Thursday, September 30, 2010


The door-to-door organic delivery box this week contained two bunches of cilantro.   I adore the stuff: Alice can't stand it.   Because of some genetic excess or deficiency on her part, apparently it tastes, most unpleasantly, of soap.   This is an even more unarguable aversion than, say, my own highly developed dislike of marzipan.   So when she's away, I gorge myself on it (and, indeed, on various other unfavored foods, like cumin seeds, which, fortunately, go very well with some things that one concocts with cilantro - like salads of black beans and canned tuna (lunch), or a cucumber and cilantro raita to go with a Turkish dish of onions and carrots and leeks and a little bit of rice and lemon juice (dinner).

For really, what can I say, other than celebrate the ordinary, in a day when the media is crammed with analysis of the Tyler Clementi tragedy: when one's suspended somewhere between the unbearable poignancy of his final Facebook status posting - a minute or so before he jumped - and feeling real anger at the mindlessness of the people who've set up Facebook support groups for the students who've been rightly charged for their thoughtless actions.   I never thought that I'd be cheering Chris Christie, but just for once NJ's Governor has managed to say the right thing, and to say it directly and bluntly and with feeling.   I'm really heartened to hear that the football team plans a moment - "a moment"? - of silence at Saturday's game; and I plan to be at tomorrow's commemorative gathering at Brower at lunchtime.   If anything good comes out of this by way of heightening awareness around campus, that's excellent.   But one would so very much rather not be thinking of an event like this as a teachable moment, because it's appalling that it happened in the first place.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

memorializing, angrily

These scattered, faded rose petals are in a bowl in my office - they seem the most appropriate objects at hand through which to grieve the death of someone I've never met: Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide last Wednesday by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.   News of his jump followed fast on the news, today, that two freshmen have been charged with filming him having sex with another guy, and then streaming it on the internet - and, in the case of one of them, his roommate, not just tweeting about it, but alerting his tweetable colleagues to the fact that he was going to try and catch Clementi at it a second time.   These details are by now all over the internet: they're heading up the New York Times's front page picture story as I write; they are in the on line Daily Mail (inevitably).

Of course I feel anger at the students concerned, and sorrow for Clementi's family, all his friends, classmates, and orchestra colleagues - he was a talented violinist.   But the anger and shame goes much wider than that, and it's much harder to pin down.   I feel deeply sad that this could have happened at my own university - it seems a mockery of what one wants firmly to believe, which is that by and large, we're a fairly tolerant community here.   And that, in turn, instantly makes me realize how very little we in truth as faculty know of student life - it's no good thinking that one's LGBTQ student friends are likely to be exactly representative.   Even from a non-student perspective, we want to think that our counsellors, our help lines, our support structures in dorms are there to provide a refuge, someone to talk to - or rather, someone at whom a student can rant and rage and panic.

But then, in turn, to think that is to forget what it's like to be a student in one's first few weeks at college. Would I have ever been able to stand back and go to a counsellor?   Of course not.   It's impossible to know what motives lay behind Clementi's awful suicide - from the bits and pieces that are becoming public, it seems like he was already fairly comfortable with his sexuality.   But the humiliation of being broadcast live from your dorm roommate's web camera?   (and there is, of course, another guy somewhere in the story - and to contemplate what he must be feeling doesn't bear thinking about).    It's an awful story, and our University President tying it in to Rutgers's new campaign for "civility" seems simultaneously highly to the point, and completely inadequate for what seems, at least on the face of it, to be a horrible tale of shameless student mockery (I have no time for emergent arguments that this was just a prank, or even a techno-whizz strutting his e-stuff) and internalized, deeply sadly internalized, homophobia.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

heavy metal

This is evidently the week for scarred and battered surfaces. This is the old cast iron sink in the basement, which will be carried away by the scrap iron merchant tomorrow.   It is also a very short post, since Emmett is determined to sit on the hot computer (how he can bear the thought in the current humidity beats me), and has already deleted one entry in its entirety.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I also went to the Rachel Whiteread drawings exhibition at Tate Britain when I was in London - terrific near abstract drawings for pieces that became sculptures - and other pieces too: plenty of grids, and irregular geometric segments fitting together, and much use of correcting fluid as white paint - on black paper, or blocking out pieces of drawings.

