Sunday, January 31, 2010

stair window

I've passed this window a lot of times today, trying to do one last frenetic redistribution of things from the attic before the contractors arrive to frighten the cats, and us, at dawn - well, early morning - tomorrow. This seems to be a suitably Sleeping-Beauty arrangement of cobwebs to symbolize the accumulation of Bits of the Past that are still up there - on on their way down to the basement - or have ended up lodged here, in my study. It's not quite as scary as it looks, of course - a macro lens can render even a two inch patch of spider web intimidating - like Eliot's description of Bulstrode in Middlemarch convincing himself, through endless reiteration, that he did everything for God's sake, not his own - such arguments being spun, by the years, "into intricate thickness, like masses of spider-web, padding the moral sensibility." Eliot, as ever, is wonderfully prescient about the narratives people tell to convince themselves - never mind others, even - of their own incorrigible rightness.

But of course it's the abstract nature of this image - at once almost glutinous, cloying, and yet fragmenting - that really grabs me: that moment when, as the photographer Henry Holmes Smith - yes! someone who experimented with flash photography, and did some really strange abstract stuff too - wrote in 1956, one sees "the tangible and inconsequential transformed into the intangible and consequential." This is as good a description of any of why I like (and practice) photography that hovers on the edge of abstraction.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


or, to follow on yesterday's theme of collecting, what should one put in this - this pyramid cabinet, which I bore off proudly from a store in Princeton some seven or eight years ago, and have always felt that I failed to get Right? To be sure, the drawers have things in them, and to some extent, shape determines position - so there are, I think, some envelopes on one layer, and Documents near the bottom, and a drawer full of slides from when I was at high school, and from my gap year, somewhere in the middle, waiting to be scanned on some - hagh! - idle occasion. But this is just a matter of finding somewhere to put these things away: really, I should exploit the idea of a hierarchy of importance, with the most precious objects on top, or have one drawer for orange things, another for purple; or one drawer for objects beginning with A. Or maybe I could find my socks, in future - that is, pairs of socks, for single ones are rarely a problem. In other words, this piece of furniture has me thinking about the way in which shapes and containers can determine, or at least organize collections. In other words, they can have the potential to influence how we conceptualize categories. This may not be the norm - the other way round - what is the most effective way to show off my collection of abacuses, or mustard pots, or snakes (for yes, I think one can "collect" not very easily anthropomorphizable critters) is surely more common. But a collection that starts off with the means of containing it: that poses some good challenges.

Friday, January 29, 2010

collecting cats

I really want to write about Collecting - after spending quite a bit of today at the CCA [Center for Cultural Analysis, here at Rutgers] conference on Collecting Things, Collecting People, and indeed was about to launch into a discussion about the difference, as I see it, between collecting things and collecting experiences (I was Dean-summoned and had to miss the end of Miguel Tamen's talk on the subject - in which he seemed to be arguing that there was no essential difference - and probably it's a good job I couldn't stay, because I was positively bouncing up and down wanting to ask about the place of emotion in all of this - can one collect emotional experiences? How would one prove that one had collected these? - for it's not like the example he used of collecting experiences of visiting National Parks, where one can have a photograph for evidence of one standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, or whatever). And indeed I have plenty more to say, even excluding the time in another talk in which my brain was wandering and I wanted to think about how one might curate a collection of smells.

But can one collect cats? What would it mean to collect cats? I don't think four cats constitutes a "collection" - although the fact that I possess two china, one brush, and one plastic zebra might suggest a zebra collection. Would it be a collection if the felines were different, recognizable, breeds? Does a zoo, in other words, really constitute a "collection"? Would it make a difference if the animals were stuffed? I'm not sure that animate beings can easily be "collected," but why not? Is this because they still have some kind of agency? Two components of the non-collection, at any rate, have decided to sprawl on what our NJ contractor calls a raddiator, since it's so cold: Lola behind, and LucyFur to the fore.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Carnations are, apparently, the birth flower for January, and so are seasonally appropriate. It's got a long history of being associated with love and fertility and fidelity - that seems to fit the fact of it coming in red and pink as well as white, though the fidelity aspect has become attached to it because of the fact that the color never fades. It was also thought of in the C19th as a peculiarly working class flower (and indeed, was taken up by socialists), and in 1907 was adopted as an official Mothers' Day bloom. I think I prefer its classical origins - Artemis, out hunting, threw a hissy fit when her quarry was frightened by a shepherd playing pan pipes, or a flute, or whatever was musically on offer in Arcadian groves - and tore out his eyes. Filled with remorse - as well she might be - she made carnations bloom where his eyes once were. So carnations, curiously, can well be linked to a lack of vision.

