Tuesday, February 28, 2017

in memoriam, Claude Pascal 1921-2017

[in keeping with FTBL's principle of including a photo taken by me on each of its days, here's an image of Claude, about to be scanned]

Claude Pascal was one of our very oldest and dearest family friends.  He will, I'm sure, have his share of wonderful formal eulogies: he was one of France's most eminent C20th composers; he was music critic of Le Figaro between 1969-1979; he taught at the Conservatoire in Paris; since 2014, he was the oldest living recipient of the Prix de Rome; he served on numerous juries and committees.  But I knew him as the man who married Gwen Rooke, my mother's best friend from school, and whom I first met when I was about three - they arrived to stay with us, just before the birth of Véronique (whom I can, with confidence, call my oldest friend) bearing a copy for me of Le chat et la lune - my first French book.  

I remember them coming to stay with us a second time in Cumberland, and then in Wimbledon, where he entertained us on the terrible-sounding piano that my father had found abandoned on a roadside and re-strung himself, and then enlivened a whole restaurant - the Contented Sole, just by South Kensington station - "genuine" fish and chips - by playing ragtime in their dining room.  

Above all, however, I remember him in Paris, and at the Pascal's summer houses (first rented, then their own) on the Ile-aux-Moines - always a gracious and generous host.  I recollect his sudden passions for certain foods - there was one occasion in Paris when the cupboard in the hallway proved to be full of cans of palm hearts - and his guidance in the choice of restaurants.  His favorite, he claimed to me, was the Restaurants des Beaux-Arts (now, sadly, no longer there), where he'd eaten so much as a young man that he had his own napkin and napkin ring and little drawer for it to live in.  Music was dominant in his life, and he was generous in sharing his access to it - I once went to a concert in the Salle Pleyel with him at which Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sang Schubert lieder, and that might have been the time that I realized what an influence Schubert must have been on his own composition.  In many ways, he was resolutely non-experimental, but he wrote some terrific pieces.  I loved the cello sonata that he wrote for Rostropovich (I don't think a recording of this exists; I wish it did) - I was staying at the Paris flat whilst he was working on this - and some of his works for children, especially a set of tunes based on circus music. He adored the combination of music and children.  And he also cared deeply about other arts.  I'll never forget arriving off the train from London, and being greeted at the top of the stairs (and they lived up four floors) by Claude opening the door and announcing, lugubriously, "Picasso est mort."

[Claude in the garden of our Oxford house, on James Street]

Above all, I associate Claude with many happy summers on the Ile-aux-Moines.  Here he is with Gwen, and with Brigitte Toulon, Véronique's very good friend.  This was the photo I went looking for this morning - I think I must have given them the good print, because this looks as though it suffered some darkroom catastrophe.  But I'm including it because I always think of Claude, in the summers, as wearing this kind of light sweater, like a cricketer's sweater - and often the little képi that he has in the picture above.  This is a house that they rented just for one summer.

And here he is opening some wine, at Beg Moussir, the house that they rented for years, looking out onto oyster beds in the Golfe du Morbihan.  Claude was very punctilious in his wine pouring - about three quarters of an inch at a time.  Gwen has her back to us; my mother is looking very flirty in a blue shirt, and I'm doing the sulky teenager number on the right.  

More libations, same cast (and Josée Dubuisson's dog, Lia) - I think this must be at a cafe in the island's tiny village.

And there was, of course, always music, even at meals - I recollect one memorable dinner when he had the assembled company beating like a regular metronome with their left hand, and tapping the melody to Ravel's Bolero with their right.  You try it ... In a rented house, music meant renting a piano.  Remember, this was on an island.  So the piano had to arrive, and depart, on a boat ... and to fit it on a boat, on at least one occasion, it had to be taken apart.  Claude's the left-hand man in a white shirt; my father, wearing a tie, on the right; Véronique, wearing orange, on board.  Once on the boat, the piano was reassembled, and I have an abiding memory of it chugging away back to Vannes with Claude seated at the keyboard, playing away, until it was out of earshot of those of us back at Beg Moussir.

