Monday, October 31, 2011


Happy Hallowe'en!  Here's my bat - a finger puppet, bought at the Huntington on Saturday.  Unfortunately I haven't had all that many opportunities to flap her around today (though I was quite relieved that no trick or treaters rang our doorbell - we didn't think they would, and so hadn't laid in any store of miniature Snickers bars and the like).  And even more upsettingly there was a feature on NPR this morning about the white-nosed fungus that's killing off bats in large numbers: this made me think that it would have been most appropriate if a percentage of the proceeds from these gauze and velvet critters had gone on bat conservation - on such means as lowering the temperature in bat caves to levels where the corrosive fungus no longer thrives.


Here's the Ferris wheel again, as seen from our top deck, just starting to shine out under a ridiculously beautiful sunset.   I'm not sure whether this is a Halloween fair, or a Day of the Dead one, or just something that happens to be there at this season - which, in turn, seems very much like an old autumnal hiring fair, a Michaelmas ritual.   This is a very anachronistic association, and I think may owe something to seeing Weekend this week, with a scene set briefly (candy floss, dodges) at the Nottingham Goose Fair (held in the first week of October, so I'm nearly a month out) - something that, in turn, led me to try and concoct a completely anachronistic and probably utterly untenable link between the film and D. H. Lawrence.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Dear friends in New Jersey (and elsewhere in the North East) - it's with apologies that I post a picture of one of our halloween lanterns hanging from the orange tree - with a perfect blue sky, and temperatures in the mid-80s ... 

Friday, October 28, 2011

parents' day

And this is the campus, showing itself off at the very end of October in the sunshine (mid 70s today), with parents being welcomed in every corner; being fed lunch; being taken to classes by their offspring - all of them wearing labels round their necks with their names and the place that they've come from.   Placards everywhere, promising everything from the Christian Parent Challenge to a seminar to "Coming Out at College".   What I'd really like to document, of course, would be the variety of student relationships with their parents, ranging from apparent we-are-best-friends to acute embarrassment (the young man with an invisible, but highly legible bubble over his head reading "Mom! I don't believe it!   How could you wear That?   I mean ... a leopard print mini-dress and titteringly high mock wood platform sandals??  GEE - you look just like a hooker ... it's so embarrassing.")  But of course, being moderately well behaved faculty, I confine myself to one of the many, many clumps of balloons.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

band practice

So this is what I hear from my office, afternoon after afternoon.   The entire marching band was working out in the track and field area when I was on my way to a talk at 4.30 - they'd been there for a while; they carried on through the talk, and I think I'd never appreciated what hard physical work it must be - not just for the people carrying the heaviest instruments, but for everyone having to walk around in formation, and wave flags, and make moves that look as though they had their origins in C18th quadrilles rather than in military formations.  But seeing them hard at work brought home quite how different US universities are from UK ones - yes, of course I'd noticed this in a million different respects, but seeing a band and its entourage play fanfares and uplifting tootles and whirl in formation made me feel like a Martian.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

puss in boots 2

And then there's this little piece of irony: the alluring bad-boy ginger cat poster on the bench, saying, in mock-menace, I KEPT THIS SEAT WARM FOR YOU.   The street person, wearing an unusual combination of non-gendered clothes in order to keep warm, one imagines, for fall is indeed here, may or may not have appreciated this sentiment - though it's unclear whether this was, indeed, his bed for the night, or whether he's parked his belongings on it having rescued a paper for reading from the bin.  And I was driving past listening to an NPR piece about why Americans don't riot as much as people in Europe (hypothesis: that those who are rich because they've worked hard aren't resented - though evil bankers, say, are resented plenty) - but surmising that this national non-characteristic might be starting to wear thin.  Indeed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

puss in boots

If it's not something growing in the yard that I'm featuring, it's a cat.   You can tell what part of the semester we've arrived at. And it's raining.  We are all awaiting the emergence of the new 3D Puss in Boots film.  In the meanwhile, the Senior Cats have a new thermal blanket - not an electric blanket, but something that picks up the warmth from their bodies and relays it back to them (in other words, it's a mat filled with some probably totally toxic substance).   This has proved extremely popular - I rushed to find my camera when I came upon Lola (above) and Emmett both crowded onto it, although Emmett confused my rapid disappearance with the fact that I might be about to give him his dinner.

