Saturday, February 28, 2015

pantry moths [trigger warning: probably only suitable for small children with an interest in bugs]

We've been plagued for over a year by pantry moths.  Every time we think that we've got them under control - indeed, that we've won - there's a new breakout.  So we have to find out where they're nesting and hatching this time (by now, not easy, since everything's in bottles and bags) - and start over.  I thought that I'd scored a major triumph a few months back when I located a jar of very tasty smoked paprika that was wriggling around.  The last few days - there have been a few flutterings in the kitchen, so Alice went in on the war path and found, oh horrors, this entire jar of sesame seeds that had been turned into a pantry moth breeding unit.  It reminds me of the educational exercise in junior school that involved putting earth and earthworms into a jam jar, and then putting that into a dark space for a while, and then taking it out and admiring all the little wormy pathways that they'd dug.  But really, aerated soil is a whole lot more preferable than all the larvae cocoons that had been spun in this particular container.

Friday, February 27, 2015

one more educational maxim. And graffiti.

Here's the final segment of idealism - with graffiti.  UCLA is, maybe, understandable graffiti when in UCLA blue and on the USC campus (if regrettable).  Coffee - less so (unless there's some street drug reference that I'm just too old for).  But then - something incomprehensible in something that looks much more like gang lettering, and UCLA - again - in lettering that's a cross between gang script and the product of a calligraphy course.  So: today's first question - if people took education more seriously, would there be less mindless graffiti like this?  And today's second question: if they took education to heart, would they discover that this quotation, albeit often misattributed to Yeats (and occasionally to Socrates), actually seems to come more or less from Plutarch in On Listening to Lectures: "The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth." And then, third, why does it matter if we attribute quotations correctly?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

a dancing robot

A dancing robot!  Truly, I love a dancing robot at lunchtime.  And some other strange critters, like a sort of Superman/woman, and ... One never quite knows what one's going to find on campus.  (And yes, for those of you who don't know, that warrior on a pillar on the left is Tommy Trojan, our campus's iconic statue ...).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

what does education mean to you?

... or: USC EdMonth Part 2.  I'm so proud of our students and their idealism - and for asking these questions.  And for coming up with some answers (answers for everyone - not just "making me well qualified to get a really, really good job," which is what one sometimes fears is their answer.  "Collective liberation"!  I love it.  Truly, if only a handful of students in each class that one teaches were to think that's why they're there, I'd be a happy woman.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

USC EdMonth

It's hard to pass by large placards with writing on them without stopping to see what they say ... and here, propped up in the courtyard outside my office, is an announcement for USC EdMonth.  I don't know if this is a new concept entirely, or whether this March sees a recurrence of something already established - all I can say is that it sounds as though it's a terrific exercise in discussion and consciousness raising and action.

USC EdMonth is a month-long program devoted to raising awareness about the state of education in our country. This student-led campaign aims to encourage exploration of education as a critical issue and empower students to take action.
reads their website, and there's a great program of events - I'm much looking forward to being aware of its presence on campus ...  Goodness knows, the state of education needs addressing ... (though that's far from true of the scholarship candidates whom we interviewed this morning - potential Trojans whom one couldn't work out how they'd managed to become so energetic, thoughtful, sophisticated and enterprising in only 17 years ...

Monday, February 23, 2015


Yesterday, I managed to set up the wildlife camera that Alice gave me at Christmas (yes, I know, it took me until now to buy the requisite number of heavy-duty batteries) - and although it's going to take a good deal of trial and error before I manage to get it tied to a tree, all camouflaged, at the right angle, it's already managed to start capturing whatever's causing the motion detector to go off ... So here's a possum!  Admittedly, everything else was a rabbit.  But I can't wait to see what else turns up ...

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Today's best birthday present - apart from all the terrific greetings from people - was a bath.  That is, Alice has done what I've been curiously backwards in doing: persuaded me, at long last, of the attractions of taking a bath in the bathroom that leads off my study on the ground floor of the house.  In theory, I've been wanting to do this for an age - and indeed,  had tidied it, and cleared out the cat litter tray from that space, and hung some pictures, and so on.  And it's not as though I don't appreciate baths generically - much appreciate them as places for thinking in, indeed.  But that final step?  Not taken, until Alice so wonderfully bought candles and little glasses, and set them up, and gave me some bath salts (not the pink and sickly kind that Gran used to have on the bathroom window) and - well, after this prompt, my strange mental barrier has been broken, and I'm much looking forward to the next ablution.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

not a tale of woe

I was going to pen a dismal tale of woe, accompanying a picture of the inside of my car (entered without damage, despite being locked, for the second time in as many months) - glove box opened, garage door opener stolen - for that matter, garage door open, and my electric drill stolen.  And, from inside the car, my favorite greenish fabric bag, bought in Paris several years ago, containing (less irreplaceable) a pair of purple rubber Converse boots, which I'd brought home in anticipation of tomorrow's rain.  Luckily I'd not replaced the iPod they stole two months ago.  A quick bit of Googling tells me how easy it is to steal the electronic bleep code for a car remote - apparently you just press your own, when the first party is pressing their remote - and hey! you've got access to their car, too.  Who knows if that really works?  - but something must have done.  And yes, dear sceptics, I did lock it.

