Tuesday, September 29, 2015

a kitchen wall

After yesterday - more Italian pottery.  On the whole, it's a fairly busy house, decoratively speaking - but when I'm standing at the kitchen sink, this has a certain tranquility.  At least - it does when I frame it judiciously: then it can masquerade as some relatively timeless - well, perhaps not Italian, but Dutch, or Danish, interior.  Maybe the whole house will look different if and when the sun comes out?

Monday, September 28, 2015

house decoration (and yard sales)

As I said a couple of days back, the trouble with fully furnished rented accommodation is that one can feel as though one's living in the middle of a yard sale.  That is - one's living not just with someone else's furniture, and rugs, and paintings, and kitchen equipment, and so on - and books - but with their tchotchkes, their knick-knacks, their mementos.  And this is a forceful reminder of how one's own house may seem from the outside - with ornaments and objects that carry a full weight of feeling and associations for us, but to other people have no such resonances of where they were purchased, or who gave them to us, or whatever.  In other words, it brings home quite how much of the personal and intangible we invest in what we put on our shelves or window ledges. 

This jug exemplifies the point perfectly.  It's a Faenza piece - i.e. from more or less northern Italy, near Ravenna.  I actually like it a lot (were this to be a real yard sale, I'd pounce on it) - I completely censor myself in taking, and putting on line, any images of things that, well, I might find in bad taste, or weird taste.  I'd have no such compunction, I'm sure, if the person renting to me were a complete stranger - but when they're not - that's different.  I feel enough of an intruder, a voyeur, as it is, even if things are on open display.  And here's the point - who knows what stories may lie behind those iffy objects - stories and contexts that, even if recounted, might provide explanations for their presence, but still would offer up no real visceral point of contact.  Without such contexts, I feel as though I'm living in a house of lost and unmoored things.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

stone leaf (and green leaves)

I made a wonderful discovery in Duke Gardens today (for yes, it stopped raining for long enough to go and wander round it) - that's the new - at least I think it's fairly new - which, as it explains, is a kind of community garden - community education, food awareness, community feeding.  And it's beautifully designed, too, as these inset stones indicate.

This tells you about it;

This and the picture below give you a sense of its most formal part, with some benches and tables, and then some very covetable raised beds;

and then there's a simply wonderful wildflower meadow part.  I'm so much looking forward to seeing what this looks like at different seasons: it's a real treat to have it within walking distance.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


This isn't exactly what I intended to post - I was going to to meditate on how living in a rented house full of someone else's things is like occupying the haphazardness of a yard sale.  But I'll save the planned aperçus for some other time ... though this will do as a starter.  The house doesn't excel at lighting and illumination (though the perpetual wet dark grey outside may have something to do with that.  I promise you that this was taken in what was technically and officially daylight).  Like most of our dwellings, I suspect, it's very haphazard when it come to employing environmentally sound light bulbs or whatever happens to be around.  This hangs in the stairwell - and it's just struck me that I should probably turn it off except when using it is a strict necessity, because I haven't the remotest idea how I - or anyone else - could ever reach it to replace a bulb when needed.  I'm sure that my eyes being drawn to this is a by-product of reading about C19th illumination for much of the day (in my very well lit NHC office).

Friday, September 25, 2015

rain, and more rain

It's hard conveying the sheer wetness of today - although I found that I'm one of the lucky people with a balcony door that opens, one really doesn't want to go and stand out there for very long experimenting, and in any case, images of torrential rain against pine trees just comes out as grey-green trees behind a grey-green blur.  So here's a wet piece of balcony.  For those of you interested in the yellow boots, they were very, very useful and kept my feet dry.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

bring it on

I've been eyeing the weather forecast, with its promise of rain and then more rain, ever since I was in Belgium.  My last rain boots - my brand new rain boots - were stolen out of my car back in LA, during last winter's season of Mysterious Car Entering.  To be honest, they were very uncomfortable - what was much more galling than their disappearance was the fact that they were stolen in my favorite bag (which, by the time the thief left the scene, probably also contained an electric drill from the garage, the garage door opener from my car, the Larry Sultan LACMA catalogue that had just been Amazoned, and Alice's new check books).  And if this sounds an improbable haul, it would seem, judging by the fact that the check books at least have been Recovered By The Authorities, and one can Google Names, that he was a college student.  

