Friday, May 31, 2013

out of season

Thank goodness, it's very out of season around here.  So how best to convey that?  If I photograph a deserted beach, it'll just look as though I've shuffled around and tiled the camera so as to avoid the people who are, on occasion, lying in fully-dressed huddles on the down wind side of rocky outcrops (such people are, invariably, British, and if I look too closely I'll probably see the thermoses and sandy sardine sandwiches of my picnicking youth).  But here are the stacked up deck chairs!

and here are the rusting, waterlogged pedalos,

and here is some of the most magnificent kitsch I've ever seen, waiting for the truly, truly rich to return. Unsurprisingly there were no cool weather clothes (other than fur coats) in the shops of relatively nearby Porto Cervo - which felt like an upmarket shopping mall in California - terrible! - all Prada and Gucci, and not even with an especially attractive view.

Ah, but - just a little way down the coast, it's truly beautiful.  I'm so grateful for out of season-ness - at least there are places to park.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

il giorno del "Si"

is only, in today's Italy, to be for straight couples; and at this end of Sardinia, away from the coast, one can quite see why that may be the case.  It's a strange part of the world, part opulence (and that's in high summer, which, with today's freezing gales, it most certainly isn't); part rural tradition (think Padre Padrone, and all those sheep - Pecorino Sardo has to come from somewhere.  And, now I think back to one of my very favorite movies, I shouldn't have been surprised by the wind).

The sea really is this color - makes our local Pacific look very grey and polluted - and it's guarded over by the BVM.  All of this is Santa Teresa Gallura, a very sweet small town (probably hell on earth in high season), which reminded me of somewhere in mid Wales in the 1960s.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

view from room

This is the view from my room in Sardinia!  I think that I should be able to cope with this for four days, before heading back to Venice ... I might even get my NAVSA papers written ...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

frogs at the biennale

It's Biennale time here in Venice!  And in the garden of San Servolo (now a conference center, no longer the upper-class mental hospital it was when I first chugged past it on a vaporetto decades ago), here are some frogs, waiting to be installed.  Alternatively they may be wearing plastic macs against the evening's promised/threatened rain.  They are extremely jolly, though not as magnificent as Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant.

Look!  There she is, hiding behind everyone's tourist image of gondolas, complete with floating plastic bag and several bottles, on the island of San Giorgio, where the Chini foundation is having a big Quinn retrospective.

And there she is, up close - last seen, in inflatable form, at the opening of the Paralympics in London last summer (I'm not sure if I'm actually right about "last seen," but last seen to the best of my knowledge - and before that, her distinguished appearance on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square back in 2005.  The portrait of the disabled artist - looking here like a kind of hermaphrodite Adonis, but a very real person - is stunning.  They are installing lights at the base - I can't wait to see her lit up at night.

For all of that, I love walking around Venice seeing what new funky street art has cropped up.  Not as startlingly innovative as a few years ago, but here's a great triptych near the station.

Monday, May 27, 2013


I took one look at Venice, and fled to my usual quiet retreat of Torcello: yes, there are tourists there, too, but they haven't just come off a huge cruise ship.  For someone who first came to Venice in the 70s and 80s - and, especially, who did research here in the winters - summer crowds (ordinary tourists! The Biennale!  er - Victorianists ..) are hard to handle.  I've been photographing these statues in Torcello for over thirty years - seductively placed in a vineyard/orchard/meadow - my favorite ever image was a series of black and white shots that I took in the depth of winter when they were all covered up in plastic against the elements, including this guy:

What I most wanted to track down was a shot that I lost six years ago, when Alice and I were here - at the end of the long wild strip behind the church, where plastic bottle and other detritus washes up, there was, sitting on the smelly mud, a small chair with a battered plastic doll on it.  It looked like a cross between voodoo and an installation.  It wasn't even a very good shot - I messed up the lighting - it needed fill flash - but it would have been lovely to have had the chance to redo. But of course it wasn't there - just the amazing views of the flat and lonely lagoon, with Torcello's tower looking slightly spiky because of restoration:


Back via Burano (more lost shots - I waited in vain for a replica of the umbrellas hanging on a washing line).  Everyone's shots of Burano are the same, I'm sure - the challenge was to find something happening (I thought that something would be a storm, too, but that didn't materialize).