I can't think quite where to take this - although with more time I'd love to work at an image of a carnation morphing into an eye-ball - or vice versa. This particular photograph looks less like a flower, though, than a great splodge of soft icing, or thick whipped cream, and had me thinking when I last consumed any condensed milk (my party piece dessert when I was an undergraduate involved condensed milk and squeezed lemons on a ginger cookie crumb base, which was cheap and delicious). It also functioned as a guilty comfort food for me, at one time... (as it did for the bulimic British MP, John Prescott...). But the point of this is that what I ate was Carnation condensed milk - named, I started to wonder, after the creamy, cloying potential of the flower itself? Well, no. For a start, I was surprised to find that Carnation milk (whether condensed or evaporated) isn't British, but started off as a product of the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company in Kent, Washington. And E. A. Stuart, the founder, hit on the name when he was walking in downtown Seattle, and saw some cigars called Carnation cigars - and (understandably) thought that this was a lousy name for cigars, but it would do for his canned milk. And lo!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

light shining

When it came to the point, of course - could I bear to stop? I spent much of the day feeling a slight sense of liberation - a lack of an obligation - a reprieve. More to the point, nothing caught my eye - and there was no project - alphabetical, thematic - to structure my looking. And then, this last hour, a kind of bereft feeling came over me... Luckily, walking into the bedroom, a lone light was shining and reflecting: an all too easy symbol of a glimmer of hope (no, won't go down The Route of Hope, though Obama's speech was more or less encouraging, if, as ever, polished in its diplomatic desire for bipartisanship - and it *did* seem to promise the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell). An all too easy symbol, that is, for a moment of inspiration shining in the darkness, ad nauseam etcetera. That being said, I feel both back on track, and unstable. The blog was its own project for the first year - that is, the disciplined combination of looking and writing provided its reason for existence. The alphabet was much fun. And now - take it a week at a time? Does that mean that I'm stuck with windows and/or lights until next Wednesday?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Of course. Whatever else would begin with a Z - around here, at any rate? This girl is first cousin to the plastic ponies, and normally rides shotgun in my car in the cup holder. She's a confident, stocky little Zebra.

So - is this the end? No, almost certainly not. But I'm not sure what direction to take this in tomorrow - one year and one alphabet on. I'm not promising daily continuity - but not promising silence, either. The only thing that I know is that after a year, my drawing hand is getting twitchy and hopeful. I'm not sure whether a year's determined photography has acted, in the end, like a kind of aversion therapy, driving me back to pen and ink and paint (and a drawing I came across in the attic, of an unknown man reading the TLS on a train between London and Oxford in 1975, worked as a very sharp reminder that once upon a time, I thought of myself as a graphic artist, not a photographer). So the Zebra, by way of being a transitional object (in the non-psychoanalytic sense), is here photoshopped out of its verisimilitudinal plastic existence into a mock etching form. Time, I think, to experiment with Solarplate printmaking (anyone out there willing to compare working with Solarplate by comparison with traditional etching, which I've not done for far, far too long a time?).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Yellow envelope

Or more precisely, a manila envelope - manila being more or less Yellow, but a kind of mild ochre as well. Manila is given its color by the manila hemp that is used - or was used, now it's presumably dyed - to make these big, tough, no-see-throughable, potentially multi-use envelopes: the Latin name for this hemp is abaca (and thought of as a species of banana or plantain by turn of the century commentators, who mustn't have looked too closely). It's also used to make rope. Manila itself - the port through which the commodity was exported - was named after another plant, though: the nilad (may nilad is, I think, Tagalog for "there is nilad," which apparently is a shrub that grows in profusion on the banks of the Pasig River. And this name, in turn, is probably derived from the Spanish, which had taken the word from the Arabic...

In other words, this is a surprisingly transnational envelope. Even though it's just started on its journeys around Rutgers (for there's my name, at the top of all those neat red rectangular boxes), that very layout could be seen as a metonymic representation for the layers of linguistic exchange that the name of this item of stationery contains. On the other hand, it could just be read as Yet More Admin - past, present, and to come.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

eXemplary (and the X Ray Spex)

Believe me, I know that this is cheating. But how could I resist a prime X-ample of a Highland Park abandoned chair? There was no way that I was going into the department in hot pursuit of a Xerox machine on a Sunday, and no one showed any marked signs of Xenophobia towards me, or offered any Xanax to calm me down before the week - so I'm going by sound, rather than by the strict alphabet, which I suspect is the way in which small people are taught to read these days, anyway.