But clearly, new boots were in order.  These are Danish.  Tomorrow, if this steady rain continues, I will start my new life as a duck.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


So here's my office, with a view onto the pine forests (growing on old tobacco plantation land).  I feel that my days at the moment are encompassed by these walls; the inside of the car on the way to and from work; the rented house - with the sociability of lunch in the Center, and, well, that's about it, apart from occasional sorties to the coffee urns.  It's a wonderful, but unfamiliar feeling to have all day, no pressure of deadlines (other than self imposed ones), limitless reading material and images - whether in books or on line - to look at.  I've been so full of dread at letting my leave slip away that I've tied myself ferociously to my own schedule - it's a huge relief to find that I can still sit concentrate, after all.  What, though, it's not at all good for, right now, is looking around me and taking pictures, as opposed to reading about the practices and theories of others...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

entry way

Here's the thing about furnished rented houses: they don't feel like one's own.  Either they are so exquisite that one doesn't dare move (the epitome of this, for me, was being loaned an apartment in the Watergate, in DC, when I was a grad student - a terrific space, to be sure, but so carpeted in impeccable thick white pile that I never dared move out of the safely tiled kitchen - and even then, I was so very worried I'd drop something that would shatter) - or else they need help to make one love them.  I'm glad that I brought this melamine bowl with me - originally, I packed it so that I could take along some watermelon salad for the potluck part of the NHC's welcome party in it - but now it's sitting by the front door to cheer up this space, and welcome me home.  Of course, some sunshine might have the same effect, but that's currently in short supply.

Monday, September 21, 2015

an art piece

This piece, installed on the wall of the house that I'm renting in Durham, is driving me mildly crazy.  It's not that I especially dislike it - that would be easier to handle, since I'd take it down.  Actually, maybe I wouldn't, since it looks rather fragile.  But the problem is its trompe d'oeuil effect.  It hangs in the family room - which is where I seem to have set up my working desk, looking out into the leafy yard.  There aren't any curtains or blinds to the French doors, and so it distracts my eye every time I come into the room - I keep thinking it is a curtain, hanging askew, or folded over, and I'm wanting to put it straight, when actually it's a rigid object made of corrugated cardboard.  And because it's 3D - much more 3D than it looks in this photo - there's no chance of casually flinging some concealing drape over it (ignoring, again, the fragility factor), without it looking very strange indeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

early morning garden (and apples)

My parents' garden was looking exceptional this morning, as I wandered round it before heading off the Heathrow - late blooming roses, and campions, and fuschias, and then plenty of apples on the trees.  These are not the same trees as those which inhabited the old orchard on part of which our house was built - they have long fallen victim to honey fungus.  But they are the same old traditional varieties; the colors are the same yellows and golds and dappled reds, and so they take me back to all those autumn days picking apples with a pole holding a home-made wire-rimmed receptacle on its end; looking for windfalls that weren't too bruised; endless dishes of baked and stewed apples, and rows of unbruised apples wintering, neatly laid out on brown paper, never touching, in our loft, so that the whole upper landing would smell of apples for months.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

bedroom flowers

Here's a little vase of flowers from the garden waiting for me at my parents' house.  It's a very kitsch little vase - but it's about the first Christmas present that I bought my mother (when I was how old? 10, 11?) that wasn't something from Woolworths.  Hold it up, and underneath it says "Crown Staffordshire" - manufacturers of porcelain at the Minerva Works, Fenton, from c. 1889-1985. Never, to be sure, a high end company - but I thought I'd purchased something very precious indeed, at the time.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Flanders poppies

Very appropriately, the Museum in Leuven has its own version of ceramic poppies commemorating the fallen of WW1 - in a rainy inner courtyard, seen from inside the galleries.  These galleries have a small, but terrific collection, especially in the early-mid Renaissance, and then in late C19th realism - something that I once, long ago, thought about working on - but then the lure of Germinal, northern France and Belgium wore off, and I went and worked on Italian C19th socialism and realism instead.  Still, the pull of - say - Constantin Meunier's work remains - here's a hand and bit of torso from De puddeler, with an earlier work visible behind.

Outside, the City Hall is an extraordinary building (like a big gingerbread challenge).  Rather strangely, "Sweet Caroline" was blasting out of it this afternoon (maybe a wedding party??).

And then, even the gratings in the streets of Leuven are well worth a look.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

free the object

- from what?  Seemingly, they go in for metaphysical conundra here in Leuven.  I take it that Blaze! belongs to a different epistemological universe, but who knows?  And yes - those chairs might have material identities, but the human?  He reminds me of the man who comes out of the bush at the opening of David Malouf's Remembering Babylon - set in mid C19th Australia - proclaiming "I am a British object."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

bathroom door

I know that the hotel that I'm staying in in Leuven (Martin's Klooster) is built around an old Klooster - but really, it's carrying the cloister theme to delectable modern-decor lengths to have an Albrecht Durer Madonna and Child on the glass door to the bathroom ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

new among the old

Ghent is very good indeed at integrating new design among its historical past - witness its Design Museum, which (despite not having the Art Nouveau stuff that I'd wanted to see on display - getting ready for a show) was made more than worthwhile by all the modern pieces that they'd integrated - sometimes seamlessly, sometimes with a deliberate clash of temperament, in their general furniture rooms.  The message - although never turned into didacticism, except through a tacit understanding that one would use one's own eyes - was that there's a certain continuity in line and form, even if the material may be utterly different.