There's always the cliched standby of photographing tourists and tourist stuff, as in lace parasols.

Basically, though, how could one not, simply, enjoy (re)photographing the colors.  I don't remember taking this shot before - indeed, I know I didn't - but it was curious: I certainly couldn't have recollected all of what I'd lost before going back there - but my eyes were drawn, as if by habitual motion, to very much the same thing.

And yes, these days, I download everything to Dropbox, AND don't re-use memory cards, just in case that computer hard drive fails, irrevocably.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

art in italy

Very little today convinced me that Bologna is anything but a slightly strange place - but maybe that had everything to do with it being a Sunday.  However, there was the kitsch art behind window bars;

the kitsch art on church ceilings (check out all the nuns at the bottom having a roaringly good social life);

the fact that Bologna is such a food center (though not, I might add, on Sundays), that the association of master bakers - maybe of women master bakers? - were having a display at dusk in the Piazza Maggiore;

and then the unarguable fact that some of the local stores seemed made for my research eyes alone.  Maybe I can put this on the jacket of that as-yet ever-so-unwritten tome?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

a wet Bologna night

Here's the view from outside my hotel in Bologna - on a very wet evening, with a merciless late May temperature in the mid 40s: everyone in the restaurant where I ate dinner was coming in with their big puffy jackets, and scarves and hats.  Needless to say I am rather short on the thick winter jackets.  I can't remember quite why I've come to Bologna for two nights - something, obviously, to do with flight times and costs from NM.  But also I had a sense that I wanted to reclaim the place - I was last here on my own in, I think, 1975, and it was the one place that I didn't care for in Italy, and where I was harassed and bottom-pinched, and where I came to the conclusion that Enough Was Enough, and headed off to southern Germany on my inter rail pass instead.   I doubt that I'll have my bottom pinched this time around.  And the Art Hotel Novecento is a huge, huge, huge improvement on Bologna Youth Hostel.  The weather, however, had better make a decided shift for the better, tomorrow, before I let this city into my good graces.

Friday, May 24, 2013

packing essentials

Having got here, the last thing that I want to do is head out the door again, albeit for Italy.  But so it goes ... I have, at least, at last, run down some of the pesky things I was sure that I'd brought with me, but couldn't think where - the computer dongle (what's "dongle" in Italian?); the stick-in-the-computer recharger - well, any recharger - the Euros, etc etc.  As ever, I am stymied when it comes to which selection to make from my Bag Collection.  I have printed out or downloaded all I need to read or think about for my workshop and conference duties, I think.  I am packing the (heavy) book I should have reviewed before I left, but haven't found the time.  I have watered the yard, or what's left of it - even the tumbleweed is paltry and withered.  I don't know when I'll get another chance to post today - next stop (via Chicago and LHR) Bologna.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

a stop sign

It's a very emphatic stop sign, and very pointed, too, after its annotation.  Situated at the exit to Whole Foods in Santa Fe, one wonders how many packets of ground buffalo meat or pork tenderloin are jettisoned after seeing this ... 

I am sensitive to stop signs: I knew that little camera that flashed at me in Culver City a few weeks wasn't a good omen, and though I hoped that my out of state NM plates would save me (though why, I can't imagine), there, true enough, in the mailbox, was the summons; the chance of taking driver's ed to banish my points, etc etc.  And I very nearly stopped in time ... I'm a very law-abiding driver ... But there - evidence! - are the photos, in sharp crisp detail, including me, looking determined and hatchet-faced, jumping the just-turned-red light, and the CATS AGAINST ROMNEY sticker still on the back bumper.  Come to think of it, maybe that hardened their resolve to prosecute the grim-loooking woman behind the wheel.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