But unfortunately this form, although it looks as though it's been painted in pale ochre washes, isn't a Whiteread original, but it's the ceiling of the stairwell outside my office door.   I can't believe that whatever lies above it - or between it and the roof - is in very good condition.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

intimidated by flowers

This is one of my favorite pictures by my father - some flowers from a summer holiday in 1955 - and I know it's one of the paintings that has always made me pick up my camera rather than paints or pen and ink - I can't imagine ever being able to achieve his proficiency.   It's strange how intimidated I still am by his excellence in this respect - even though I don't know when he last picked up a paintbrush.   I persist in thinking of him as infallible, even though my first memory of him is far from that (dropping a china potty on the top step of Top Flat, where we were living in Wimbledon at the time, and it breaking, and my mother laughing at him for having bought such an impractical utensil - what, though, had I been using prior to its [non] arrival?).    Nor was he exactly infallible this morning - realizing at the top of the road that he didn't have his driving spectacles on - KF: "Can you see without them?" RF: "More or less" KF: "You're going back for them..." - followed by an episode in which, having bought gas, he couldn't find his way back onto the road he wanted - not, at any rate, facing the right way.   And yet - I still find it hard not to believe him Always Right.   A therapist would make some easy money, here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

doggie in the window

I always enjoy going and checking out Selfridge's windows ... today they were loudly proclaiming their new shoe department (since I tend to stick to tried and tested brands via Zappo's, that was no Imelda Marcos temptation) - and of course shoes don't always lend themselves quite so readily to the photographic as do clothes.   But this is a wonderfully ridiculous quasi-fifties pose - and then I started remembering that totally repellent song, "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?" - a 1952 hit for Patti Page in the US, and for Lita Roza in the UK in 1953 - which made her the first woman to have a hit single in the UK charts.   It was a perennial choice on Uncle Mac's Children's Favorites on the Light Programme on a Saturday morning - not a favorite of mine, I should say - I used to listen for the two or three rock and roll numbers that he would squeeze in, grudgingly, in the middle of things like "I've a pink toothbrush / You've a pink toothbrush" and "The Runaway Train," and for some reason - in 1963 - Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes," which put me off the US for a very long time - I developed an image of it that was firmly covered in suburban sprawl anywhere east of Wyoming, at which point the landscape of My Friend Flicka was superimposed upon it.

And then there were some decorous, sub Fragonard women-on-a-swing mannequins, which carried a tastetful echo of the shop fronts of plastic legs doing the can can that used to clack jerkily up and down in store windows further down Oxford Street - the downmarket end ...

Friday, September 24, 2010

roller skating and the vauxhall bridge road

Here's a new sculpture in Pimlico - by André Wallace, it shows, obviously enough, a six foot tall roller skating woman, with a row of terrace houses and the steeple of St James the Less in the background (not a church I know at all: turns out it was commissioned by three sisters in 1859 - the architect was George Edmund Street, who was also responsible for Bristol Cathedral, and there's a huge Watts mosaic inside.   But it was very locked).   The sculpture was commissioned to go with a new housing development - which in turn was held up by the economic crisis - so it's emerged later than it was meant to.   Pimlico - which I always think of as being the place where Colonel Pargiter, in The Years, visited his rather blowsy mistress - is definitely trendier than it used to be, but still a slightly dicey looking area.  I'm not sure what to make of this fearsome answer to skateboarders.

I was walking up the Vauxhall Bridge Road from Tate Britain, where I'd been to the Muybridge exhibition.   I'd expected to be fascinated by his images of horses and gymnasts and - yes - a galloping buffalo in motion, but in fact was far more struck by his huge - 17 x 22 ins plate - landscapes of Yosemite.   Ever since taking the course in alternative photographic processes this summer, I've looked at C19th photographs with real appreciation, and understanding, of their techniques (ah, so good on some of the movement-study prints to be able to see the silver nitrate brushmarks, the tiny bubbles where the albumen hadn't been applied quite smoothly enough).   What one really noticed about these big landscapes, and about the big San Francisco panorama, was how extraordinary the detail on the negative, and then how precise, almost textural in its depth was the printing.  

