Monday, September 30, 2013


The geraniums are safely in the garage (under a skylight); the hoses are coiled up and put inside; the camphor pellets have been strewn around the back yard in an attempt to make the gophers migrate; there's a new block of some kind of suety bird food hanging up; and now we're safely back in Los Angeles.  I do miss real fall and real winter ... but I'm very glad to be able to retreat to New Mexico to get a full blast of the seasons when I can ...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

signs of fall

Signs of fall in the Farmers' Market: strings of garlic hanging behind the tubs of freshly dug potatoes;

Chile roasting!  And ristras of fresh chiles;

lots of very large tomatoes;

and new sculptures outside the Lew Allen Gallery.  Can't say that I'm much taken with these.

And a disconcerting experience - ran into an old friend, I thought, said hello to them twice, but no response - disconcerting, because I have very, very bad facial recognition at the best of times (I find it easy to remember static faces in photographs, but mobile ones on human beings  ...?  I don't exactly have, at least not in a full blown version, whatever it is that Oliver Sacks suffers from that involves complete facial non-recognition, but let's just say that it causes me far too many embarrassments).  But this time ... I was pretty sure ... but ... given my track record on such matters, I wasn't risking flat-out embarrassment.  So - if you're reading this, and know who you are, and were eating a rather good looking blueberry muffin, hello, again ...

Friday, September 27, 2013

meditative space

It's not that today was particularly peaceful, but I'm in surroundings where I can pretend that it might have been: the lobby where I picked up Alice after her acupuncture; our house at sunset, with a huge flowering chamisa bush in the foreground.  I've never seen New Mexico look this green.  Someone who lives near Cochiti was telling me today about Cochiti Lake, which has risen 14 feet or so.  You can usually walk down to it and see the little cabinas which are picnic shelters - they are under water, invisible.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The corral

Today's big mistake?  Assuming my very elderly desktop computer in Santa Fe wouldn't take the opportunity to die on me, and that I could make do satisfactorily with my iPad ... ah well.  So ... Imagine that this image is turned ninety degrees, for a start.   But the principle still works.   I am forever believing that I do not possess / cannot find nail scissors, and purchasing some new ones, which also disappear.   This evening, I came into the bathroom and found that Alice had been engaged in some installation art.  Point (or indeed many points) taken ....

autumn leaves, redux

I'm 98% certain that Millais never gave a moment's thought to the possible existence of autumn leaves in California, and certainly not to what they might look like floating in a fountain on a warm fall day.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

forgetfulness (and the Pre Raphaelites)

It's got to the stage of the semester when I forget the most basic things, like one of the books we're going to discuss in class (no damage done: I had a pdf of the relevant chapter), and my cell phone (not much damage done there, either, surrounded as one is by other electronic devices).  It's a highly suitable peacock feather cell phone cover, of course ...

Forgetfulness goes along with age, to be sure, and I was made to feel very very old indeed today.  This wasn't just because 3 of the 6 students in class (a graduate course under the aegis of English, "Victorian Visual Culture and its Afterlives") claimed not to have heard the word/term "Pre-Raphaelite" before taking this course, but because I read through as many reviews as I could find of the recent big PR show that was up first at the Tate, and then in DC.  I thought that Roberta Smith's sneering review in the NYT was the quintessence of miscomprehending snideness until I encountered the full panoply of the British press.  One major objection seemed to be over-familiarity - "Pre-Raphaelite art is so familiar it forms part of our national collective DNA," claimed Alastair Smart in the Telegraph's magazine,   "With its sickly bright colours, lack of perspective, visual overload and faux-chivalric scenes of medieval romancing, it's a Marmite moment that some love, I myself loathe, but everyone has an opinion on."  Laura Cumming, in the Observer, was more critical of the style, "the deadening pre-Raphaelite effect.  The characteristics are always the same: glistening excess, lurid colour, that all-over emphasis and oppressive density of detail that leaves the eye with nowhere to go, that demands your obedient attention.  This is an art that insists on telling you where to look, what to think and how to feel - that wants to turn you into a passive Burne-Jone zombie."  Jonathan Jones, in the Guardian, called the show a steam-punk triumph, a raw and rollicking resurrection of the attitudes, ideas and passions of our engineering, imperialist, capitalist and novel-writing ancestors ... The Victorians are back in town.  This is as much a costume drama as a show, jam-packed with heroes and villains and innocent victims, holding up a lurid mirror to the age that built Britain."  Maybe it's that equation with Britishness that's the problem.  Certainly, this seems to be the message that Dinah Roe conveys in her blog "Pre-Raphaelites in the City:" "When I recently tweeted the question 'Why do people hate the Pre-Raphaelites?', the first reply I received was: 'Because Andrew Lloyd Webber likes them.'  This is Pre-Raphaelitism's problem (and the new exhibition's) in a nutshell.  How can Pre-Raphaelitisim challenge its image as an insular, conservative, retrogressive, stereotypically 'Victorian' movement which appeals solely to the like of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Margaret Thatcher and 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.'"

