Friday, January 31, 2014

year of the horse

It's a long time since any of my plastic horses have made an appearance here: since it's about to be The Year of the Horse, it seems as good a moment as any to resurrect them.  Indeed, I was reminded that they had a claim to an artistic existence last week when giving a ride to one of USC's Roski School photographers, who picked up one of them from the side pocket in my car and said Ah! I see that you have little ones, too!  Only he meant little human people, so I had to disabuse him of that one, and explained that said miniature simulacrum was only in my car because I'd taken it into a class to make a cyanotype.  Which was true - though I spared him the full lengths to which I've gone to include these horses in art work over the years ...

Thursday, January 30, 2014


This isn't the kind of architecture that I normally associate with LA - but suddenly seemed quite beautiful out of the car window this morning, en route to the dentist.  It's on Wilshire - the beauty, for me, is not so much in the curved balconies on the left, but in the verdigris ones on the right.  But I can't find out more about these particular buildings in a very hasty on-line search (largely because without an address, I can't locate them ...) - and my Los Angeles architecture books are at work ...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

palms against the sky

This wasn't the best possible view of these particular palm trees against the yellow sky on my drive home, but it was the best I could do once the lights had changed to red ... reinforcing Thomas Struth's point, yesterday, that there's something different to look at all the time - walk down a block, and each house is different.  It's a city made for walking, he said, except that nobody does.  Although ... not only do we walk around Los Feliz, but I think the continual supply of difference is a very major reason for why I drive home via the surface streets, not taking the freeway.  I think I'd rather have an extra fifteen minutes of looking.

Revising a piece today that I've just written, which has a whole chunk in it about Alvin Landon Coburn, I realize, of course, the influence behind yesterday's image.  It just needed a bit of tweaking.


After hearing Thomas Struth speak for two hours (and show a whole range of slides illustrating his career, going backwards from the most recent to black and white cityscapes from the 70s, including a photo of New York in 1978 that I particularly liked - it summed up the more than slightly sinister shabbiness around Spring Street when I first visited) - it was kind of hard taking a photograph.  I was very struck by his opening statement that "to make a photograph, you have to have a reason."  I don't suppose he meant taking a photograph as one's personal daily assignment.  So what is the reason behind this?  I think that's a question that I should ask myself more often.

Monday, January 27, 2014

striped morning

I'm more than well aware that to a considerable number of you who may be reading this, that it's an act hovering somewhere between insulting and envy-inducing to post another image of more or less warm sunlight.  But it's certainly cheerful-making to walk into the living room before heading off to work and to see this.  The shelves seem strangely bare: I guess we're apprehensive about what over-exuberant cats can do to anything close to the ground.  But three shelves up I see a little clay bird, which I'm pretty certain I bought in Peru, on an island on Lake Titicaca: looking at this, I think I should push it just a bit further back, and out of the reach of paws.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

hecho en nuevo mexico

It seems time for Walter Gomez to start wearing his collar.  I know he's microchipped, but if he were to get out ... then it would be good for him to be wearing a tag.  Born in New Mexico, what could he possibly wear but turquoise?  (or at least, I imagine, faux turquoise - this collar was expensive by kitty jewelry standards, but it wasn't that expensive).  I bought it him for Christmas 2012, when his little grey neck was rather too small for it, but now he seems to have grown into it very well.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


...sitting is something that I've had very little time to do over the last few weeks: sitting in a quiet and contemplative and restorative fashion, that is.  And it was hard to grab much time today, given that I have an overdue article snarling at me (I could write it much better if I had 2,500 or so more words ...).  But here are the mock Adirondack chairs that we inherited with the house, looking out over the world (and the pea plants growing up the fence in the backgrounds, and the wintry branches of trees in Griffith Park beyond that).  I still marvel that this is twenty minutes away from downtown Los Angeles.

Friday, January 24, 2014

nighttime flowers

I'm very glad to have planted flowers in the front yard that are illuminated by lights: this gives me the illusion, at least, that I come home to rural bliss, even if it is very dark.

