Friday, December 31, 2010

year's end

It was a very, very cold day - indeed, even as I write, the temperature outside is 2 degrees.   So even hot water poured into the bird bath froze almost instantly.   Inside, I've been working away at Flash!, at last - today, stuck in experimental film of the 1960s and 70s, like Peter Kubelka's Arnulf Rainer - six and a half minutes of migraine inducing flickering (when is a flicker a flash, and vice versa?) with the occasional diversion into retinal after-images and stroboscopic hallucinations.

But the final picture of the year should be the sun going down - over the Sandias (on the left) and the Cerrillos Hills (on the right) - chill, but magnificent.


Round about nine o'clock yesterday evening, there was a large shudder (refridgerator, etc), and everything went very, very black.   That is, there were some lights still in the parts of Eldorado that are beyond the railway line, and a long, long line of stationary traffic in the distance on I-25 - the kind of line of pin pricks of light that one only notices when cars and trucks are backed up because of some kind of problem on La Bajada, the steep slope going down towards Cochiti and ultimately Albuquerque.   Here, however, everything was dark and silent (apart from us rummaging around looking for flashlights - we knew where the candles were - and the grinding wheels of my brain anxious about the underfloor heating shutting down, the pipes freezing, should I turn on the hot water tap?, etc.).   So, obviously, no posting here last night.   Everything sprang back into luminosity around 12.15 a.m., after giving us three hours of pioneer life in rural Northern New Mexico.   Except Back Then, I'm sure we would have had a fire lit, and warmed bricks or baked potatoes (no, not the designer fingerling kind from Whole Foods) and wrapped them in flannel and taken them off to bed.   I'll be happy if this doesn't happen tonight, when it's scheduled to go down to -1 ...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Real Food Nation is happily open again - having taken a week's well deserved vacation over Christmas - and still has its Christmas window decoration-paintings in place: flowers with loose gummy petals, and these swirls of paint: like ferns, like peacock feathers, like the kind of designs I used to make with combs, on the paint / water / oil - or was it glue - surfaces when I once made marbled paper.   But that was a long long time ago, and something that I have entirely forgotten how to do - indeed, looking it up on line, it seems to involve alum, and gelatin - ingredients that I'm sure weren't to be found in abundance in rural Cumberland in my childhood.

Having been reading, at long last, Patricia Bosworth's biography of Diane Arbus, I can say with almost total confidence that she's a woman whom I would have found it very difficult to get along (something that always creates a very prickly response when reading a biography).   But I was struck by Lisette Model's assignment when Arbus was just starting out on her path as a solo photographer (as opposed to acting as part of a fashion-photographer-team with her then husband), and she took a course with her: that is, to have each member of the class photograph something that they'd never photographed before - which seems like an excellent challenge to keep looking and looking.   It meshes, too, with the dictum of Alexey Brodovitch, with whom Arbus also took a workshop: "If you see something you've never seen before, don't click the shutter."   As I head towards this blog's two year anniversary, I think that I should emblazon these precepts in neon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I'm impressed by the way our geraniums keep on blooming.   They were looking a little tired by the end of the summer; we (and in the case of the very big one, with Alfredo's assistance) dragged them inside to the living room.   There they contemplated the late fall, lost some leaves, and - without any water for six weeks - sprung back into very green and flowery life.   My mother's always maintained that they need very little water indeed: here's living proof.  

Monday, December 27, 2010

rustic life

Certainly, gas meters aren't the most elegant things in the world, but this Eldorado example has been quite effectively disguised - the trouble is, it looks like a little bonfire, which wouldn't be at all a good thing for the gas ...

But at least gas meters are static.   This critter, whom you can barely see (dim light, wire mesh in window) is a gopher, and today it was determinedly burrowing out of a hole just outside my

study.   I do not want, or need, a gopher.   The cats, who might disagree, are two thousand miles away.   I tried putting a very large flat stone over the hole.   It dug past it.   And then its burrow collapsed, or it deliberately pulled the soil back down again, disappointed with our barren late December flower beds, during the time that we were googling "natural gopher repellents".   All the same, we excavated a little, and stuffed some white lily scented drier sheets ("natural"?) down the hole, and sprinkled coffee grounds round about, and now we'll wait to see where it and / or its friends and relatives emerge next.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I am ridiculously fond of the Santa Fe Southern Railway, which chugs its way through Eldorado five or six times a week - probably slightly less often in winter, and slightly more frequently in the summer, with the occasional party train plus jazz band (and of course the Gay Pride train, with rainbow flags all over it, in June).   Today we had a rare treat - out for a walk along the railroad tracks, we coincided with it passing - fairly full, and mild enough (unlike the North East, where happily we're missing having our travel arrangements fouled up yet again) for people to be out on the observation platform, waving.   The carriages were all decorated inside with pine tree branches, and then, at the back, one could see that she had a holiday wreath on.   She's always a most cheerful train: how I would have liked to encounter her, or her counterpart, in the pre-Dr-Beeching days of British Rail - or whatever the rail companies were called then - when it was possible to drive on trips and play counting games: trains versus horses - and know that trains could actually win.   Although, to be honest, I was almost always on the horse-counting team-of-one in the back seat of our green Triumph Mayflower.   The day of my greatest victory came when we were on a beach - I think St Bees, in Cumberland - where the rail track ran alongside the sand. Defeat beckoned.   And then - was it a train of racehorses?   Or worse (the possibility only now occurs to me) of horses making a trip to the slaughterhouse?   Whatever, there were hordes of them, sticking their heads out of the wooden slats of the rail cars, and the spoils were mine.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