I can still hear that music, fading away across the still water.  As my father said, when I called my parents to tell them the sad news, it's the end of a chapter.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Los Angeles, framed

This has it all: freeway overpass; graffiti; warehouses; palm trees; a high-rise building; the hills and mountains in the background ... well: nearly all.  We're waiting for the sun to emerge again (and speaking of waiting - worry not: I was stopped at traffic lights on National, somewhere between the dentist's and USC).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

an ornamental cabbage

Strange things happen in LA - and no, I'm not talking about the end of the Oscar ceremony, weird though that was.  Rather, the rain ... rain that's made things grow, and bloom, and resuscitate, like a couple of ornamental cabbages by our front door - tall, thin, spindly, to be sure, but nevertheless, Redux (and seeking to provide inspiration to Oscar dress designers).

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Persistence is, of course, our Moth's middle name - her determination to be Cat #1 is unsurpassable. So here, walking over my new t-shirt, she is showing her solidarity with Elizabeth Warren.  You'll remember that this was the reason that Mitch McConnell gave for silencing her, when, during the debate on Jeff Sessions's nomination for Attorney General, Warren carried on reading out a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King criticizing his record on civil liberties (including the voter suppression of elderly black citizens).  He'd warned her; "nevertheless, she persisted."  The profits from the sale of this shirt, I'm glad to say, went to Planned Parenthood.

Friday, February 24, 2017

celebrating Ellen DuBois

To UCLA today, for a terrific celebration of all that Ellen DuBois has contributed to women's history - to the history of US suffrage; to the history of US feminism - with a range of speakers who brought home the significance of these contributions; the amount of collaborative work she's done; her tough but kind mentoring; her pioneering work in transnational feminisms; the importance that she's placed on jargon-free communication in one's writing and speaking, and - no mean feat, this - bringing out her quintessential Ellen-ness.  A big shout-out to Brenda Stevenson for having organized this.

But, oh, this slide from the archives, showing work by Ellen on Sarah and Angelika Grimké ... the punctum, for me, in true Barthesian fashion, is in that lettering, so wonderfully pre-computer, so very familiar from a hundred fliers advertising meetings and one-off one-act play productions; echoing the graphics of album covers and more glossily produced posters in the late 60s and early 70s.  There's something about the fact that the letters are both curvaceous and with serifs that makes them very much of their time, and acutely nostalgia-producing.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


There are still sandbags at large ... the rainy season isn't over yet.  Some sandbags saved our garage from getting too wet whilst we were out of town - the puddles only reached the plastic boxes, and not, so far as I can see, anything worse.  These tasteful bright yellow ones are outside a building on campus: this was going to have been a stark, quasi abstract image until a completely nonchalant skate boarder swung past on his way to class.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

new year, with golden clouds

Some golden Los Angeles clouds this evening, over Santa Monica Boulevard, presaging, I trust, a good year ahead.  Privately, I tend to mark new years as beginning on February 22nd.  My VERY BEST THANKS to each and every one of you who wished me a Happy Birthday - you made today truly special.  Oh, and blue though the sky is, it's not really that blue - you can attribute the color to the car windshield, and my attempts to fix it in Photoshop just made it increasingly less plausible, so I abandoned them ...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


We spent much longer today at San Jose airport than we would have wished - or rather, alas, not in the airport itself, which was very pleasant, but on the tarmac, whilst our plane was being mended ...  The airport does a very good job of whetting one's appetite for more of Costa Rica - we'll be back, I'm very sure.  Here's an ox cart, from Sarchi - I would have loved to have had time to go there (unfortunately, we had to leave our hotel at 3.30 a.m., which wasn't a good hour for detours), pulled by a large cardboard ox.

Monday, February 20, 2017

one last day of rainforest

Today, off to the Rainmaker nature reserve with our (by now familiar, and most excellent) guide Ali - where we saw, among other birds and reptiles and insects and moths and butterflies and waterfalls (and many, many plants) - a lizard that literally hangs out on a branch waiting for prey (it has claws at the back of its heels);

very large leaves;

hanging bridges (they became a lot scarier than this, and we were very glad of an Alternative Route at one point);

a poison-dart tree frog - if I 'd been less excited by this rarity, I might have made a better choice of camera, since this was one for the macro lens - but in turn, this wasn't really a hike that prioritized taking photos (these are Very Venemous);

some beer ads (a pun: Costa Ricans say "pura vida" at every opportunity, and here we have dogs getting into the action;

and, on our drive back, young men gathering in the palm oil nuts using African buffalo to pull their laden carts.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Alice's birthday (and the tale of a cake)

Alice's birthday, celebrated in style ... and the hotel, after we were back from a long walk along the beach, were good enough to bring up a cake - a chocolate cake, with confectioner's cream and fruit ... far too rich to eat very much of, so we put half of it in the fridge ... ... and then later in the afternoon, what did we see but a Thieving Monkey, racing along our balcony railing, opening the door in front of the fridge, opening the fridge, and making off - once it had seen us - with a cream covered strawberry.  It's a good job we saw him, or he'd doubtless have stolen the remains of the cake ...
(this may be one of his cousins - there were about six of the marauders, once we looked - last seen heading into a neighboring balcony ...).