But some of the motion studies were, indeed, fun.   A sign at the entrance of the exhibition warned against nudity, for those who might be easily shocked - not exactly titillating, all the same, unless one always wondered what a penis looked like when a guy's doing a back flip, or wanted it confirmed that Muybridge himself was not exactly spectacular Down There.   But ... there was one pair of women (fully clothed, unlike the woman sitting down in a chair and smoking a cigarette, or the one shown getting naked into bed) who were photographed walking towards each other, meeting, and then each turning to look back at the other: wonderful, and a kind of C19th lesbian precursor to Duane Michal's Chance Meeting, which I've always loved for its ambiguity - a gay pick-up? or two men who've only previously met in a bathhouse passing each other while fully clothed?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

flowers and rituals

Readers with a long memory will - well, may - recollect a couple of posts last year which celebrated how very much I love turning up in my old bedroom and finding a little vase of flowers from the garden placed there by my mother.   When I came home earlier this year, there was no little vase: so no ritualistic post here, but above all a sharp twinge of concern on my part at its absence.

But it's back.   This proved to have been a real act of love, since it was very, very wet when I turned up this morning, and it had necessitated a damp scurry out in the rain.   It was the kind of rain that, when it downpours in the US, people say Ah! This must remind of you of England - and I routinely reply - No!   It never rains like this.   This morning proved me very wrong.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

still life with madonna and child

In fact, she's Our Lady of the Afflictions - which, on a bad day, seems about right. But leaving the house today, two things struck me: (i) that she shouldn't be getting so much sun - even though the sun's lower in the sky now, it's still excruciatingly hot - so I must remember to move her, and (ii) does her presence exactly make this a Desirable Residence, given the overwhelming Jewish population of Highland Park? (and yes! the sukkots are rising - my very favorite neighborhood temporary edifices)? Indeed, isn't there rather a lot of what I think of as New Mexican Hispanic Art in the house - which could very easily be interpreted as Religious Artifacts? There's a mezuzah attached to the doorframe, to be sure, which I wouldn't remove since it's part of the history of the house, and a Something Else opposite the entrance door (but what? a bigger mezuzah?) - but I don't know that this exactly balances out the other artifacts. Another question for the realtor ...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

cherubic still life

He's still sitting on the hall radiator, but will doubtless be banished to a safe place soon, in the interests of our realtor's favorite word: "decluttering." And then, in all his battered glory, he'll go back to the conversation pit at 962 N. Hoover, where he suffered various molestations at the hands of the last tenants but one. But I'm extremely fond of him: he's a survivor, and hence a great emblem to transport back and forth across the country.

Monday, September 20, 2010

still life with glasses

If the knock-out major photography exhibition at the Getty, currently, is the one of documentary photography, I totally recommend, as well, its small and well-chosen neighbor, on Still Life. This has everything from early Fox Talbot, through some very geometric Kertesz, to the striking work of Sharon Core, who attempts to reconstruct paintings that the American Raphaelle Peale did between 1812-1824: if she couldn't find the actual fruit and vegetables that she needed, she set out to grow them herself from heirloom seeds. That gives a whole new gloss on the practice of slow photography. On the other end of the speed scale is the work of Ori Gersht - stills taken from very, very slow-motion videos of freeze-dried flowers and fruits being exploded. I'm amazed that I didn't know his work before. Here's a pomegranate being shattered by a bullet. Surely there's a place for him in Flash! when I get to discussing strobes and high-speed photography? It would, of course, be tempting to send a bullet through our china cabinet and see what a slowed down video made of that ... but I think I'll manage to resist.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

back home

... that is: I am back home. The pendant is not a returnee - its identical twin was stolen from the Carolina Inn this summer, but I contacted the jeweler (Karen McCreary, from Long Beach), who very kindly made me another - and it's just arrived. It's just the same - but of course not - and actually, it does differ, away from sight, because the metals round the back have, I think, greenishly oxidised, which is very attractive - like leaves. But then - might the original one have been tinted in this veridian way, too, but I just can't remember, and of course now can't check. And can I love it in the same way as the original, which Alice gave me a couple of birthdays back? (probably not - but I can admire it as much). And will anyone seeing it (who hasn't read this post, and who remembers the other one) ever think that there's any difference? Can one replace a lost piece of personal jewelry, ever? The scene in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, incidentally, that involves hunting for a lost wedding ring is one of the funniest pieces of quite gross humor that I've read for a while, and inadvisable to encounter on an airplane.