disco ball

Of course our Christmas tree has lots of little disco balls on it.   Obviously.    I've been very glad that when I was here last week, I went to Santa Fe Greenhouses - notionally to buy a wreath for the front door - and came away with a door decoration, yes, and a very small tree.   I'd been expecting that the tree would be a surprise when we drove up on the 30th for New Year's - I hadn't the slightest idea that it would be an actual Christmas tree.   For this reason, I didn't trouble much about lights - I know, or think, that there are some somewhere, and I braved the scuttling mice in the garage and went and rooted around, but no luck - until I hit on the plan of using some very large square Japanese lantern style lights that I'd bought for the back yard last summer, and, if chunky and unorthodox, they do the job well enough.   And I'm not sure which iPhone app this was - I think "Toy Camera," on "random".

Friday, December 24, 2010

farolitos? luminarias?

So far as I'm concerned, this brown paper bag, filled with soil, and then with a tea light placed inside it and lit, is a farolito (a little lantern, that is - going back to the Latin faro, or lighthouse ...).   A luminaria is a little bonfire at a street corner - traditionally there to guide people to midnight mass on Christmas eve.   That being said, my nomenclature is strictly a Northern New Mexican one, because these lanterns tend to be called luminarias elsewhere - even down in Albuquerque, let alone further south in NM, let alone in such foreign parts as California.   I'm also, for that matter, a purist who thinks that they should, indeed, be made from paper bags and real flames - not the beige plastic electric kind, pretty though, I confess, they can look.  

This farolito was on a wall on Canyon Road, which is the traditional Santa Fe Christmas Eve walk (there were some luminarias thrown in, too, and also the wonderful flying farolitos, which remind me of some rather dangerous experiments involving candles and paper that the Observer published around 1959 or 60: these ones are built from birthday candles inserted on styrofoam crosses, which are then lit - the paper bag surrounding them, or rather the air it contains, heats up - and then the ff is released to soar above the Canyon Road trees, and then catch fire, slowly, like a very amateur firework.   Canyon Road was as full as ever (though not quite as cold as the last time that we were there) this evening, with clusters of people bursting into "O Come, All Ye Faithful," and others wearing reindeer antlers or luminous glowing spikes in the hair, or pushing baby carriages, or leading or carrying their dogs (some, too, with reindeer antlers).   And even if crowded, it was extraordinary pretty, and completely magically Santa Fe at its best.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

keep the home fires burning

Home.   That is, nearly home, at least to our New Mexican home.   But first - between Albuquerque and Eldorado - dinner at Harry's, which, especially when seated near the fire, and with a margarita in hand, feels like a home from home.   I cannot get my head around the fact that I was last there on Saturday, wondering how to get everything done before heading "home" - to NJ, to England.   I am never very good when invited to gloss the meaning of "home"...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It doesn't look as though too many people called Garrett will be getting Christmas presents this year with snowmen attached ... This board (at Michael's, where I was buying a whole lot of fancy ribbon for parcel tying, and some green yarn for cat toy mending) is a pretty interesting indication of - NJ? or nationwide? - current Popular Names (do they change the board for each state?).   So yes - lots of Jackies and Graces: more surprisingly, Hannahs - I had a goldfish called Hannah, once; I have a 2nd cousin called Hannah - which struck me as being a rare and distinguished name when she was given it.   And then I started thinking ... maybe these snowpeople are all aimed for four year olds called after Hannah Montana?   It should be noted that whereas there are plenty of Jennifers and Laurens and Joshes and Mikes - just like my classes - there weren't even any pegs for Kate (and I'm told by friends in England that every second girl in junior school is now called Kate, or Cate, or Cait, which makes me feel very undistinguished, or at least easy to buy name-specific kitsch junk for) or Alice (who will doubtless be relieved to know that's she's under no threat of receiving any gift labelled in this strange way).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

family photos

One of the things that I really, really wanted to do for Christmas chez my parents was to scan a whole lot of old slides - mostly from 1970 and 1974 - I think - but with a few older strays thrown in as well.   So I carried a large scanner in my luggage from NJ to NM last week - plus the boxes of slides - because I knew that I'd have the time and space there.   This was not a plan that took into consideration snow, ice, and Heathrow's inability to clear their after-effects.   (And if anyone thinks of being helpful, synchronising my father's computer and Dropbox is mysteriously challenging, so far).