And then there was a huge ceramic vase in the courtyard outside, with a wooden chair atop a structure, looking at it.

Way down by the station, there was a really good retrospective of Lili Dujourie's work (part 2 of this is in Ostend, which isn't exactly on my route anywhere) - which is all full of folds, and pleats, and materials with slices through them, or collage pieces torn up and put on vast empty sheets of white paper, or, as below, Maelstrom 1-5 are sculptures in papier maché, recalling baroque swirls and whirlpools.  This view (and others that I took) isn't actually available to sight, unless one's a giraffe - I stretched the camera out and pointed downwards.  In the same room were a whole lot of velvet sculptures, suggesting but not describing something underneath - another of them was across the road in the fine art museum - MSK Ghent, which also has a terrific collection of C19th Belgian art - in the old masters section - and this is her Magdendale - more new among old.

Monday, September 14, 2015

g(h)ent (unabashed tourism)

Never having been to G(h)ent before, it seemed a great idea to spend a couple of nights here before the Trollope conference in Leuven - and, in between the rain (and one heavy hail) showers, it proved itself to be extremely pretty - like a more workaday version of Bruges, but extremely full of C16th and C17th Baltic prosperity - and indeed, C19th prosperity too: because it became a center of the modern textile trade (I had dinner in a converted C19th warehouse), it even became known as the Manchester of the North.  Clearly, the resemblance between these canals and the Manchester Ship Canal is small ...

There are still plenty of flower baskets hanging over the canals;


many cyclists;

many people walking;

with everyone scuttling when the heavens open,

and then keeping their umbrellas open for a bit, just in case.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday evening

It's Sunday evening chez my parents.  Because it's Sunday, it's roast chicken.  My father is, therefore, carving the chicken.  Simba, on the left, is waiting in surprisingly patient expectation.  Coming home - "home" - is in so many ways a pattern of familiar practice, ritual, (imagined) stability.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

a big red machine

It's a big red machine! (let's hope it runs - I'm not sure whether I can embed a video - here's trying ...).  So - it's the Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn!  I never thought I'd see a Labour Party leader (singing along to Billy Bragg) singing The Red Flag again!  Very inspiring!

... oh, what, you mean this doesn't look like the Labour Party?  OK, then, it's symbolic of a long vanished industrial stronghorse - the steam engine - running powerfully and sleekly in the Science Museum, where I went for a conference on Science and Photography, with some great papers, including artists' talks by Ori Gersht and Sarah Pickering - both of which gave me much mileage in thinking through issues about Flash.  A terrific paper about György Kepes by John Blakinger, from Stanford, too - indeed, just about everything was worth flying here for, even if I wasn't heading onwards to Belgium for more conferencing ...

once more unto the airport ... (for September 11th)

The view of the setting sun from Raleigh Durham airport, as I headed off towards LHR and, after that, Belgium.  It's a vastly extended, improved, shinier airport than the last time that I was here - but still small enough to be - well, not LAX ...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

NC skies

were decidedly dramatic this evening - this was half way between Durham and Chapel Hill, on the way to a volleyball game at UNC.  By the time I got there, drenching rain was hurtling out of the sky, and my cell phone kept going off with alerts of nearby lightning strikes.  Equally dramatic, for that matter, was Stanford being beaten in 3 sets by UNC ... I'm not used to all this wet stuff - I wish I could package some up and send it to SoCal.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

angles of vision

Another day, another set of window views - this time looking up as I exit my office.  One thing that's quite different about the National Humanities Center compared with my time here eight years ago is the fact that the glass has all been replaced this summer, and it's now shiny new and clean (and let's hope not leaking in the current rain.  Yes, rain!  It took me a while to work out what the unusual sound was ...).  It's so strange returning to the Center - in large part, because (apart from the fellow Fellows) I don't have that disorienting feeling of newness (I do in the house I'm renting, though that's getting less extreme), so I've been able to hit the working ground running.  It makes all the difference in the world, too, to be at the end (I hope - well, nearing the end ...) of a project and not be stumbling around trying to find out what it is that I'm not working on.   Nor do I want to repeat the photos that I took eight years ago ... hence the black and white.  But I'm sure I'll revert, soon enough - it's the most alluring of light-and-angle filled buildings.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

