Wednesday, February 29, 2012

the economy

With true serendipitous timing, I was stuck in traffic outside this busy store just as NPR commentators were debating whether or not Mitt Romney's wealth and wealthy family background would act as a deterrent to voters.  Well, yes, said one voice, obviously (for here is a man who does't regard going to NASCAR races as a normal form of entertainment - nor do I, of course, but I can't think of many circumstances when I need to try and pretend that I do - but who says that Ah, yes, I have friends who own NASCAR teams).  He's obviously entirely out of touch.  Well, no, said the other - he epitomizes the American dream.  Hmmm: one might have thought that this argument applied more to his father.  One might, of course, fairly think that it applied more still to Obama, though his personal history seems to be entirely forgotten by all Republicans (apart from his birth certificate), because after all, he's never had a real job - which means, apparently, running a business, large or small.  Not, one might note, being a worker in a business, small or large, whether that business be a dry cleaners or an auto plant or a university.  

Has Romney, or Santorum, or Gingrich, ever been in one of these establishments?  Admittedly, I only have once, back in 1994, when I was still living in the UK, had a check for my first chunk of summer school teaching in Santa Fe, and no money in the bank, and nothing else to buy food with, and no US bank account.  And, in some sleazy looking dive on Cerillos, I was treated with utmost courtesy and curiosity by a Hispanic woman who wasn't used to English accents coming in and wanting to cash a check - and indeed let me do so at a huge and compassionate discount when it came to the commission.  So I'm sure my experience wasn't at all typical.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

bear with a sore head

Here's last week's bear - having grown all kinds of different colored stripes around its head.  I think that I preferred it in a gestatory state.  It now looks menaced by collage-psychedelia - grumpy and ready to snap, the epitome of a Bear With a Sore Head.  Only ... seemingly, that useful expression isn't common currency over here.  I'm willing to be corrected, but my local informant tells me that she's never heard of it.  The very strange thing about this is that there are many more bears, cross and presumably, on a good day, otherwise, here in the US.  Perhaps the particularly dangerous bear is the dancing variety, cruelly paraded along on his hind legs by some itinerant Bavarian showman?  

Monday, February 27, 2012


This is where Rik Martino, the Birdman of Silver Lake, now lives.  He used to feed up to 200 pigeons a day, buying big bags of seed at Baller Hardware, and scooping it out with a trowel. He used to be someone's caretaker, then shared an apartment, then - then what, I don't know, but this is where he's ended up.  He came from Italy to try his luck at an acting career 30+ years ago (stage name, Franco Massimo).  There is, indeed, a You Tube video of him, which is the one mentioned on the posters - I imagined that this video was about his conviction that the local authorities have poisoned the pigeons - which, of course, they may well have done - he wasn't universally popular, especially up on Hyperion, where I believe he used to live.  Maybe that's why there are fewer pigeons around?  A couple of years ago they got into our roof (coo, coo, coo-coo), and the nadir was when a hawk dropped a freshly filleted pigeon heart into our back yard - they did, admittedly, provide tempting hawk-targets.  He also pushes a shopping cart around with a huge sign - PLEASE SLOW DOWN SQUIRRELS ARE GETTING KILLED.  And until I did a bit of googling, I drove past him every day - like all those cars lined up behind me - without knowing any of this, other than his anti-animal-control protests...

chariot racing

To be filed under ... the ridiculous things that pass as "antiques" in Los Angeles (seen in an antique shop window on Abbott Kinney).  Maybe it's sufficiently gladiatorial - or at least in the same world as chariots, Colosseum, lion wrangling, etc - to seem appropriate for Oscars night.  After Puss in Boots didn't win Best Animated Picture, who could care any more?