It's hard to imagine where this chair has been kept - it doesn't look happy. I've been struggling, once again, with throwing things out (contractors are coming on Tuesday to resuscitate our loft - replacing the floorboards after the wiring work ripped them up; insulating it so that all our heat doesn't rise up and get lost, and putting in some new windows - in other words, with luck, giving us a new room). But this loft is, for me, storage space. And things have to go somewhere - or our onto the pavement - or into the Yard Sale box (though believe me, after our tragic episode of being unable to give stuff away in Los Angeles, I don't hold out a lot of hope for four New Orleans feathery carnival masks and a locked wooden box for which I've lost the key). But what does one do with all one's 3 1/2 inch disks? Goodness knows what out of date reading lists might be stored on them. Notes on Victorian art? Yes. Teaching notes for The Tempest, last accessed around 1989? Their utility is minimal. But ... these notes are taken in long-hand: they signify work, and as evidence of labor, are very hard to discard. Quite the best find was a pristine poster for the Rock Against Racism rally and concert in 1978 - and the march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park - and performing were the Tom Robinson Band (yes, I remember singing along to "Sing - if you're glad to be gay" and thinking this was quite daring for London at the time..) and - YES! - I've got there, at last - the X Ray Spex - with Poly Styrene ("Oh Bondage, Up Yours!"). I guess that was daring, too...

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Curiously weary, having achieved my 365 days. But I am going to get to the end of the alphabet, come what may... My feet are weary, too, having for once worn something resembling high heels, in order to look Respectable (and respectful) at a wake (another example of the unphotographable). It's curious how old clothing practices persist. I don't mean wearing black, or black and grey (though I didn't, alas, have the time to dig out my obsidian earrings that I bought in Brazil, and that for ten years have been standard black funereal wear for my earlobes) - rather, the way in which St Paul's Girls' School in the later 60s and early 70s instilled in one The Importance of Wearing a Skirt. For we did not have school uniform - but at the same time we weren't, then, allowed to wear pants - let alone jeans - according to the guiding principles that Women Were Not Expected to Wear Pants to Work out there in the wide world for which we were being prepared. However much I tore off my skirts when I got home from school, however much I longed to be a "student" - that extra term, between A levels and what was, in those days, post-A level Oxbridge entrance - for then, yes, we were allowed to wear pants; however much one of the bonuses of being on school sports teams (netball, lacrosse) was being able to wear jeans when we went off to play other schools at weekend games - I still, at some level, internalized the idea that to wear a skirt was to be respectable. I managed to avoid that imperative today (in any case, my small collection of skirts makes me look somewhere between a cowgirl, a hippy, and a loony cat lady, none of which are quite appropriate for a funeral home) - but capitulated to the heels. Hence, very weary arches.

Friday, January 22, 2010


It's this blog's real, real birthday! The 365th post on So in truth, this ought to be headed Victory. But it's been a long, long day in the office - on a Friday that I'd wanted to devote to some rather urgent work of my own, the only bright spot was a visit from one of last semester's undergraduates. And there were precious few things beginning with V around in MU105.

So casting my eye around at home, there's DandeLion's toy rat - definitely Vermin. D-Lion, who rarely features here, being largely the invisible cat. But one can track her pathways by the large artificial rodents that she leaves scattered around - she has a definite predilection for the biggest ones possible (and indeed, in her outdoor-feral days, I once saw her, even as a tiny kitten, with a plump LA lizard in her little pink mouth). I guess I can count this as a contribution to the Ordinary and the Everyday thread over the last year (or to the genre of not-being-able-to-blog-about-what-really-takes-up-one's-time-when-one-would-rather-be-reading). Reading Veraciously, that is. And going back to yesterday's post, I've always thought of V as a rusty brown.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Yet again, a found-by-the-side-Objet in Highland Park! I think that Alice semi-planted (can one plant plastic leaves and a china pumpkin?) it there, since she found it in our front ivy - but that still leaves open the question of how such an Unseasonal, fall-decoration object came to be there at all, in chilly January. Compared with the mossy tree roots, compared, even with the very dead leaves in the gutter, it's flagrantly artificial.

I've just been reading a short chapter in one of Bryher's autobiographical novels, Development, called "The Colour of Words" - "It was impossible to think of the alphabet as colourless," the narrator writes.

Natural objects apart, which kept their actual hue, the initial letter gave the word its colour, but there were exceptions to this rule. Contrary to the French examples in the books she read, vowels were indecisive; it was the consonants that made a page as vivid as a sunset. Seven letters were white, C, G, Q, S, T, O, and U; three of the others were black, E, E, and I. W was crimson; H, M, and Y were various shades of gold and primrose. B changed from raspberry to umber, N was the rich tint of a red squirrel, F and J were a deeper brown. Other letters brought blue, as sharp as a broken wave, as dark as Alpine gentian. R was rose; A and P seemed too weak to be definite and varied with different words, though with names of places or people A was occasionally iris-blue or scarlet.

