Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Wednesday is Santa Fe Reporter day, when the weekly free paper for the City Different - or as the bumper stickers have it - Dipherent - appears, containing everything from movie listings to lost and found ads to restaurant reviews to hard news to Overheard Snippets: this week, in the Santa Fe Eavesdropper:

"Is this the Rodeo parade?"
"Does it look like a Rodeo parade?"
"Well I don't know, honey, we're not in Texas anymore."
-- middle-aged couple on the corner of Paseo de Peralta as the Gay Pride Parade began.

When I was first here in 1994, carrying home to Oxford a copy of the Reporter was a central component to trying to explain quite how Dipherent the city is. Of course, I didn't realize that Dan Savage's sex column was nationally syndicated - I just thought that it sounded from Savage Love that people all over Santa Fe were having a lot more fun than I was - and for all I know Free Will Astrology is syndicated too. But all the other ads! The Buddha Fitness Club! The Chanting and Yantra Painting Workshop!The Garlic Harvest Festival! Bluegrass! Zydeco!Western Boots! Flea Markets! Green Psychology! The Pooch Pantry! Perhaps the writing was on the wall the minute that I took this home - life was never (quite) like that down the Cowley Road, despite the CoCo, and the Jamaican Eating House - an establishment I never much patronized, and certainly won't now, since the last UK election, when I heard the owner (an elderly grizzled Jamaican man) praise David Cameron to the skies - his former regular, and such a Nice Young Man.

I made it as far as picking up this week's copy of the SFR only because Emmett and the others would have murdered me for food if I hadn't gone to the pet store: but my torn muscles are starting to feel a bit as though the darning is beginning to work.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The only artistic creativity in this household today has been Emmett's attempt to decorate the bathtub. Quite why he always feels compelled to jump in after someone has taken a shower is a mystery; quite how his paws come to be so very dirty is a topic I'd rather not think about. Since I wince, badly, every time I move, all I've done is sit very still and - at last - read Linda Gordon's excellent biography of Dorothea Lange (I hadn't ever realized that she's spent the 1920s as a successful society portrait photographer). My attention has been grabbed by a minor player in this, the photographer Consuelo Kanaga, who was well known (though not to me - I don't recollect ever having heard of her) for her pictures of African Americans, and, yes, she seems to have made very good use of flash... her life, she said, was dedicated to the search for luminosity.

new mexican housing

...and here's another empty nest, this time evacuated by just one chick (we pass the residence every time that we take one of our walks) - I think it's an Eastern Kingbird, which has nested in this newspaper delivery tube year after year. Note the great built up pile of the nest, delicately finished in a soft bed of fluffy animal fur (we always send off our own kitty combed fur on the breeze, hoping that it will be recycled in interior decoration in this kind of a way). And then, for the discerning home occupant, that finishing touch is provided by a little twirl of green glittery, shiny gift wrapping ribbon in the upper left hand corner. Lighting effects are provided by the shadow of the New Mexican sun logo on the outside of the box (obviously enough, emanating from the Santa Fe New Mexican's advertising).

Ah, house ownership. Alice is off to LA, to close the door on one set of renters, and maybe, most probably, rent to some new ones - but also to talk with realtors. Should we rent or sell 962 right away? What is the likelihood of us ever selling our house in NJ? How should one attempt to sequence any of this? The temptation to stick one's head under a wing and hope that everything will go away in this respect is strong (and maybe someone will tend one with worms and grubs, and teach one how to fly).

A late post - I was too doped up on pain medications last night, and it was too close to midnight, to think straight. Lesson #1 - do not lift heavy garden pots when one already has a pulled muscle in one's side. Lesson # 2 - the ER at Christus St Vincent, even if I was there 4 hours - was infinitely, infinitely, infinitely more pleasant (and much cleaner) than that which Alice endured at the RWJ a month ago...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