By claiming the PRs as avant-garde, as this exhibition did, indeed ... And so, we can discuss "what is avant-garde"? ... But what I felt today went so much deeper.  The Pre-Raphs are, in a sense, in my own DNA - that is, I can't really remember not knowing about their existence (if that sounds improbable, it's because they used to come and stay with George Howard at Naworth, the castle where we rented a tower to live in when I was small, in the north of Cumberland, and there was a Burne-Jones frieze over the fireplace in the Long Gallery, and BJ windows in the local parish church, and so on ...).  And once I went to the Tate regularly, they became familiar friends, and I had Millais's Autumn Leaves as a poster on my wall in my first undergraduate room.  I still have a postcard of it on my office noticeboard, by my desk - in a sense that escapes words, that image is me.  And of course, all of this stops me getting any objective distance on the Pre-Raphs - not in an intellectual sense, since I can find all kinds of things interesting and perplexing about them, but in a visceral one.  But today, for the first time, I felt that my taste - in the sense of an intimate self-recognition with an art work - might be something distinctly generational, and passé.  And that, indeed, made me feel old.

Monday, September 23, 2013

a banana

I really don't like bananas, and I particularly don't like the smell of bananas, so finding an unzipped banana on the edge of the kitchen counter is not the best thing in the world.  To be sure, I've occasionally enjoyed a sliced banana hidden in some custard (a very English admission) - but when I think about it, I was, at school - where it was a much served dessert - given to leaving the chunks of sweet starchy stuff on the edge of my plate (unless forced to eat them for the inexplicable good of "starving children in Africa."  My worst banana encounter happened in Sulawesi - one of Indonesia's bigger islands - when, about to catch a bus from the Torajan highlands to Ujung Pandang, a young local man chopped down a little, fruit-bearing banana tree and presented me with the whole head of the plant - in other words, the biggest bunch of bananas I'd ever seen.  The bus ride was eight hours or so (with just one tape of Indonesian pop music in the bus's cassette player, which lasted as an earworm for some weeks), but thankfully, this was long enough for me to give away all the bananas ...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

colored circles

Believe me, I look back at yesterday's image of cheerleaders, and can't imagine why I didn't let myself rip on the topic of these hyper-feminized, plastic creatures sweeping onto the football pitch before smiling their plastic smiles and kicking their legs high in the air, like parodies of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting.  My judgement was probably muddied by having too many versions of the USC fight song ringing through my head.  Cheerleading may be a ritual, but it's a ritual which is anachronistic in its perpetuation in its current form.  Are there any avant-garde, mould-breaking cheerleaders anywhere?

That being said, I return to the pleasures of contemplation - in this case, the door to the outside stairs that's on our second floor landing.  I'm eyeing it up: it's a strong contender for this year's Christmas card design ...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

the trojan helmet

... and here's that helmet again, this time on a flag, and being run out onto the field accompanied by a whole lot of cheerleaders.  In other words, our annual USC football visit, courtesy of the President's Football Party, and alas a game so fundamentally dull (even though USC crawled to an unimpressive win) that I was surreptitiously checking my iPhone for the Rutgers score updates (and they, somehow, grasped a miraculous and last minute victory).  Whoever thought that in moving to USC I'd be moving to an institution with an inferior football team?  At the same time, I still watch it all with the eyes of a slightly incredulous foreigner witnessing strange tribal rituals, even though I now understand the game so much better, and have to recalibrate my sensory impression that it's something played in mud and driving sleet, and instead think of it as an opportunity to sunbathe.

ropes of light

I'm so glad that we've bought some ropes of light.  Our neighbors in Santa Fe bought some this summer, and here's a long 50 foot copycat strand waving its way through our ivy, like fireflies dancing through a long tight time exposure, and instead of forming little flickering pricks of light in the air, performing parabolas and circuitries of live electricity.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

lunch (in the corporate u)