But one thing I did learn (other than the fact that Kodachrome slide film endures far better than Ektachrome) is that it's not the well focused, carefully composed pictures that are the most evocative forty years (forty years! ouch!) later.   So in the spirit of that discovery, here's Alice holding up a wriggling Emmett in the kitchen today.   Sure, there are a handful of neat, happy, smiling human-and-cat images, but this is the only one that seems alive, for all its technical flaws.

Monday, December 20, 2010

christmas lights

This festive lighting is adorning the ceiling of the Frog and the Peach, where we were having a pre-Christmas dinner with Barry - an early dinner, since we were planning on flying to England in the morning.   But tomorrow's departure is Not to Be.   We had an email in the early morning saying that our flight is cancelled, and since then I've been ghoulishly haunting the internet looking at increasingly miserable pictures of Heathrow - bad enough at any time; worse at Christmas; unspeakable at the moment.   Impossible to find anyone to speak to on the phone, I gather, without waiting for hours and hours - and Virgin Atlantic's website indicates no availability until Sunday, the day we're due to fly back ... and then only in 1st.   So we gave up the struggle before we started struggling, and I hurled myself at the phone and internet to find flights back out to New Mexico.   Maybe there was something prophetic about yesterday's ABQ post?

But - quite apart from the disappointment of disappointing my parents; quite apart from the curious pangs of nostalgia at not being in England at this time of year - this has done something very strange to my rhythms of Anticipating Christmas, which are usually fairly finely tuned.   It oddly feels to me as though it's already been and gone, so these lights were like left-over festive illuminations, not anticipatory ones.   I'm hoping that some Canyon Road luminaria will sort that one out ...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

flying off for Christmas

or nearly.   Today, first leg - full body scanner and all (and new signs saying that you can't travel with printer cartridges weighing more than 16 oz.) - ABQ to EWR, via a horrendous gallop through Chicago airport with them Paging My Name (the flight was late from Albuquerque; the so-called "valet" stowing of rollerboard suitcases - mandated since it was a small and bouncy plane - turned up in a large cage leaving a mass of cross late people to push and grab and fend for themselves).   Why should it be so embarrassing to hear one's name called?   It's not as though there were probably hordes of people in Chicago airport at that time who would recognise it, and even if there were one, or two - then, well, so what?    They would surely think I had a very tight connection, not that I'd wilfully absconded into a Cinnabon.   But this meant I was scarlet with embarrassment (let alone with traversing from one terminal to another at speed) by the time I skidded to a breathless halt in front of the desk.   Then they re-opened the door, and quickly stowed me, and off the plane took.

Before this mini-drama, I did, though, have time to admire Albuquerque airport's own personal brand of kitchiness - putting a large miniature plane on top of one of their two Christmas trees - the other two being decorated with photographs of military personnel serving overseas ...

Saturday, December 18, 2010


19 inches of snow can disappear fairly quickly - though in defence of the Snow, I should say that (a) it doesn't tend to be very thick under the portal and (b) that a great deal of it is enthusiastically piled up in drifts.   This suggests a more magnificent sunset than actually occurred ... it was a largely grey day, with the clouds down so low over the Sangre de Cristo that it was as though we didn't have any mountains at all: the city looked denuded without them.

Friday, December 17, 2010

the finches of Eldorado

With around 19 inches of snow on the ground (Eldorado was, indeed, well and truly socked in), it's hardly surprising that our yard became a gathering place for birds today: finches, towhees, mockingbirds, titmouses (titmice?) - though no bluebirds (not that they eat these seeds ... and I did see them a day or so back, so expect them to be here nesting again next summer).    The mountains emerged from time to time and then the clouds closed in again.   I kept flourishing my iphone (view from front door before digging out the path; view after laboring hard; road before snow plough, road after snow plough) so that I could send off a running visual commentary to Alice in Highland Park - bearing out a point that emerged in one of our final classes this semester: how we so readily take photographs now in order to effect instant communication, not to store up memories.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

bitter weather on the santa fe trail

Whatever I'd expected from a few days in Santa Fe, collecting my scattered thoughts after the semester and catching up, catching up (oh, yes, and grading), it didn't involve two feet of snow, or whatever is predicted by tomorrow morning.   The rather ridiculous huge sculpture of Pioneers that stands on Museum Hill looked much better than usual, in the beginning hours of the snow, and there's nothing quite like a snow-covered cactus.