storm approaching

One of the very best things about being here in summer - once the first few hot weeks have been survived - is sitting out at the back of the house (and now, under our new portale), seeing the storms slowly coming in over the mountains, and wondering if they are going to make it up to Eldorado or veer off in some other direction. These, I think, are the Manzano Mountains - about fifty miles south of here (thank you, telephoto lens) - south west, we can see down to the Datil mountains, just over a hundred miles away; to the west, it's forty miles to the Jemez, and then just eight or so miles north to the very foothills of the Sangre de Cristos. Not bad views. Although I have to stir myself back into work tomorrow, it's been great having the contemplative space. And (thinking back to last week) ... would this work best as a platinum palladium print? As a cyanotype? As ...?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

fading away

and this morning was, indeed, the last few hours of class, with a few remaining drying prints - or, as here, test sheets of gum bichromate, seeing how much exposure time they needed in the sun for the black to take. Curious - I had been excited to try gum above all - I so love the effects produced by many artists in it (starting, I think, with seeing Elena Baca's work at Spanish Market many years ago), but I realized very, very fast that I wasn't going to produce anything in a day with which I would be remotely satisfied. Not that I'm 100% satisfied with any print that I produced - much though I like some of them, and I've both been reading about the production of high-end computer generated negatives, and also casting around for other outlets and courses. Christopher suggested that I stay on for next week's advanced course - wet plate collodion, among other things ... - but I think that I will save that up for next year, and also, next year, come with a definite project or two that I have been pursuing/want to pursue. Ideas are germinating ... I am already deeply conscious how, picking up the history of photography again, I have a far, far better visceral sense of what's going on. And I'm also horrified that somehow I completely missed the existence of this exhibition paralleling old and new uses of C19th photographic technology at the Harry Ransom center (and then on tour) - but excavating at least the reviews, and looking much more closely at Mark and France Scully Osterman's work should give a good boost to the neo-Victorian photography project...

Friday, June 25, 2010


Here's an albumen print in the making, sitting in the shade for four minutes, before I whisk it out into the bright sunlight to finish off making the exposure for another minute. Then I'll hurry it off inside for bathing and fixing ... And that's how I spent the morning ... the afternoon (lunch was a hurried diet coke and a power bar - no time to stop, during this kind of thing) I worked on ziatypes - with some excellent results (I was working on sequences of pictures involving mannequins, for the most part) which made me very happy, and just wanting to carry on ...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

eggs on eggs

What else should one start with, when printing using the albumen method, other than images of eggs? First, take three dozen eggs, and separate the whites, and whisk them, and then mix this up with some tapioca starch which has been mixed with boiling citric acid and sodium chloride. Then coat your paper - by soaking it, and then squeegee-ing off the syicky substance without leaving any bubbles. Then hang it up to dry.... Then give it two coats of 15% silver nitrate, and place your negative on it, and rush out into the shade for, say, four minutes, and then the sun for one. And then you scuttle inside again, and bathe it in salted water with citric acid, then fresh running water, then drop into toner for 5 minutes - we were using gold-ammonium thiocynate toner - then rinse again - then fix in a bath of sodium thiosulfate - then clear in sodium sulfite - then wash in running water. And then, if you're lucky, you get a print like the one in the middle.

One of the things that I'm really learning this week - apart from all the chemistry - is how good it is to spend time really, really concentrating at something, and trying to get it absolutely right. So what if it takes an hour to make a print that doesn't quite work? One learns from that, one makes adjustments, one tries again - and tries, also, to remember to make further adjustments, because of the sun being higher, or behind a cloud, or whatever (and then, sometimes good stuff happens by accident, in any case). There is something very zen about this - on the other hand, it's odd doing this within a group, because I find myself heading more and more into myself as I do it... It is a wonderful antidote to digital near-instantaneity, and a million times more satisfying.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


So, yes, this is a dark picture - but our class meets in a darkened room, for the mixing, drop by drop, of various potions. Today could have been better in terms of finished products (technical details - I think that I should have printed out my own negatives at home on my Epson printer rather than use the SFW HP printer - at least, since I've been making the negatives with a color-screen layer) - but I did manage one pretty excellent ziatype piece at the end. Only, yes, I'd forgotten to flip the negative horizontal (ah, one learns through mistakes). In the morning it was platinum/palladium prints, which nearly came right, but didn't quite...