This has me excited to teach a course on color - an idea I have every couple of months, almost always when there's no possibility of choosing a new course offering or two even on the horizon. Synaesthesia would play only a small part in such a course, surely, but the passage would make for a good opening. What color do YOU see U? Hard, when I've just typed it in flaming crimson. But for me, undoubtedly, U is a warm, delicate dove grey.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


There's something decidedly perverse about being English and not liking Tea, unless one counts mint tea and rosehip tea and ginger tea and all the other kinds of Teas that make my mother faintly anxious that I may be a loony cat lady. I used to drink tea twice a term, in Oxford, in the Graduate Studies meetings - it arrived on a trolley, with some very predictable biscuits, around 3 p.m., and was a welcome relief from tedium. But that was about enough for me, and it's a beverage that I'm always trying to manoeuver around on social occasions.

Teabags, however, have their other uses: not just (I believe) to place on fevered brows and sore eyes (having now had a headache for three tense beginning of semester days, I'm almost tempted to try, but don't really want to spend what remains of this evening scented with Lapsang suchong). And one can wring them out and then tint paper in the residue, and in other ways use them for various arty projects that it would be lovely to have the time to take on board - even and including, painting on used, dismantled teabags themselves.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Back, at long last, with the plastic ponies - though in fact this rearing Satallion (yes, very anatomically correct), and a demure zebra, were new additions to the herd in the car towards the end of last semester, and have spent the last month stabled in the cup container, as I found when I tried to wedge a plastic bottle of some rather synthetic tasting fruit energy drink into the same space. There's something very alive about this - one can't quite say anthropomorphic, though I think it's stronger than the obvious noun, if there is one - equinimorphic? The more one looks at the creature's expression, the more like a camel, or goat, or something not quite Horse, he seems.

There's something perverse about posting an image of this guy - S notwithstanding - the day after a filly, Rachel Alexandra (the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924) won the Eclipse Award for (race) Horse of the Year - beating another girl, Zenyatta. I'm not sure why there should be two such strong fillies in one year (and indeed, others too, who were honored in the overall list of winning horses). But he's a mustang, I suppose, not a racehorse: at the very least, an equine reminder of the West riding along in the car, deliberately set against not so much his female relatives, but against the grey enclosed non-spacious spaces of New Jersey.

Monday, January 18, 2010

recumbent, reclining, resting

LucyFur, Reposing in the sunshine is much to be envied. Instead of which I'm staring the new semester in the muzzle, with an aggressive, undeserved headache-from-hell settling in above my eyebrows, and so, for once, staring at a bright computer screen is going to be curtailed in favor of burrowing under the duvet, probably with cats.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


of Tabby. I've pretty much sworn off Cute Kitty photos for a while, but it's such a treat to come home to the cats, especially LucyFur, who is, indeed, the Quintessence of tabby cat - so much so that when we adopted her as a small kitten (saved from a Woodpile in Los Angeles where we saw her, and her mother and brother being menaced by coyotes - both are also now safe), we recognized that we already knew her Victorian counter-part - Muff Kitty. We bought Muff a few years back in the big antique store in Lambertville, NJ - saw her hanging on the wall, circled around, debated her exorbitant price, returned, and liberated her.

Only Muff turned out not to be the unique painted cat that we'd taken her to be. A couple of years later, I was in Sanders Print Shop in Oxford - and there was an engraving of Muff K. I couldn't afford her, but I took pictures... Clearly she had a Victorian original - and here's some further on-line proof..., even if the artist who executed our picture wasn't any kind of talented copyist. Lucy's big round eyes, and bobcat like pointed ears are clearly in some kind of direct line of descent.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Poised, or maybe Prancing in some mid-air limbo - these strange grown-up fairies were hanging around in the window of a rather good, more up-market and tasteful than usual gift store in Albuquerque airport. I wish I'd had longer to take photos of their mid-air arabesques, but - as ever when shooting stuff in shops - I felt as though was stealing images and was likely to be apprehended at any moment. But they are most definitely suitable for a day spent largely in motion - up at 4.30, which was probably just as well - tearing ourselves away from Eldorado at dawn - still and yellow over the Cerrillos hills as we drove down to Albuquerque - DFW (no large numbers of soldiers, this time) - EWR - and home to some ecstatically happy cats and a mound of mail. So yes - the idea of perpetual motion, spinning and soaring in air - gives a kind of up-beat frivolity, a weightlessness, to a day of heaving heavy luggage (books, snowboots, camera, etc) around...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Open. Or...