But by the time I'd crawled cautiously back down I-25, the road was covering, the windshield kept thickening into ice - and it hasn't stopped snowing since.   This was the view outside the front door an hour and a half ago.   I don't think, somehow, that certain Christmas presents are going to get purchased tomorrow - I think I'll be sitting here, making things, instead ...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

kitchen clutter

I have been so seriously conditioned by our realtor that I'd forgotten what it's like to inhabit a house where there are things on surfaces - clutter! clutter!   And of course, it's driving me crazy.   This started as a picture, all the same, of morning sunlight hitting the wonderful new coffee grinder here in Santa Fe, which is producing quite superlative grounds - but even as it was brewing, I was stashing olive oil bottles away in a closet, and wondering about some other strange accumulations of things.   That home-made muesli in a big jar, for example ... it's been there rather a long time ... that can go, tomorrow ... probably it's so stale that even the birds would turn up their beaks at it, so it's one for the compost bin, unless it's snowing too hard for an outdoors expedition in that direction.   On the other hand, it's the Things that make me know that it's home the minute I come through the door - when I've been away it's as though I go around checking in with all of them, appreciating their existence ...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

not sugimoto

Somewhere over - oh, let's say Oklahoma, though it could have been anywhere round about there - it struck me that an image looking down on the clouds, an hour before sunset, could look very much like one of the Sugimoto photos of the sea (though to make a true parallel, I would have to know, I think, more exactly where I was: one of the wonderful things about Sugimoto's seascapes is that in a sense, without land or any identifying marks (other, sometimes, than a kind of quality to the light) one could be anywhere - but he makes it very clear, through his title, that the picture was taken in a very precise place.   Though, of course, one has to take him on trust.   Given that it was completely cloudy in the midwest, I could say that this was taken exactly fifty miles west of the Mississippi, and it would be hard to contradict me.   But this does share the quality of a faint, but indefinite horizon; an expanse for thinking in (and an exercise, an excuse for an "old phone" iphone picture, on the "platinum" setting).

Monday, December 13, 2010

scary eyes

There is no way to avoid the fact: DandyLion, our semi-feral cat, has scary eyes.   I know what causes red eye in humans when they're exposed to flash photography: it's light that reflects off the fundus at the back of the eye, and back again through the pupil.   The red color comes from the choroid, which is behind the retina, and quite how much red there is depends on the amount of melatonin in the layers behind the retina.   

So far so good.   But large luminous orangey-yellow glowing eyes?   This will be light reflected back from her tapetum lucidum - her "bright tapestry" - a layer of membrane behind the retina - and the extraordinary strength of this reflection should mean that she's exceptionally good in seeing well in very low-lit conditions.   Indeed, this is where the idea of "cats' eyes", as reflecting road markings, comes from (is this a US, as well as a UK term)?   I've never, however, seen anything as bright as this - every time our little Lion has her picture taken by flash: it's truly spooky.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

getting to know your pony

Another few hours excavation - I mean, tidying - in the basement produced a number of forgotten objects - unsurprisingly, when one considers that four of the bags that I unpacked hadn't been explored since I moved them from Oxford in 2001.   These weren't huge bags - two of them, indeed, were vintage Biba black plastic bags - and largely they contained school exercise books and old letters.    They certainly bore witness to eight or so years of preoccupation with horses, from Ponies - a Little Crown Picture Book that I remember buying at a jumble sale (for 2d, in July 1964 - I helpfully wrote my name in the inside cover).   It was published in 1957 (no date in the publication - but I sleuthed on-line - and I see that a 2nd hand copy today is going for 19.99 GBP, so evidently this was more of an investment than I thought), and has lots of colour pictures of very cheerful and uncomplicated 10 year olds and their ponies), and contains plenty of useful advice, like this first page: "As ponies are very easily frightened, speak to them quietly before you go up to or touch them.   Ask Mummy if you can have a few lumps of sugar or an apple to give to the ponies.   Remember to hold your hand out flat with the titbit in the middle of it.   There is then no fear of your fingers getting nipped."   And then, there's a very useful, if basic, diagram of the Points of the Horse.

Six years later, it was still the Points of the Horse - this time as part of a summer term project (a Dalton Week project, to be exact - this was a week in which we had to produce three completely independently researched and written up projects on topics that interested us, and very good training it was, too).   This project was on "Greek Horses" (the two others that I did that year were on the representation of Unicorns, and on the ecology of peat bogs in mid-Wales, which oddly enough offered up a pretty sound spread of my intellectual concerns at that time).   Most of the project seems taken from Xenophon's The Art of Horsemanship, plus a visit to the British Museum to look at the Parthenon frieze, a little bit of Aristophanes, a little bit of Strabo, and a good deal of time spent with a classical Greek dictionary - hence the labelling not just of all these limbs and bumps of the horse, but diagrams (also labelled in classical Greek) of a bridle, drawings of bits, and other fascinating pieces of information that I'd completely forgotten that I'd ever once known.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

corporate greed

I'd hardly be telling the truth if I said that I personally lamented the passing of Charlie Brown's steakhouse in Highland Park, though I did once have a memorably enjoyable lunch there with Cheryl and Eileen from the graduate studies office - enjoyable, that is, because of the company, although there wasn't anything notably amiss with my blue cheeseburger.   But I'm sure that its disappearance - and the similar disappearance of many of its relatives in the NJ chain - means even fewer part time jobs for our students, and that's not good.   So I did feel more than a frisson of solidarity with whatever disgruntled (former) employees must have posted (with feeling) this notice - and several like it - on its very closed doors.