Saturday, February 25, 2012


The CAA - the College Art Association - annual jamboree is not the MLA (Modern Languages ditto) - this is self evident in a number of ways (not least its tendency to try and collide with Alice and my birthdays/Valentine's day, as opposed to some inopportune time in the Christmas holidays).  But one of its best features is that it has tools of the trade on display and on sale - paints, colored pencils, printing ink, brushes (and people draw, too - there was a woman next to me in a session this afternoon busily using both pencils and wax crayons, which I guess was one way to take notes on papers dealing with C19th and early C20th French and German posters and street art).  How can I resist brushes that are sold by the pick-your-own dozen?  

Think what MLA would be like if it did the same - if in the book fair there were stands selling notebooks and different kinds of fine nibbed pens, and - well, what does today's writer need?  I guess there'd just be a big Apple stand and a Genius Bar for everyone whose computer starts to do funky things at the wrong moment.  (Incidentally, there are many more Macs, many fewer other breeds around at CAA).  I know that readings and such like do take place at MLA - not that I've ever been to one - but it's so very salutary to be reminded, in and out of sessions, that our discipline (our disciplines?) is/are based on people who create things in the first place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

tourist in one's home town?

I'm completely baffled how I've ended up as a respondent in a panel about tourism and culture at CAA.  It's not that it's a topic that I'm uninterested in; and indeed, I've thought a good deal about it, one way and another - teaching a course on American Road Culture taught me a fair amount, a few years back; and I've done a stack of reading around tourism and landscape and the southwest.  And I guess The Transatlantic Indian wanders around the topic.  But I'd never thought of myself as any kind of expert, and I still don't (and there's not a lot of time to turn myself into one, before 9.30 tomorrow morning).  One of the questions I'll be asking, though (a small one, in the scheme of things), is whether one can be a tourist in one's own home town - and I guess that walking down W 11th St. this morning (my grad students were spot on with a cheap parking lot tip), I decided that one could.  Quite what the Desmond building is, or was, I don't know - related to the old department store building on the Miracle Mile? - but it's a fine chunk of late 20s industrial style architecture.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

invisible ball

or nearly invisible - just a neat record on the wall against which it was thrown or bounced; grey on pale tan.  I was going to call it, automatically, a football, but I guess that should read soccer ball - and in any case, it was probably a basketball.  The topic of invisibility, if still going strong in our classroom on a Tuesday afternoon, has rather faded from this blog recently, and indeed, if I were to talk about invisibility today, it would probably be my own invisibility at CAA until mid afternoon onwards - my administrative nose has been grazed incessantly by the proximity of a grindstone.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

captured light

I think it was a day's (hard, profitable, not unsatisfying) work that meant that I completely forgot about picture taking until I was out to dinner - rather than the distracting fact of the birthday that prompted the dinner.  But may I recommend the Spice Table, just at the edge of downtown, where (in addition to wonderful laksa), they have managed to hang their lightbulbs inside birdcages.  There's a metaphor for photography somewhere in there, although my share of a bottle of pinot noir is interfering with working it out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

coming to get you

This bear - not, I think, quite finished yet - is adorning a wall on the side of the street opposite our vet in West L.A. (i.e., in UCLA/Bruins territory, although I'm not sure that this has anything to do with it).  He's clearly bearing down on a guy dressed as a cartoon burglar - striped jersey; some kind of cap - all he needs is a bag labeled Swag.  Admittedly he didn't look particularly happy that I'd been taking his photo - so if you're missing anything from your car trunk, do, please, feel free to use this as evidence ...

Monday, February 20, 2012

wrapped up

You may remember a ballerina, a couple of weeks ago, sprawled across the side of a junction box - if that's what it was - that was splitting apart?  I guess someone thought that the rain would get in, or mischievous fingers would tamper with the wiring, or perhaps that the whole thing deserved Christo treatment.  

