Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 fades away ...

It's the end of 2011, fading away over the Sandias.  It's the end of the year ritualistic sunset post.  It's a time for reflection on the year past, of course, a great deal of which seems to have been spent in motion - not just between New Jersey and California and New Mexico, although, admittedly, that's been the most frequent trajectory.  So a good number of my New Year's resolutions seem to have to do with trying to feel focused (settled might be too much to hope for, and in any case, I don't know that I like "settled"), and trying to calm distractions, digital and otherwise.  Not that this excludes travel (and indeed, 2012 promises to be a year with a good deal of traveling in it) - but it does mean managing to sit still for more than five minutes at a time without either googling or reaching out my hand for another book, a different book, another piece of paper (yes, I still use the products of dead trees).  And if I do, indeed, reach out for paper, I want, this year, to make myself draw on it, rather than read it (or write on it), more often than I do, or more often than I've done for years.  So ... an hour and a half to go, here in New Mexico, and it'll be 2012, and all those resolutions, voiced and private, will roll into being. 

It's going to be a good year.  Happy 2012, everyone.

Friday, December 30, 2011


People are very good about telling us their own versions of a feline It Gets Better.  She'll offer herself up to be stroked when she's five!  She'll jump in your lap when she's eight!!  One day, when you least expect it, she'll walk up to you and ask to be petted!!!  The horrible fact remains that Bitzi, aka DandyLion, aka The Orange Thing, is - at three and a half - showing no signs of any of the above as yet.  At least she's no longer hiding under the bed - but one can hardly cite this as proof of advancement in socialization, since we've blocked it all off with many plastic storage crates.   Indeed, we can stroke her, in this corralled state, between a bedside cabinet (note the traditional northern New Mexico woven willow twigs) and the wall, but it feels like a rather hollow victory, as she crouches back and cowers at our approach.  She can't even be bribed, face to face, with an illegally imported Waitrose cat treat of freeze dried whitefish (though a cube of the same, left an inch from her pretty little ginger muzzle, disappeared once I was out of the room).  Maybe 2012 will be the breakthrough year?

Thursday, December 29, 2011


At the corner of Don Diego and Cordova, a wonderful piece of street art (one of Santa Fe's many decorated electric boxes that contain - what? - transformers? fuses?) - in the wintry evening sun.  But what does this mean?  Visi-bility?  It seems like some Latin past tense, but if so, I can't hit on it.  "Visi" means "all" in Lithuanian, but frankly, that seems even less likely.  And what is this woman wearing on her head?  Some kind of veil?  A Madonna like headdress?  And what are those designs in the corner, like scarabs with wandering legs?  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sunset. With icicle.

We are so very happy to be back in New Mexico ... and were treated to a spectacular winter's sunset.  There are many icicles hanging off the canales at the side of our house, and some huge lumps of ice that seem to have fallen off, as well.   One of the benefits of being shockingly tired is that one can really enjoy looking at the sky.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

six thousand miles

or thereabouts separated waking up in Wimbledon, and being home for dinner (and gin-and-orange, the oranges being picked and squeezed fresh off the tree) in Los Angeles.   And this evening scene could, really, be at either end of the spectrum.   All the same, given this morning's dull London sky, the perfect blue here surely gives away the location of the image.  I'm still shaking my head at how both ends can be so familiar, be so obviously Home - whether it's the crumbling stucco of all the West London semis that we passed in the cab this morning, or the camelias and oleanders lining the front gardens here.  And it's the same very young moon in both places, too.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Back home for Christmas?  How doth one revert to childhood - ah, let me count the ways ...  At least one has one's old stuffed toys for comfort ... That's hyperbolic cheating, of course: Sheepy is only about thirty five years old - a veritable lamb.   However, I do wish I could capture that sense of identity with objects (books? pictures? place, even?) that constitutes a recognition of one's selfhood, and that offers a sense of continuity.  To remark on that goes flagrantly against every residual post-modern bone in my body, and perhaps constitutes pretty much a dismembering of the same.   For I certainly do viscerally - if not always intellectually - believe, or need to believe, in such a continuity - the kind that makes me lie in bed at night, hunting after sleep, and piecing together an autobiography that would be pulled together through paintings/illustrations that I recollect, going way back in time (but there again, sleep-seeking, maybe I'd do better counting sheep).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

recording Christmas

A Christmas photo essay.   My father comes into the living room. Flip camera in hand, making a record of the day (complete with commentary).   My mother looks decidedly apprehensive.