Friday, December 10, 2010


This is a sad, defeated, limp hydrangea, and I know exactly how it's feeling.    We'll pass over the fact that we ought to know better - hydrangeas never last once they are off bushes.   We once bought a spectacular springlike armful in Oxford, and the next morning they were as dispirited as these.   I identify with it, having had a frustrated evening trying to set up a new printer to print Christmas cards.   My trusty Epson 3800 is in Santa Fe, and since it's an expensive beast, I certainly wasn't going to buy its twin, but a much younger sibling.   The Artisan 810 might have great reviews - but I have only, as yet, succeeded in loading one sheet of paper in its crappy little plastic made-in-some-polluted-part-of-China innards, and printing on it.   I think I've now unjammed it, and will go to bed before trying my luck again.   This was after triumphantly setting it up as a wi-fi printer, and ignoring the spasmodic, faltering wi-fi signal in my study.   Ah, technology.   Grrrrrrr, technology.   So - that dream of early-printed, individualized handwritten-message-in-Christmas cards?   The jury is still out.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


The iPhone and I made it down as far as  as Hamilton this evening.   Meeting a friend who'd been doing state business in Trenton this afternoon, it seemed to make sense either to go and have a pizza or to go to Rats, in Hamilton, in the sculpture park that's been established there in the middle of an industrial wasteland.   We should have opted for the pizza (though - see above - even at night, the sculpture is still pleasingly weird and startling for central NJ).   I was taken to Rats when I'd been at Rutgers about 3 weeks, and was blown away by its funky deliberately (I hope) bad taste francophile weirdness - but had never been back.  

But.   Alas.  They recently lost their chef to a victory on Top Chef - or so I now read on - and let's just say that the new one - a former Marine - hasn't hit his stride yet.   Or, rather, the same piece, from November 17th, says that the restaurant has been working "to shed its reputation as an upscale restaurant focusing on French cuisine" and to make itself more "accessible and affordable."   In practice, this meant that we had to suffer the quite horrendous noise of a local office Christmas party which was in full flow when we arrive at 5 p.m., with organized gambling in the gallery - and seriously trashy sequins and gold shiny boots, of the kind of glazy sheen worn by mimes pretending to be statues (the glazy sheen was also very apparent on the faces of the party goers stumbling out later).   OK, but fairly indifferent food was served us "in French country restaurant style - which means the portions are small." Huh?   In fact, the portions were perfectly decently sized, but bore no recognisable resemblance to your average auberge's culinary offering.   But I guess that querying this would have been about as much worth while as querying the description that we were given of pecorino as "a hard Spanish cheese" - by a fatuously over-performative unctuous waiter.   The best bit about it (by a very long way) was the herbal tea.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

self-portraiture (by accident)

My intention, prowling around campus with my iPhone again, was to take a picture of William the Silent's dog (if Willie boy is meant to whistle when a virgin walks by - hence the silence - today's question is - when does the dog bark?).   But - adequate and orthodox though that image turned out - it's nothing to a picture that I doubt that I could have taken even if I'd tried ... somehow I pressed the camera symbol as I was changing the mode from Cyanotype to Platinum, and this is what I got.   Ironically, I'd been reading somewhere in the material that I was cramming into my head before class that the days of spontaneous artistic Happenings were long past (really?) - an article that cited the practice of throwing one's camera in the air (presumably with the timer set?) to see what image it takes.   I'm not at all sure that I'd be any good at catching it - but I absolutely love the practice of photographic chance, and what it can bring.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

even more fakery

It's another example of iPhone-style cyanotypery (I think I should make a negative out of a couple of these, and use them to make a genuine cyanotype - though reliable sunshine is in short supply in NJ right now, and I don't, alas, have the right kind of light box).   It's also another fake - at least, it's a building that took me in for too long.   Back in the day, when Rutgers was wooing me, I saw this magnificent edifice from the train, and thought that it offered up a wonderfully imposing aspect.   I presumed - right into, and indeed, right through my first year, that it must be Old Queens (without a campus tour for new faculty, how does one ever get to know where Old Queens is?   I didn't set foot in it until my sixth year here - indeed, I'm not sure how long it took to learn which building was the actual center of the administration).   I waited, hopefully, for an invitation to some kind of reception in it.   At least, I thought, graduation ceremonies must be a glorious sight there, on the lawns sloping down to the Raritan.