The good news is that the basement in 113 Graham should be ideal for carrying on with this. Things haven't gone quite right with today's developing and printing; I'm not a good person when it comes to sharing space - I would be happy having complete quiet, with a tame consultant somewhere to hand. The storm arrived - and as ever in Santa Fe it smelt quite amazing after rain and hail - all damp ground and pinon. And this meant that we had to use light boxes (I was very relieved how easy this was - confirmed me in the thinking that one should do test strips, though). I am now completely hooked ...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

here's looking at a kallitype

I finished the day happy, having made a kallitype that I actually liked, and that was properly exposed and developed (here hanging up to dry, above a technically stunning but rather over-polished fashion portrait that just happened to be hanging on the wall underneath. I became completely hooked during today on alt pro - the morning was printing on salt paper, like Fox Talbot, and the afternoon kallitypes ... tomorrow, platinum/palladium and Ziatypes (and I wonder whether my negatives are good enough for these...). This evening's talk from Christopher James made me realize yet further how extraordinarily lucky I am to be taking a course from someone so committed and creative, and so absolutely dedicated to both fun and finding one's individual vision. My only regret is that there isn't longer between classes (9 hours, to be precise, before I'm back on the learning curve) to think and read and choose one's negatives and think what one really, really wants to do the next day ...

Monday, June 21, 2010

blue zebra

It's probably inevitable that my (digital) photo of what I've been up to today is better than the product itself - here's my cyanotype (a reworking of a close up of a plastic zebra ...) drying. Unless you blow it up really large, you can't see that I applied the cyanotype solution in rather too stripey a fashion, for a start. And then ... I thought that, indeed, what I really wanted to do was something simple, and yes, I think I achieved that ... but I wished that I'd in fact chosen a different negative, and (for the exposure time in the sun was around 18 minutes for this, and the day was getting older) we didn't have time for a second round. But yes ... I think I would do it better next time, which is surely the point.

The day began with all of us lying on an 18' cyanotype treated piece of cotton, and developing ourselves in the sun for 22 minutes ... plus whatever we had brought with us. Someone had some glass paperweights, which looked good, like bubbles ... better yet was long, flowing hair tangled up with flowers... I didn't, of course, quite manage the late 60s rock album cover look in that way, but I did bring the plastic ponies along for a ride...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

polarizing the polaroid

This evening was the first, introductory evening of the Alternative Process Photography workshop - taught by Christopher James - that I'll be preoccupied with this coming week. It was the usual nervous experience of feeling that everyone else was more technically competent / artistically talented / more entitled to be there than one is oneself (in other words, very good sentiments for a professor to be reminded of...). Christopher himself is a most compelling enthusiast, however - and he's quite determined and confident that (a) the week will be a huge amount of fun (b) we all have to be at least a bit crazy to be giving up a week of our lives to such a pursuit and (c) that what we're doing is returning art and individualism to a world increasingly dominated and awash in huge amounts of digital images - images that are anywhere between amazing and terrible. But there are many more bad than good ones out there... And this meshes completely with my own real wish to create photographs that are one-off, that include accident, and so on.

He produced a rarity - a working polaroid camera, complete with film - from which he took our identifying shots ... (I realize I have a packet of Polaroid 55 film somewhere back in Graham which is probably worth about $200 or so on eBay... I wonder where it is...) ... so what could I do with this but take a photo of it using my iPhone polaroid simulation app... I seem to look distressingly sorrowful, which completely belies how excited I am.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On not photographing Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart

... a picture that would seem to have very little to do with either of them. But not being a member of the paparazzi, or a crass tourist with nowhere better to point their cell phone, I was hardly going to do anything about the fact that the newly-weds were at the next table to us in The Shed this evening. Which, even for Santa Fe (where we tend to hit far luckier on these star sightings than LA) was pretty good.

This new statue is outside the Cathedral, and is beautifully decked in roses, though uneasily the first set of "victims" who are being interceded for in its inscribed, accompanying prayer are the "victims of abortion," and one suspects that this doesn't, in the first instance, encompass the emotional scarring of those who conceived. I hadn't seen the statue before - or rather, hadn't taken it in, because I know I must have walked past it - but the roses gleaming in the night made it stand out - with, in the background, "I Will Survive" coming over the stereo system from a party at La Fonda. Living out in Eldorado, it's all too easy to forget how beautiful the center of Santa Fe - stars or no stars - is at night.