Monday, October 24, 2011

flowering cacti

in our front yard, and really quite remarkable.  A couple emerged yesterday, and this morning, when I went to pick the paper off the steps and inspect the shells of the oranges that had been sucked out by the raccoons, I found that a whole new forest had sprung into bloom.   Actually, it was a rather cloudy day, and by the time I was home, they already seemed to be folding up again, and I don't know if they are a one day wonder or not.   

Sunday, October 23, 2011

contemplating gardening

There are many good reasons to go to Sunset Nurseries, very close to us in Silver Lake, and one of them is the amount of serenity that they manage to pack into a small space - it's full of little alleys that in turn are crammed with happily growing plants, and various calming statues.   And (by now I'm sounding like a commercial, but they deserve it) when I came home with a dozen pots of herbs, and two wooden troughs to put them in, and some high end potting compost, all the herbs were in perfect condition - not root bound, not dried out, not sulking in any way.   So I'm hoping that raccoons aren't partial to them - we were rather surprised last night, having gone to bed, to have three rollicking, partying raccoons on the top deck outside the French doors into the bedroom - jumping onto the trellis, up and down the curling fire escape, up onto the roof, and clawing at the doors so that they could come in - probably their plan was to bypass the cats (who by this time were staring very hard indeed, straight into an inquisitive raccoon face), and head off downstairs for dinner.   Eventually they left, but not without convincing me that there's a parallel animal universe very close at hand.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

suspended toy

This is something of a puzzle - a small green rubbery toy suspended on the telephone wires outside Intelligentsia, our local coffee house in Silver Lake.   When I first was in Los Angeles, Alice told me that a pair of grubby sneakers hung over the wires was the sign of a drug dealer hanging out somewhere in the vicinity (I'm not at all sure whether that's true, or - there seem to be some exceptions to this, or at least places where I see sneakers and it's hard to imagine that a drug dealer could ever hover around there.   And there are some variations cropping up around L.A. of late - like sparkly painted high heeled ladies shoes.   But who knows?).   How to read this, however?   The coffee might count as a pretty good drug, but that may not be the point.  Does one decipher it the same way that one does the local surreal street art - as, simply, something disconcerting, though benignly provocative?

Friday, October 21, 2011

back of a street sign

Walking round the Silver Lake reservoir (or should that be the Silver Lake silver lake?) is always a great source of baffling street art.   Here we have what looks to be a torn and peeling depiction of a multi-racial junior school - though the kids look far from happy - and - and what?   An androgynous tiny plaid shirted figure sitting on a mask.   Can one try and interpret this (except within traditions of surrealism and collage)?  Should one see the images in relation to one another, or as accidentally juxtaposed and separate?   How might one factor in the clean and shiny car, which doesn't seem to belong to the same gritty world that these stuck-on subjects do?   One thing that I didn't write about yesterday was the sense of touch that goes along with photographs (think about how they become dog-eared, or creased, or simply about the texture of a print).  Here we can consider two types of touch: the textures of rough paper edges and of slightly burred street sign and of polished black car, and then the way in which, these days, touch becomes a component of looking at the picture or its details.   Pull your fingers across the computer's trackpad, or across an iPhone or iPad screen, and, as well as leaving greasy little fingermarks, you can make the picture go much larger, or shrink the plaid-shirted person, at will.

teaching prep

OK, I said in class today, get out a photograph.   They all looked blank, or horrified, or as though my colleague (whose class I was visiting) had forgotten to tell them to bring something rather important.   But pretty soon it struck them ... they had identity cards round their neck (the class was at the Getty); they had images on their cell phone or on their computer; they had covers to their books, photos on their drivers licenses ... point about the ubiquity of photographs readily made.