This is one of the many fire hydrants scattered around Eldorado (thank goodness - it gets extremely dry here in early summer), painted a good bright color - maybe, even, Orange, if one thinks of it as some kind of yellow/red melange. It's sitting with a kind of chunky, cheerful confidence. More problematic is the lettering on it, which may read Open - with a sense that fire personnel operate it from one particular angle. But there seems to be a letter beyond this... And it's not the manufacturer's name, because that's Waterous, from St Paul, Minnesota. Yes, I could go out with a flashlight, and find out, but I'm not likely to, tonight, our last night here - for one thing, we're off to Harry's, for a margarita and dinner.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New boots

Maybe New is pushing my luck - but there again, it's a suitable emphasis for the ritualistic orgy of consumption - or at least, the ritual of going shopping - before leaving NM for NJ - where I wouldn't know where to start looking for, say, such boots as these (though one of these days I will explore the western wear stores of New Brunswick: I wondered about their presence - for there are not many conspicuous rodeos around those parts - until a Saturday or Sunday night sometime at the end of last year, when we were driving back along 27 and saw the guys standing outside one of the Oaxacan clubs at the edge of town - El Corazon? - dressed in their best hats and pointy toed boots).

But these are hardly standard Western wear: they look as though a Doc Marten escaped and mated with a pair of traditional cowboy boots - in other words, as though some designer had seen me coming. For about twenty years I've tried to persuade my feet that they really did want to feel comfortable in a just slightly too small pair of black velvet DMs (very cool, I thought them, but they are fiendishly uncomfortable), and I have a sizable collection of cowboy boots, some of them very niftily hand-tooled, and bought from a store on the Kings Road, London, with the name of R. Soles. That's a pun that only works with an English accent. But these fit! And are comfortable! And even have pinkish-purple insides! With the semester looming, I'm reveling in being frivolous.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Ritualistically, before returning to NJ, the trip to the hairdressers - for no one in NJ cuts hair as well as Edward Whitesides, here in Santa Fe. And visiting his tiny salon is like going and visiting someone in an extension to their home - ditto the excellence of the intelligent conversation, and the mint tea. I was very hopeful before we went that his partner Michael would be there, too - for yes! someone whose name begins with an M was just what I needed. If this blog, as a whole, has failed to represent the kind of photographs that I habitually take, it's been short on portraits. Michael's choice of yellow lived up to my hopes and expectations - the yellow shine to the spectacles being an added bonus. He wasn't, admittedly, wearing a kilt (possibly the only non-Scottish man ever to wear a kilt in Santa Fe?) - but this sweater, positioned next to a very New Mexican dried flower display, was as startlingly eye-catching as the state flag.

I did feel a little as though I'd stolen his image - I asked him to pose, but didn't explain that the deciding factor was that it was an M day. No client, he said, had ever asked to take his photo before...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lurking. Or maybe Loitering

Today's posting is a literal posting - nearly. Its inspiration comes to me via MISSion amy K.R., Amy Krouse Rosenthal's blog on the chicago public radio site (and many thanks to Patty Digh's FB posting this morning for pointing me in that direction...). Amy suggests that we all leave a post-it note, or a note taped to our local ATM, for someone else to find... clearly, one has to Lurk for an opportunity to do this act of low-key guerrilla graffiti. At least, that was the case at the outdoor ATM of Bank of America on St Michael's Drive in Santa Fe this morning.

It's hard, of course, to know what to write. Of course, I could have gone for any number of uplifting and cheery epitaphs. Retrospectively, of course, given that I've reached L, the 12th letter of the alphabet on the 12th day, I should have gone for something by D. H. Lawrence or Doris (or Gotthold Ephraim) Lessing or Rosamond Lehmann (this stress on the alphabet is not just a reminder of where I've got to this year, but homage to Amy K R's wonderful quirky memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life - the kind of book that you just wish you'd had the idea of writing first).

But I didn't. The only time I've ever written a piece of graffiti in my life was when I was 19 and on a train in Italy, and for some reason took a black felt-tip pen and wrote, very neatly, under the window, William Blake's phrase THE TIGERS OF WRATH ARE WISER THAN THE HORSES OF INSTRUCTION. So it seemed the moment to revisit this - whether or not at a time of diminishing university budgets it seemed like a good idea was something that I pondered for a few moments, but I ended up thinking that Blake was really protesting against servitude, against bowing to the edicts and opinions handed down from on high, and that suited me.