But the view of the car's interior is just too depressing, so here's a consolatory flower vase and stray plastic pony.  I hope my plastic pony collection is, indeed, still in the car (which is at the garage, having its expensive locks replaced ...).


Probably there's not a whole lot that's good that can be said about the aftermath of dinner parties, however good the dinner party itself ...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

a birthday outing to descanso gardens

It was Alice's birthday today, which meant that among other celebratory things, we went to Descanso Gardens - only about twenty five minutes away, and somewhere we've always meant to go, and never quite managed before.  And it was terrific: quiet, and full of cherry blossoms, and camelias, and magnolias, and various birds (including herons, and spotted towhees) - and, well, sorry, to everyone still trapped in frigidity in the north-east ...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Yesterday, we had to take heed of all the notices in the street forbidding parking between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., since they were resurfacing it.  Today, one still couldn't officially drive down it, although a few brave vehicles managed to do so (a large beige van drove past our kitchen window at breakfast time.  Backwards, like the opening of Smoke Signals).  For "brave," read irritating and foolhardy - for one or two left serious treads in the unset black gloop outside our front door, offering up some examples of unintended abstraction.  My catalogue for the wonderful exhibition that I saw at the Whitechapel Gallery ten days ago, Adventures of the Black Square, arrived today, and this is very much in the spirit of one of its sections: the abstraction to be found within the ordinary.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

wall painting

In some ways, my timing this afternoon was terrible - driving back to campus after a trip to the dentist's in full-on rush hour.  But if I hadn't been stuck in traffic, in perfect golden light, on La Cienega, I might have missed this ... It's on the wall of an art supplies store, and is most impressive - in its extent, its execution, and its eclectic choice of styles.

Monday, February 16, 2015

the dangerous chairs of Silver Lake (and tree hugging)

Round the reservoir this morning for a quick walk.  I guess we were lucky not to get attacked by these chairs - marked "dangerous chairs" - although on inspection the danger seemed to be that they would collapse under one.  And indeed, as the notice points out, there are only three of them.

It was obviously a good morning for notices.  I hate to see any trees being cut down, but there were three, on the edge of the walking/running track, that are clearly sensible of their numbered days.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

straight off the tree

After all that cold air in NYC (I checked, a minute ago - it says that the temperature is 6 degrees F) - it's nothing short of miraculous to be able to wander out into our back yard and pick a fruit.  A maneola, I think.  It twisted off its stem into my hand very obligingly.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

(non) talking heads

It's been a long time since I've had a chance to go photographic window-shopping - but I made up for it today on 5th Avenue.  With thanks to Ralph Lauren (who'd gone to town with bric a brac) and Bergdorf Goodman (who had a thing for lace).  Oddly, both sets of window designers seemed fascinated by puppet-like figures.

Then sometimes, walking down the street, one just sees a perfect composition in front of one ...

Friday, February 13, 2015

colors (and books)

The CAA book and trade fair is so much more fun than the MLA book fair, because of all the artists' materials on display.  These Williamsburg handmade oil colors are just delectable, almost edible: arranged in shaded boxes that make them look like a cross between watercolor pans and home-painted swatches.  They seem - like all artists' supplies - just full of potential and possibility.

Book fairs, on the other hand, reduce me to panic - panic because I haven't read what's in front of me, haven't the time to read, haven't the time to write - and here are all these other people pressing their volumes into print.  Does anyone else want to own up to this feeling of pressure and desperation that's generated by these occasions?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

the grubbiness of New York streets

New York, like any city, looks very grubby very quickly after snow.  There was about ten minutes' worth of magic new snow fall around lunchtime - when I emerged briefly from the conference to head into MOMA and back - but it didn't make any difference to the overall chilly murk.  I'm also baffled why one would put street art at the base of lampposts, where really only dachshunds are the right height to appreciate it.  But then, one of the things I always appreciate about NYC is the unexpected - like finding that you're staying at the hotel that's the HQ for the WBA All-Stars game. Used as I am to volleyball players, the guys in the elevator take the concept of Large Human Beings to a whole new level.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


To the New York Historical Society to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibition, Pilgrimage, which was terrific.  But first, a pilgrimage of a different sort, for me, to Thomas Crawford's figure of the Dying Indian Chief Contemplating the Progress of American Civilization - usually seen in company on the pediment of the Capitol in DC, but here turning his head away in deep despair from the nouvelle italienne cuisine on offer in the NYHS's cafe.  I really can't see this representative of his race thinking all that much of ricotta cavatelli with lobster tail, brussel sprouts and chervil.