This made me very glad indeed that I'd caught the ballerina in the first place, and perhaps because of this, a passage in an interview with Roy DeCarava that I was reading this evening jumped out at me.  He was explaining how a photographer differs from a painter.  If a painter is painting "from a mode" - I've been puzzling over this, and wondering if this is a misprint for "model," or not - "she can do it today, tomorrow, or remember what she did today or yesterday and still incorporate it tomorrow.  But a photographer is more or less technically bound to the time of exposure.  Whatever is happening at that time is what she gets.  So if she saw something yesterday today and did not take it, she could not take it today, now.  We might say, "Well, all she has to do is go back," but you really can't go back in time in photography, or anything else,  Even if it's a building, it's one day older.  The atmosphere or the circumstances or the light may not be the same, so that when you have organic things, things that move, things that grow, things that die, there is no going back because a portrait taken today is not the same as one taken yesterday or two weeks ago or a year ago.  Although we may not be able to see incremental changes, there are changes; the object is not the same today as it was yesterday."  (Callaloo 13:4 Autumn 1990, p. 860).

I was reading DeCarava because of reading about Harlem photography for class tomorrow - but also because he is an example of a photographer who was adamantly anti-flash.  In another interview in the same number of Callaloo he explained that "I hate it with a passion because it obliterates what I saw" (p. 849).  I like that - the idea of the flash as destructive, as interrupting the effects of pre-existing natural or artificial light (though DeCarava would happily turn day into night, for aesthetic effect, in his dark room) - it seems much more genuinely to recognize a connection between what the photographer sees and what he actively wants to record, than Cartier-Bresson (whom DeCarava knew, through Langston Hughes) proclaiming in grandiose terms about light providing the original essence for photography.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

standing around

Cynic that I am, when the flashing light and the loudspeaker voice came on at the beginning of Antonio Damasio's talk - the penultimate item in today's wonderfully run, wonderfully stimulating Graduate Symposium on Art and the Mind - I thought it was some kind of simulation, some kind of experiment, some kind of - I didn't know what, but didn't think that it was a common or garden fire alarm or drill.  This is an emergency situation, warned the urgently calm disembodied voice.  Do not gather up your things.  Move outside immediately.  So of course I gathered up my things, and moved outside slowly, waiting to see if other people were doing the same - with an queasy feeling that as - in institutional terms - the most administratively senior and relevant person there, something might be my responsibility (finding the fire extinguishers?).  Happily it wasn't, and the graduate symposium leaders ushered us all out with consummate efficiency, and a little red fire engine trotted up and did nothing in particular until it went away again.  But I think it served as an example of how, in academic situations, somehow the obvious solution (yes! it was a fire alarm) isn't the one that one instantly arrives at.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


"My beauty validates my opinion" - the latest Silver Lake wall art.  Discuss - not least because the bearer of the placard is good looking, in a goofy-nerdy kind of way, but not some kind of caricatured version of pulchritude.  So is she self-ironising, or not?  

Friday, February 17, 2012


Walking round the neighborhood at this time of the year involves a great deal of stopping to smell the jasmine.  This is pink early spring jasmine - we have a bush growing at the side of the house, right by the kitchen window, but the buds are still pretty tight.  Not so the jasmine outside the Kasbah cafe - not a cafe we ever seem to go into, these days, preferring (if that's the right word) to stand in line with the hipsters at Intelligentsia for the dubious privilege of having something fancy drawn in the foam on our cappuccinos, and feeling as though we're about thirty years too old to be there.  The Kasbah has these pretty little leafy grottos at the side of the cafe with frescoes of a certain vintage - rather like a bad Italian restaurant - and, it would seem, lots of ice blue lights festooned among the flowers.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

monster lemon

One of my colleagues brought me a lemon from her lemon tree this morning.  This is the kind of thing that should happen - but rarely does - to departmental chairs.  But look at it.  I thought at the time that it was, at the very least, a Large Lemon.  So I brought it home, and extricated a normal sort of lemon from the fridge - and, well, the evidence is before you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