Only, eventually, I realized that this wasn't Old Queens.   Indeed, it's not even a Rutgers building, even if this is the view from the Murray Hall carpark.   It's a Johnson and Johnson office building of some kind, built on - I think - old factory grounds (which means, indeed, I wonder what toxic junk lies underneath us all ... )

Monday, December 6, 2010

faking it

There was an article this weekend in the New York Times about how point-and-shoot cameras are becoming rarer and rarer as cell phone cameras become more capacious in their mega-pixel count, and more versatile in the applications that allow one to play around with the images.   I still carry my point and shoot with me pretty much everywhere: it has a decent lens - far better than my iPhone 4 - and an adequate zoom, and it's image stabilised - and of course stable enough itself to rest on a flat surface for a very long exposure.   But no, it doesn't have apps - despite all the twiddling one can do in Photoshop to create just about anything.   I've long been a fan of iPhone apps - ShakeItPhoto, which mimics the Polaroid - the old Polaroid; CameraBag, Cool fx, Hipstamatic, Photo fx, TiltShiftGen, Toy Camera ... and this article mentioned another one: Old Camera.  

Yes!   This allows one to choose from a range of "old" styles - Rich B&W, HiCon B&W, Silver, Platinum, Kallitype (with which I was playing around when I took my current FB status pic), and this, Cyanotype (and then one can choose Vignetting, or not; Square Mode, or not, and one's favored image size).   I find it strikingly good as mimicry.   It also gives extraordinary grandeur to the view from my office window: this looks like a piece of civic pride from the mid C19th, when in fact it's a particularly rowdy and crumbling frat house.   Maybe Rutgers should use this photo app for some of their on-line publicity photos?   It would match the aesthetics of the black and white celebrity endorsements that have appeared as commercials in this season's football games (probably more of an inducement than the play on the field), which have Junot Diaz and some other luminaries singing the praises of their Alma Mater.   I'll be trying out some of the other modes to see if they might, indeed, turn the back streets of the College Avenue Campus into a thing of surprising beauty.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

more found art

Highland Park continues its tradition of putting out extraordinarily bad pieces of art to see what happens to them when they encounter the elements (today, cold; tomorrow, Flurries are promised, or threatened - though compared with England, one shouldn't complain).   We were not walking around to see the latest art show, however, but scurrying away from this afternoon's Viewing - having left 113 picture-perfect.   These days, our walks are punctuated by detours to look carefully, critically, anxiously, at other homes for sale (and then coming back and scrutinising their photographs on the web with a practised eye): not that there is a great deal to look at that's new each week, but we are greatly comforted by any sign of a house on the market with Obvious Defects.   It's a reverse form of window shopping, or day dreaming.   On the other hand, if we're hoping to attract buyers who ever would have created, or given house space, to this faintly late 1970s astral spiral, we're probably going about it the wrong way.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


To be sure, this double sink was never the house's best feature, but it has now been transformed into the landscape of a silty delta since an inept workman came to mend - mend? - the furnace: he drew six buckets of water from it, thereby triggering the low-water cut-off device (and hence turning off the boiler completely) - something that we only discovered after he left (and yes, we did find him via Angie's List.   Harrrrummpphh).   And we only discovered, too, this staining of the sink.   Not that it was an elegant shiny object to start off with - it was covered in dull paint stains from the previous family's artistic projects - but it didn't broadcast a message of Indefinable Problem before now.

not walker evans

The downside to a great dinner party in NYC - not getting back to NJ till past 2 a.m.   Ah well.   The advantage of 2010 over the late 1930s - it's much easier to take photographs on the subway than it was when Walker Evans was hiding a camera inside his coat and pressing a remote shutter release inside his slave - today's subjects sitting opposite one are immersed in playing Angry Birds, or whatever - and all one has to do is peer, in a similar fashion, into one's iphone - and press the little camera symbol, and hey presto,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

dry hands

The last time I was at the Skylight Diner, on Route 1, I vowed that I'd come back the next time and take a picture of the hand drier in the bathroom.   I have slight qualms of unease now that I see how the new Art Deco curved surface manages to reduce the photographer to a fairly repellent squat gnome, an unwanted projection of body dysmorphia.   And that aside, I attracted a fairly horrified look from a woman who came out of her cubicle and fled - I don't like to think what she thought I was up to: a member of the germ and hygiene inspection corps, perhaps?

Bathrooms are very fertile areas for photography: the new issue of Gastronomica (food writing, food history, food porn) has got a couple of spreads of pictures by Eric Levin, entitled "I'll Be Right Back: Visits to Restaurant Men's Rooms."   I guess I don't see many of these, except when completely desperate: this selection suggests - no surprise, I guess - that they can be as antiseptically impersonal or as crimson and camped up as ladies' rooms.   My own predilection (for today was far from being the first time I've taken rest room pictures) is for the windows that one often find in them: clouded, opaque glass, with real leaves pressing up behind them, and all manner of surprising bits of decor, from practical bottles to leaves and berries and dried grasses.   But the Skylark offers up only shiny black tiles and, of course, these space-age hand driers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Yesterday, I thought - serving up a plate of dinner to Alice - I thought that it looked too pallid (tasty though it was) so I rescued a pansy flower from the plants that have been brought in from the cold, and are in the front porch - and adorned the meal, together with a sprig of rosemary.   The pansy seemed too pretty and fragile to jettison as mere garnish, and wasn't eaten - so we preserved her in a wine glass, peering - just like any flower in a small vase - over the rim.

