Monday, November 30, 2015

back where it rains

What is it about the weather in North Carolina?  I've just driven back from RDU in the pouring midnight rain - thank goodness for the late hour, because I wouldn't have fancied sharing the roads with the usual volume of traffic.  Luckily, on the bus to the parking lot, I was able to dig out this crazy raincoat, which does, indeed, say Raining Cats and Dogs all over it.  It's an Emma Bridgewater design that I saw a woman in a restaurant in London wearing, and the rest is internet-shopping history.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

selection show

It was terrific fun watching the women's volleyball National Championship selection show in the Founders Room of the Galen Center with the players, coaches, and allied parents, friends, 12-year old volleyball players (who wanted t-shirts signed by the players), and so on - even more so when it was announced that we're the #1 seed this year!  Two more (I hope!) nail-biting weeks to come ...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

corner instructions

What to do at this precise spot could hardly be articulated more clearly.

Friday, November 27, 2015

...if the cap fits ...

Pac 12 Champions!!  Admittedly, we may have to share the title if Washington wins tomorrow (which they surely will) - but a wonderful end to the Pac 12 season, and to Seniors' Night (a sad occasion, for me - travel arrangements over the next couple of weeks mean that I'm unlikely to see any post-season play, and will have to follow along their conference progress on little screens).  This team has been so much fun to watch, this season - sometimes with one's heart in one's mouth, but they've almost always found that little bit extra and pulled it off.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

the brightness of tulips

It was good to have some brightness around today.  I was just starting to prepare a marinade (parsley, garlic, rosemary, fennel, fennel seed, olive oil) for a piece of pork loin (a turkey is a little large for two people) when I had an email from England with the sad news that my much loved aunt Nancy had died half an hour or so earlier.  So today was quietly spent feeling thankfulness for all kinds of things about her - her kindness, her enthusiasm, her interest in people and books and current events and films, her cheerfulness (despite osteoperosis), the way that she welcomed Alice into our family (we were so very glad to have gone and stayed with her last year, and to have escorted her for dinner to the local pub - all of which gave Alice the chance to experience some real English deep countryside), and - what could be more apt for today? - her huge capacity for gratitude.  All of this with the strange distancing feeling that Thanksgiving isn't a day that - obviously! - registers at all in England, and it felt very vertiginous to be mentally in England for much of the day.

things to be thankful for (advance edition)

i) our Cats.  Here's LucyFur, who's very happy to have me back in LA;

ii) the view from an evening walk up the street from our house.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

misleading iconography

Boots, check.  NM luggage tag, check.  Oh, no, wait a minute - I'm at DFW, but changing planes to get to Los Angeles, not Albuquerque.   The logic?  Non-stop tickets were a horrible price, so I saw a good deal of one small corner of Texas on a lay-over ...

Monday, November 23, 2015

thin sunlight

Sitting on my sofa waiting for a FedEx delivery wasn't where I'd wanted to be spending half the morning - but if I hadn't been there, I wouldn't have seen this sharp winter sunlight falling on the mantelshelf - empty flower vase (just relieved of those lilies, that died at last), cards, a curling white cable heading off in the direction of the TV - and all the planes of blinds and window panes.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

the little drummer boy

I promise you that this sentinel - guarding the Brightleaf Square shopping street in Durham - will not be this year's Christmas card.  Quite apart from its own saccharine blandness, I loathe the Little Drummer Boy carol, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, with a loathing that is deep and passionate, and pretty much always have done (though I do recall once singing it in choir at school, and it's a satisfying number to sing.  I suspect that a good deal of this recoil comes from the fact that it's been so highly commercialized - not just because it's played over so many loudspeakers from now onwards for the next month, but because it's been recorded so many times.  I think that the recording I first heard - on Children's Favorites with Uncle Mac on a Saturday and Sunday morning, for example, on what was then the BBC Light Programme  - was the Beverley Sisters one, which was a hit in England in 1959; in the US, the recording that first headed into the charts - the previous year - was by the Harry Simeone Chorale.  But oh, the recordings I've missed, or tried to miss, over the years.  Most recently, Justin Bieber.  There were a whole lot of Motown Christmas records - by the Supremes, the Temptations, and so on - that inevitably had this on them.  I seem to remember the Joan Baez version - but I absolutely couldn't have told you that Jimi Hendrix did one.  Stevie Wonder doesn't surprise me, too much.  But Bob Seger? (a deliberately non-Christian version).  The Dandy Warhols, twice?  And, in 2009, Bob Dylan.  That last piece of information shook me to the core.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