A long day's Skype interviewing, during which one of my fantasies actually materialized: a candidate's very handsome cat walked across our line of vision ...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

spring in SoCal

Just to offer an alternative to all those polar vortices out there, here's some springtime in our back yard: blossom on the ornamental pear, and - yes! - a tangerine tree.  It's still too early in the year for me to get home in time to enjoy all of this flowering beauty, so I dashed out early this morning (to be honest, I was counting my pea pods, which are growing with remarkable speed).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

heart of ice

Here's one of those unexpected moments of beauty.  Leaving the office tonight, there, glistening under a tree, was a pile of ice that must have been dumped from one of the farmers' market stalls earlier in the day.  Doubtless it was, once upon a time, a big mound, since I can't see how anything would stay unmelted for long in this warmth.  But it was still there, for a bit ...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

roar it and rock it

The painted billboards want us to buy cosmetics!  Pink, against a curiously sullen (but, alas, not rain-bearing) sky.

Monday, January 20, 2014

pea flowers

Yes, it's the middle of January, but some of us are still able to foster horticultural - or should that be agricultural? - ambitions.  I have a couple of pea plants (now I wish that I'd planted more) up against the back fence, and over the last couple of days they've burst into flower - the flowers don't last long, and then there are the tiniest, most delicate little pea pods growing.  I know that there are challenges en route - birds; high flying rabbits; determined deer - but I have my fingers firmly crossed that I'll be able to gather in a very small handful of home-grown legumes ...

Sunday, January 19, 2014


It's hard to tell quite what Walter Gomez (L) and Moth (R) are hopeful for, but hopeful they are.  Maybe for the rabbit that was hopping around outside earlier?  Maybe for a squirrel?  Maybe just to go outside and explore (no chance)?  There's a house for sale up the street - a lovely looking house - with a Catarium, so called - so maybe we should build them a large wire enclosure so that they can get more close up and personal with nature?  It's a strange picture, since it looks like fall - these are the leaves, just dropping, from the ornamental pear, even as it's coming into blossom, and even as the temperatures are in the high 70s outside.  

It has been quite wonderful to spend time at home - with Alice, with cats, with writing, with reading - it feels like the first time in weeks that (notwithstanding LA's super-polluted air, at the moment) I've been able to breathe.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


if I have got to the end of a long day, in a long long week, and can't find anything more photogenic than some curtains that badly need replacing with ones that we actually like, that says it all.  So ... if I owe you an email (I'm sure I do), it'll arrive over the next 48 hours, with up, as I move into catch-up gear ...

Friday, January 17, 2014


It gave me enormous pleasure today to think that among all my colleagues - the eminent philosophers who were members of the review team; the senior administrators to whom we presented our report; another set of colleagues at Lois Banner's retirement event and dinner - none of them could have any idea that under my obligatory professional plain black pants lurked a couple of giraffes on very yellow backgrounds.

fire sky

The sky was a deep sullen orange this morning at breakfast time, with little pieces of ash floating down past the windows of the Biltmore - and walking onto campus with the review team this morning, it formed a very dense backdrop to the palm trees.  I wish there were some rain in the forecast.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


... the view from my window: old versus new downtown Los Angeles.   Except that, even after all this time of living in the US, I still can't get used to how new the old looks, especially when it, in turn, is mimicking some grandiose architectural style.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Who knew that there's a heliport on the roof of the Biltmore?  Just down the corridor from me, in fact ...   It is very strange indeed to be staying in downtown Los Angeles, just twenty minutes from home - part of a review team (the other members are all external) of USC's Philosophy department.  I expect to know a great deal more about the current state of Philosophy than I currently do by the time that Friday morning rolls around ...