This basking iguana - also visible from the balcony - was altogether more tranquil ...

Saturday, February 18, 2017

a few costa rican views ...

This evening's sunset - pale pink and violet.  We'd been out birdwatching - highlights included two different types of toucan, a  blue crowned motmot, an orange-fronted parakeet, a Baltimore oriole (no, not just a sports team), and a pigmy owl.  These were the woods they were flying around in;

earlier, the long beach, with a  hand cart;

and some rather ridiculous people in the shade of a big rock - looking very like Victorian holiday-makers.

Friday, February 17, 2017

costa rican critters

Today, in Manuel Antonio National Park, we met a whole lot of monkeys (these are all Capuchins, as you can see from their little monkish skull caps, but we also saw tiny squirrel monkeys, and Howler Monkeys making noises just like sea lions);

lots of sloths, who are usually upside down, and contorting themselves (very slowly) into very tricky positions;

a yellow-necked toucan;

and rather a fetching iguana (actually, at our hotel).  Plus - not shown here - an agouti (also at the hotel), a coati, a family of raccoons, many tree creepers and a golden-naped woodpecker (wonderful! - only found in tropical CR and in the very northern most bit of Panama), and Halloween Crabs.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

sunset, beach

Standard tourist shot, I know - but how else to convey, for now, the sheer peacefulness of waves, sea, lack of traffic ... greetings to you all from Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  The watery setting is appropriate for two Piscean birthdays.  Also, a raccoon climbed down the tree next to our table when we were having dinner; there are various sloths hanging from trees, and we were greeted by a small armadillo on our way back to our room.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Downtown LA - the new building are growing, and glowing.  However much they might represent urban renewal, they're also a prompt: time to head out for a few days and find some peace and quiet (it's been a long, long, long haul for us both finishing our books ... and 'm not even teaching).

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's day

Sometimes, one's just in the right place at the right time ... This large red heart has been painted on a wall on N. Hoover Street for some time.  Today, when the traffic was lined up behind a stop sign, what did I see but ...

Monday, February 13, 2017


This is a very fine, very tall tree on campus, that somehow has been trimmed as though it's got ambitions to shrink and become a bonsai.  It was very wonderful to come out of my office this afternoon and gaze at its tranquility as a relief from the small-game-hunting involved in picture permissions.  Guaranteed to raise my blood pressure ... not so much the chasing down of people who don't respond to emails, or having to call the Royal Geographical Society, in London, with my credit card number on a very uncertain cell phone line, but the more-or-less Famous Photographer who replies to my polite letter, and friendly email asking to reproduce an image with the two words "Permission denied."  I should say - this is not someone I've ever met, or offended, or - well, what would it have taken to type "Sorry -" in front of that? Bah.  (Still, I'm nearly there ...).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

flash sachet

At the very beginning of the C20th, when people were trying to find ways of exploding flash powder that didn't involve setting the curtains or one's eyebrows on fire, one of the very many ingenious devices was to put it into little packages - rather like tea bags.  They seem to have been made in Germany - this one is German - or in France.  The idea was that you stuck the long paper strip somewhere - leaving the flashbag hanging at a suitable distance (to be worked out using the chart on the envelope that it came in - see below) from the object that you wanted to have illuminated.  Then you light one of the pieces of string with a single match, and retire to the safety of your position behind your camera ...

... little did I think, as I assembled the illustrations to Flash!, that I'd actually be able to buy one of these!  You never know what you'll find on eBay.  This came from a little town in Italy - I'm sure that it was horribly illegal to send it through the mail.  No, I'm not going to see if it still works.  Having photographed it, I've put it, very securely, into a tin.  But still!  I'm super-excited to own this little piece of flash-photographic history.