the gentrification of Durham

On the way from my oh-so-chic converted tobacco warehouse lofts to the Farmers' Market (more kale! red mustard greens!), one passes a few lots that are still derelict and doubtless awaiting development, with rusting pieces of machinery on them, and some old cars, at least one of which has a tarp or awning fixed up over it, and seems to be lived in.  And today - a little way away from this, so we're likely looking at a population of an indeterminate size, here, there were clothes, and a blanket, and a teddy bear drying out, presumably after Thursday's rains.  I've been reading Dora Apel's new book, Beautiful Terrible Ruins.  Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline, which has a good deal to say about ruin lust, and ruin porn, and redevelopment, and the important question of whom redevelopment of decaying cities actually serves, when it comes to communities, and of course the juxtaposition of rusting vehicles and loft apartments sets up such questions with an almost caricatured degree of obviousness.  But that bear - that bear speaks to a level of resilience that must be catered to, and it does so with unpremeditated poignancy.  

Friday, November 20, 2015


This isn't one of those days when I take photos of flowers because, really, the rest of the day was unspeakable, or full of things I can't write about.  Indeed, it was a good day's writing/reading (especially Krista Thompson's excellent Shine, which manages not to be about flash photography - at least, not in the way in which my book is, but which is about Light in a way that makes me feel as though it's in very profitable dialogue with the questions I'm asking in my current chapter, which is on race and flash).  No, rather, the lilies were just extraordinarily beautiful in the morning sun.  This evening, they've been turning into ex-lilies, their petals falling off with little soft plops as I sit watching another USC victorious volleyball game on a very pixellated live stream.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

dark, very dark

This is the view from my window down into the courtyard outside my window - an attractive view, in fact, in daylight.  Trouble is - this was full daylight, this morning; pouring with rain; looking like November.  Looking at a picture that Alice just sent me from Los Feliz - from her walk this morning - was like looking into another universe.  I append.  You'll get the point.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Voyage of the Sable Venus

There was a part of me, of course, that wasn't surprised for a nanosecond that the judges chose Robin Coste Lewis's Voyage of the Sable Venus to win the National Book Award for poetry - because how could they have chosen anything else?  (I'm biased).  But to have one of one's friends win this? For her first collection? Really?  This was very, very, very wonderful, and my whoop of total delight must have been heard all over North Carolina, if not back on the West Coast.  Certainly in the next apartment (given that I can hear their entire social life, tonight, which does not include listening to book award ceremonies).

And I'd be dissimulating if I didn't say that it was quite a thrill to hear a shout-out to myself in the thanks, let alone to see the author picture that I took of Robin at Watts Towers scrolling past every so often on the screen ... I can't imagine any such occurrence ever occurring in the annals of American Literature ...

Wow.  I'm just blown away, and so very happy for her.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lemon and Fish

When I was 9 and 10, I took ballet lessons at Letty Littlewood's Associated Arts School, in Wimbledon (it was only many decades later that I realized that this had quite a strong reputation). And there, by a wonderful coincidence, my teacher was a Miss Lemon and the pianist a Mrs Fish. When I see the two in combination, now - which obviously is not seldom - I can't help but make the connection.

Although we were schooled for the usual Royal Academy of Dance exams, Letty Littlewood's was also - and probably best - known for teaching a Russian, and more free style method of dancing, which probably stood me in good stead later, when as an undergraduate I managed to get into various productions simply because of being able to dance in what passed as free style in the 1970s (most notably as a witch in a production of Faust at the YoungVic).  But at the time, my career was sadly curtailed when I just didn't feel able to take part in the annual dance show at Wimbledon Theatre with the rest of my Letty Littlewood class.  The reason?  I had sprouted fur in my arm pits.  I didn't know why; didn't know what to do about it; was curled up with embarrassment; kept my elbows clamped to my sides in all changing rooms, and - well, I could hardly keep on that grey knitted cross-over dance sweater (worn over a pink sleeveless tunic) in mid-summer, could I?  Miss Lemon couldn't understand why I wouldn't take it off.  So that was the end of that.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mavis Staples