Only this morning ... the pansy was blurry and half-drowned; the water level down and the table puddled .   How LucyFur - for she had a very innocent look to her - managed to get her paws in there without knocking over the vase, I can't begin to imagine.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

jug and feather

Tomorrow, in our Memory class, we'll be thinking about Things and memory - the way in which objects are repositories of memory, act as vehicles for personal or family history, and can be used, in writing, to try and make readers see, imagine that they can touch, or feel, something that conveys emotional significance for someone else.   And we'll come at this through Woolf's "A Sketch of the Past" - we've already used some of this, since she's so good at elucidating the challenges of writing about one's own past, and I'm intrigued to use a text where the "past" described is also one very unfamiliar to the students in the group.   So this jug and bowl seem suitably Victorian objects which to contemplate.  

They don't, however, hold any particular resonances for me.   I'm pretty certain that I bought them at the Old Jam Factory near Oxford Station, at a time when it held a lot of little antique stalls - but I can't swear blind to that.   I know that they lived on top of a bookcase in the spare room in Oxford, where they looked spectacularly good against bright apple green walls.   But when I looked at them this evening, it was, in fact, the rather bedraggled peacock feather that supplied the real memory prompt.   Yes, I know - at least my mother believes - that it's unlucky to have peacock feathers indoors.   But this one somehow made it.   It came from a wild peacock: I gathered it in the grounds of ... well, where?   I know I could go to an old journal - from 1993 - and look it up.   It was an oldish hotel in Ranthambhore, in Rajasthan, and looking at the internet, I think probably the Raj Palace - though the name doesn't spark any bells.   It certainly seemed left over from the Raj: I remember eating curried cauliflower in an echoingly empty dining room.   What I hadn't been expecting, in writing and doing a minor amount of googling, was to be hit by a very powerful sense of Indian-ness, and, not having been there since 1997, to find myself missing the country badly.

Monday, November 29, 2010


One thing that this ridiculous, fluffy, all-humans-are-coyotes-therefore-I-should-hide-under-the-bed animal doesn't realize is that actually, she (like the decluttered shoes and tee-shirts, safely in their plastic containers) is very, very visible as one comes up the attic stairs ...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

all is vanity

When I saw this in Highland Park earlier today, I thought for a minute that it was a severe, puritanical homily - the kind that one occasionally finds painted on the side of buildings when one takes a back road somewhere in Pennsylvania or Ohio.   But no - it seems to be an awning beckoning one into a beauty salon.

Still, it's rather disturbing.   Given the observant Jewish population of Highland Park, one might assume that very many of them are quite familiar with the Book of Ecclesiastes.   And certainly, although I'm not sure what strictures are laid down in Orthodox dress codes, the long back skirts and flat shoes, etc, seem to suggest that vanity is a sin very much to be guarded against.   Even I (were I to be tempted to go to a beauty establishment in Highland Park, which admittedly is deeply improbable) would baulk at this name, which seems to reprimand one for frivolity, and to remind one of the futility of trying to push back one's wrinkles rather more than one wants to be reminded.   Because even if Ecclesiastes isn't at the front of one's mind, how could one not think of Charles Allan Gilbert's 1892 fin de siecle drawing, "All is Vanity," with a skull jumping out at one from what's ostensibly a woman adorning herself at a dressing table?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

in the bag

This isn't a piece of furniture, but nonetheless comes from one of our favorite furniture shops, Orchard Hill, in Lambertville (where it would be possible to stage many imitation scenes from colonial times, even if all the tables and chairs and cabinets are in fact Indonesian imports).   Our dining table and chairs and various mirrors and the wine cabinet and the strange kind of wooden ottoman that the TV sits on all come from there, as does the rather fine cabinet that will have to sit in their warehouse until we move back to Los Angeles (where, most disconcertingly, it is currently raining hard, turning the USC / Notre Dame game into a mudbath).  

No, I do not need another bag, but as I've noted before, I can justify my greedy compulsions in this area by calling myself a collector.   I think.   And I'm sure it counts as clutter ... but since our realtor didn't call before bringing round punters today, and we were out, leaving as our avatars only such dubious attractions as drying underwear and an open trash can - I really can't bring myself to care about this too much.