I'd taken this just before class - not really with the idea that it would illustrate the points that I wanted to make about the different heads under which photography can be discussed, but actually it does so extraordinarily well.   Formal aesthetics?   Look at those triangle and balancing curves; at the two flowery cases; the line made by the chair back and the woman's back, or the straw and the shadow.   Social context?   One could riff for a while on the representation of books for class, which look as though they've been formally stacked like props in a C19th photographer's studio; or on the Getty itself as an institution; or on the ubiquity, these days, of such treats as an iced latte.   Personal photography?   These are my things - and I'll be able to use this image as a memento docendi, or whatever the right phrase is, that suggests that at some future date, I'll use it to remember doing teaching prep in the sun, and the lunchtime conversation that followed, and indeed the class.  Technology?  It's the ubiquitous iPhone, the camera that's always there ... or I could instance the ability of an App to turn a photo back into a kind of architect's drawing ... Materiality ... or maybe technology ... is that the appearance (and the social resonance) of this blog, or is it the fact that inadvertently, but rather fetchingly, I've managed to position the manipulated image to the right of the page.   And to think I never got to show the (admittedly indifferent) photograph at all, because indeed, reading it this does indicate that one can do such a lot with almost any image if one just free associates under this set of headings ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

funfair 2

Of course, I didn't think, yesterday - what's the destination of this fair equipment?   And the answer was ... the parking lot just behind the gas station on my route home.   Given that the traffic was snarled tight, I had plenty of opportunity to observe the illuminated wheel of chairs slowly swinging and spinning round.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

fun fair

It's another example of what one doesn't expect to see on one's way home (curses: the lights didn't allow for me to be stationary whilst passing this, so I'm most grateful for my new little camera's image stabilization.   Point and shoot has a whole new meaning, as well, when one isn't looking in the direction in which one's pointing and clicking).   It's a fun fair!  Or at least, a whole collection of trucks carrying fairground rides, all neatly folded up.   Maybe it's the end of the county fair season, and they've found a place to roost for the winter?   It seems improbable to me that Vermont can be a legal or lengthy parking spot, but I've seen stranger things.   These look like some kind of a scary plunging dipper.   It's been decades since I've seen what used to be my favorite ride, which consisted of mock motor bikes that were fixed to an undulating floor, and whirled carousel style, dipping and rising at what seemed like high speed.   There were always one or two tough looking guys with greasy hair and tight, torn blue jeans taking money for the rides and balancing on the curvy wooden boards as it spun round and round - I wanted to be one of them even more than I enjoyed riding the motor bikes.  I appreciate the painted ponies ("... go round and round: I'm captive, on a carousel of love"), of course, but I liked live ponies so much better that riding an imitation motor bike provided a kind of thrill that the gently rotating golden steeds could never quite achieve.

Monday, October 17, 2011

both ends of the day

On the one hand, an iPhone photo of some chamisa - picked on Thursday, and by now fluffed up and seedy - and on the other, an image of the living room at 962 courtesy of my new little point and shoot, a Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS.  The only - and believe me, it is the only - advantage of losing a little camera on - well, probably on a flight back from London - is that it allows one to take advantage of the latest technology in cute lightweight cameras.   I'm impressed - I took this in a dark room without flash - as opposed to using the iPhone to provide fill flash, in an irritatingly bleached out way, above.   But it does operate as an effective contrast between the light of a New Mexico morning (bringing in the hoses for winter, transplanting the geraniums indoors) and smog-haze in Los Angeles when we arrived.  Or between getting a good deal of writing done in a very few days, and facing a barrage of meetings tomorrow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I'm sure that one person's aspen view is much like another's - but they made a quite spectacular sight today.   For some reason, I've never before done the touristy leaf-peeper thing and driven up the ski basin road to see the trees - which are, indeed, amazing, and stretch on and on.   And it was a gorgeous sunny day - though there was snow on the side of the road from last week's fall.