The Leibovitz show was an exercise - a very moving exercise - in taking portraits of people without the living beings themselves (plus a few landscapes - Niagara, Old Faithful, Spiral Jetty - the latter a kind of Alpha and Omega for AL).  Her personal pantheon included Emily Dickinson and Abraham Lincoln, Emerson and Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and Darwin and Freud, and Julia Margaret Cameron - many of them the same names (and indeed landscapes) that I'd have come up with, which made the exhibition curiously personal.  Everything was shot with a very long exposure in low light, deepening somber colors, representing the ordinariness of their interiors or garden, whether it was the dull acqueous blue-green of Georgia O'Keeffe's bed linen, or - perhaps my favorite - Emerson's dull grey-green hat hanging on grey/green art nouveau wallpaper.  It was full of love and melancholy and loss.  

What I hadn't known - and the top image is an homage to the fact - is that Daniel Chester Trench used his own hands as models for those of Lincoln on the Lincoln Memorial - I wonder if those are Crawford's hands, above?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

new york skyline

It's very hard to get my head around the fact that I started this morning in Wimbledon, and now I'm in New York, which seems very cold and grey, even after London ...

Monday, February 9, 2015

Monday, washday

Some things never change: Monday is washday.  No, my parents don't have a drier, preferring the smell of fresh air dried clothes. This makes a lot of sense in summer - at this time of the year it makes for a rather crowded kitchen.  My father chopping up stuff for a salad in the background.    Monday - cold meat (or, as tonight, cold chicken); baked potatoes, salad,  And that, too, has been the same for the last 54 years that my parents have lived in this house.  There's something extremely comforting about it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

bird in a tree

Last week, herons; this week, a magpie (one for sorrow ...), sitting in a tree in The Grange, a rather fine Wimbledon road near us (I was out on a walk - eating off my father's completely deluded notion of what might constitute a healthy diet.  A vegetable is not a vegetable if it's in a put-in-the-oven Waitrose vegetarian spring roll - I didn't go near that one - nor are apricots the best of fruit when they're stewed with so much sugar that they might as well be jam ...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

up and down commercial street

To the Whitechapel Gallery, to see the terrific Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015 show - which was inspirational.  It started, obviously enough, with Malevich, but it was less interested in geometric abstraction simply as abstraction as in its lived relations to the world: a technology through which to envisage utopias; as related to architectonics; as a tool of communication (and in connection with communication methods), and, happily, The Everyday (including Běla Kolářová's Swatch of Snap Fasteners II (1964).  I felt I was learning about a whole lot of artists who were very new to me, especially from Eastern Europe and South America.  I completely loved Willem de Roaj's commentary on colonialism in Indonesia, Blue to Black (2012), and the wall commentary on Adam Pendleton's Black Dada (K/A) (2012): "characteristically the Black Dada paintings contain a partial view of Sol LeWitt's cube sculptures, evoking geometric abstraction, accompanied by letters derived from "Black Dada."  He has also drawn on and referenced other cultural sources, including Arte Povera, Jean-Luc Godard, charismatic gospel preaching, the situationist manifesto, Congolese independence and the Arial typeface."

After that affirmation of eclecticism I went for a walk up the Commercial Road, and was super-impressed by different forms of vernacular urban art ...

Friday, February 6, 2015

victorian gothic

at its very best.  Just in case you think I only walked past it on my way to the British Library (and oh, the difference that is made by being able, now, to take one's one's own photographs there - photographs for research, that is), I walked into it on the way back.  The cocktails in the St Pancras Hotel are very, very good (sampled, of course, also in the interests of research).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

home again

home in Wimbledon, signaled by (1) vase of flowers from garden (that's not counting the narcissus, which was part of the packet of flowers delivered to my mother for her 92nd birthday 2 days ago by Scilly Flowers) (1) sheep, dating back 30 years or so (1) cat, battered, and oddly greening, dating back to my infancy (1) needlepoint screen, embroidered by a great-great aunt (1) time difference, of 8 hours.  There's a lot of temporal confusion packed into that miniature catalogue.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

year of the sheep

Clearly trying to sell very expensive products to the Asian customer at LAX, this sheep is hanging in the window of the Botega Veneta store ...