Monday, January 13, 2014

homade pickles

Driving in to work today (yes! a different climate from Chicago), I had a distinct sense that this van would be more at home in Mumbai ... 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

back in LA

The Flyaway bus from LAX deposits one at Union Station (it being a Sunday, "when the Flyaway bus eventually comes, it deposits one ...").  Although I usually then know that I'm home - or more or less home; this is where Alice comes and picks me up - because of the palm trees, the big cubes of light (seen reflected here) which mock the blocks of ice that I left behind in Chicago, and the temperature which makes my large coat suddenly redundant - it's in part this huge mural inside the station that makes me feel that This Is Los Angeles. Painted by Richard Wyatt in 1996, what I like about it is that it's so LA specific - Native Americans; Spanish settlers; settlers from the Pacific Rim ... for all my initial cab driver in Chicago praised that city's multiculturalism (he was from Tunisia; didn't care for the cold), I didn't see anything that celebrated it, visually, in quite such a proud and spectacular fashion.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

cracking up

I'm sure that everyone's MLA 2014 pictures are much the same, whether taken by day (above) or by night (below).  I just wish that I'd got out really really early the first morning that I was here, to catch everything when it was icier yet.  This is the river, melting ...

As for the MLA, lovely though it's been to see old friends (not enough of you ...), it was also a nightmare being at the delegate assembly for 5 hours.  Yes, five hours.  And I stayed on and on because I wanted to vote for the emergency resolution at the end, condemning the academic administrations who have in turn condemned, etc., the ASA for its recent motion.  Whether or not I would have voted for or against that motion isn't the question for me: the question here is the over-reaction on the part of a number of university presidents, etc - my own included - who seem to have thought that the resolution passed was far more hard-line and inflexible towards academic freedom than the wording actually indicates.  Close reading is, perhaps, one of the benefits of an education in the humanities (harking back to an earlier, and much better discussion this afternoon).  But in the end, there weren't enough votes for that emergency resolution to be discussed and put to the vote - so I might as well have been at a panel, or for that matter playing Angry Birds, which, every time the discussion stopped and procedural correctness was deliberated upon, I was sorely tempted to do.

Friday, January 10, 2014

selfie - a definition

Clearly, someone at USC has decided that I'm some kind of go-to person for - what shall we say - the soft end of popular culture.  First, they get me talking for the video Christmas card on art history and snow (I have to say: someone in Animation did a great job of getting a sheep to trot out of a Farquharson painting, bleating).  Then they volunteer me to talk - blandly, in the end, since that's what PBS wanted - about Downton Abbey.  And this week, it's a request to write a short entry for a Dornsife magazine column called Definitions - about The Selfie.  A tri-partite formula was given me; I was told to take my own portrait, and off I went ...


Definition / selfē / noun /  A photographic self-portrait taken on a mobile device such as an iPhone or iPad, and disseminated through social media via Instagram, Facebook, etc.  Usually taken from a flattering angle, often showing self having fun with friends, in enviable surroundings or bizarre location.

Origins.  “Selfie” originated in Australia on an internet forum (ABC Online) in 2002.  The genre and word became common after the iPhone 4 (2010) introduced a front-facing camera device.  One of Time’s “top 10 buzzwords” of 2012; Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the year” 2013; # SelfieOlympics became Twitter meme January 2014.

Usage: “Took this selfie to show everyone how cold it is at the MLA Convention in Chicago!  And ‘cos I look cute in a silly hat, LOL!!”

At which point, of course, it started to pour with rain, and warmed up, so there's a great deal of poetic license here, with me vicariously claiming to have been present in Greater Chiberia.  And really, of course, I should have waited, and submitted a picture of me having Fun With Friends at the Rutgers party ...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

today's high spot

Yes, it's a grilled cheese sandwich.  Others from LA may well, like me, lament the demise of Campanile, on La Brea, a year or so back.  Rumor had it, at the time, that it was going to be reborn at LAX, and Lo! today, in Terminal 4, this mirage of tastiness arose before me.  Coming up next, a Korean BBQ Taco food truck, or should one say "food truck."  This may not be the world's healthiest food, of course, but it sustained me wonderfully well before standing for hours - I exaggerate, but nearly an hour - in a line for a cab.  I think my hotel room has a spectacularly good wintry view, but I'll wait until tomorrow before passing total judgement.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

old diner

I've taken a number of pictures of this former diner in Winslow, AZ over the years (largely because it's opposite La Posada, and the morning sun always catches it well when one's leaving in the morning).  Even without the stripe of Americana in the background, it - maybe it's the fire hydrant that does it - screams American to me, in terms of shape, and style, and near-kitsch old-Route-66 appeal ...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