Friday, June 18, 2010

rural labor

Ah, hoeing the soil of Northern New Mexico - a timeless sight (etc.) This is Alice (once upon a time, a Gardener Trainee II at UNM, which curiously doesn't figure on her c.v.) practicing her fine-honed skills when it comes to preparing the ground for some Russian Sage, which we are hoping will grow tall and purple against our new-ish wall. She also looks impressively fit: I too am hoping for some kind of a pay-off to my arms after carrying around 50 lb. bags of soil.

The mountains in the background offer an almost straight-across view to Los Alamos, and therefore this - the black and whiteness of this impression of the (relative) hardships when it comes to subsistence in the high desert is by way of homage to Jennet Conant's wonderful history of Robert Oppenheimer and life in Los Alamos whilst they were building the atomic bomb, 109 East Palace, which gives a vividly detailed account of the social tensions in this security-driven, tight-knit, claustrophobic community in a part of the world where few of them (apart from Oppenheimer himself, who had a small ranch up somewhere around Cowles) had ever expected to find themselves. I reckon that since the atomic explosion counts as a big flash, that reading this compelling book is, surely, Work ...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

blue pot

Yes, I do realize that my love of taking photos in color that represent color may decidedly stand in the way of making the black and white images - or negatives - that I need for next week's course ... Still, although this looks good in black and white, it's obviously a knock-out cerulean blue. The pot, and a number like it, is at Jackalope - though overall, this year's pot collection at what is my usual plant-container emporium was pretty disappointing. What has usually been a collection of mid-sized glazed and earthenware receptacles has morphed into giant Vietnamese containers on steroids - one of which might look good enough on one's front porch, but which are a hopeless prospect for planting out one's herbs and annuals and obligatory supply of fresh catmint.

I would, though, love - maybe not here, because the mountains and distance and sky are good enough aids to meditation, but in LA - a discreet fountain; a gentle water feature, just like this.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

dancing grass

I opened up the garage door today to let it air (and to brush out a whole lot of mouse droppings - the two taken together [hanta virus, etc] stand in close relation to one another). And then, a couple of hours later, it was full of little dancing lines of tough spiky grass heads. Doubtless these are related to why I've been sneezing all day: I tried to pulverize some by using an implement like a sideways slung toothed scythe this evening, and nearly started a fire by striking a large, bright red spark when I hit a stone - spectacular and scary. But these are rather sweet and playful. I think they look good in black and white, but maybe not quite contrasty enough for the work I want to do next week. Today I made a negative from the picture I took in January of a big spiky cactus in the fall - using the method of tinting it deep orange, which I've only recently learned - and produced a great cyanotype of it using my new contact printing frame...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the camera as recording device

I invariably carry a camera on our walks, if only in the hope or expectation of yet another beautiful sunset (no disappointment tonight - see below - the air heavy with smoke, still, from a fire somewhere back behind Espanola). But it also comes in useful in case we see plants... our more or less neighbors (at least, some of their land joins some of ours) have these growing in abundance, and they look magnificent, and obviously flourish here. But we don't know what they are, so this image will come back with us to Santa Fe Greenhouses. We spent much time and money there today, and indeed, every summer, I don't really feel that we've fully arrived until we come back laden with herbs and geraniums, a hollyhock and hanging petunias, and various other little containers. And although these will all go into our big pots, we're starting to eye the potential of what is, now, our closed in yard.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I very rarely find myself playing around with Photoshop tools of an evening - but sometimes one's idea for a picture just doesn't work, and one's left doing the visual equivalent of putting together an edible meal of whatever's left over in a rather empty fridge. I headed off on our longish walk this morning looking for off-white things - flowers, dandelion heads, bleached gourds left over from last summer - but nothing looked as special as I felt it ought to have done by the time it was downloaded. So I was left with a couple of attractive, but photographically dull rice-paper thin white flowers, and tweaked them around so they look as though they've had a collision with Charles Rennie Mackintosh on one of his less architectural days.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