But plans don't always quite work out. I had my neatly inscribed post-it - I'd even chosen a rather fetching Bodleian Library image of "The Cat" from Topsell's 1607 Historie of foure-footed beastes. I had my camera ready. I Lurked until other ATM users had finished their business. But whether it was the cold weather, or the fact that it was a more ancient post-it than I'd anticipated, it didn't actually stick. So I had to make do, and stick it in the top of the now-redundant envelope container, where the requisite signature, ATM=Always Trust Magic, (which even if a bit Harry Potter-esque at least is as nicely puzzling as the presence of a Found Message in the first place) is, alas, not visible. But it's there, and maybe someone has read this by now...

Monday, January 11, 2010


This evening's rather paltry looking plate of uncooked purple Kale has a rather apologetic air to it. As you'll see, it's warm and sunny, and I had every intention of taking a close up picture of said Kale - there being few other obvious things beginning with K around, apart from me - and then making a negative of this, and turning that into a cyanotype. But this failed to be convincing for various reasons - perhaps January sun isn't ideal for such a project, but more especially, I don't have a good - or even a bad - photo printer here, so the negative that I made via Photoshop printed rather badly onto a transparency and, in turn, I didn't keep it flat enough for its ten minute exposure (that time alone shows how weak the sun was, even if deceptively bright). So the eventual image was more blue and white ripple than sharply delineated leaves, despite all my running back and forth to a water-filled bath, and drying it delicately between paper towels in my antique Mexican hand press. But it's always a process that I much enjoy, even if the end result was too disappointing to share, this time.

And we didn't eat the kale. That's for soup, tomorrow.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jam. Or Jelly.

Here's one of those uneasy cross-over American/English words. So far as I'm concerned this is a pot of Jam - blackberry Jam, to be precise, from blackberries grown at Manesty - the farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains owned and restored by my cousin Tim and his wife Susan. It's particularly wonderful to me, because it tastes just like real English blackberry jam - and that's something that my mother used to make when we lived up in Cumberland. Indeed, my father even made blackberry wine - there's a 1959 bottle of it still sitting in Wimbledon. We used to walk out from Naworth, my mother and I, sometimes even driving out in a car with Mrs Windle (my mother didn't drive), armed with white china pudding basins, and occasionally plastic bags - all of which would stain deep blackberry color - and then go home and boil large sticky vats on top of the stove, and then fill jamjars full of the stuff.

Only here, I never quite know what's Jam, and what's Jelly. So far as I'm concerned, jelly might, just possibly, be jam that's been strained before cooling and setting, with all the fruity bits and seeds taken out. But truly, jelly for me is what Jello is in the US. It comes as dessert - o.k., "pudding" in middle-class England in the 1950s and 60s: orange jelly with tinned mandarin oranges in it; pineapple jelly with tinned pineapple - or, adventurously, tinned fruit salad; raspberry jelly with - my favorite! - tinned raspberries. That is, in each case, "canned" fruit. No wonder I found mention, in US books, of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches completely mystifying - how ever would one make this stuff stick inside slices of white bread? What's more, I was deeply, deeply shocked when I first met the weird US habit of serving dollops of green jelly with one's entree - and have never quite managed to reconcile myself to it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Given the continued freezing conditions outside much of the time, I suppose it's predictable that I should have found some Ice to record. No longer the thick cracked and bubble-filled surfaces in the plastic tubs that used to pass as waterbutts under our canales - New Mexican downspouts - for we bought ecologically sound waterbarrels this summer in quadruplicate, that are now wintering in the garage and, we hope, haven't been colonized by mice. No, this is the frozen watery residue at the bottom of one of the plastic bowls that I purchased for the birds (no new sightings in that regard today, only the juncos seem to have discovered, at last, that they like stalish pecan nuts.

This spattering of Ice, like frozen seafoam, neatly sums up some of the greatest satisfaction that I sometimes find in the pictures that I take: colors and shapes that approach abstraction. I've been reading Elizabeth Hutchinson's The Indian Craze: Primitivism, Modernism, and Transculturation in American Art, 1890-1915, which does a wonderfully good job in exploring the enthusiasm for some modernist artists of the abstract style and form to be found in Native Arts - a couple of decades before, I'd argue, abstract properties within photographs started to be fully recognized as having value. One of the things that I like the most about this image is the absence of any sense of scale by which to locate oneself. In actuality, this shape is about four or five inches across, but this could be a splash, a sightless eyeball, or a glacial hole seen from a plane.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I was delighted to meet Matty this evening - 90 lbs of Anatolian Shepherd dog, sixteen months old, with a winsome and intelligent expression. That's a lot of dog to see staring at you - standing on her hind legs and gazing hungrily through the back door - as you eat a bowl of quite excellent goulash made with genuine Hungarian paprika.

