autumn in Oxford

or even, I suppose, early winter.  An early-ish walk in the University Parks this morning (with two dogs); admiring the lone heron who's standing somewhere in the larger island; and processing (as I have been all day), being back here, where - in toto - I spent 21 years of my life.  It's all both deeply nostalgic and a radical experience of difference.  Speaking to Victorian graduates in the English Faculty today (about my new work on attentive looking, ecological awareness, what it means to look at this material in the light of today's environmental state of crisis, and so on) made me feel so grateful about the intellectual fierceness back in the US that makes us - makes me, anyway - think about questions, not themes.  So, in the end, I guess that this is what I was talking about ...

Sunday, November 26, 2017


On the one hand, it's quite amazing having Machiavelli quoted on a London Tube station.  On the other ... well, let's just say that I don't believe that Niccolò quite intended his words to be read in the non-sinister, non - er - Machiavellian spirit of self-affirmation that this Thought For the Day puts across.  It's probably a good idea to check the context and purport of one's pithy quotations ...

Saturday, November 25, 2017

home skies

There's home, and then there's home.  Wimbledon Common, and its skies, has been home for - well, a long time.  This is the seventh decade, I guess.  So when I'm looking at this particular quality of late November light, at the reflections off the pond and puddled bridle paths, at the bare horse chestnut trees, I know exactly where I am - as rooted as those trees.  At the same time it's all tinged with nostalgia, pastness, and being here makes me feel as though I'm about a hundred and ten.

Friday, November 24, 2017

LucyFur, sleeping

You wouldn't think that this dear, peaceful cat was someone who turns into a solid growling boulder of aggrieved tabby around five o'clock every morning, would you? - aggrieved that Moth would dare even occupy the same bed.  Whilst I always miss her (and Mothy) when I travel, I also look forward to uninterrupted sleep ...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

a cranberry waterfall

I'm not big on last-minute Thanksgiving shopping, but early morning found me in Gelson's, buying those well-known essentials: garlic and printing paper (well, o.k. - some lilies, cat food, paper towels, and seaweed snacks for the plane tomorrow found their way into the basket, too).  But had I not gone - I would have missed this kinetic sculpture, which looked as though it had escaped from a 6th grade science fair, and this was very endearing.

OK - you want a recipe for a mean sweet potato and kale gratin?  I feel stuffed.  And it was all the better for that garlic.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

a good season for the Dodgers

To be completely honest, baseball is the last American Sport that I've really got to know in any detail - with no particular reason for this tardiness.  But by the time the Dodgers were in the World Series a few weeks back, I was sitting up late at night reading up the rules on my iPhone - I feel a little more confident now about how the whole thing works.  OK, so they - we? - didn't win.  But at least this means that when I see miniscule baseball player figurines, I have a hitherto unsuspected sense of attachment, or at least identification.  These are sitting on the windowsill of a more-or-less neighborhood cafe, Go Get'em Tiger - we went and gave ourselves a pre-Thanksgiving treat of lunch out (at Kismet, almost next door to it), and Tigered it for coffee afterwards.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Putting aside the aesthetic merits of USC's new statue of Hecuba (or demerits - it really is an overwrought and embarrassing piece), let's just acknowledge that, like all bronze statues, it's taking on a pleasing greenish patina.  But what about the hand (and, indeed, some other spots).  Did Hecuba have vitiligo?  Did a seagull or three take a crap on it, and was some unfortunate bleaching liquid used?  I'm sure that it shouldn't be taking on such a strangely lightened hue.