Really, it's very absurd to be served desserts like this at a Graduate Studies Director lunchtime meeting ( I was there in default mode, since our DGS was teaching).  Look, if you will, at that delicate curve of white chocolate, superimposed not just with the corporate logo but with a Trojan Helmet, both in cardinal red (that's Pantone 9e1b32, in case you want to try it at home).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

start of the season

It's the first home game of the women's volleyball season! with Natalie poised to serve ... (we won, 3-0).  And before that, the Gender Studies reception - the moment at which a thoughtful steward realised that Alice was going to have a more comfortable time making her announcements and welcome noises if the sun wasn't shining straight in her eyes.  A month into the semester, but these are both important ritual moments, and so very good to see familiar faces again at both ...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Moth, posing

Strictly speaking, I took this photo last night - but it was after I'd posted yesterday's entry, and late enough to be today in most of the country, and - well, how could I not share Moth with the world, since she was posing so perfectly?

Monday, September 16, 2013


The last couple of nights, Alice's continuing bronchial cough (sympathy, sympathy) has meant that I've been sleeping in the guest bedroom - extremely comfortable, indeed, and in a strange way I can see why the previous owners had it as their master bedroom - it feels, somehow, very tucked away.  But you don't see that early morning sunset glow on the hills - instead, it's dawn, the real thing, with sun.  But before the sun's up - the lightening sky, with the window bars, and the leaves, looks very like William Morris trellis wall paper.  I'll ask you to take that last comment on trust - somehow I haven't yet managed to take a photo that captures the luminosity enough for that to be convincing as a claim ...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

reflective space

This is our back yard - that's a glass topped table, not water, in the foreground, but all in all a very peaceful place to sit and read and do teaching prep.  Seven months of living here (some more pictures were hung, boxes moved, very obsolete bits of paper thrown out, etc), and we're still marveling at our good fortune - seriously rus in urbe.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

a television set!

Yes, it's a television set - a remarkably dull picture of a television set.  But you don't know.  When we moved in, we had someone from Time Warner come round and supposedly fix up the cable - but all he did was tell us that (a) we had too many different cable lines inside the house - courtesy of the previous owner and (b) that we didn't need cable boxes because of the way in which it was wired and spliced as it came in.  Trustingly, we believed him (he was, of course, wrong on both counts).  Trustingly, we put up with grainy TV pictures, flickering and spotty internet ... and then, last weekend, we came to the slow realisation that we hadn't been getting any of the premier cable that we've paid for for the last 6 months.  Hmmmmn.  So - several phone calls to TW later, they sent around two wonderful guys today, who replaced the splicers, installed some kind of booster, fixed up the cable boxes, and did everything that should have been done months ago.  From this pathetic story you can gather that we don't watch much TV apart from the news and sport ... (mitigating claim: there's always what one can get on one's computer, too) ... and then when we found we couldn't get the Pac 12 channels, "sport" was a deficient category, too.  Next up?  I will go and buy a real flat screen TV!  

Friday, September 13, 2013

shower curtain

One of my ridiculous indulgences when we moved into this house was a new shower curtain and bathmat for one of the bathrooms - the one that still has the original late 20s tiles, including an arch round the bath.  I would have killed for a design like this when I was ten - always supposing, that is, that in England at that time anyone had ever dreamed of installing a shower, which they didn't.  Even so, I'd have settled for a life-size horse on the inside of my bedroom door, say.  Somehow I found this on line - a very handsome beast to stand in one's virtual stable.  Oh, yes - that is Walter Gomez's tail, on the right, and little Mothy's head, on the left - they couldn't imagine why I was standing in the bathroom with a camera if they weren't to feature in it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Two days before game day, and the awnings look wonderfully like huge cyanotype sheets drying in the sun.  Alas, they're not ... I won't be on campus on Saturday, but it'll be interesting to hear whether there's anything that could remotely be termed Excitement in the air, or, after USC's dismal, abysmal performance last week, whether it's more like apocalyptic dread.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

how to make a cyanotype

I love this particular class session ... I'll skip the indoors bit, where we look at Anna Atkins's images of seaweed and ferns and grasses, and talk about ferric salts, and get outside, and to the fun bit ...
1) placing the objects on pre-prepared paper ... most people used leaves or jewelry (I experimented with different thicknesses of lime slices, which worked interestingly - and no, the acide didn't seem to make any difference), but one person used his half eaten lunch in a plastic container ... 

