Tuesday, August 22, 2017

the sadness of the B&B coffee tray

English B&B / Guest Houses of a certain type, a certain vintage, have had the same coffee tray, the same little plastic sachets of Nescafe, the same tiny containers of unreal milk, the same squat white kettle, as long as I've known them.  They used to induce despair; now that's strangely blended with nostalgia.

Monday, August 21, 2017

the start of the semester

I'm sure that I should have gone to this ... it was a very - shall we say - full day, although (courtesy of lots of transatlantic flying last year) I'm finding the pink champagne in LAX's international 1st class lounge quite acceptable as a means of stress relief.  Oh - there was an eclipse?  I couldn't find any pretty little dimpled leaf shadows to photograph - only the view from my window, which was strangely, but not remarkably, lit.  Nonetheless, Alice and I are planning for April 8th 2024.  Texas, I think that will mean ...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

the caterpillar is growing

At least, going back to Santa Fe very briefly, I could check in with the caterpillar and see how she's doing (I may have failed to mention that we also encountered a friend of hers - don't know where they wriggled off to).  She's not cocooned yet - but she seems very well and healthy, and I look forward to her to becoming a Zephyr Bullseye Moth next summer.  I have a deep and dark suspicion that she's eating the Morning Glory leaves - I think she's meant to eat willow, but she showed no interest in the branch that I brought her a week or so back.  But she's so beautiful I'll forgive her.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

memo to my future self

Dear Future Self,

Of course you like coming back to Santa Fe - to enjoy the quiet, the coyote that trots by, the sunset, and to take the chance to water the remaining plants, and replenish the humming bird feeder.  But.  You really don't want to do so again because you're giving a keynote in another country in a few days' time, and you have left all the notes that you've carefully gathered this summer and that you need for completing the talk on your desk top, do you?  Particularly when it's Indian Market weekend in Santa Fe, which has a mesmerisingly bad effect on flight prices and car rental costs.

But yes, indubitably, even if you will have to get up early to fly back to Los Angeles again, it's great to have a quiet evening in which to write, notes by one's side.  And at least I can gather up various other forgotten objects - a tee-shirt in the drier, some granola, two pencil cases ...

with curiosity as to whether you'll take this advice to heart,

Current Self.

the awesomeness of late summer (for Aug. 18th)

Such awesomeness shouldn't actually include a lengthy internet outage - but had I been able to post this yesterday evening, you'd have seen how extraordinary the pink African lilies and the plumbago at the back of our house look in the early morning sun.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

erecting a statue ...

At a time when the rest of the country (not even the "rest" - including the Hollywood Forever Cemetery) is taking down - quite rightly - offensive monuments, USC is putting up what at least is a well-meaning attempt at a statue in the spirit of diversity and equality.  Meant to be a counterpart to Tommy Trojan, our long-standing Trojan warrior forever Fighting On outside the main administrative building, this is Hecuba.  As a very informative article in today's LA Times tells us (this must be the first positive piece from them about USC in weeks ...), this Queen of Troy is deliberately a model of resilience (let's say resistance, even).  Our President, Max Nikias, was passionately involved in the decisions about the sculpture all the way through its making: "On the cylindrical base of the 20-foot statue, Nikias wanted six women representing Hecuba’s daughters, modeled after women of Native American, Mayan, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, African American, Middle Eastern and Caucasian descent, connected by an unfurling ribbon that read Arts, Humanities, Science, Technology, Medicine, and Social Sciences. Hecuba’s face would be a blending of ancestry."  Speaking with all the authority that comes with being a member of the University's Public Art Committee (a committee with startlingly little authority ...)  I've seen a great deal worse, and it's a remarkably, if sadly, appropriate week for this to be unveiled at the opening of our new University Village today.  And no, I didn't go to the opening ceremony ... but I couldn't resist going and seeing this later ...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

