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
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
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
Sunday, September 26, 2010
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
Friday, September 24, 2010
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
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
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
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
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.