Saturday, April 22, 2017

under cobweb veils

Sitting, today, in chair that I don't normally occupy in my study (LucyFur had pushed me out of my desk chair, and who am I to argue with her?), and this meant that I saw this carved wooden pillar in a shaft of sunlight.  It came from a shop somewhere down the Cowley Road, in Oxford, twenty or so year ago - some of you might even remember it from my office in the St Cross Building.  So I don't know anything about its real provenance or function, but I've always really liked its two tiers of women (only the top one is visible here, of course).  Ideas welcome about its true context ...

Friday, April 21, 2017

roses and fennel, with a library attached

Round about four o'clock this afternoon, sitting taking notes in the Huntington Library, I thought - this is crazy!  It's a beautiful day out there!  The Rose Garden should be in full bloom.  Which it was - overwhelmingly so.  I don't have a particularly good sense of smell (apart from jasmine - happily; bad things, and olefactory hallucinations of fire), but even I was knocked back by rose scents.  And they went on, and on ...

although I always especially enjoy the adjoining herb and vegetable garden (cabbages look very good, with large dark curly leaves, as a backdrop to roses).  Today, the stand-out plants were the blooming fennel -

and then, in the center, this blue jay flew in.  I promise you he's not stuffed.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

egg wreath

One last Easter offering, hanging from the gate of a house in the 'hood, seen on our late afternoon walk.  I want to think that it's home made - I've Googled and Googled, and although I can find similar artifacts (mostly illustrated in craft magazines, and pinned to Pinterest - obviously there are armies off egg wreath crafters out there - who knew ...) I can find nothing that comes close to this.  So I want to believe that it's impressive and home made (go on, now - spoil my illusion - tell me it's from World Market ...).  Whatever, it was pretty and spring-like.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

books furnish a home

It's time for the LA Times Festival of Books on campus!  Hooray!

But wait ... what is this stall?  What will it sell?  Bookcases?  Planks, screws, brackets, electric drills, and paint, so that I can put up my own?  How-to books on - well, how to put up bookshelves?Wallpaper with books on it?  (courtesy of eBay).

Stick-on wall murals, like this one?

Blackboard paint, so that you can cover your walls and chalk your own narrative?  Books by the yard?  I can't wait to go and check it out ...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

La petite histoire de Blackie

It's that time of the year when I start to fantasize about tidying up the garage, and organizing my old papers and photos, and and and, and then get distracted by the first container that I open.  This is the product of my first year learning French - aged 11-12.  

Oh?  You want to read the rest of it?  I don't think that we'd approached the past tense yet - a whole year without talking about the past?  Is that possible?   Maybe this was just the end of the first or second term.  But I'm impressed by my vocabulary ...

I also note that my punctuation seems to be American.  No wonder I've always had problems with consistency.

Monday, April 17, 2017

working at home

I wish I could get more into the habit of working at home - it's such a wonderful and green-surrounded space, and I have books and internet ...

... and impediments.  The impediments roam around my desk.  I found this out, once again, today, when I had to stay at home for work people: freezer surprisingly warm: needed the condenser vacuuming (I'm sure that's an American thing - whoever heard of taking an industrial strength vacuum cleaner to one's refrigerator innards?) and washing machine - leaking - needs a new gasket. Really, it would be good if the cats would go out to work, instead of gazing skeptically at my notes.

Oh, and this is what LucyFur does, at the slightest hint of a workman anywhere near her space.  No one can see her, can they?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

happy Easter

There's something that's more than a little surreal about this tableau in the front yard of a very, very small private school in Silverlake. I'm assuming that it's more or less Easter themed - a Pasqual lamb, some rabbits, some hens (but no eggs) - but who knows?  Happy Easter, anyway!

roses in the 'hood

Some of our neighbors, I think it would be fair to say, are a little bit more assiduous and talented than we are when it comes to gardening ...