the empty nest

The bluebirds have flown. Somehow, we managed to miss the exact moment - so we don't know quite how many there were - probably three, judging by the cheeping chorus. The last few days have been very nerve wracking. The bluebird - obviously there was more than one, but we couldn't tell them apart, and so we only ever thought in terms of one - was leaning further and further out - even if being hit, yesterday, by fifty mile an hour winds. S/he was looking at the world from every angle, including examining the menacing mockingbirds, warily. Unlike sparrows, I don't think mockingbirds are predators, but they are terribly territorial. I ended up feeding them the mealyworms we'd bought for the bluebirds (who showed no interest in this sudden expensive food source) in order to distract them the other end of the yard.

And the bluebirds were there this morning - being fed - and then suddenly, nothing. No parents, no grubs in beak, no cheeps, nothing. Since the same thing had happened (when s/he was a little younger) last year, and I'd opened up the box to find an Unexplained Tragedy, I was so apprehensive this year - have been, for days, as though all the year's pent up anxieties focused on the vulnerable inhabitants of one nesting box, swaying in the wind - it was with some apprehension that I opened it up this afternoon. The first thing I could see was a feather - not good. But I fetched the steps - and that was it. One feather. And an empty nest. And lots of bluebird guano. So I've removed the nest, and cleaned it out, and I'm leaving it to air - and we are as proud and relieved as if we'd laid and hatched and reared them ourselves.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Coyotes have long been proud emblems of Santa Fe kitsch - and here's a new one to add to the pack, howling on the back of an oversized rustic chair down by the railyard, somewhere at the back of the youth center next to SITE Santa Fe. It's hard to know whether one would characterize the piece as craft - I guess I always think of craft as being on a smaller scale. It was, nonetheless, also in proximity to the craft market - which included some beautiful pieces of jewelry, some interesting - if not to my taste - pottery with transfers on it - and a good deal of, yes, near kitsch, taking inspiration from red chile peppers and turquoise and lotus flowers - not exactly indigenous to New Mexico, but up there with all kinds of native incitements to spiritual self-help.

And then later we went to an exhibition of Book Arts in Eldorado's La Tienda - which is now a community-based collection of stores and spaces - which had everything from some extremely elaborate cut-out, collaged, concertina-ed books, to quilted and felted images/texts hanging like a postcard display, to other folded, pleated, gummed, stitched, and taped. This, in turn, sent me back to Lucy Lippard's essay "Making Something from Nothing (Toward a Definition of Women's 'Hobby Art',"which dates from 1978, yet in many ways works particularly well, now, with the revival, the fervent embrace of craft art during the past couple of years. And the questions Lippard raises were particularly pertinent in relation to the exhibition, for whereas almost all of the book art on display was woman produced, and much of it was woman-centered in a diffuse kind of way ("soft" rather than hard subjects), not much could be called feminist - with the exception of a small photo album of solo women (I wanted to know more - were these found images from flea markets or junk stores or even - a good source for images of unknown women - from eBay? Had they been scanned and darkened - for the black and white was very crisp - and then printed out again?) who may or may not have been given their actual first names, their actual sentiments, in the album's labeling. Yet, given the craft/artisan revival, is it still true that "only in a feminist art world will there be a chance for the 'fine' arts, the 'minor' arts, 'crafts,' and hobby circuits to meet and to develop an art of making with a new a revitalized communicative function?" I'd rather think not: this was still a local gallery in a half empty shopping center fourteen miles out of town, with a fine ginger cat wandering in from the non-profit 2nd hand bookstore opposite. Even if some of the exhibitors came from further afield - I suspect that it would take a different, fine-art controlled (however experimental) a setting to give even the imaginative/beautiful pieces full credence. In this setting - I know they aren't books; I'm talking generically about craft - Margaret Wertheim's amazing crochet coral reef project would be in danger of looking like a quaint little piece of whimsy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

the helping paw

I was struck with inspiration this afternoon - this, surely, is the name that should be chosen by someone we know who's starting a pet sitting service (and we shall be his first clients! or at least, the first to sign up). And I was thinking how one might use this image of Lucy's delicate, slumbering (moth stained) paws on a flier, or business card...