Monday, November 20, 2017

late autumn leaves

At last - at home, and, here, on campus - leaves are turning golden and falling off the trees, as opposed to looking parched and withered and sad.  I can never quite get used to Los Angeles seasons - not least after coming back from five days of snow ...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Rockies and the Anthropocene

(and yes, I'm going after the colors of an old-fashioned tourist postcard here, because this was taken through a tinted bus window and was strangely colored in the first pace).  Ah ... the beautiful Rockies.  That was the collective sighing appreciation of a Banff Airporter bus full of NAVSA attendees this morning, sad to leave the mountains ... I'm not sure how many others saw this other than my seat mate and myself, but its jarring presence on the landscape was a perfect analogue for all the discussions about the anthropocene, nature, resources, extraction that we'd had over the previous few days.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

some Victorianists take a hike

This morning's hike was the greatest fun - up a snowy mountain (Tunnel Mountain) behind the Banff Centre, in the company of a Cree who told us about the sacred nature of the mountain and - below - the one it overlooks; talked about the sacredness of the earth; lit a bundle of cedar and sweet grass and sage; said a prayer and sang in Cree; gave us tobacco to sprinkle at the foot of trees.  He also asked us not to photograph; not to recount his stories - but at the same time was eloquent about the need to tell things that at one time he would have kept to his own people.  It was a very special hike - even if (despite having brought strong hiking boots with me) it left me vowing to buy a pair of snow cleats for any similar hikes I might do in the near future.  My iPhone tells me that I climbed 86 flights.

The cloud was really settling in when we were down again.

Friday, November 17, 2017

walking between sessions

The day started with an 8 a.m. executive committee meeting, and ended after the last session, after dark ... but in between, this was some spectacular landscape.  I was in a couple of seminar rooms, too, when it was well-nigh impossible not to stare, and stare some more, at the view.  Please can we have more conferences up mountains?  The quality of the papers and discussion (and both, today, have been wonderful), are just the same - or indeed, on this occasion, possibly stronger than ever, since the topic, "Victorian Preserves," has elicited all kinds of provocative and imaginative and stimulating stuff.  Alas, I haven't (bearing in mind the conference title) heard anything yet about jam making - though that is, of course, the effect of the impossibility of being in seven places at once.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

conference time

Ah, NAVSA - my favorite conference - these are my peeps, through and through.

The setting doesn't hurt, either ... I just wish that we were all here for two weeks, which would give us - well, me, at least - time to go skiing.   It's very frustrating, having new snow, and having to be in a room talking about ... well, let's just say, my paper was about snowflakes.  Sublimation, perversion - I don't know.  But it's great to be with so many friends, and in the mountains, too ...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

the beauties of Banff

The map made it look as though it would be a relatively easy (if bracing) walk to the Banff Centre from my hotel.  Hmmm.  I don't think that the map can have been to scale.  By the time that the street lights ran out, and the sidewalks disappeared, and ice took their place, and it had started to snow, I came to the conclusion that I'd made a crazy decision, and turned around - just about at the point that a large stuffed buffalo head stared out at me from someone's front yard installation.  Mercifully, a cab - a hailable cab - appeared at that moment, too.  Lyft and Uber aren't allowed to operate in Banff, which obviously would have made eveything much easier.  So I managed to get to NAVSA's opening reception, well-exercised ...

Here's a downtown view;

some local residents on a bench;

and the very pleasing view from my room (there are, indeed, advantages in not being at the conference centre, like being downtown ...).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

you know you're in Canada when ...

... a surprisingly large Rocky Mountain Bighorn greets you at baggage claim.  There are, indeed, a lot of metal animals in Calgary Airport.   Here in Banff, just about all the streets are named after animals - Caribou and Bear and Moose and Beaver and Elk and Muskrat.  For all you NAVSA peeps who aren't here yet (and why am I here already?  it had to do with the timing of direct flights from LAX) - it really isn't that cold.  Truly.  And I say that coming from LA.  It's winter, yes, and there's some snow on the ground, and I'm expecting that it'll look pretty in daylight - but it's not like, say, MLA in Chicago, which (the last time I was there) was one of the memorably nastiest chilly dank experiences of my life.  No - the air is thin and dry and wonderful.