And I wept at the end of the novel, too - which probably means that I should always stick to mysteries and history books: I thought I learned my lesson about this long, long ago in an incident involving Mrs Humphry Ward's Helbeck of Bannisdale on the London Tube. I cannot, now, remotely remember why (or indeed, remember anything about the novel) - which propels me to recommend the essay by James Collins in today's NYT Book Review, on why one should bother with reading novels (or for that matter, history), if one forgets the contents and forgets the plot. It makes a convincing case, however, for the difference between what Maryanne Wolf, quoted here, calls "immediate recall of facts and an ability to recall a gestalt of knowledge. We can't retrieve the specifics, but to adapt a phrase of William James's, there is a wraith of memory. The information you get from a book is stored in networks ... It is in some way working on you even though you aren't thinking about it." That's a consolation ... The wraith, by the way, is, I think, the wraith of Emerson that hovers over Concord on the centenary of his birth - an event marked there by an address by WJ.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

iced coffee

Los Angeles has been unfolding a whole panoply of tasteful tasty distractions over the last couple of days. Today, lunch at the LA Mill, which involved Arctic Char tartare with a deconstructed hard boiled egg, and Hand Dripped Iced Coffee, using the Japanese Hario Extraction Method (ok, I'm cribbing wildly from their menu), and Organic Black Onyx coffee. This is my new life?? It is great fun to find this patently absurd and pretentious (this is not the Bagel Dish in Highland Park), yet at the same time enjoy it, utterly.


This maze is part of a wonderful ornamental garden at the Getty Museum - very close clipped flowering hedges looking as though they're floating in the middle of a pond, on a kind of verdant shelf overlooking the Westside and, somewhere in the haze, the Pacific. The whole setting looks as though it's a futuristic version of Tuscany - it reminded me much of Fiesole. That being said, it seemed very evasive to be taking touristy pictures having seen the documentary photographs inside, which - whether of Vietnam or medics doing surgery in Iraq or of Mennonites in Mexico - were graphic, and disturbing, and affecting in all kinds of ways, and so jarred very strangely with the setting and its shiny white opulence.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Will I ever get used to having bananas (or whatever - oranges, limes, avocadoes?) growing outside our front door? I hope not ... I really enjoy the sense of walking around in a state of wonder ...

gaps in the text

Our second class on Teresa Cha’s Dictée involved a good deal of discussion about the gaps in the text – the literal gaps: the white pages and half pages; the spaces opposite more or less full pages of print in which the few printed sentences might, or might not, have been extracted from the prose opposite; the associations of blank space with the lack of memory, or the desire to obliterate.

Here (taken from the same exercise book in which I found yesterday’s dictation sentences) is my very first attempt at autobiography – complete with gaps. But they aren’t gaps of my deliberate making: they look rather as though the book got caught in a drawer, or was attacked by a cat, or had some other kind of accident. “My name is Kate Flint. I used to live in a ca “ – and then there’s a torn hole, which certainly isn’t a gap in my memory, but might cause problems to an archivist in three hundred years time. In a car? In a cave? In a castle? In a caravan? It was, indeed, one of these … “…now I live in Wimbledon. I have got a Siamese [doubtless something else beginning with ‘ca…’ belongs in this gap, and will come as no surprise] and a goldfish [who was called Hannah – I won her at a fair by throwing a ping pong ball into one of a whole stall full of empty goldfish bowls]. My garden is a farly [“fairly”, corrected my form teacher, Miss Stephenson, in her neat red pen] large – at least, that must have been the word – garden with lots of apple trees in it. My room” – and here is a big gap, with “thought” from the next week’s composition showing through – like a literalization of the gap into which cogitation can be inserted – “ un all day.” Gets sun all day, I suppose? It doesn’t, really, and never did, but it sounds cheerful. “I have no brothers or sisters. One of our neighbours has a girl who go’s to the Kindergarden here. Her name is Lucy Watson. I do not like her brother. I am very fond of reading. I have lots of books …” and here the image, if not the page, fades off, leaving me to wonder whether I’ve really changed all that much.

But what I don’t know is how I would represent my seven year old self if I were actually writing my autobiography. Would I just insert this page, and have done with it? It tells me so remarkably little about what I thought or felt beyond my dislike of William Watson – which, oddly enough, I hadn’t remembered, though now I think back, he was a bully. But he became much more of a friend, and I remember him as someone with whom I used to read boys’ comics – Wizard and Lion and Eagle – and play at endless World War 2 battles with plastic soldiers. This piece of writing, indeed, complicates, rather than amplifies, that part of my memory.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I love teaching Teresa Cha's Dictee - it's so tough and challenging, and yet one can get a long way very fast with it. But it struck me in class on Monday that dictation was really not something that most students do in school any more - and when I asked, to be sure, almost the only people who'd sat in class and written down word for word, punctuation mark after punctuation mark, what their teacher said had done so when studying a foreign language. Back when I was seven, though, we were dutifully writing down all kinds of socially normative maxims.