...though I was disappointed that this image is strong in beiges and fawns and occasional hints of silver, and doesn't really work in black and white. I'm starting to hunt down old, or oldish images that work in b&w in order to make digital negatives from them, for in just over a week I'll be (excitement!) taking a course in alternative photographic processes (I really, really want to learn how to do gum bichromate...). Today I picked up my contact printing frame, and am eyeing it hungrily.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


is what we're all tempted to do a lot of in this heat - although LucyFur may have the excuse of having caught more moths than the rest of us. I have the excuse of having finished some very long overdue footnotes for a piece that should have been returned to its volume editors probably sometime in the last decade. Alice has the excuse of being half way through writing a review. There is, however, the faintest of hints that some normal energy may be close to returning...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

bird watching

Some of you will already be familiar with this fading pink flamingo from pictures of it in the snow. Indeed, I'm looking forward to this winter, and the possibilities in store from the fact that fifty feet away, a whole patch has been planted with its more brightly plumaged mates.

But it's not flamingos that capture most of our attention, or exert pressure on our nerves. Our bluebird house is again home to one or more - I think I can hear at least two - baby [eastern] bluebirds. They are now around fourteen or fifteen days old - so with luck, it won't be long before they fly. Their parents go back and forth with all kinds of grubs. Yesterday we bought a little pot of wriggling mealy grubs for them - but this seems to have been a bad idea, since they, in their turn, attracted three territorially aggressive mocking birds. Least pleasant task of the day - moving mealy grubs from one end of the walled yard to the other. I was nervous last year - and then there was a tragedy: the baby bird - and I think there was only one that reached near-fledgeling stage - just collapsed and died in the nest. Pesticide? So I am watching constantly to check that it's sticking its beak - by now, whole head - out to be fed; that the parents are diving into the house to clean it by carrying out the little white fecal sacs... and keeping my fingers crossed. But this isn't good for more academic forms of concentration.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

evening walk

It was just about cool enough to go out for a walk this evening - with the most extraordinary clouds, looking like a Renaissance version of heaven in one direction, and like a set of water-color experiments in the other. And then the light... here against the front wall of our house, with a large uprooted tumbleweed lodged against a bush.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Here's just one of them, perched momentarily on the outside of a lampshade. Many more are flapping around inside it; others are thrashing against a skylight; some are fluttering between the blinds and the windows. Alice rescued thirty or forty, using a glass and a sheet of stiff paper, and let them loose outside, where they've probably disappeared into mockingbirds. A sizable number went into LucyFur, and were subsequently regurgitated. I found one hiding inside the spigot that one uses to get iced water from the fridge. A total of three were found drowned this morning in the bowl of soapy water that Maria Roberts suggested that we place under a bright light. I suppose that's better than none.

It's curious: we don't get this plague every year - I think the last time was 2005 - and it vanished quite quickly (that year it was succeeded by a thirty-six hour swarm of flying ants - I hope they don't appear this time round). I took up a copy of Ouida's 1880 novel Moths, thinking it might be an appropriate accompaniment (or, since it's quite thick, a useful implement to squash them with), but as usual with Ouida, I couldn't get past more than a couple of her slushy paragraphs. Maybe I should try (another of Maria's suggestions) a candle - but truly, that seems too dangerous. Woolf and her siblings used to catch moths by the score in summer - on sticky prepared surfaces - which means that they turn up periodically in her fiction - but truly, I can't make much of a literary case for the presence of these ones.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

stormy sunset

Another ritual of return is, of course, marveling at the sunsets - and then, after this wonderful one, at the storm that's currently lighting up the sky (maybe our moth plague will fly out, lured by the bright flashes?). Indeed, I'd better post this quickly, before the internet is knocked out...

Saturday, June 5, 2010


First night back in Santa Fe... and if always, if we can make it, it's dinner at Harry's, even after driving 1,938 miles. It was very very hot when we rolled up at the house - around 96, with lots of big slow moths flapping around with the kitties to play with, and bluebirds flying busily to and from the birdhouse in the yard (emphatically No Kitty Outside). Harry's was extremely quiet - so there was no difficulty getting a table out in the back yard, and starting the business of reclaiming our lives after the academic year. A margarita helped.