East, west

If one didn't know better, one would be hard pressed to label this Los Angeles - it's another view from the top of the car park on a very wet and windy, very British-weather type day, with the Shrine in the foreground and a Greek Orthodox church in the background (and then, I think, the Hollywood sign just visible on the hills beyond).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Someone - but who? - stuck a whole lot of little badly cut out hearts with (mostly) bad poems on them all over the English department today.  Hmmmm.  This is truly the Hallmark side of Valentine's day.  Ditto all the stalls on campus selling roses and, rather more tastefully, and tasty, cookies; and the OTC going round in uniform selling roses, and all the street corner stalls with wilting roses in buckets.  And even at the restaurant where we took our job candidate this evening, long stemmed white roses on all the tables, and the hostess rushing out afterwards to make sure that we had our rose, each (or per couple) to take home.  We may have made a pretty strange valentine's table, as it was.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

morning at Harry's

Back in Los Angeles, it seems inconceivable that we were eating breakfast at Harry's Road House today - the final leg of the reunion bash - and then did a fairly thorough day's work before flying back.  I'd recognize Harry's walls and battered chairs anywhere: they, like the eatery itself, are a token of a version of Home.  Breakfast?  Chile relleno omelet.  I don't think that counts as healthy food, even if we did order organic eggs.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


You can't imagine my sense of triumph.  Socks have been, shall we say, a growing problem.  I can never find any.  At least, I can never find any that match.  I have developed a bad sock-buying problem - think Marks and Spencers, think Target, think the alluring little rows of woolen footwear in On Your Feet in Santa Fe.  But.  They disappear.  So - this weekend - time for action.  I had a big shopping bag full of possibly paired, possibly orphan socks here.  I had a drawer full of them, too.  This, alone, might be enough to explain why I never seem able to locate more than three dissimilar ones in Los Angeles.  So I started to lay them out, match them up - and then!  I realised there was another plastic tub of them under the bed!  Brought here from NJ, I think.  So there have been many happy reunions.  Indeed, almost all my single socks have been paired up again.  Most of the rest have been sent off to sock-recycling - or at least, put in an Old Clothing bin together with a number of old t-shirts - apart from a handful (footful?) that I've kept in case I can, indeed, find their - oh, ouch - sole mate in LA.

This pathetic little episode raises more questions than I'd like it to do about inefficiency, chaos, procrastination, moving, and - let's blame them - cats whom may move things round in the night.  Moral of story - at least tuck socks together when one takes them off ...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

forty years on

Just in case you're not familiar with the words of Forty Years On, the song written in 1872 and made to make generations of schoolboys think about how they'll look back on their youth, it begins 
Forty years on, when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today,
When you look back, and forgetfully wonder
What you were like in your work and your play,
Then, it may be, there will often come o’er you,
Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song –
Visions of boyhood shall float them before you,
Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along
and on it goes, full of patriotism and the virtues and advantages of school sports for boys.  It was adopted as the school song of Harrow School, a public (i.e. private) school just north of London; it was borrowed as the title for Alan Bennett's first play (not dissimilar, in its nostalgia and satire, from The History Boys).

And, more or less forty years on, we're just back from the reunion not of Alice's class, exactly, but of her friends when at Carleton - from her year and the year above.  Some of them we're very much in touch with because they still live in or around Santa Fe (and in one case in New Jersey), and others not so much.  But someone brought this picture with them!  Though Alice herself isn't in it, here are Dave, Nelson, and Kenny - who were all there tonight - and Susie (who wasn't).  No one could remember whether it was actually posed to look like an album cover - it would be perfect for one, right down to the poster saying "Freaks" on the wall, and Harper the cat (called after Roy?).  And no one knew quite who took it - maybe someone called Spigot.  Somehow, there always was someone called Spigot, and no one ever knows what happened to them.

Friday, February 10, 2012


An insanely brief trip back to Santa Fe (Alice has a Reunion Dinner here tomorrow with some old Carleton friends) - but it is so so refreshing to be away and in the chill fresh air (with coyotes howling in the background), even if it did mean getting up at a grim 4.30 a.m.  And it means that we can pick up our bags of Ohori's coffee without having to mail order them (2 lbs Sulawesi, 2 lbs Colombian), and ogle the china that's for sale in their shop: really, the tea pots here make me wish that I drank tea ...

Thursday, February 9, 2012