back in the ed ruscha room

Cats on the road.  All very well - back at La Posada, back in the Ed Ruscha room - until Walter Gomez, a little after dinner, decided that he could get under and into the sofa.  Even though I'd blocked it off with cushions and books.  And he was very nearly stuck ... and on being excavated, immediately tried to burrow in again - as did LucyFur.  Mouse?  Bug?  Roach?  He was a demonic cat (goes with those eyes) possessed.  So, for now, we have locked him in the bathroom.  Should we do the same with the others?  Will we sleep?  

Monday, January 6, 2014

monkey window

This is the strangest window - in one of the shops that's part of La Fonda, the old hotel on the Plaza in Santa Fe.  I think it's looking forward to mid-February, since a placard in old-style writing - not visible here - reads Be My Valentine - and there are a lot of roses.  But other than that?  Does one read the (very light skinned, or should that be furred?) monkeys in some kind of racial way, or not?  Is it Regency, or Madame de Pompadour, or some strange atemporal baroque fantasy?  Is any of this stuff for sale, or would one think of it as an installation?  I'm puzzled.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


I'm very fond of my stapler, which is in the form and coloring of a very small rainbow trout.  I have all the usual New Year Resolutions about being tidy(ish), filing things in vaguely proper places, and so on: I reckon that it's essential to have the kind of working tools that will make one deal happily with such tasks ... (ah, yes, I know I should be filing everything in some electronic form or the other, but I do appreciate being able to see them readily ...)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

winter sunset

It was an extremely good one tonight ... cold (though not like the glacial center and east of the country), windy, but stunning.  I never get tired of the view from our back yard ... clichéd though the sunsets may look, they're always different, because of the length of the days, the arrangement of clouds ... only two more to go, before we head back to LA, and already I'm getting that restless, pre-packing feeling ...

Friday, January 3, 2014

covering up

Ah, there's no mystery under here waiting to be unveiled: rather, there's a Victorian watercolor of the ruins of Soli Pompeiopolis, in southern Turkey.  It looks wild and desolate and very lovely in the painting: checking out its location on line, I now find that the site is very much marred by the skyscrapers of contemporary Mersin in the background.  

At this time of the year, though, the sun comes in low, and shines directly onto the painting unless the blinds are down - which they're not, when I'm working in my study, because I want to be able to see the mountains in the distance (without any skyscrapers).  So I have to remember to cover it up ...

... or, indeed, taking down the picture to double-check the location, just now, it struck me that a much better solution was to move it ... which I've done.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

frosty wall

This picture, if mildly enigmatic - bread with confectioner's sugar, perhaps? - is, to me, mildly disappointing.  It was a golden, beautiful morning, with the sun that was just striking the frost covered wall causing it to steam - but the camera completely failed to capture the white tendrils smoking off it.  As for yellow - I guess the dried grass behind couldn't really be called any other color.  Nor could the bottom part of the sky in tonight's brilliant sunset:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

and so begins ...

the sixth year of Forms ...  As ever, I wondered at points during last year whether this would be It; whether five years of successive entries would be time to Call It A Day; whether it would be a sheer relief not to have to find something to take a picture of, to write about ... and at the same time, I know that I'd miss it.  I had all kinds of wildly ambitious ideas about shifting things a little for this year; of educating myself - not so much this time around about photographic theory, as was the case five years ago, but about color ... my thought was to take a color a month, and work around it.  If this is true, it looks as though January is yellow.

This doesn't work in some ways for me: I have (is that the right verb?) synaesthesic tendencies, and January is, or ought to be, green.  February is yellow.  I realize, thinking about this, that I don't see months in colors as vividly as I do days of the week, or letters, or numbers.  I'll come back to this as a topic ... If January is yellow (and I mightn't follow this one through; it's the year's beginning, it's tentative) this is because I couldn't resist taking a picture of this metallic sheepy, a Christmas present from my parents, sitting happily in the pale yellow morning sunshine in the alcove on our chimney breast.