2) hanging around for five minutes or so, whilst the UV light from the sun did the developing

3) washing the prints in water

4) laying them out to dry, 

5) and then admiring them - and back to the classroom to talk about what they learned.  Quite a lot, this time - and not just that Anna Atkins was remarkably skilled ... they took on board, and first hand, that skill, and chance, and time, and angle, and patience, and composition, all played a real role - and then there was just time to watch a brief Susan Verges video, showing her placing photographic plates underwater and photographing aqueous weeds and waving water itself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Painting the town turquoise

This guy caught my eye on my way home today ... looks like an Angry Bird has taken up a paintbrush ... maybe he ought to be given one of those paintball splattering guns ...

Monday, September 9, 2013


I can't decide if this ad is deliberately retro, or unironic.  Of course I want it to be the former, in all its po-mo glory, but I fear the latter.  I didn't even know that Little Debbie products still existed - to me, the brand name belongs to 1960s/70s fiction, one that of course I didn't actually encounter in England, but that's long existed as a kind of literary place holder for a certain culinary moment.  And those mini Swiss Rolls! (here, complete with the Alps).  I remember very clearly indeed Lyons Swiss Rolls - which were almost always pale yellow sponge with pink jam in them - and the thinnest layer of chocolate on the outside - and then the introduction of Cadbury Swiss Rolls - Mini Rolls? - which were much more decadent, and chocolatey like the ones here - a much preferable treat for one's packed lunch.  Both had thin foil keeping them fresh, which inevitably somehow left a little speck that then got stuck on a tooth filling, and made one yelp with pain.

And Swiss Rolls go back!  Wikipedia is so useful ..." The earliest reference for a rolled cake spread with jelly was in the Northern Farmer a journal published in Utica, NY in December 1852. The recipe was called “To Make Jelly Cake” but it reads: “Bake quick and while hot spread with jelly. Roll carefully, and wrap it in a cloth. When cold cut in slices for the table.” The description is for a Jelly Roll. The name Jelly Cake comes from another cake recipe that was made up of 5 to 6 thin layers of cake with jelly between each layer. It made a thick, high cake. Jelly Cake (layer cake) is an old English recipe.
For many years there was no clear distinction between the name Jelly Cake and Jelly Roll to describe a rolled cake spread with jelly in America. During the period from 1852 to 1877 it was called: Jelly Cake (1852), Roll Jelly Cake (1860), Swiss Roll (1872), Jelly Roll (1873), and Rolled Jelly Cake (1876). The name “Jelly Roll” eventually becomes the common popular name in America."

Is that so?  You mean - Jelly Roll Morton could have been called "Swiss Roll Morton"?

W'pedia continues ...

"The name Swiss Roll appears to be British but did the name originate there? A bill of fare dated June 18, 1871 for the Union Steam-ship Company’s R.M.S. “Syria” listed Swiss Roll. That bill of fare was published in the 1872 book A Voyage from Southampton to Cape Town, in the Union Company’s Mail Steamer “Syria” in London. So far this is the earliest British reference to a rolled cake. That same year 1872, The American Home Cook Book published in Detroit, Michigan listed a recipe for Swiss Roll. This raises the question in what country did the name Swiss Roll originate? In the 1894, American Pastry Cook published in Chicago, there is an unusual arrangement of recipes. It started with Jelly Roll Mixture followed by Swiss Roll, Venice Roll, Paris Roll, Chocolate Roll, Jelly Roll Cotelettes, and Decorated Jelly Rolls. Each recipe utilized the basic Jelly Roll cake made from the Jelly Roll Mixture. In turn, each recipe was completed and finished in a different way thus distinguishing several European versions. In this cookbook, the Jelly Roll has a different name in each country. Several 1880’s to 1890’s cookbooks from London, England used the name Swiss Roll exclusively making it the popular name for the rolled cake recipe in England."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

a bestiary

People adorn the sides of buildings with some strange, super-large animals here in SoCal - these were spotted at lunchtime today in Venice.  I promise that I didn't move that blue bottle - very carefully toned - into alignment with the bunnies.  And I can't tell whether the crosses that mark their mouths suggest that they are sworn to silence, or have had their muzzles taped shut, or are, simply, crude graphics.  And why is one vertical, one horizontal?