I hope that the next time I drive up here it isn't in a large Chevy Silverado truck, though.   The choice of vehicle when I arrived at Albuquerque airport on Wednesday evening was not huge - no cars at all, and apart from a miniaturized SUV that looked impractical, it was this or a mini-van.   So I thought I'd indulge my inner tough-girl fantasies, which are fine when you're driving up I-25 near midnight singing along to "I fought the law" on the oldies station, and not so fine when you're trying to squeeze the beast into a parking space.   I have a feeling that I might have exorcised this very long standing dream - I didn't feel so much tough as as though I might fail to see an ordinary sized car somewhere down beneath me.   And to think that when I was five, I wanted to be a long distance lorry driver!  This is after I wanted to drive a crane, but just before I wanted to be a choirboy (an occupation for which I would have been ill-fitted on a number of fronts).   Nonetheless, the bumper came in handy for taking less-orthodox tree shots ...

And then we drove down the mountain a bit further, and walked the Borrego trail (which seemed to have become significantly longer and steeper since I was last on it), and contemplated how beautiful aspens look from underneath.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

farmers' market - fall version

It's mid-October; it's sunny and warm (though the nights are turning pleasantly cool); the aspens are turning golden.   It's fall in Santa Fe (and it's gratifying to see that there are a good number of tourists in town enjoying it - the economy here certainly needs them).  And fall means chiles, which can be seen here in multi-colored ristras,

and here being roasted, which smell wonderful (and do so even when exported to the east coast - hello, Devin).   

And there are pumpkins and gourds and things like spaghetti squash,

and then the occasional completely unexpected items, like flowering artichokes.   If only we didn't have to go back and teach, we would have stocked up with a lot more ...

Friday, October 14, 2011

tourist photography

A few weeks ago I took a whole lot of pictures at the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe.   These pictures were, alas, on the little camera that I lost.   So I went back today, with a nicely sophisticated SLR - click.  Hmmm.  I'd forgotten to re-insert the camera card.   So it was back to my iPhone.   However, one of the iPhone's advantages is that one can hold it at good angles - just like these two tourists, who form a very small part of one of my favorite complicated dioramas, in which little model figures - and these are only a couple of inches high - populate a large, and tribally eclectic pueblo.   

And then, after looking at this couple looking, I started to get fascinated by all the different gazes that there were in all the different models and dolls and stuffed humans and wooden animals in the museum, and to photograph the small humanoid figures looking back at me


and then, even, their eyes themselves.   I think that I'll save this last one for a visual studies poster or some such some time in the future.

All in all, an iPhone does an o.k. job, when one needs it to ...

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Fall in New Mexico means - among other things - sunflowers.   I wish I could say that we grew this, but actually it came from Whole Foods (but is, allegedly, local).   Our yard only has some allium seed heads 

and a few stray Michaelmas daisies, and a couple of tired geraniums - but it is so wonderful to be here in the clear air and the quiet.  And for whatever reason - I suppose just reflex actions, the firing of customary and associative synapses - I can, somehow, just sit down at my desk and write.   

taking the bus

Taking the bus to work is hardly my normal mode (normal being insulated from the world in my car, listening to KPCC), but today's complicated logistics meant that I caught the 754 straight down Vermont, and very useful it was for catching up on some reading.   I could only sneak an iPhone picture, but - having talked about London and late C19th public transportation in class yesterday, I was aiming for a 2011 equivalent to William Maw Egley's Omnibus Life in London - which actually looked more crowded, if less diverse.   Nonetheless, there's a woman on the right apparently immersed inner reading - possibly a defense mechanism against the young man in a black top hat who seems to be staring hard at her.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

grey and gold

Truly, Emmett is a grey and white cat, although in a picture like this, I can see why my mother might erroneously think of him as black and white.   DandyLion is unmistakably orange.   I thought I'd managed to take a picture of her flat out resting, but of course this shows a habitual wary expression.   The title of today's post is a kind of homage to Whistler and also to Amy Levy - I became convinced in class, today, that Levy must have known Whistler's paintings of London (and possibly those of George Clausen, as well), but rather than attempting to recreate them as actual images within the text, alludes to them through the language of her own descriptive prose, leaving the evocation of actual art for High but Popular aesthetic subject material that seems to be very like Waterhouse's canvases.