Friday, April 14, 2017

spring volleyball

How I wish that seeing USC play at a spring tournament - in the practice gym - made me excited and fired up to see them play next season ... of course it was great being back in the Galen Center, and especially good to see the promise of our new setter, Brooke Botkin (she can really put it away as a hitter, too) and the positive on-court energy of Victoria Garrick - but oh, gosh, it's very much a work in progress.  You'd expect that at this time of the year, yes, but you wouldn't expect to see us lose to Cal Baptist, even if this is only A Friendly Match.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


To Caltech - California Institute of Technology - tonight, to hear a lecture by my old and dear friend Lynn Nead - on the aesthetics, the blacks and whites and shades of grey, of post-war London, and of their resonances with the return of the only-semi-repressed: Victorian England.  Interesting and provocative though it was - Lynn's always someone I'll go and hear speak if I possibly can - this didn't really mesh at all with the aesthetics of the CalTech campus.  I'm shocked that I haven't set foot on it since - yes - 1988.  It's very beautiful (and extraordinarily dissimilar to my early memories of post-world-war-2 London, all gaping bombsites and ragwort and rosebay willowherb).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

swan lake

Sometimes, I can feel very grumpy coming into USC early on a Monday or a Wednesday, when Alice teaches an 8.30 class, and I need the transportation in order to attend a mid-afternoon meeting (for I am not shelling out for my own expensive car parking pass when on leave ...).  But this morning wasn't one of these days - at least, not as soon as I saw that the reflective pool had been Occupied.  "They were out here early this morning," said the maintenance guy.  "The students.  Taking photos.  At least we've got them all to the sides now.  Do you want one?  We'll just round them up and throw them away, otherwise."  So there's now a small inflatable plastic water bird in my office.  I wish they could all have been found good homes ... surely the students might have taken them to a school (yes, I know it's Spring Break), or even the lake in Macarthur Park?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

a colorful campus?

I made a rare - at least, rare whilst I'm on leave - excursion today to the science part of campus, in the company of a friend and his son who are sniffing out possible colleges.  This building, under construction, is being painted a cheerful turquoise.  Please, please, please let this be its final color!  It would be so wonderful if our campus was colorful, rather than acres and acres of manufactured red-brick coating.  This was an inspiration as to what it could look like.  I shall keep my fingers crossed.

Monday, April 10, 2017

planting an avocado

This looks like a curiously well-camouflaged avocado - but it is, I promise you, here, amid the vinca and the California poppies and some white-flowered weedish plant I can't offhand identify.  In a few years' time - I think it has to reach about six feet - it should start to bear real avocados. It currently has tiny, tiny ones, the size of an ant, which will all drop off.  

It's been a dream of mine to have an avocado tree since I first visited LA, back in March 1988.  I went to speak at UC Riverside, - on Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience - and stayed the night with the amazingly hospitable Ruth ap Roberts and her husband: they had a sprawling (to my English eyes) house with wonderful art round every corner - including a huge painting of a foot - maybe a sculptured foot - in the living room.  They also had a huge tabby cat called Princess Di.  There was a star-studded cast for dinner, but I have no idea where I might have kept any record of that, and I can't, alas, remember who was there - but I do know that at least one couple who taught at UCLA came. Only now do I realize the magnitude of that driving gesture.  Back then, Riverside still had a good number of orange groves, and that struck me as extraordinarily exotic.  And Ruth had, yes, an avocado tree on the front lawn.  I don't know where, prior to this, I thought avocados came from (before the supermarket), but this was a revelation - the thought that one might have one's own home-grown avo supply!  And now, nearly 30 years later, I'm hoping to arrive, sooner or later, at this pinnacle of horticultural aspiration.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

a cocktail olive, and two statues in Rittenhouse Square

There was just time for some exploration of Philly this morning - the most wonderful object of all was this stuffed cocktail olive (I presume on top of a cocktail bar).  It's quite the period piece.  Round the corner from it is Rittenhouse Square - big tony 1920s apartment blocks, and such a cherished space, since it's been renovated, that it not only has a lot of notices forbidding one thing or another, but its own cop, or at least security guard, sitting in a kind of gazebo in the center.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


A lot of today was spent in Philadelphia Museum of Art - both in the magnificent American Watercolor show, and tracking down the Whistler Nocturne (which I'm writing about in relation to fireworks, or in this case, lack of them).  Some reproductions - not the Museum's own - show a hint of a star in the sky, and I wanted to check it out.  No pigmented star at all - but there's a raised speck of paint that catches the light from some angles.  That fits into an argument, somehow.