Friday, November 26, 2010


If in doubt ... stems.   Plants.   Vase.   Repetition.   Depressed statements about house staging for zero visitors (we walked past the Century 21 offices today on Raritan - one downbeat looking inhabitant, apparently shutting up shop for the day).   Weather - grey.  Eventually it stopped raining, round about the time that Rutgers lost their fifth football game in a row.   Even the book I'm reading, Laura Marcus's most excellent The Tenth Muse, about cinema and modernism, seems to work determinedly against thinking about the still photograph, since it emphasizes cinematic - and viewer - fascination with motion, and by comparison, a jar full of calla lily stalks are determinedly static.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

the festive bird

This was a slightly strange sight in Donaldson Park this Thanksgiving morning.   We'd gone to take a brisk constitutional before it started to sleet, and came upon a car slowly driving up to a flock of seagulls - looking to accelerate, maybe, in order to capture a bird for dinner?   (the thought of how fishy a seagull would be to consume has stayed with me since we read The Lonely Londoners for a class in the spring - there were, after all, a bevy of guys fishing in the Raritan this morning too, and quite possibly roast seagull wouldn't taste conspicuously worse than anything that they might land).   But in fact, and slightly disappointingly, the car's occupants looked to have rolled up with a whole lot of scraps and crumbs to drop.   And yes, it was all just as raw and grey as it looked ...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Late fall, Highland Park, 2010: this does make me feel rather sheepish (if thankful) to be in a position to have been picking up a designer bird, a heritage small Red Bourbon Turkey from Griggstown this Thanksgiving (another form of guilt was symbolically assuaged by checking that President Obama had, indeed, pardoned two very handsome looking white turkeys earlier today, Apple and Cider - oh, how New England rural - who were sent off with a stroke on the head from the presidential hand - plus an inquiry as to what wattles are actually for - to have a good life at Mount Vernon.   And the answer to the wattle question is to let off heat, since turkeys don't sweat).   It's the optimism of drawing a bucket and mop and broom that's particularly poignant about this.   I'm relieved to see that a couple of phone number strips have already been torn off - but the board outside Rite Aid, on a windy corner with ice pellets in the forecast, is not the most propitious of advertising spaces.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


There's something very satisfying - to me, at any rate - about this as an image, in its near abstraction.   Of course, if I think about it in purely representational terms, it's just another in an occasional series of photos documenting the decline of 36 Union Street - on this occasion, the basin in the second floor bathroom which, although technically clean, is cracked and rusted and discolored beyond measure.   The true contest, however, is a floor higher up - and focuses on the question of whether or not the ceiling on the stairs (badly stained with rusty blotches and streaks in one place, cracking and starting to bulge downwards in another) will give way before I vacate my office (an office of which, I might add, I'm inordinately fond, especially since I bought it a heater) - it's just that its surroundings are what we'd call in England decidedly manky,   The dictionary isn't much help on "manky" - there's one on line optimistic suggestion that it comes from the Italian "mancare," to lack - but even though its use dates back at least to the 1950s, no one seems really clear of its origins.   It's a very useful word, all the same ...

Monday, November 22, 2010

by hand

Here's the latest example of NJ's mandatory do-it-yourself handcrafting: the self-reporting gas consumption form.   Six months worth of little dials are offered up on the same sheet of paper - three one side, three the other - and in the middle of each month one has to go down to the basement, trip over things in the dark, turn on a light, and peer at some tiny dials in order to draw arrows onto the empty dial faces.   Then one has to stick it in an available window for three days, and someone comes by to read one's supposed consumption (I have no idea whether or not they also perform spot honesty-in-reporting checks).   I imagine this is designed to Save Labor Costs - I just hope that they haven't fired the very pleasant guy who used to make the obstacle course expedition into the basement on a monthly basis.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

flying west

Moonrise, somewhere over Ireland, I should think ... as seen from a surprisingly empty plane, the weekend before Thanksgiving.   It looks like sea down below - as in a Sugimoto seascape, plus wingtip and lunar reflections - but actually it's clouds.    

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I am so very much looking forward to entertaining my friend Clare's daughters in Los Angeles - lunch with them in Cambridge today, and both Marina (7, above) and Kitty (10, below) are completely adorable and exactly the kind of humans one wish that one had living with one.   Kidnapping may have to be resorted to.   It's one of my big sadnesses at living with the Atlantic in between us that I don't get to see more of them (though I do have a painting by Kitty - an Aboriginal style spotty one - hanging in my office).

Friday, November 19, 2010



I'm pretty certain that I'd recognize this as an English city window anywhere - pick it out of a window identity parade - but why?   The turn of the C19th/C20th brick, certainly; that particular way that the whitish ledge is crumbing; the net curtain - extra privacy granted by the rippled glass in the front pane, too; the plastic flowers; the general knick-knacks - and the fact that all of this is very visible right on the street, with just eighteen inches or so of private yard before a low, decrepit brick wall.   I'm not sure that this catalogue fully answers the question of national identity, though - unless the coupling with dull grey light helps, and the sense that plenty of slow rain has seeped into all the brickwork over the years.   It's in Tabor Grove, Wimbledon - on the way to the station - the kind of window that one walks past for years, for decades, without ever really noticing.

For of course, this is the kind of window display that one's meant to notice

- one more haughty mannequin to add to my roster, in Miu Miu on Sloane Street -

or this

one Tiffany diamond pendant, set off by mirrors, a Victorian church, and a Braque like fragment of me taking a photograph, just as one turns into Sloane Square.