So - no photography whatsoever was allowed inside the Carolina Theater, so here's a ticket to a very strange evening of concert.  Let's forget Joan Osborne, who as we all know had one catchy hit back in 1995 (which I associate with being played endlessly in South Africa when I was there that year - it was coming out of a cafe, or a store, in a street in some small town when I was waiting for a jeep to pick me up to take me to a sanctuary where I got to pet cheetahs.  Who purred.  But I digress).  Mavis Staples, however - had big-time presence; less voice; a great ability to laugh at herself and the world (but hey - I associate her with a political tradition - given what the world is actually like, right now, mightn't one have hoped for something a little more wide reaching than her enjoyment of collard greens and cornbread?  Or indeed, for a more interesting and pertinent warm-up act than JO (though she did have Vicki Randle as a percussionist, who had great presence).  However - terrific to hear someone who is a legend, albeit, well, maybe, I wish I'd heard her forty years ago, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

more cabbage, chard, and similar greenery

Duke Gardens this morning - and the Discovery Garden was in full cabbagey (and kaley) glory.  2,000 lbs of produce given to the Durham community last year!  The brassicae were on terrific form, which I think must be the result of all that rain.  I'm so glad that it was good for something.  It was hard (yes, I know, shades of Edward Weston) to keep away from all the curling, crinkled leaves, which were extraordinarily beautiful (and appetizing).

The rest of the gardens were on pretty fine, late fall form, too.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


There are more different varieties of kale for sale in Durham Farmers' Market than I'm accustomed to being able to choose between.  I anticipate (since choice is difficult) a very healthy week.

Friday, November 13, 2015

she's here!

DandyLion, enjoying North Carolina.  So far, she seems like a changed cat - one might even call her sociable.

It was totally surreal waiting for her - and Alice, pulling her in her bag - to emerge off the plane, sitting under a row of Delta posters announcing their new direct flight to Paris - cue picture of sunshine, Eiffel Tower, etc. - and seeing the horrible news about the Paris attacks coming through - flipping from CNN to the Guardian to La Libération to try and find what really was happening - first news of one incident, then another - and to FB to hear from friends who are there.  Adequate, non-clichéd words fail me, but my thoughts go out to everyone touched by this.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

bringing things east

It's been quite a challenge importing things into this apartment to make it feel like home - had I known at the end of the summer that I'd be moving somewhere unfurnished, it would have been easier.  However - this V&A tiger rolled up nicely into my suitcase last weekend, and will be joined tomorrow by something else that's orange and has whiskers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

morning sunshine

It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that it took me a minute this morning to realize why everything looked so different - and yes, the sun was out!  My appearing in the picture, dwarfing the table and chairs, is clearly indebted to looking yesterday at all those different ways that Vivian Maier managed to insert herself into her photos, including shadows.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

tagging an archive (and Vivian Maier)

An excellent talk tonight at Duke by Abigail Solomon-Godeau, on the the discovery and promotion and ownership tussles over Vivian Maier's photographs - most of them street photographs taken in Chicago in the 1950s-70s, though some of the most intriguing ones are self-portraits.  Clearly she was a strange, self-protective, and increasingly mentally unstable woman, who took photographs compulsively, as though confirming all the time that she had some claim of existence in the world. A S-G did a great job of debunking any idea that she was any true outsider, making outsider art.

But I do wish that she'd said less about the woman, and more about the images.  I became intrigued (after a month or so working hard on documentary photography - about the implications, too, for archiving.  In all, the Maier archive (if only one could have access to it) is about the same size as the FSA archive - and that's archived only with the barest facts of subject matter.  But these images seem to me to cry out for quirkier forms of taxonomy, so that they can be searched using gestures for example, rather than makes of cars.  Of course that would be a lengthy, subjective, perhaps (and ideally?) even contradictory exercise, but it might be more fun, and more revelatory, untimately, about cities in mid C20th America, than delving into Maier's psyche.