Monday, November 13, 2017

about that onion

Yes, I know it's the second appearance of the onion today - but I wanted to use it to say how very grateful I've been this week to the 7 day black and white photo challenge (no people, no pets, no explanation).  I've not done much by way of challenging anyone, because I suspect that you're like me and don't want even one small extra bit of pressure this week.  But it's been fun, and has offered very temporary respites from the very many things that I should rather be doing ...

Also, I find that my iPhone can produce pictures of surprising beauty ...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

my 'hood

Just off Hillhurst, between McColls, the excellent butchers/fishmongers, where Alice had gone to buy some steak, and Albertsons, where I'd gone to buy tempeh and ginger and cilantro (you will gather that we cooked separately, at lunchtime).  I'd not seen this Chicanx wall before - I'm imagining that the proud mountain lion roaring out the name of this area is P22.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

not an abandoned chair

I miss that series of Abandoned Chairs of Highland Park from seven or eight years ago - one just doesn't see so many around Los Feliz when one's walking around, and then, the ones that I see when driving around - well, I'm driving.  But here, on Jefferson, outside the Shrine, is a chair, a veritable singular, lonely chair (although, I suspect, not an abandoned one).  

Friday, November 10, 2017

cultivated abstemiousness ...

... when you're celebrating someone's birthday, but none of the four people present want to eat much by way of sugary indulgences ... Take two caramel macarons from McCall's (more than just a neighborhood fishmonger and butcher ...), and two small coconut macaroons (I hate coconut macaroons, normally, and these are compulsively delicious); add three sprigs of rosemary; two geranium sprigs; one lemon slice; three champagne-bottle candles - and lo!  Happy Birthday!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

the sweetgum ball

I feel as though I've extracted a lot of mileage out of this small fruit today - a sweetgum ball (Liquidambar styraciflua), as identified by Carolyn Williams.  There are lots of them on the ground near my office - and on line there's a lot of discussion about how you can turn your ankle by treading on one awkwardly, or, for that matter, gather them up en masse and use them to deter slugs.  Or - ditto - deter rabbits.  Or use them as Organic Decorations.  Or put them at the bottom of planters.  I suspect that I'm going to leave them where they are ...

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

evening owl

Home early - at dusk - and look whooooooo swooped in to sit on the neighbors' television aerial, just as I rolled up!  Then she began her evening hooting.  I so love long-eared owls - they are like huge feathery cats.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

los angeles evening

Sometimes - despite the FedEx van, despite the storage units - the clarity of the evening light at this time of year just takes my breath away.

Monday, November 6, 2017

days when ...

... one gets home very late; has left one's camera with the Photo of the Day in one's office (not a notable image; nothing missed) and even the fruit plate in the kitchen looks decidedly sad ...

Sunday, November 5, 2017

shiny morning beach

The good thing about the clocks going back last night was that there was plenty of time for a walk along the beach (in daylight) before heading back to Los Angeles (I can't believe this is only just over two hours' drive away - that's Mexico, at the far end of the picture - about twenty minutes down the road).  The sands of Coronado really do shine with flecks of mica, carried there from Mexico by the Silver Strand littoral current - gleaming, here, in the early morning pale golden light.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

a hotel, a beach ...

Not bad for early November ... we're managing quite happily to survive a night in the Hotel del Coronado, with this gold-glistening beach outside the front door.  There's nothing like an 1887 Grande Dame wooden building ... Alice was the person who earned this, after a panel on which she talked eloquently and inspiringly about Shortfall, and about all the broader implications that lie behind the writing of personal history (I'm just using hotel wifi, and chewing my way through the proliferating mounds of admin).

Friday, November 3, 2017

freeloading a conference view ... evening and morning

Coming to a conference that isn't one's own is something that I suspect I inflict too often on Alice.  This time - at the Western History Association - I have come to realize that I should never feel bad about this.  Bliss is not having to give a paper; not having to chair a panel nor act as a respondent; knowing very few people so only socializing with a hand-curated couple of attendees, and having a comfortable room in which to sit and do admin, and share a drink in the evening, with no obligations whatsoever ... Oh, and there's a very good view, just outside the room, to borrow, stress-free.