And why the fish?

I do appreciate a touch of the surreal, to ground me now that the semester is, unarguably, fully in swing.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

keeping cool

Probably the only truly cool spot in the house is the ice-making compartment of the fridge.  Yes, the a/c is on, and if one actually stands close to a vent, one can appreciate this fact.  If one can find a vent.  Walter Gomez is sprawled across the one on the 2nd floor landing, which is fine for him, but not so good for the rest of us.  Supposedly, the temperatures are going to start to drop tomorrow - at least down to the 80s - we will see.  Meanwhile, it turns out to be surprisingly hard to take a decent picture of ice in the fridge.  Trying to do so is the kind of distraction one turns to in this heat, I suppose ...

Friday, September 6, 2013

foot fetishism

This is an extraordinarily common sight - Walter Gomez, seen from above, as he lifts his head for just a moment from the all-important task of sniffing, nibbling, and sprawling over my feet.  He'll take them any way they come - fresh and still dripping from the shower, or much less than fresh when they've just come out of a pair of boots.  Socked or unsocked.  I've never met a cat who likes feet so much: who mews piteously (in his high falsetto voice) outside the bathroom when I'm taking a shower until he's let in; who follows my feet up and down the stairs, risking being trodden on.  It's a deep devotion.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

standing outside

It's been unspeakably hot today - 97 - and hard to concentrate.  Yes, we have a/c - like everybody's, struggling a bit - but all the same ... Eventually I managed to walk around the yard for fresh - more or less fresh - air, and as ever, took in how much better the house looks now that it's painted.  And then - back to the seasonal task of reading tenure and promotion materials (a pleasant task - I sometimes feel it's the only time of the year in which I get to read new interesting work carefully and slowly) - but oh, gosh, I think I'm going to find the chilliest library on campus to work in tomorrow ...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

toy mouse

I was encouraging my Writing and Photography students today to think about texture (the texture of particular forms of printing; the texture of fabric and walls; texture as representing the marks of history) - this was in connection with Adrienne Rich's poem about Imogen Cunningham's photograph of the Unmade Bed.  They are, perhaps, more sophisticated and shrewder readers of images than poetry - they love nothing more, it would seem, than speculating about How To Read what's in front of them (and I teach in a gloriously well-appointed room - I can project, simultaneously, on two ordinary screens at the front, and two HD plasma screens on either side of the room - perfect for detail.  And texture.  So here, by way of solidarity, is a toy mouse that LucyFur dropped in my study this morning - all rough hessian and grainy floorboard.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

multiple vision

This is as strange an image as I'm likely to post all week ... I was trying to take a picture of a pencil that I bought in Brighton Pavillion with an end in the shape of one of the little domes - and the pencil barrel is like 1820s wallpaper, for that matter.  It looked particularly good where Alice had propped it up against the bathroom mirror.  It's both a souvenir ... and some kind of symbol for the strangeness of time the day after returning from a transatlantic trip.  But the symbolism has become overloaded and confused by the insistence of Walter Gomez in getting in on the action and posing inside the washbasin ... I guess he feels as confused as anyone by our comings and goings.

Monday, September 2, 2013

looking down on flowers

Looking down on flowers - double version.  First, the traditional, ever so wonderful to see flowers on my bedroom windowsill at my parents' house; second - well, I guess they believe in having a green garage roof.  Here are some wild cyclamen, some miscellaneous fungus, a thistle, and variegated bits of grass growing on it.  I have no idea if that's good or bad for it, but it's very pretty ... It is also inconceivable that I took these just this morning: luckily, long plane rides are just made for serious teaching prep.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

bin full?

"Bin full?  Why not take your litter home?"  Now, that's a helpful suggestion, courtesy of Merton Borough Council.  Why not, indeed?  Why not just have no bin, and a notice reading "No bin?  Why not ...?"  Ah, all those sequestration-affected units everywhere (like the rest stops north of Santa Fe on I-25) - why not take a leaf out of this book?  In the background, not only signs of autumn, but a birdhouse that, when I was three, had blue and green and yellow budgies, and maybe canaries, in it, and now has exotic finches and cockatiels.  What I never knew, until I read a placard in Cannizaro Gardens, is that the aviary was made in the image of Turin Cathedral.  Why?

As for Brighton and Hove Beach - who knows where one begins, and the other ends?