I couldn't, alas, lay my hands this evening on my first two dictations: "I live in a house with a garden" and "I have a mother and father who love me" - which struck me, even at that age, as being potentially exclusionist and unfair to certain girls in my class. But here, five or six months later (and I love juxtaposing this with today's electronic tools that clutter my desk) I was writing, to cue, "Our concert will take place on Friday." "In the play I am a fairy." "On Monday I bought a ticket for mother." "On Saturday morning I help mother." "The shops close early every Wednesday afternoon." This is all patent falsehood ... we didn't exactly have school concerts when I was that age; our early closing day (remember them? was, I believe, Thursday - but actually, I find myself dithering as I type that up - am I sure?); and I was most certainly never, ever, a fairy. Indeed, I had really dull casting - the narrator in the class Nativity play, because I could memorize gospel verses - but unlike Mary (Caroline Gunn) or Joseph (Susan Brooks) or the shepherds, I didn't have a costume (that still rankles). And I was the narrator in *Wind in the Willows,* too - Penny Ottey was Toad, Elizabeth Scott Mole, Patricia Duval Badger - but what IS this? I can't remember emails that I should have answered when they've slid a few places down my inbox, and I can recollect who played what role in bad school plays when I was seven or eight ...

Monday, September 13, 2010


The ivy along the front wall looks more tidy and organized than I feel ... the efforts of Pablo to bring our yard into (o yes, constant theme) marketable order have left the surrounds of the house looking extraordinarily pristine - unnatural in more ways than one. The sudden death of the pachysandra this summer, in our absence, has left a very symmetrical, bare earth set of beds divided by a gravel path out back, looking as if it ought to be turned into a boules court, or an Aunt Sally pitch (a kind of game of skittles played in the back yard of English pubs, for the uninitiated, or furnished with a Buddha and turned into a serene meditation space). It certainly doesn't look as though anything could possibly ever grow there ever again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

mystical bowl

Here is Ben, displaying a bowl that he's just unpeeled from its wrapping paper at his birthday party (not, alas, the gift that we gave him - though had we come across such a beautiful object, it might have been hard to wrap it up and let it go. On the other hand, I can't quite see what this has to do with his birthday theme of "new and olde [sic] technologies"). What is quite curious about it is how Japanese this looks - a big iconic orange sun, and then Ben himself looks (white shirt, mounds of protective paper) as though he's just stepped out of a martial arts class.

Ah, I do like taking portraits ...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

paper work

All these squares, or diamonds, are made from different patterned papers, stitched together with some large kind of machine-made zigzag stitch. They're hanging from the ceiling of Anthropologie, in Princeton, looking like a big pony-tail loosely tied together. It's the kind of thing that instantly makes me want to reach for a pack of origami paper, some scissors, and an electric sewing machine.

But why? I wouldn't particularly want this hanging from my own ceiling - it would never have this elegance (but maybe I could do it all in white and creams and very light beiges - then it might). And it involves a fantasy of a sewing machine. I last used one in 1974, to make what was, admittedly, a perfectly adequate skirt (following the guidelines in a book called - I kid you not - The Hassle-Free Make Your Own Clothes Book. That dates me, badly). And, obviously, it also involves fantasies not just of craft-making creativity, but of time (though admittedly, it would be something to do whilst watching a TV football game in which Rutgers ought to be playing a whole lot better than - half way through the 3rd - they are doing). I don't think this last point is quite in the spirit of William Morris.

Friday, September 10, 2010

disposing of vegetables

These little cherry tomatoes came in this week's organic food box (their visual deformation is courtesy of the Photo FX app on my iPhone). They are, indeed, deep red, smooth, and shiny. I will probably eat them, although tiny tomatoes aren't my favorite thing - they always seem to me to be all tough skin. However, the thought of them getting wrinkled and soggy is compelling enough - we don't have a compost container here in New Jersey (and it hardly seems worth getting one now, when we have no idea how long we'll be in the house). At least in New Mexico one would have the satisfaction of knowing that, in six months or so, they'd be tipped back as part of some brown loam on our peculiarly infertile soil.