That's Augustus Saint-Gaudens's Diana (1892-3) created in 1892–93 as a gilded weather vane for the tower of New York’s Madison Square Garden, and rescued in the early 1930s by the Museum, when it had fallen into disrepair; and then the huge 1964 Angus Calder mobile, Ghost - in other words, a pretty striking entrance hall, and, even with these two large works, a place of contrasts.

So is the city - I was left craving an informed walking tour of the city's architecture, old and new.  I was embarrassed, all the years I lived in NJ, that I didn't spend more time in this city - I have no sensible explanation as to why not - and hope to get to remedy it ...

Friday, April 7, 2017

two cats and a bridge

Back into Philadelphia this evening, after a whirlwind trip - this is our re-entry to town over the Ben Franklin Bridge (elderly banana peel on dashboard, fruit, so to speak, of Alice's determination to fend off leg cramps.  They work).  It was a long day - leaving Bitzi (whom we drove from S. Jersey) in West Hartford, in her new home with Alice's sister - fingers crossed that this will be a long and loving relationship) and then back to S. Jersey for a late lunch with Bitzi's previous foster parents - and the external company of one of their feral cats, Muffin.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

the problems of driving in Southern New Jersey

This goose really speaks for itself.  Otherwise - this shows a rare dry moment in a very wet day.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

getting closer to Easter

... although Easter is so late this year that it's still a long way off.  Something, though, whether it be Easter or Passover - and yes, of course I know they're inseparable when it comes to dates - made both LAX and PHL extraordinarily crowded today.  This store window, however - in Philadelphia, opposite our hotel - is entirely devoted to dressed up rabbits, candy eggs, artificial flowers, real plants, and a whole lot more signs of spring than are visible elsewhere.  I'd forgotten quite how late trees are in getting leaves, back east ...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

an arbitrary store front

In a sense, this is an utterly arbitrary store front - it was just there when I was stopped at light on the way in to USC.  But it also raises questions about how arbitrary one's eye may or may not be.  Did I decide to take this picture because at some level I took on board the compositional rightness of the broken heart, the bright red column, the pink and crimson dresses?  Does my photographic eye unconsciously recognize not just framing elements - that I expect - but balances of color, as well?  (if I'd been asked at the time what had attracted my eye, I would, after all, have said all the foliage, and the old wrought-iron balcony just visible through it).  And then there's the fortuitous pigeon, on the upper left windowsill, subtly echoed in the top of the parking meter ...

Monday, April 3, 2017

in conversation with Amanda Vickery

I wouldn't have chosen that image of Amanda to be so stern, so haughtily aristocratic, if I'd taken more time over it - but it's a rapid interpretation of my desk today, as I was assembling a set of ideas and questions for our "curated conversation" after she spoke at USC later this evening.  It was a huge privilege and pleasure to be talking to her in a public forum.  Of course, I wildly over-prepared - and although I managed to cover lots of good ground (after she'd spoken for an hour or more, and touched on - or throroughly covered - some things I'd wanted to talk about, there were still questions left over).  I especially wanted to ask about how she copes with how her love of detail, of multiple example, of the tiny but telling circumstantial material fact - something from which, in her writing, she always manages to extract a larger point - how she copes with that being truncated, shaved and pared on TV.  As it was, though, I managed to ask her, at the end, about what I really wanted to know about (no - not how she manages to walk, on camera, on the kind of heels that I could never balance on to cross a room) - that is, her Twitter account.  I can feel myself gearing up to tweet when Flash! is a step or so further down the road, and Amanda provides an amazing role model.

yellow flowers

Five minutes walk from our house ... apart from the power lines, this is quite idyllic for urban living.  I've never seen Griffith Park look quite like this: all the rains have resulted in a bumper wild flower crop, so the view from our house is bright yellow and bright green, in perfect spring sunshine.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A party for Alice ...

... to thank her for her wonderful, successful, time as Chair of Gender Studies - given by Mike Messner and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo in their beautiful back yard in South Pasadena.  Never was a party for such hard work better deserved - I simply don't understand how Alice has kept so cheerful throughout.  I was going to say - everyone much appreciated being able to toast her - but oddly, we didn't raise our glasses (just applauded) - so if you have a glass to hand, of whatever, toast her now.