Nonetheless, she leans forward, obligingly, towards the camera - if still looking as though it's not quite what she wants to be happening ...

... but all is well!  Simba is, indeed, the true star of the show.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


These may be the only farolitos burning in London SW19 tonight.   If we can't be in Northern New Mexico for Christmas, let's import what we can here.  So the sandwich bags - of exactly the right height and thin heft - are from Kaune's food store in Santa Fe.  The tea lights, admittedly, we bought down the hill in Waitrose.  And the ballast?   Inspiration struck around 3 p.m., and we went out and bought a bag of cat litter.  Of course, the only cat litter on sale in Wimbledon Village at 3.30 p.m. on Christmas Eve is 99% dust free, "gold quality," lightly perfumed, and costs nine pounds fifty.  But this is a small price to pay for having little lit lanterns lighting their golden way down the front steps to my parents' house.

Friday, December 23, 2011


There are very many things that I like about the V&A's new-ish sculpture gallery - the eclecticism, the democracy of jamming many disparate objects of one type together, the sense that what's on offer is a history of taste rather than of excellence.  And then, there's the commitment to considering the works on display as installations rather than exhibits.  This even extends to showing ceramic pieces en masse - not as a tea set, say, but as recognizing that they can best make their impact when lines up. or ranged in rows, or - as in the case of Edmund de Waal's Signs and Wonders piece, floating (all 425 vessels) on a red metal shelf suspended somewhere in the ceiling dome.  Best of all is Bodil Manz's The Russian Group (2007).  She's a Danish ceramicist who works in very thin slip porcelain - so thin that one can see the shadows of the geometric forms that she employs through the porcelain itself - and here she's borrowing wholesale from he effects of Russian constructivism in a way that brings out its links to, say, the chunky form of Battersea Power Station (the largest brick building in Europe - how I wish I could dream up some plan to rescue it ...).

Thursday, December 22, 2011


It's always good to touch base with these ponies, who have hung on my bedroom wall since - I should think 1966, but I'm not quite sure.   They were an inspired Christmas present then, and an inspirational one - I spent a long time trying to copy Charles Tunnicliffe's watercolor hills and trees in the background (on those grounds, I might have done better, artistically, in the long run, if I'd been given a Turner reproduction - but then, unless it had discernible horses, I might not have found it so copyable).  I've resisted all attempts to have it replaced: these Welsh-looking ponies standing in a field at one time in my life summed up all I ever wanted.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

England. Christmas. Arrival.

First, the Heathrow luggage trolleys, lined up waiting for the world's heavy suitcases.

Then, the curious fact that there are many, many fewer illuminations, whether public or private, in London than there are in the US - Christmas trees in people's front rooms, to be sure, but hardly anything in the streets, and even shop windows look somewhat desultory in their tinsel.  Is this The Recession?  Certainly there was a piece on the news tonight about how local councils are spending much much less on Christmas lights this year (apart from those who want to lure in customers so that they make lots of money from carpark fees) - and as here, in Wimbledon Village, there seems to be a strange tangle with commercial advertising.