It's particularly lovely to get into one's car to drive 900 miles (about 550 of them are done), and find that one's girlfriend has left a vase of flowers from our yard in the mug holder ... 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

a scanned Moth

And there I was, scanning various images for my (as yet far from written) talk in Venice in a week or so - and Moth came and sat on the flatbed.  So ... how could I resist pressing the Scan button?  It's not a view of Mothy that I would anticipate seeing except from this angle (though I could, indeed, hold her above my head, I could hardly expect her to keep her feet flat and still); and it's certainly a view that she'll never have herself.  So I guess, in a way, it's a perfect example of a photographic image taken without a human (or feline) eye involved ...

Monday, May 20, 2013

night and/or day

It proved impossible this evening to decide which was my preferred picture: some jacaranda trees in bloom on campus, in all their slightly campy mauve excess, or having dinner outside on our patio, with the waterfall/grotto in the background.  So I had no choice but to combine them ... Clearly this composite picture needs another figure or two as well - something sprite-like or dryad-resembling - but none fell across my path today, and even if they had, I doubt that I'd have recognized my need for them until a few minutes ago.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I think that the semester is finally over.  This was something to be celebrated with a drink that included lime and vodka and pineapple and mint and cilantro and cayenne pepper, and a large lump of ice.  This was well earned, after finally emptying out the storage unit in Glendale (and a dark suspicion comes over one: if one hasn't missed many of the contents, other than perhaps a book or two, over the last two years, how far does one probably really need them?  Though I did unearth the manuscript to my doctorate, and thought that it looked surprisingly good - much more theoretically sophisticated - about the origins of modernist art criticism - than I remember it as being); and doing a whole lot of other tasks, including cleaning the waterfall.  Only, perhaps, in Los Angeles does one get to type that last phrase with a straight face.

cat and water

Moth seems to be doing a good deal of photographic posing, of late.  She remains peculiarly fond of water (even after the unfortunate episode of her falling in the bath), especially when that water comes, or might be about to come, out of the tap for filtered drinking water on the kitchen sink.  Of course, one would generally rather that she wasn't crashing around plates, glasses, etc on the countertop, but the possibility of water emerging from a faucet at least keeps her temporarily still ...

Friday, May 17, 2013

dr dre ...

One never knows what's going to happen in a Commencement speech, I guess - though Jimmy Iovine quoting John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" and R. Kelley, and inviting his good friend and business partner Dr Dre up on stage was a bit of a change from the normal run of things.  President Nikias (and not all commencement speakers begin "Thanks, Max," either) and the trustees look to be having fun, too - I love the one wielding a cell phone camera.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

ready for tomorrow

Really, it's shockingly inappropriate of me to think that all the chairs lined up ready for commencement tomorrow look like war graves, but they do ...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

books in unexpected places

I promise you I didn't pose this - this copy of Felix Holt was just sitting there on a wall on the top floor of Parking Structure D this morning.  And that's very mysterious: I can probably count on one hand - even on two or three fingers - the number of people on campus who are likely to be reading this particular George Eliot novel, and none of those are especially likely to have purchased this rather obscure edition, nor, indeed, to have left it out there at 8 a.m. for a seagull to read.  It wasn't there when I came home, but that proves nothing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

sniffing the great outdoors

Really, it must be extremely frustrating to have all those birds tweeting outside, and to have a mesh screen between yourself and them, and the adolescent rabbit who was munching away at the few leaves of green that are currently left in our back yard - for the Mowers descended to strip away a whole lot of grass, and do other fire-protection bits of trimming - though not enough, it would seem, to satisfy our insurance company, as yet.  But Moth and Walter, in particular, love even this much of an open window, and dream of fine-honing their hunting skills.

Monday, May 13, 2013

happy tiger

It's impossible to tell what's set this tiger off laughing - spotted whilst driving to school this morning.  But whoever painted it has just the right cartoon knack of being able to capture an emotion - so strongly (unless I'm peculiarly susceptible today) that it manages to kick off a happy affect.  Maybe I should just print it out and stick it above my office desk?