But here's the maddening part. We congratulated ourselves, at the end of the summer, on how very much less trash we were throwing out, courtesy of the compost barrel and other assiduous recycling. But today I get a letter from WM New Mexico ("Dear Valued Santa Fe County Customer ... we appreciate your understanding in this difficult economy"), saying that our trash collection fees are going up. Why? The local landfill is increasing its fees 7.7%, because they are getting less trash - "since the middle of 2008 there has been a 25% decline in tonnages processed at the landfill." I guess some of this reflects less consumer purchasing - fewer crappy plastic packagings to throw out. And then some trash must be put Elsewhere (where? - we have one more-or-less neighbor who certainly drives off with the family detritus in his pick-up). But if the reward of composting and recycling - apart from a warm glow of ecological virtue, and maybe more fertile soil - is an increase in trash collection costs, this is a gloomy picture, and one that's doubtless being repeated elsewhere.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


This picture speaks (mews?) for itself: an upside-down Emmett. With Alice in Los Angeles, I feel prompted to take quick pictures of such sights as these with my iPhone and send them straight off. By way of return, at some point this morning I received an image of the not-a-little-tacky new lifesize horse sculpture on the USC campus - a Trojan Horse, presumably. So - despite the fact that I ought to be thinking about Memory in relation to my class, this is a perfect example of photography being used not to memorialize, to capture the moment forever, and all that, but in fact to say - this is now! this is your cat on the sofa! this is me failing to read and write my way through a mound of tenure and promotion cases, because actually I'm prowling around the living room looking for absurd cats.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Truly, I have no wish to have my palm read: I wouldn't want to know what anyone might find there, whether in life lines or love lines or money lines or whatever. But these hands are reaching forward in a delicate way, as though they are offering a sweetmeat to a rather apprehensive Shire horse. I don't know whether they are meant for palmist practice, or merely signify a trade, in the same way that a boot might indicate a cobbler. They're on 23rd St in NYC, just past the Chelsea Hotel - so who knows who might have dropped in for a reading in this rather shabby and ancient looking establishment.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


So ... if we need to remember something, how do we go about it? That's the question with which tomorrow's class will begin (after a quick introduction to Mnemosyne, and perhaps a glimpse at Robert Fludd's Memory Theater, and his literalization of what it means to have something "in the mind's eye"). I've always been a great believer in The Notebook - my unsophisticated, but tried, tested, and adored mnemotechnic of choice. These are just the ones that I scooped together on my desktop a minute or so ago: little heaps of them from the past are, of course, being gathered together and safely archived in the basement. The "to do" elements are neatly out of focus here, lest anyone spies their name 0n the "write - " list, and wonders why they haven't yet heard from me. For putting something on a "to do" list is small guarantee that it will actually happen - but it is, when settled there on the page, more likely to nibble away at one's conscience. Today I find that gmail wants to prioritize my emails (so far, with some success) - but should I use the mnemotechnology of starring the email as well as logging it into the "more tasks ... to do" column? And will I remember to look at either of these? That's the problem - not writing a note of something, even in a current notebook, but remembering to consult it at all ...

Monday, September 6, 2010


These will probably end up being very well-travelled herbs - they migrated back east from Santa Fe, nestling down by the passenger feet. Here, they have joined two pots from last year on the deck, and, providing I cherish them through the winter, they'll probably head back to NM, and thence to Los Angeles. And doubtless they will get stopped at the Cali border (I once had a very anxious and officious plant inspector there, who thought he might have seen an Ant in my plants - though Santa Fe county is, in fact, one of the NM counties from which one's allowed to import cultivated greenery). But it's great having them in the evening sunlight here - which has started to take on an end-of-the-summer glow.

Decluttering? I'll spare you a detailed update (the landing is full of boxes: one for Goodwill, one for paper recycling, one for shredding: memo - must buy shredder ... ) - but this picture offers a hint: all stray candles are currently making their way out onto the deck's top rail.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

history of photography

I have spent almost all of today in the basement, unpacking books. Unpacking? - yes, all too many books down there haven't been liberated from their boxes since they moved from Princeton in 2005 - a handful of them - a depressing handful - since they came from Oxford in 2000. Yes, this makes a fairly powerful case for their culling. But it's very tough - do I really want to get rid of my favorite pony books from when I was ten? No. My high school history text books - probably. My enormous collection of mystery stories (mostly, but not exclusively, by, or featuring women) - which I held onto in some vague belief that one day I'd teach the Rutgers course that's on the books in detective fiction - ah, that's a tougher one (I ended up determining that some authors - Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin among them - stayed, and others are sitting in boxes - again - waiting to go - where? That's a problem, too. We have a very good charity bookstore nearby in Eldorado, but I can hardly ship them out to NM.