Monday, November 9, 2015


Unfortunately, I had no camera to hand for the most adorable sight of the day - when I looked out of our kitchen window as it was just getting light, there were two adolescent raccoons drinking at the pool in our front garden (the rancid, probably full of lethal mosquito-larvae pool, soon to be transformed into a different water feature ...).  So here, as a poor substitute, is a view from the Flyaway Bus to LAX with Union Station in the background - plus train.  Other than that, it was going to be the inside of an airplane, or the wet wet wet streets of Durham NC - does it ever stop raining here?  LA seems like a mirage.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

jug and bowl

I bought this jug and bowl a long, long time ago, in an antique mall near Oxford Station - the old Jam Factory, to be precise - and no-one other than me has ever much liked it, which means that it's tended to live a banished life - these days, it's in the bathroom off my study, where no one else is likely to complain about it.  Let it stand in for touching base, which is what coming home for a couple of days feels like - even if much of the time this also feels like General Cat Hospital.  That being said, LucyFur, now recovered, would like the entire internet to know that, this afternoon, she caught a lizard in our living room.  Don't ask.  I came in to find the poor little thing, tailless, lying on its back, paws in the air, a few entrails lying around.  I went to find a camera to document this improbable event, and returned to see the very last centimeters of the lizard disappearing down Lucy's throat.  No entrails left, either.


I do very much like how many orchids we have around the place: these ones are in the kitchen, and then there are others in the living room and - well, a Very Large Array and no longer flowering ones that exist in some kind of green and hopeful limbo.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

a study in black and white

Another day, another vet's visit (I think the physiological stuff is greatly improved; the psychological - ah, well, that may be a different story.  Did you know that kitty prozac comes in chewable treat form?).  The Village Vet in Silver Lake has its own resident cat, who came and introduced himself to Walter through WG's carrier.  I'm not sure that this helped anything very much, but it was a very sociable gesture.

Friday, November 6, 2015

what's in that suitcase?

wonders Moth, as I stumble through the front door after a six hour flight, ready for a short weekend in LA ... (I think she'll be disappointed ...)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

the transformation of downtown durham

It would have been inconceivable to me, 8 years ago, that there would be a trendy bar in downtown Durham featuring - well, what?  a sculpture of a suspended weasel, surrounded by wreaths of white thingies, hybrid leaf-flowers?  Inconceivable that there should be a 21c hotel, with this bar, and a restaurant.  Not that this was the trendy bar at which I had a drink or so this evening (a choice! also incomprehensible!) - not that I stopped off, either, at the ice cream parlor (called Parlour), nor the cupcake bar, nor nor nor ... this used to be half-boarded-up, thrift store territory.  The old scary carpark where I used to park?  Modern apartments.  The Greyhound station?  The Durham History Hub.  Yes - I know that this yuppification carries all sorts of social displacement issues with it - but I am still, all the same, marveling.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

fall window

This is both an utterly unexceptional image, and also one that I know will function as a kind of objective correlative - a marker for what it was like, in the fall of 2015, at the NHC: endlessly damp; looking through the sloping glass windows (or, from inside my office, the flat glass windows), at golden trees against grey skies (sometimes through a grey sheet of thin drizzle or thicker rain); the new glass, despite being new, clouding slightly with humidity.  I'm certainly getting plenty of work done: it's rather too damp, most of the time, to go off walking in the woods.

Monday, November 2, 2015

anniversary roses

In an ideal world, Alice and I wouldn't be spending our anniversary 2,257 miles apart (roughly: that's the airmiles distance).  But it is very lovely to have red roses turn up in one's office (and to know that suitable flora arrived safely at the other end, too).  What was not easy, however, was taking anything like a satisfactory photo of them (I blame the dull, grey light outside, full of rain), so I've resorted to iPhone trickery.  The ghostliness should be thought of, perhaps, not so much as anniversarial, but as symbolizing All Souls' Day?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

pink mushrooms

These were so beautiful in the Farmers' Market yesterday that I couldn't resist buying them.  And then what, you may well ask?  Chopped fine, sautéed with garlic, they made - with the addition of a little bit of market-purchased goat cheese - an excellent filling for an omelet - to be eaten with arugula, with the same provenance.  Fall cuisine.