Friday, June 4, 2010

modern transport

We have had another day of much interstate driving (St Louis to Oklahoma City), with all its attendant glories: the long long traffic jam for road works, that held us up for half an hour; the crazed drivers in SUVs and pick up trucks; the two batty ladies who hogged the gas pump in front of me whilst they painstakingly cleaned every last squashed fly off their windscreens. It's always great hitting I-44, though (and the West starts the minute one's crossed the Mississippi) - Route 66 runs parallel most of the way down - today complete with a troupe of Harley drivers - and then there are all the kitsch signs and stores that go along with that - the mock Indian village with tepees; the juxtaposition of sex stores and the Grace Freedom Church - one of the sex stores with a huge new phallic bowling pin outside, too; the Vacuum Cleaner museum.

But we've seen too much of the road, by now (probably the kitties have, too). It's very easy to smuggle them into the Sheraton in Oklahoma City since there are hotel elevators that also service the carpark... LucyFur nearly gave the game away, though. Walking back from dinner, there was about one window illuminated in this 15 story hotel. And silhouetted in the window... And walking back from dinner, too, were lots of horses and carriages conveying people round Bricktown - most incongruously getting there through this very modern underpass.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


St Louis - and we even have the Arch out of our bathroom window. Note to People Traveling With Cats - the Omni, here, is a rarity among hotels. They love cats. The doorman insisted on being introduced to all four. Julie, the receptionist, came up to our room so that she could meet them all (this was about twenty minutes after we'd arrived - just time for Emmett to break a wineglass and us to hide the damages). But the downtown architecture is pretty good, too - classical style buildings, and new imitators, and other solid skyscrapers. The edifice on the right is the civil courts building, constructed after a bond issue in 1923. I just wish that we weren't very much on the road - I'd love to stay here another couple of days and explore. Indeed, I've just found that the Art Gallery has an exhibit of Yinka Shonibare figures, scattered throughout the museum - and it's most frustrating to drive on by. But it's Oklahoma City tomorrow...

Piggies [June 2nd

I suppose Ohio is known for pork in various forms (though no one could make better pulled pork than our contractor, Pat Hye - his formula involving citrus peel and molasses and all kinds of spices) - and that maybe explains the celebration of piggies that I encountered in a gas station...

... though in fact, I associate Ohio with appalling weather. There was the snowstorm in December 2004, in which I slid off I-70, very gently, onto the central reservation and was rescued by a snowplough, and then today's extraordinary storm as we drove into Columbus - with tornado warnings bleeping through the radio, and then a real siren going off outside; driving in thick pouring rain, with lightning shooting sideways through the clouds above and then slamming into the ground in thick violent blinding bolts. Of course, if I hadn't been driving and trying to follow the tracks of the truck in front, there would have been some wonderful photos for the taking (flash, flash) - but all I could do was think how feeble all those analogies between flash photography and lightning truly are, when faced with the electrical energy and sheer terror of being in the middle of a big storm.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

No Cat Left Behind

Not that there is any danger of us forgetting to pack LucyFur. But she's always very anxious when bags appear - and when the kitty carriers are out too, she knows that it's major road trip time. So rather than deciding to sleep on top of my suitcase (as she will when she fears I'm just heading out to a conference), she's safely ensconced in the front hall, next to a road map, a sunhat that I bought out of necessity in the Pantanal, in Western Brazil, a bag of books, a bag of half-graded graduate papers, a camera bag, another miscellaneous bag, and yes, two plastic ponies. There's also an ungroomed corner of the hallway beyond, that depressingly reveals that despite the latter part of today having been concentrated pack pack pack, clean clean clean, that there's a nasty grimy layer still sitting there (getting the house into any semblance of clean after the contractors have been hammering and plastering is a ludicrous uphill struggle).

In around eight and a half hours we'll be trying to pack three amenable, if resigned cats - and one fluffy feral monster - and heading west!