Of course, I wouldn't be weaving a narrative of Victorian painting around two cats (definitely of the Burton Barber type of representation so reviled by Whistler) ifI hadn't left my little camera somewhere - on the plane? - and I'd had it with me at dinner, where a complete mock nightclub and diner had been set up on the other side of the street, and some movie was being shot ... tinseltown can be such ridiculous fun.

Monday, October 10, 2011

a very strange flower

I do find this flower strikingly sinister - such a thing never bloomed in England nor New Jersey (at least, outside of a hothouse) - and here it is, anticipating Halloween on our terrace.   Indeed, it's the product of a cactus that has spawned four or five of the things.   They look rather like beached starfish - this one looks atypically robust, because usually they sprawl in a collapsed and flaccid manner, and then, to detract from their appearance still more, something about them attract large and thirsty flies, like horse flies.   I'm puzzled by the fact that Alice claims to like them: myself, I think I'll stick, very conservatively, to geraniums.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

surf's up

This couple were lying at the edge of the sea on Santa Monica beach apparently oblivious to the world (and certainly to someone taking a photo of them).  If they'd been posing for an ad for the allure of southern California in mid-October, they could hardly have done better.   For my part, this weather makes it very hard for me to get a proper sense of deadlines - 1st December, for example, seems a long, long way away.   It may prove not to be.

pawn store

It's becoming increasingly the case that I drive through Los Angeles with a camera riding shotgun beside me, ready to be picked up at traffic lights or when just generally stuck in a line of cars.   This is what I saw coming back down Santa Monica from a Saturday morning trip to Whole Foods (nb: if one goes to a WF in a predominantly Jewish area on a Saturday morning in the middle of the Jewish holidays, it's a delightfully tranquil shopping experience).   It doesn't quite fulfill our strange hobby of cruising the streets looking for signs of the recession - I haven't fully looked back from the RU class two years ago when "how does one photograph the economic downturn?" became something of a running theme - but note not just the people waiting for the Pawn Shop to open (well, maybe that's what the girls are doing, anyway), but the bricked in windows, as if imitating the effects of the late C18th window tax in Britain.   What I like best is the yellow building: there's a wholesale import, in very many areas, of the central and south American habit of painting houses very bright colors, which enormously cheers up even a very tatty section of the street, like this one.

Friday, October 7, 2011

the biggest dog in Los Angeles?

Look carefully in the back of this car.   It might appear like a small cow - on its way to star in a Chick-fil-A commercial (did you know that chain has a Cow Appreciation Day once a year, where you can get a free meal if you're entirely dressed as a cow?   I do like their TV adds, especially the cow DJ one.   I digress).   But no - it's a very large dog.   We were, indeed, behind it on our way to the vets with Emmett, but it didn't turn in there, so I have no immediate way of verifying quite how large it is ...  There has to be a way of getting Mitt Romney in at this point, Gail Collins style.   Indeed (as she herself questions), if he does indeed become the GOP presidential candidate, will she still have to obey her self-imposed condition of mentioning, every time she invokes his name, the fact that he once drove from Boston to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof.

What I hadn't realized, before I did some quick googling, is (a) that he quite definitely intended Seamus, the Irish setter to travel up there - it wasn't some vague act of confusing luggage, but rather, he even built a windshield for the dog, and (b) that poor Seamus was actually terrified - at some point, the family saw scared dog poop trickling down the roof and windows, and had to stop at a gas station to wash off the car - yes, and the dog - before continuing with their journey.   This all emerges in a perfectly respectable news profile on Romney in 2007.   Gail Collins doesn't need to back peddle on this - another full exposure would be very much in order, I'd think.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I suppose that one always ought to be prepared for earthquakes here, and indeed we used to keep some bottled water and foodstuffs in the garage, and make sure that we always know where the kitty carriers are.   That isn't, admittedly, very much, but at least isn't pandering to the sense of panic such as a sign like this one engenders.   Yes, I know, one shouldn't wait to put together such a kit.   