So our hearts softened, and she was left back in, and banished to her person's living room, when, after a few conversational chortlings and miniature howls, she obediently and peacefully fell quiet. Or so we thought, until it was time to go home, and I rescued my scarf - and, well, let us just say that it was damp, and Distressed, and full, yes, of Holes. Draped over a lampshade it looks almost like a burkha: when not illuminated, it looks as though it's had an attack of moths with the wingspan of a vulture.

Matty is, of course, forgiven - even if she didn't try and look particularly penitent: I think she believes she may have a future as an installation artist.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


O.K., maybe that's pushing it. But that's Gelid, as in Freezing Cold, not jellied, as in Eel, and is a perfectly legitimate word to describe the frigid temperatures outside: 18F when we went for a walk, with the wind chill apparently making that 9F. It's 12.7 out at present (3 with the wind chill). So there are reasons why bluebirds look like this, huddled up and puffed out on the bough of a willow tree outside the bathroom window. I spent some time wondering how many it would take for them to be Gregarious - there are four in this picture, and there were up to 9 in all - but they were as nothing, when it came to numbers, to the starlings that descended en masse in the back yard. The flickers re-emerged, F being safely past; there was a pair of Northern Harriers hovering around, too - but doubtless they will disappear before I get to H for Harrier or Hawk tomorrow. We have a good many bluebirds around here (back in the early summer, you might remember the bluebird house on a pole) - one thing I didn't previously know about them is that sailors used to tattoo a bluebird on their chest for every 5,000 miles at sea, which must have meant that some men bore a complete aviary. Lore had it that a bluebird would help them get back to shore, being the first (land) bird that was often seen on their way back to shore. That doesn't exactly explain their presence in a very land-locked New Mexican back yard.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Flight paths

Two Eldorado sunsets within a week might be pushing my luck - but then, they are spectacular - even with the Flight paths streaking across them and doubtless adding to the pollution that's helping to cause the sunset in the first place. These ones look to me like the LA-Chicago route - sometimes when I've traveled that way back to NJ it's been very frustrating to fly almost directly over our miniaturized house.

But F was, oddly, a challenge today (I kept worrying about my own name, and whether there was some horrible parallel with Mr Ramsay, in To the Lighthouse, unable to follow through stages of abstract thinking to the level of complexity represented by his own initial). I kept hoping for a Northern Flicker - there have been a threesome of these woodpeckers around recently, but they were absent today. I did manage some Finches Feeding, and even a Foot, obligingly posed by Alice on top of a sign when we were out on a walk. But I can't resist these wonderful skies, especially when one knows that our period for looking at them has a definite limit at the end of next week...

In case you're wondering, that strange lighted thingy in the bottom right hand corner is the stop sign at the end of our road...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


This is an organic brown Egg from the Flying E Egg farm at Estancia, pretty much due south of here, south of I-40 and Moriarty- and when I looked up Estancia on line I find it features flying in another form, too: it's home to an annual pumpkin flinging contest. Originally a pueblo village stood where the small town now exists: most probably the name estancia comes from the original Spanish meaning of a resting place, rather than signifying some big estate. Before that - way before that, during the Ice Age, when it was very wet and cool in these parts, there was a huge, 700 square mile freshwater lake there. More recently, there was a big C19th land grant here - the Sandoval grant - and sheep and cows were raised on what turned out to be contested land - bloody struggles with the shepherds who thought that they had the equivalent of squatters' rights were recounted in its deliberately inflammatory named newspaper of the 1880s, The Gringo and Greaser. It seems to be very much a ranching town these days (with a number of small cafes: I should head down there in the summer and explore, so long as I can avoid the pumpkin chuckin, and navigate the fact that for every 100 women over 18, there are 217.7 men). It seems to have plenty going for it - the first (and only?) African American sheriff in the state, a famous green chile cheeseburger - and I suspect that it was a good thing that the bet made at the turn of the C19th between the Mayors of Estancia and Albuquerque that it would grow into the bigger city was lost.