more trees

There are going to be a lot of pictures of trees, this year, because there are a lot of trees in this part of North Carolina (interspersed with shopping malls).  This image is begging to be chopped up and turned into a fiendish jigsaw puzzle. And yes, you're right, it's hardly the most aesthetically inspired image.  But as a view - this is the view from my study for the next nine months, and I find it very soothing, and will much enjoy watching it change color.  Those white and beige lines at the bottom? They aren't the lines created by bad cropping but rather are the edges of the balcony outside my room.

Monday, September 7, 2015

filtered light

Still unpacking, sorting, trying to work out what goes where (the discovery this evening of a couple of empty filing cabinet drawers has been a real excitement).  Tomorrow work begins in earnest ...

These translucent pieces of blue glass are in the downstairs bathroom (angled sideways to avoid giving a view of the two large dumpsters opposite, which don't look too wonderful even with filtered light).

Sunday, September 6, 2015


It's a strange thing, renting someone else's house for a year, sight unseen (apart from photos) - which is what I've elected to do in Durham - rather than renting an unfurnished apartment and some generic furniture, which is what I did eight years ago.  Both choices have their up and down sides - I have a great deal of space to call my own, but there again, it isn't my own, and needs doctoring to make it so; whereas a rented apartment is a bland nonentity onto which it's easier to project oneself.  But there can be footsteps above; loud parties next door; lines for the washing machines.  But yes, I'd rather complain to a management company about roaches than to an owner - on the other hand, she couldn't have been nicer (or, let's hope, more efficient) about the problem.  And I do understand it's still the dank and steamy time of year.  So all in all, what with it being tenure/promotion letter season, and having to make an essentials (pans, kettle, cushions, hand soap, trash bags - etc etc - you know the sort of stuff) trip to Target that felt as though I was single-handedly kick-starting the Chinese economy, there wasn't any time to explore Durham and see what might have changed in eight years. But I did explore the extensive grounds (I'm promised lots of interesting critters, and certainly when I woke up this morning there was a woodpecker pecking away in a tree outside my window).  And in the grounds I found a pool - an unkempt pool, to be sure, but it was a happy ecological refuge, so far as I could see, to a large frog family.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


Yes, there are about two deer and four fawns hiding in there - one deer is visible over on the right hand side, and a spotted fawn somewhere on the left - but this is like one of those children's puzzles in which one tries to find as many animals as possible.  It's just down the lane from the b&b that I stayed in last night, before the last leg here to Durham - though to be honest, it could be my view in Durham, too.  An arduous drive - the first day that's been largely on interstates, with all the aggro and craziness that brings with it.  I was due to arrive at 5.15, which seemed a tough call at points - but I pulled up just as the clock ticked over to 5.16 ...

Friday, September 4, 2015

rural Alabama

Most of northern Alabama doesn't look as picturesque in its delapidation as this - if there's one thing that driving away from interstates brings home, it's the extent of rural poverty in the US.  Not, of course, that one doesn't know this, in abstract terms - but it never seems to be talked of with the same political urgency as urban problems.  And I've mostly been driving on fairly major routes, not down the small side roads (and today, sharing what looked like a straight-shot route with a lot of trucks - especially Wallmart trucks - who doubtless find it useful to avoid paying tolls that way).  

The other thing that's notable in this picture is the American flag - the Stars and Stripes, that is, not the Confederate flag, which is in full force in Alabama - flying in front of houses, fluttering - sometimes in pairs - from pick-up trucks.  There's an aggressive assertiveness to these flags right now.  It was a great relief to get to Dahlegona this evening - even as the mists came down, and the air outside was so damp that I had to drive with my windows down, and the windshield wipers full blast, as everything was steaming up.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mississippi, ruins, and history

Back in late August 1955, was it a beautiful, golden evening like tonight when Emmett Till went into Bryant's Grocery Store?  Did it feed his good spirits, make him flirt - maybe on a dare - maybe whistle at - the young woman behind the counter?  Were the roads quiet, and empty, and idyllically unlike his home town of Chicago, with fields stretching away in the warm summer's light over the other side of the railway tracks, like today?

It wasn't that night that he was murdered, but a couple of nights later - taken away from his uncle's house, beaten up, shot in the head, his body dumped in the Tallahatchie river, weighted down with a 70 lb weight from a cotton gin, tied to him with barbed wire.  When his terribly mutilated body was found, his mother insisted that it be sent back to his home city, where he was displayed, and photographed, in his open casket.