And then, there are, indeed, some rather frost bitten flowers from the garden on my windowsill - I'd forgotten about this pretty blue vase, which, actually, I always think of as being a snowdrop vase.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the other side of oranges

It seems incredible that we're setting out for England for Christmas, when it's sunny and warm here in Los Angeles, and the oranges are just ready and ripe on the tree.  Ripe oranges also means ... Raccoons!  They live, or at least temporarily lodge, in our big cypress trees out front, and gorge themselves on oranges, tearing into them with their big sharp claws, neatly bisecting them, and sucking out the insides like a hungry sports team at half time.  And all the little shreds of peel makes it look as though they're into marmalade making ...

graffiti good and bad

There are attractive little pieces of graffiti - like the No Matter What-ness that's suddenly appeared on our sidewalk - and then there is the spray-paint kind - not the sort that gets commemorated at MOCA, but the scraggy thin letters proclaiming the territory of one local gang or another that periodically marks its turf on our garage doors.  This time, it had also primed up its can of silver-white paint on our front steps.  Not what one needs.  Or not what Alice needed, since she valiantly took on the task of cleaning.  I spent most of the day trying to get my slide scanner to work with an up to date Mac - and finally succeeded in doing so around 10.45 p.m.  A long and frustrating day, in other words.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

the abandoned chair of eldorado

After those long sequences of abandoned chairs in Highland Park, and the occasional abandoned chair in Silver Lake, I bring you - at long last - an Abandoned Chair in Eldorado.  This one looks as though it's been not just abandoned, but joyously, wantonly mauled - by a pit bull puppy, perhaps?  Indeed, it doesn't look too bad a chair at all, apart from the fact that someone has viciously disemboweled it.  Maybe it has fleas, and someone executed this butchery as an act of charity against the possibility that someone might want to give it a good home?  In any case, it may well be covered by snow in the morning.  We've fled back to LA, to avoid two years running of Christmas travel being completely mangled by the weather - so it had better snow ...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

trinkets and trains

Just before the train pulled into Albuquerque, we were told - there was a half hour stop, and there would be vendors on the platform selling jewelry and trinkets.  Imagine!  it must have been just like this a hundred years ago, when the Southwest Chief - or whatever the Santa Fe Railroad main daily train was called them - pulled in.  And there would also, too, have been the urban cowboy getting off the train for a smoke (check out those leather trousers, and leather studded wristbands, and leather hat, and - yes - those are platform soled shoes).   

I decided that I'd take the train back from Los Angeles (this was planned some time ago, and certainly before I found out that there's such a huge storm supposedly coming in that we're heading back to Los Angeles tomorrow, so as to avoid the risk of being snowbound on Monday, and not making our flight to England).  It was huge fun - though weird, since it only occasionally could be said to feel like unfamiliar territory, since for a lot of the route the line runs very close to I-40, down which we drove only last weekend - so one's seeing familiar landmarks from different angles.   The mountains round Flagstaff - very snowy - at 5.30 in the morning, with lights on in little cabins, could have been any European mountain town.  And it was so very excellent to get off at Lamy, just five miles down the road from our house, and the old stop for Santa Fe - D. H. Lawrence, for example, arrived here ...

Friday, December 16, 2011

after rain

Ah, Los Angeles is looking very beautiful this morning (it was looking less so when seen from above, yesterday evening, circling round and round whilst a storm dumped a whole lot of rain on LAX).   So this is a crystal clear puddle reflection on an old metal table on the deck outside our bedroom.  And it's an early post ... because I'm off on a Surprise Travel Adventure (more tomorrow ...).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

gingerbread houses

One never knows quite what one's going to find in the Albuquerque Airport - but I've never previously seen a large display of gingerbread houses - thirty or forty of them, all ranged round a big Christmas tree.  And these have all been constructed by different groups - everything from the workers at restaurants who have branches there to the people who are on the crew of particular airlines (the folks at Delta seem especially gifted in this respect).  But who knew?  Did people go to classes in how to put together not just chunks of gingerbread, but tiny graham crackers, and marshmallows, and pinwheel mints?  One display even managed little miniature gingerbread airplanes.  The whole circular village of these little houses added up to an extraordinary display of vernacular kitsch.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Here's one very good reason why the cats never go outside - at least, only under the very strictest backyard supervision.  For here - out at the front, and loping past the bathroom window - is an extremely fit and apparently well-fed coyote.  I also saw a rabbit in the driveway, later, which, all things considered, is quite a miracle.   (He was even closer to the house, but couldn't be bothered to stand still whilst I fetched my camera).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Rain is something to get excited about.  It's probably rained more in the last twenty four hours than it did all of last summer - which given the drought conditions here in the Southwest is wonderful news.  The weather forecast thought that it might come down as snow ... but it didn't (yet).  Driveways were turning to mud slides, looking like sets on which to film the Battle of the Somme - we saw one, where some movers were just leaving in a van, leaving deep trenches of tire ruts.  And the light was a murky grey brown, the mountains invisible, the clouds dull and heavy - very like December rain in England, indeed, but decidedly more welcome here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