I have an uncertain relationship with eggs, having been allergic to them until I hit puberty (not, apparently, as odd and unusual as it sounds), and having failed to convince my mother of this for a long while - I think she thought egg regurgitation was a sign of bloody mindedness or of greed. So I find it hard to admit I actually like them - for decades I would only approach them when they were under heavy disguise - in a spinach souffle, say. A big box from the Flying E offers a choice of brown or white - the brown being decidedly smaller, as though from pullets, and not from Big Hens. As you can see, the two are arranged in rows, one very much towering over the other. There is quite possibly an allegory to be developed, given the peculiarly skin-like appearance of this egg, for the sexual ratio in the town, but I really don't think I'll explore it.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Some of my favorite pictures of this last year have been little slices of the ordinary - as in this Draining board - or, rather, wire rack from Target - once again caught in the morning sun, with a Mexican glass, and a pan lid - drying after the posole and buffalo sausage dish that took a very long time to cook - and some kind of peeler, that's making a mysterious guest appearance and that I don't recollect ever having used.

I thought it was going to be a hot contest for D, with Dogs very nearly making an appearance - but part of what would have been the other possible image was over-exposed. There were two little neatly wrapped plastic bags of dog poop sitting by the side of the road on Monte Alto, with an angry note asking their owner - owner? - NOT to put them in his/her trash bin in future. This note has been added to by another, commending the Dog Owner for having been so tidy and civic minded as to bag the poop at all, and saying that they are very welcome to put such bags in her/his bin - address given - and commending them for their community spirit. For most owners, indeed, don't bother. Nor, for that matter, do the coyotes trouble to be tidy - and they were out in force last night, howling and yipping just up the road, doubtless with some unfortunate rabbit in their sights.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


This Carving of a lion sits on the windowsill here in Cuesta Road, and seems peculiarly ill-positioned against what looks to be fierce wintry weather outside. That apparent blizzard is something of an illusion, however: the sideways slashes of snow are, in fact, a dirty window - still dirty outside, that is, from the fall's construction work to build a new portale (that's one of its handsome pillars on the left) - and the smears are the more visible since A's internal assault, two days ago, on the Inner Grime. Indeed, though, there is still some snow on the ground...

The lion comes from Kovalam, in Kerala, southern India - where someone was selling him in a little beach stall. Kovalam is one of those places I've been to twice - in, I think, 1995 and 1997 - and I'd love to go back, but at the same time dread that its quiet and beauty might have been spoilt - it was touristy enough, but in a very low-key Indian way, with men fishing at the edge of huge long breakers that slowly broke upon the sand, and moist salty sunny air, and lots of people selling mangoes and coconuts. He is one of the least New Mexican things in the house - and hence a complete counterpoint to yesterday's post. There's a baffling box of matches just by him - I guess intended for candles? Or fire-lighting? But, with plenty of south-facing windows - as here - one's more inclined to open them, even when the temperature is eleven degrees fahrenheit outside - than to light a fire.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bowl and Buffalo

Both Bowl and Buffalo? This is heading towards a kitsch New Mexican shot... but was intended as a celebration of the early morning light hitting our fireplace here in Eldorado. This time of the year, it's hard not to rush around at dawn and sunset cooing over the ways in which golden sun rays light everything up, inside and out. The bowl is by Dusty Naranjo, from Santa Clara Pueblo - brownware sgraffito, from Indian Market a couple of years ago; the angel's wing is a bulto by Ernie Lujan, a santero from Nambe, and the buffalo... well, the buffalo are little plastic buffs, relatives of my plastic horses - but smaller - whom I adopted from the site store in the Badlands National Park, SD. I spent some time trying to line them up (without success, however), so that the edge of the chimney breast would look like some huge Anasazi ruin.

Friday, January 1, 2010


I think that there are about twenty-six entries left for me to complete a year's blogging in actual blog form - an alphabet's worth, though maybe (I'm not scrolling back to check) XYZ will have to be thrown together. So I'll start with A for Aubade - not in the sense of two lovers separating at daybreak (Alice venturing down the driveway to pick up the NYT surely doesn't count), but simply as an ode to the dawn, which (if one turned and looked in the other direction) was particularly pink and spectacular this morning. We let ourselves out of the back door to look at it - the presence of a roosting Northern Flicker under the front portale, 12" of brown and gold and fawn feather, is rather inhibiting when it comes to using the front one.

Roni Horne's catalog for her London and NY exhibition included an "index," a set of appealingly random entries given cohesion by an alphabetization of themes. Similarly, the Whitechapel's publication accompanying the Sophie Calle exhibition includes an "Index" by Andrea Tarsia (Head of Displays and Curatorial Studies at the gallery), which starts with Angels and Beds (lots of these in Calle's work) and Carnival, and ends up with Words, X, Yes, and Zylberstein - as in Ella Z, one of the actresses who performs, or takes part, in Take Care of Yourself (2007) - Calle handing over the text of an email breakup to 107 other women, to interpret it how they will.

But an Index presupposes a work already in existence - what attracts me to the days ahead is that I don't know what I'll be labeling - only that I'll be hunting a B tomorrow.