I deeply wanted to visit Money, Mississippi - some ten miles north of Greenwood, where even tonight there was a group of thuggish looking white guys with confederate flags demonstrating outside the courthouse, urging Mississippians to Stand Firm (I thought one wanted to hurl a flag pole through my car window when he saw me taking their photo ...).  Greenwood - site of so much activity during the Civil Rights movement - clearly still has its violent divisions.  I show photos of Till's body in classes on race and photography, juxtaposing them with invariable white-authored lynching photos (and yes, probably, they should come with a trigger warning - but I want them to shock - that's the point).  But - in showing them, I've also strongly and badly felt that I've been objectifying Till.  So I wanted to come and pay my respects - not at the site of his murder, wherever that might have been, but at the location where it all started to go so horribly wrong.

And these ruins?  They're some 100 miles further south, and are of the Windsor Plantation house - built in 1859-61 (hardly great timing), by Smith Daniell, who only lived there a few weeks before he died ... But (and despite what some would-be knowledgeable blowhard was telling his companion as I was making to leave), the house wasn't destroyed by General Sherman, but by some careless person back in 1890, who didn't fully extinguish the cigarette that they were smoking on their third floor balcony.

There's a great deal of Mississippi history summed up in the gaps between these two ruins.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

photographs not taken

No - not this one - this is a stone angel in the grounds of my inn in Natchez, offering up some kind of supplication.  I maybe use her for intercession, since this was built in 1818 - by someone from NJ, no less - and lived in by plantation owners and politicians.  It is, of course, extraordinarily beautiful, even if it also has the over fussy and stuffed feeling of an English Georgian country house hotel.  It comes after a day traveling through Texas (East Texas is very very pretty, which came as a surprise) and Northern/Northeastern Louisiana, which is entirely full of trees, with the occasional bayou.  An hourly update sits on https//instagram.com/mothandwalter, as yesterday.  More or less hourly, anyway - ignoring moments when all known GPS systems refused to acknowledge the brand new interstate on which I somehow found myself.

But the pictures that will stay in my mind are the ones not taken.  Two of these were where I couldn't stop - the magnificence of the Red River as I crossed it - with extraordinary dark red bluffs and spurs - and a little earlier, a field of miniature donkeys in front of a pond which, in turn, was in front of a barn painted with brightly colored polka-dots.  And then there was the gas station somewhere south of Dixie Inn, which when I went inside was more like a local convenience store, with a large room off on the right with tables and chairs - did they sometimes serve food?  Were events held there?  At any rate, there was a very large, elderly man seated in the gloom in front of quite the largest, and ancient, indoor fans on a floor stand that I've ever seen.  He raised a hand to me in cheery greeting, but although he would have made a splendid image, there was, of course, simply no way I could have taken a picture without stopping and talking to him and hearing his history - anything else would have been exploitative, and so very well might that, too.  And yes, it probably would have needed flash.  And I had a glimpse of what it could have been like for (white) FSA photographers visiting small towns in Louisiana, and elsewhere, even when they did have the time to stop and talk - which I didn't, needing, like someone in a C&W song, to cross the Mississippi whilst it was still more or less broad daylight.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

rules of the road

So I'm keeping myself entertained on my way between New Mexico and North Carolina.  First, I continue to be fascinated, after all these years, by small town USA (a lot of very decrepit small towns, today), so there are rather few interstate sections of this route.  Second, it's never a good idea, especially when driving solo, to drive and drive and drive without a rest ... So the timer is set on my iPhone to go off every hour ... the rule is to pull over as soon as I see a safe spot, take a photo, and post it ... my whereabouts gets updated every hour:


Yes - I'm well aware of the ironies of calling my instagram account after two kitties who aren't on the back seat, this time, but someone had helped themselves to my real name.  It's a good job I was beta testing the plan, unannounced, today - I'd initially planned always to post the image together with its geo-co-ordinates (and the # was thecoordinatesproject) - but the problem was (apart from the fact that this sounded like a J. Crew cashmere ad) that after about 6 hours I couldn't for the life of me think why co-ordinates might matter.  So now it's rather tweely # thehourlyupdateproject.  Trust me to call something a Project.

It's hard being strict with oneself - not driving on until there's a Good View, or something more remarkable than - well, fields and fences and poles.  But that's the point - a further exercise in ordinariness, and/or typicality, and/or randomness.  My only regret is that I had to keep going at such a lick today that I didn't stop to take other photographs.  Oh - and I press pause if I, say, stop for gas ...