NB, on this envelope, the little zig-zags of lightning.  That's part of my argument - even if flash photography really has very little in common with flashes of lightning, people simply couldn't resist the comparison.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

resistance down the street

I don't know who lives in this house down the street from us in Los Feliz, but I do know that I'm very happy to live in this neighborhood.

Friday, February 10, 2017

well traveled sheep

I've had this iron sheep doorstop a very long time - so long that I had to think a while before I could place where he came from, and that was disconcerting, because I'm very fond of him.  But I remembered - at least I hope I've remembered ... there used to be a shop on St Clements, in Oxford, that sold rather tasteless fireplaces, and a lot of bric à brac to go with them, most of which one wouldn't want at all.  But I'm pretty much positive about this provenance, which means he's moved from Oxford, to a couple of houses in NJ, to a couple of houses in LA, and now sits on a bookshelf (in part because many of our doors are kept closed, because of the Cat Wars).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

blossom, beginning

This is the annual moment of beauty - or the start of the week of beauty - when the view from our bedroom window is straight into a tree full of blossom.  Because it's been such a wet winter, though, the Asian Pear hasn't lost all that many leaves, and so the blossom doesn't yet look as startling as usual.  Watch this space, unless it's all knocked off by tomorrow's rain ...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

out of season

Presumably the weather will clear again, and we'll be able to use the table in our back yard - at the moment it's covered in fallen leaves from the Asian Pear (itself bursting into blossom).  At the same time, I'm envious of friends in NJ, promised a snow day tomorrow - we're getting rain again on Friday, but there's never yet been such a ting as a Rain Day, despite the general Angelino inability to drive efficiently in any thing damper than a light drizzle.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

horticultural problem

So ... I'm ashamed to say that I don't know what this bush in our front yard is called.  What I do know is that it's suddenly fallen very sick - the leaves are turning yellow, with dark spots on them, and are falling off, as though someone's shaken it very, very violently.  I know that it's not too easy to see what's going on through the raindrops (and one possibility is that it's become suddenly intolerant to all this damp) - but does anyone have any bright ideas about what's happening, and what to do?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monday at the Getty

The Getty Museum doesn't usually look like this - empty of people (it's a Monday); pavement shining with rain; hills shrouded with clouds; and then spring leaves just starting to appear.  It would have been idyllically tranquil if I hadn't been waiting so long for a book (ah, that elusive search for the almost-final footnote) that I was fretting about not getting somewhere else (which I didn't manage ...) and also if it had been, perhaps, just a little warmer.

I was being interviewed - maybe others reading this have been, too? - for a survey/white paper about how art historians use social media: an hour which must have given my interlocutors the impression that (apart from this blog) I spend my time reading FB for political news or watching cat videos.  I did manage to weave in some stuff about how I use social media in teaching ... but what I hope above all was heard, and what would be wonderful should it emerge from the white paper, is the absence (unless I'm just ignorant) of a site where we can really learn about how people use social media in research and in teaching, and how it intersects with their other usages of social media (or how it conflicts with them, or for all I know how it means that people have separate accounts - and I don't just mean the ones that are out there in the names of certain cats)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

the superbowl

You'll be unsurprised that I didn't purchase any of these buttercream fantasies at Whole Foods in Glendale today, although I did make a mental note not to go to a supermarket in the late morning on Superbowl Sunday next year.

What can I say?  Lady Gaga was spectacular, as were many of the ads (and if you haven't yet watched all of Journey 84's ad you should, now, whatever you're otherwise doing.  The second half of it was banned for SB broadcasting, which is a shocking thing in itself.  Watch it.  Now).  But what happened to the Falcons?  I was hardly invested in this game, except in so much as rooting against the Patriots and Tom Brady, on political grounds, was a must, whoever they were playing.  As for "thrilling games," I prefer ones that don't cause me to choke on my dinner in dismayed disbelief.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

year of the rooster

It would have been a good idea to have checked, today, before I went to the Huntington to chase down two missing page numbers, that there was nothing Going On in the gardens.  It wasn't that I was innocent of the Chinese/Lunar new year - I already knew that I'd better avoid going anywhere near Chinatown.  But I'd not factored in the New Year Festival in the Huntington Gardens, that made parking so impossible that I had - for the first time ever - to park out on the street.  However, it was great to prowl around whilst I was waiting to my book to turn up (a first edition of William Faulkner's These Thirteen, the USC copy having disappeared without trace from the shelves): here's a very small boy excited to be inside the head of a dancing creature.