wire bear

I'm sure I've noted in the past that there's a menagerie of barbed wire beasts outside our Santa Fe vets (where we were taking Emmett to be hydrated, blood tested, and so on - the splendid boy revived enormously after his visit).  Here's a bear.  It's a sad picture, to me, because of the images last weekend in of the annual NJ bear cull - not that I've ever seen a bear in NJ, whereas I have encountered a couple, over the years, in NM.   I've seen none here in Eldorado, either, although there was a great story a couple of years ago about someone who'd just moved here from Northern California, who'd got tired of finding bears swimming around in his pool in the back yard - and what should he find sitting in his tree in the back yard?  In other wildlife observations, the Crime Notes in the Eldorado News for last month recorded one break-in (not in Eldorado itself), and a bobcat and kittens seen crossing a road.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

bird feeding

In fact, this isn't a particularly functional bird feeder - it's an old dish hanging in a tree that we employed last summer to try and tempt bluebirds to come and feed mealy worm grubs to their young - young that never showed the slightest bit of interest in said grubs.  All the same, we - I mean - they - reared at least two families, and possibly three.  I say "possibly three," because although we only saw two, there was another nest in the birdhouse when I came to inspect it yesterday - and I know I cleared the last one out.  Today - war restocked the main bird feeder, and the water bowls, and bought two separate kind of suety seedy things for the wire holder, and are now sitting back to see who turns up.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Ah, it's spectacular out here - today, driving between Winslow and Santa Fe, with miles and miles of emptiness, intersected by an occasional train ...

Friday, December 9, 2011

on the road, yet again

Here we are, once again, on the road - en route from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, and staying at La Posada in Winslow.  One of the very hardest parts of thinking that we'd moved to New Jersey for ever was that we wouldn't ever be staying here as we drove back and forth from California ... but here we are, back again, in the old railroad hotel - this time in the newly converted wing, and very beautifully done it is, too (and warm - it's going down to 15F outside, tonight).  And here is LucyFur, exploring ...

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I love the fact that kids from local schools come onto campus for various activities - but it was impossible to tell quite what was happening outside the Art History department's Holiday Party this lunchtime - although it wasn't scheduled entertainment for us, it certainly involved a lot of very elaborate dance routines.  I do wish this particular building didn't remind me so much of EUR - the Fascist showpiece part of Rome's outskirts.   I realize, looking at this picture, that this school evidently has a kind of uniform - everyone's wearing fawn pants or skirts of some kind, all of them in the same shade that, for some reason, is always adopted by football coaches.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I've been in meetings all day - so what else is there to take a picture of?  Admittedly, I had my camera out to take a picture of all the names that we'd just written up on a white board, ordering and column-ising them (grad admissions, on this occasion) - just so that we had a definite, unarguable with record in case such a thing was ever needed - it's not that I imagine a conference room is going to provoke visual inspiration.  Coffee, water, artificial light, computers, papers, pens: that's been today.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

catching an orange

Nothing - well, pretty much nothing - gives me more satisfaction than realizing that I need an orange for a recipe, and then going out and plucking one from our orange tree using this wire basket on the end of a stick.  When I was small, and our garden in Wimbledon was full of apple trees, my father made a very similar implement for gathering the fruit - only this one was a old broom handle with a wire loop at the end of it, which held a little basket made of material - probably a bit of old sheeting - and that tapered to a point, like a shrimping net.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I don't normally tilt my head sideways walking back across campus, but the reflection fitted in rather beautifully this way round.  And after a day of meetings and forms and bits of paper, my head, in turn, was quite comfortable not gazing straight ahead.  The light, here, is a wonderful treat when one emerges from said meetings.  Today's big discovery?  A major difference between Rutgers' chairs' meetings and USC's - holiday cookies!  With green, Christmas-tree colored sprinkles!  (for the record, I abstained, but took note of their festive presence).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