fall semester

Fall semester demands, I think, that there should be some evidence of Fall - here is a large, dessicated leaf from campus, which otherwise is full - as yesterday, but, indeed, even fuller - of students moving in, accompanied by embarrassed looking adults wearing t-shirts saying USC DAD, or embarrassing their offspring by taking photos of them in front of Tommy Trojan - I haven't yet ventured across the street to see what, we're told, is TT's "female counterpart," and I'm rather procrastinating on going to investigate that particular piece of statuary ...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Life, this little sticker on the bottom of a small, mushroom-like fire hydrant - at least I assume it's a fire hydrant - on the USC campus tells us, is full of bumps.  I was going to write about the weirdness of this sticker being there at all - was it part of a treasure hunt?  low-level (very low level) disruptive and depression (or realism) inducing platitudes for freshers?  But that was before the bumps - the realisation that I must have left two pencil cases in New Mexico (they contain not just pens and pencils and paintbrushes and highlighters and and and, but leads, and gadgets to download images from photocards, and spare energy sticks for recharging electronics, and and and).  So I couldn't download this image - had to take a picture with my iPhone - and couldn't usefully stick the card in the back of my home computer, because I've forgotten its access code, and, trying to relaunch it, Apple tells me it will take up to a day to reset.  And and and.  And somehow I've left Chapter Two of Flash!, marked up for proofs, in NM, too.  And and and.   I know these are privileged 1st world problems, and the horrible President is far worse than all of this.  But.  I don't like getting apposite homilies relayed by mysterious campus messages that now, I fear, were specifically targeted at me ...

Monday, August 14, 2017

the pleasures of La Posada

The second leg of the drive back to LA is always shockingly long (and, today, included some terrible drivers on the road).  But we're back safe and sound - and it's terrific, as ever, starting the day in La Posada, Winslow - even if Moth and LucyFur (and so, us as well) were woken at 4 a.m. by cat fights outside our window ...

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Isn't she beautiful?  Four feet, or thereabouts, of bull snake.  We were packing up the cars this morning, and there she was, winding her way across the concrete garage apron. having eaten, I hope (though she doesn't look very bulgy) all of our mice and pack rats.   She just licked up ants and no-see-ums on her way.  Fascinating to see that on a fairly flat surface, she really does use her muscles and wind, whereas on rough ground and grass, she goes much straighter and faster (just in case you were thinking of developing a snake racing track).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

humming bird feeder - both ends of the day ...

It's been a busy day out at the feeder - from the grey misty light first thing this morning, through to this evenings's semi-golden sunset.  Perhaps because of the cloudy and damp start, they've been far less challenged by bees today - even so, it never ceases to amaze me how much energy is expended by the Rufous humming bird - busier chasing all the other hummers away than it actually is feeding.  And why (given the distinctive sound of the Rufous) are they called "humming" birds, anyway, rather than buzzing birds???

Friday, August 11, 2017

not quite leaking

Not quite leaking ... to La Choza for what will be our last real New Mexican meal for a while - and housed in the "covered patio" - which offered respite from the heavy driving thunderous rain (except where it was seeping in across the floor).  I suppose there may be something preferable there to the pollo adovado blue corn enchiladas, and a smoke and fire margarita, but it's hard to imagine what that could possibly be.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

rare caterpillar

So: we have this on our patio today, under the portales - first walking around the terrace, then climbing up under a window.  I do a little Googling, and find that this is, indeed, not a walking Christmas tree nor strange sea slug, but a caterpillar of the Zephyr Bullseye Moth and, apparently, very rare.  Said moth is absolutely stunning, so I want to give this caterpillar the best chance of making it.  So far as I can see, it lives on pinon trees, so I went and cut it a branch of pinon tree (it seemed very unimpressed).  It's also, of course, very good at self defense - each one of those little spikes is armed with toxin, and you wouldn't want to stroke it.  Apparently the pain wears off after a quarter of an hour or so.  But I feel very protective of her ... I wish I knew where she really wants and needs to be ...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


We have been promising ourselves new blinds for ever: this summer we actually did something about it (even my father, sniffing suspiciously at this apparent extravagance during our last Skype session, visibly relented when he heard that these had not only been in place since 1992, but that they, in all their metallic faded non-glory, were sticking and jamming and crinkling and generally stopping working).  So here, in my study (and the living room) are sleek new blinds, that you can semi-see out through in daytime (but if I were to expose for that, then I'd lose the pretty sky), whilst no one can see in - at night, they are a very fetching mid-grey that is just a shade lighter than Moth's coat.  The other rooms - wooden slats.  We feel very proud of ourselves for having got round to this, and of how they look.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chama to Antonito - by steam train

For years, I've wanted to take the Cuimbres-Toltec Scenic Railroad that runs from Chama to Antonito, and today - a long and beautiful drive to get there and back, plus six or so hours on the narrow gauge railway, and worth every exceptional minute.