Sunday, May 12, 2013


All things considered, it's probably a very good job that I don't live anywhere near Ann Arbor: if this is what's on offer when one goes to buy some breakfast at Zingermans, I'd soon turn into a roly-poly.  

Only - if one did actually live there, how often would one drop by?  That's the great thing about visiting a campus/town when one's just there for a conference - one (over) indulges/enjoys the local offerings, and lives some kind of a fantasy about What Life Would be Like If ...  Whereas I lived eighteen months within ten minutes walk of Intelligentsia, in Silver Lake, and actually went for coffee there - oh, five or six times.  Not that I don't like it (not that its scallion and feta scones aren't easily a match for the cheddar and herb ones above - for I am a savory, rather than a sweet, indulgence person) - it's just that a combination of proximity and a vague attempt not to eat unhealthily kick in.  Now that I'm no longer an easy stroll from its overcrowded doors, do I miss these possibilities?  Not really.  But if I were in Silver Lake for a conference?  Oh my - I'd be beating down its doors ...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

glittering installation

Here's a particularly lovely installation in an art gallery on Main in Ann Arbor, by a local artist called Lynda Cole.  The photograph remakes it somewhat, since, taken from the street, this includes both large light reflections (which give it the semblance of arcades), and those little bright blue dots aren't hers at all, but are reflections of the street light opposite.  And this flattens it, too - there are sheets and tiles of burnished metal behind, and then small squares of gold turning gently on long transparent strings.

Friday, May 10, 2013

spring colors

Spring comes in two colors on the University of Michigan campus - no, not blue and maize, but pink and white.  The only downside (now that it's stopped raining)?  That bit on the Weather Channel's website where they put "feels like" in relation to the actual temperature.  "Feels like" 37 degrees.  Not humane.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

keyed in

Ah, if only I were giving a keynote here in Ann Arbor, how apt this would be ... it's a display - an installation might be even more apt, since it's wonderfully surreal - celebrating 100 years of this key and lock store.  Almost impossible to take a decent picture in the dull evening light - and I wish those recycling bins weren't there, either - certainly hard, through grubby glass, to convey the magnitude of all those dated keys, which are heaped on the floor, encased in plastic, hung on strings.  What I don't quite understand is how the store comes to have so many of them - don't other people's keys end up where mine do, in ugly little clumps at the back of the kitchen drawer, fitting nothing in living memory?  It never occurs to me to take them round to a key store, in case they'll come in useful for a centenary ...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

hand of a ...

A whole day talking about photographs (and their past futures) at the Getty today - excellent all round - but no time left to write, or think, this evening (a paper of my own to massage into shape).  So here's a quick homage to my favorite new image of the day, Nadar's Hand of a Banker.  Could one tell an occupation from that?  Was it an honest, above board banker, or a shady crook?  What can one tell from the hand of an academic?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


It's almost graduation time, and Inspirational Banners are breaking out on lamp posts all round the campus.  This one sent a chill down my spine: what about "Ambitious to exercise my talents to the fullest for the greater good of society," say?  It's so tempting to read this as "Make a lot of money and remember to bestow a lot of tax-deductible donations with it."  No wonder one doesn't always feel that The Humanities are a top priority ...

Monday, May 6, 2013

animal transport

Somehow, I want to use this image to launch my comments about The State of The Field at NAVSA in June... you might well ask how, but I have my ideas ...  It comes from a pop-up book from 1895 called The Robins at Home, published in Britain but printed in Bavaria (as this kind of pop up book tended to be).  There are three other illustrations like this, but this is my favorite (one on-line bookseller hypothesizes that it's an unattributed Louis Wain, which I admit it could be).  I was completely captivated by it when I was little.  The caption in it suggests that it was given to my Auntie Ethel for Christmas 1896 (I think that she was the person who gave me cheese biscuits from a corner cupboard in Ossett, in West Yorkshire, five decades or so ago), who presumably gave it to my mother ...