bathroom window

... another small instance of the everyday - or the not-quote-everyday, but very many days - sunset from the bathroom window.  I still don't think that I can quite get used to palm trees being something that are quotidian.  I also think that my piece on the everyday, whilst deliberately humanist, may be too human-centered, too focused on human perception and possible transformation.  Somewhere down the line I swallowed too much George Eliot in large influential lumps, and still find it hard to focus on the Woolfian prescription to write about, to imagine, the world seen without a self.  Or rather, the idea intrigues me - would it still, therefore, count as "the everyday"?  But I'm already over my word limit, even if slightly, and maybe this is where to start my next speculations.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

the everydayness of the amaryllis

... yes, it's yesterday's amaryllis, again - this time caught in a shaft of very late afternoon sunshine.  So it's still on my desk, and I'm still at my desk - give or take an evening at the President's Holiday Dinner, which was most spectacular and indeed fun - having just, more or less, at last, finished writing the piece on the Novel and the Everyday that I've been worrying away at for - how long, now? - probably eighteen months.  I daren't check, in case it proves to be longer.  In that time, I've learned a lot about the everyday, or, rather, about theories concerning the everyday.  Even though I'm still trying to fine-tune a final sentence that says something about how acknowledging and appreciating the everyday shouldn't mean complacency, but should be a springboard for action, for transformation, I'm not entirely sure that this will stick.  It may - but at the same time, what I love about the everyday is that, just for a moment, like this afternoon at my desk, everything can suddenly seem completely beautiful.  And seeing and recording this is, I know, part of what writing Forms is about - even as I feel, from day to day, that I'm ducking and weaving under the surface of writing about - oh, the Occupy movement, or the unbelievable awfulness of Newt Gingrich - I mean, although I wouldn't do it myself, I can see why someone would go for Michele Bachmann, but that slime ball?  Yet I do think that the miniature essay form, or whatever it is that I practice, is a form of recognizing the everyday, and as such, it's perhaps unsurprising that I should turn to it as more intellectual subject matter.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Yes, even in Southern California, one can tell that it's December, not just by the tinselly snowflakes and tiny glittering lights that are starting to appear in the streets, but by the fact that one can buy amaryllis bulbs in pots, that then bloom with amazing rapidity and enthusiasm.  They really are remarkably complicated inside, too.  This one's sitting on my desk: since it's now the end of the semester, it's fighting for space with a million other different things - but I promise myself that there will be a clear, gleaming surface by the end of the weekend (oh yes, and a completed article, and all my expenses receipts logged and claimed for, too ...).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

a weather event

an early post, but who knows when we will have power restored back home?  It went out around one a.m., and when I try and call our home phone, it still says "the person you are trying to reach is not accepting calls at present," which is ominous.  So here I am, in my office (and that's the corner of Taper Hall, home to the English dept, just to keep the week's motif rolling).  And emerging from the building to go and hunt down some lunch, I find that we're one tree the less on campus - already sawn up, but still impressive for the roots that are waving in the air.  That red balloon?  One of many on campus, signaling National AIDS awareness day.

Winds were around - oh, sixty or so mph last night, and may be the same again tonight.  At least we're not in Pasadena, which seems to have been swiped especially hard.  I would say that it was terrifying, were it not for the fact that I was so emphatically trying to sleep that I can only remember Alice telling me at the time that it was terrifying, and watching the flashes of electric transformers flashing off in the distance, and thinking, oh!  Flash!  oh, research!  before heading back to sleep until the next howling gust.  All the same, I think we might try sleeping in the living room tonight, complete with the wind-up radio that I so perspicaciously ordered as a thank-you gift for this year's subscription to KPCC NPR radio station.