Here's the other train coming up the mountain - I was standing at the cross-over point;

our train blowing off sediment from the water;

people leaning out of the windows to take pictures;

Alice taking a picture in a tunnel;

many, many wildflowers (here, in a stockyard);


looking back down the track;

couplings between cars;

and a painted old station house in Sublette.

Monday, August 7, 2017

morning morning glory

The mornings are still beautiful - but there's something about them: the season is imperceptibly changing.  It's not just the angle of the sun in the sky, and not just the fact that, because of the monsoon season, there's a residual smell of moisture, a slight heaviness in the air.  Or rather, it's all of these - nowhere near fall yet, but one knows that it's coming.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

dinner party under the full moon

Probably our last outdoor dinner party of the summer, here in New Mexico - not just because of the obvious reason that we'll be heading back to LA soon, but it's getting quite cold by the end of an evening ... so great to entertain old friends under the wild full moon sky, and a lot of pink fizz was drunk by all ...

Saturday, August 5, 2017

helping with my proofs

A nearly 400 page book involves a lot of proofs ... and that's slow, painstaking work - a missing quotation mark in mid quotation here, an indefinite pronoun that's been dropped from a title there, an occasional dropped couple of words ... I do it the traditional way, covering up the text and releasing and reading one line at a time.  I'm also grateful for the fact that OUP has a professional proof reader going over it all too, because my available help is more like a large, spreading, furry paperweight.

Friday, August 4, 2017

summer weather

We're getting used to the summer monsoon thunderstorms (and happily escaped today's two-hour power outage that hit a whole lot of people around here, including our vet's - luckily, LucyFur was out of her dental surgery by the time the power went off).  But today's storm was spectacular, by any standards.  That white stuff on the ground and on the wall?  Hail.  At least our water bill should be good and low this month ...

Thursday, August 3, 2017


We went up to Dixon today - in the Embudo valley, two miles off the low road to Taos, and a really idyllic spot.  An old college friend of Alice's lives there - he's manager of the co-op General Store (as well as being a wonderful quirky papier-mache artist).  He directed us to look both at the flourishing library, and at the huge ceramic model of the valley on the side of the store - with lots of little medallions showing all the places of interest.  Opposite, a wall made of wood and old cans (I've never seen this done before), and beyond that, fruit orchards and hills.   We bought locally grown greens and spinach - apparently the whole valley is a developing area for organic farms (I'd picked that up, as passive knowledge, at the Farmers' Market, I think) - at the same time, interesting if sobering to learn that the old Hispanic population is dwindling considerably, giving way to the farmers, and to retirees (but yes, there is a large elementary school, and yes, young people in evidence ...).

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

shelved peaches

I'd love to claim responsibility for such a wonderful array of bottled peaches, which not only look delicious, but which are neatly color-graded - the whole shelf stretches further than you can see here, and goes from darkest orange to pale yellow.  But rather, these grace a wall in Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen, where I met a friend for coffee this morning.  I hope that they'll get turned into pies and cobblers and all the other good things that one can make with peaches ...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

the tarantula hawk wasp (beware!)

Several times recently, on one particular patch of Horsetail Milkweed, I've notice this spectacular insect, but it's always buzzed off before I could get close enough to take a picture.  Today I got close enough - an inch or so - to be able to capture it.  This may not have been a very sensible thing to do (though I was lucky - nothing bad happened) since apparently it has THE SECOND MOST PAINFUL STING IN THE ENTIRE INSECT WORLD - like an extreme, and scream-producing, electric shock.  Er - yes.  Curiously, they're not toxic - their sting has only 3% of the toxicity of that of a bee - and one's entirely o.k. again after five minutes.  No wonder that their main prey is - yes, you've guessed it from their name - tarantula spiders, which they numb, and then carry off for dinner. They are the biggest kind of wasp because they eat the biggest kind of spider.  They are also, for some reason, the state insect of New Mexico (do you know your state insect?).

If I see one tomorrow, I'm crossing the road.