I saw this en route to the Getty - getting there and back counts as my Driving and Navigating triumph of the week.   If - given that I have a GPS - that doesn't sound like a great deal, I'll point out the fact that there's a mass of post Carmageddon road work preventing one from turning right from Sunset onto Sepulveda, and that in attempting to navigate free-style, I ended up turning into a smart hotel where the garage concierge waved me through and out of the garage - a sneaky little fast route.   The Getty itself was its usual haven of utterly beautiful tranquility (water-color exhibitions included) - unbelievable to have architecture like this in a Californian version of a Tuscan hillside.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

another side of Los Angeles

I felt a little queasy having posted another view of the top of Parking Lot D yesterday, since I arrived there this morning to find that someone had just jumped off it, and therefore we were being directed to another parking structure, the other side of the interstate, and a Long Walk Back through the first heavy downpour - indeed, sustained rain - of the season.   I felt extremely lucky to have found the structure at all - the minute that I get dislocated from one of my normal routes, I'm instantly driving around somewhere that could unnervingly be anywhere.   And the backs of storage buildings - like the view when I emerged from the parking lot - are extraordinarily anonymous and unwelcoming.   This, indeed, looks far more like North Carolina, or even, dare I say it, New Jersey, than Los Angeles.   The weather, too, was pure NJ, or even - say - Sheffield.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

global carpark

A new mystifying piece of graphic graffiti has appeared on a pillar up at the top of the carpark (yes, I am still parking on the roof, since I can usually find my car up there).   Apart from the fact that Australasia is sliding off the right hand side, I'm also not entirely sure what to make of the fact that the US is rather squished sideways too, and that Britain and Africa seem to be at the center of the world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

apples and oranges

...or: what it means to begin the day in Wimbledon, and end it in Los Angeles, and somehow call both places home.   To be honest, I took the apple picture yesterday (let's just say that I hope that I left my little camera there at 20 Hillside, with today's image on it), but the oranges are very much this evening's.   It is just slightly disorienting to be in both places in one day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday breakfast

or at least, breakfast detritus.   Of my parents' breakfast, that is - my own toast was consumed hours back.   On Sunday, they have a Weekly Treat - a hardboiled egg each.   I note that the nearest egg is in my Beatrix Potter eggcup from when I was very little - that's Tom Kitten nearest the camera in the foreground.   That was just before I turned allergic to eggs for ten years or so - genuinely allergic, with some embarrassing incidents until my mother at last believed that I wasn't just making a dramatic fuss about something I didn't much like.   I approach eggs quite warily still, unless they can be instantly demolished and mashed into some pinto beans and salsa or into spinach.   

And there's the lid off an almost-empty pot of homemade marmalade (decanted from one of its original jam jars), and the same Spode blue Italian plates that I've known since I was about 3 (did we buy them when we went to Cumberland?   I certainly remember my mother telling me that they were somehow more unusual than blue willow-pattern plates, which is probably true, but on the other hand probably wasn't meant to leave me with the feeling that willow pattern is somehow déclassé).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

London tourism

A miniature picture essay, based on the fact that whatever else I do when I visit London, I like to take at least one long walk - go exploring in places I don't know, or haven't been for a long, long time ...

So here I'm about to join up with the workers - not day laborers outside Home Depot, but day laborers outside the British Library.

After several hours' diligence, I went to the Atkinson Grimshaw exhibition at the Guildhall, and then walked down to Southwark Bridge, noticing this statue for the first time.

Walking along the Thames, there are many, many new glass and steel constructions, some of them not yet finished,

whereas others have been there a pretty long time.

The Tower of London has a pride of lions made out of wire mesh, which manage to look curiously like sheep,

and then a very large sundial by Tower Bridge station has a whole lot of bas relief sculptures showing London's history.   I feel as though I had a crash course not so much in history's continuity, but in change, today - that, though, is one of the very good things about living such a long way away - one really can sometimes see this place with very new eyes (and enjoy the fact that it's somewhere where newspaper headiness celebrate the return of once a week rubbish - i.e. trash - collection).