I just love those two kitties riding a tandem.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


This is a very ordinary English pond: it just happens to be the pond that I used to walk to when I was about three in order to feed the ducks.  It's in the grounds of Cannizaro House, and owned by Merton Borough Council - completely full, today, of families with very small children who were about the size that I was then.  That flat more or less concrete path in the distance used to be gravel: I once tripped when running on it, and cut my knee open in a nasty sore gravelly mess.  My mother claims not to remember this, which leaves me feeling very unsettled about the incident: did its importance get magnified in my memory?  Probably not, because I still have, literally, the scar to prove it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

choos (or: the English Sense of Humor)

This is hanging on the front door of a house - one of a little row of late Victorian cottages - just two roads over ... it is unbearably twee, and of course one has to know the true favored footwear of that cottage's inhabitants for one to know quite how heavy the ironic overlay might be ...

Friday, May 3, 2013

a kitchen cupboard

Let me introduce you to a very, very English kitchen cupboard - exactly the kind of demonstration of ordinariness of which, I claimed, in class, we tend have all too little record.  The kitchen cupboard of a certain generation, I should add ... Some of the things here are faintly mysterious to me; some have possibly been here a long, long time.

Let's start at the top, with the cheerful stuff: my father's jars of homemade marmalade.  They seem to be up there with a can of chopped tomatoes, and, oh horrors, one of minced beef (that's chopped beef, in the US) - probably in that kind of slimy gravy that it was served up in at school - a true horror dish.

Let's go down a shelf.  A can of lentil dhal is promising, but obscure: I cannot remember or imagine my parents ever eating Indian food.  My mother's curry was stewed beef with curry powder in it, and a few sultanas, served with sliced bananas in lemon juice, and, if one was lucky, some grated coconut.  But it's not as depressing as a can of Eazy Fried Onions.  I don't want to think about them.  More canned tomatoes; canned peaches; canned chicken of some kind; canned treacle sponge pudding (that, to be honest, might, under the right conditions, be edible, like Aunty's Ginger Syrup Steamed Pudding).  On the other hand, it might not.  There's a can of some kind of chicken; one of marrow peas - curious things that I've never seen in the US - basically big fat starchy green peas - ; one of Heinz Baked Beanz (for how long have they actually spelt them like that?); one of cooked chipolata sausages; one - hey, here's something edible! - of tuna chunks; one of corned beef, and two of sardines in tomato sauce.  There's also an improbably exotic object: a jar of sun dried tomatoes in oil.  I'm unlikely ever to go near that: I have a very uncertain relationship with such objects ever since an unfortunate episode involving too much red wine and some sun dried tomatoes somewhere on the flanks of Mount Etna in 1985.

And on the bottom: some more marmalade; some miniature jars of jam (b & b style); two plastic containers of fruit in syrup; one can of Ambrosia Creamed Rice Pudding; some chutney (one jar of it home-made); a small jar of creamed garlic (!); and, yes, several packets of tea.

Happily none of this appeared on the dinner table: there, baked salmon, boiled asparagus, and boiled potatoes were followed by some Waitrose blackcurrant cheesecake.

And the sad thing is - my parents like their culinary routines, and most certainly don't want me cooking anything ...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

English spring

As LA starts to swelter in its mini-heatwave, I find myself in the greenery (and primroses, and blossom, and out of sight, forget-me-nots and tulips) in my parents' garden in Wimbledon, and pondering how strange it is to think of two completely different climates (indeed three, if I throw in Santa Fe) as home. My tired brain isn't going to cope with that one: time to sleep.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


I'm off to London this afternoon, so I'm posting early.  I can catch the 3.35 plane (I hope!!) because my class will be Visited by someone bearing evaluation forms at 1.10.  Yes, that's running it a little tight for an international flight, but so it goes ... Evaluation forms.  Does that look to you like a couple of boxes (and there's one more in the fridge) of high-end designer cupcakes???