But it isn't all books. This crumpled, torn poster, from 1980. was for an exhibition of the Alinari brothers photographs in Florence (I had it in the entrance hall of my first apartment, and then in my office, for years), and that, in turn, was one of the first shows to turn me on to the history of photography - a topic that I'd not taken particularly seriously before then, despite, in a rather unsophisticated way, Liking Old Photographs. But the Alinari - commercial photographers from 1852 onwards, and Wikipedia tells me that their archives now run to over 5.5 million images - were fascinating in the ways in which they captured social life, and the old Florence that was being redeveloped, and statuary, and local views. The image here has photographed curiously - it looks as though it's semi-colored, but it's in fact a striking black and white.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

artificial flowers

... and, in addition to the orchids, maybe some tasteful artificial flowers? Alice has a real knack for buying these: I don't (apart from the large armfuls of fake daffodils I once bought and hung in and old cowboy boot, to advertise the house - in Princeton - where I was having my 50th birthday party. I don't think the neighbors thought all that much of that decorative gesture). So we kept our eyes open in Lambertville, when on an outing there, but didn't in fact purchase anything.

Resolution #1 for this year has already been embarked upon: make the most of actually living here in NJ. So after L'ville (where we did buy a small, perfect, faintly Renaissance style picture of a pear), we headed off up the Delaware, past Stockton, and had a very tasty picnic (sweetcorn with lime and chili, cheese, grapes) in a little state park, and wandered over the river into Pennsylvania and back. And then, back to the decluttering. Aghhhhh.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Ah, the orchid section of Lowe's. I don't think that either of us can really bear this whole business of moving house again - let alone primping it and polishing it and yes, decluttering it, and wondering how it can best be shown by a realtor who Hates Cats. And before you make the obvious suggestion, Highland Park is not exactly crawling in realtor options, and the realtor in question has many, many other virtues.

The house will need a steady supply of Tasteful Flowers, and hence the orchids. I am of course terrified of their delicate upkeep (Alice is good at cherishing them, but even so, we end up waving them at the computer's camera when skyping my parents on Sundays, and beseeching my mother for her expert advice). The dark purple spotty variegated ones are rather fine. They are probably, too, the only living things in or around this house relishing the appalling humidity - alas, no sign of a hurricane to challenge it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


This small critter may be a moth, may be a butterfly - all I know is that it was sitting on a pillow outside on the deck at breakfast time, and made me very conscious that I've lost the flash that I normally use with my professional-level macro lens.

However. This was tiny, and sweet, and took up no space. How devoutly I wish that the same could be said for most things around here. We had the realtor call. She was not, to be sure, and to our relief, devastatingly discouraging. Nonetheless, she used the word Decluttering. Emphatically. De-cluttering in temperatures in the mid 90s? This afternoon was such hot hell that I didn't even consider the documentary photographic potential of sweat soaked t-shirts.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

blackberry and apple

Friends to dinner this evening - and so I made blackberry and apple crumble for dessert. This wasn't unrelated to today's Memory class - we touched briefly on how tastes can bring back memories (more on that later in the semester), and for me, back-to-school time in what we, back in England, used to call the Autumn Term coincided with this dessert. Or, as one might say, pudding. Or, as my Yorkshire grandmother would sometimes have said, "afters." I self-confessedly love going back - to the classroom, anyway - meeting a new class (kicking myself subsequently for doing too much talking - can that really be said to be "meeting"?), getting us all underway, using it as an excuse to buy new notebooks ... and I was hoping that these blackberries and apples would bring it all back.

Only they didn't. It was a fine dessert - that wasn't the problem. Was it that they weren't real English cooking apples? I used Granny Smiths, which I wouldn't touch in England if there were large Bramleys available, but there weren't. The blackberries may have been too forced, too cultivated. I used honey (trying vaguely to be healthy), rather than sugar, to sweeten them. I know the crumble wasn't the real thing, because I had to use butter/olive oil spread, which was all we had in the fridge (and we have vowed a solemn vow not to go to the Highland Park Stop & Shop all year, because it's so dreadful), though the texture seemed fine. It was, I suspect, a combination of all the above: a near miss, a failed synaptic connection, an unfulfilled memory stimulus. Alas.