Thursday, March 31, 2016

Calder cushion

Yes!  It's an Alexander Calder mobile-inspired cushion cover, from Tate Modern - I brought it and its twin back with me from London the other week, and it looks very good in the stark minimalist surroundings of my NC apartment.  What doesn't look so good is that the only cushions I had to stuff inside the covers have a red and white triangle pattern on them - I surely must do something to remedy that ...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

baseball, and Jackie Robinson

Yes, that's a customized baseball (made in China: it has a little stamp on it ...).  I love its softness and heft: it really invites one to throw it, hard, somewhere - but inside my apartment doesn't seem like a good idea.  

And why do I have a customized baseball?  There was an event at the NHC tonight (to jump-start the Trustees' spring meeting) - a screening of the Ken Burns Jackie Robinson PBS documentary - coming up in early April - or to be more precise, a truncated version of the 4-hour documentary, introduced by Gerald Early, who was an adviser to it.  I'm sure the 4 hour version is more coherent than what we saw - but I came away with various take-aways
- who knew?!  The Dodgers used to be in Brooklyn, not LA!  Please excuse me, all baseball aficionados - well, hey, probably most Americans ... sometimes realize that I have very elementary gaps in my knowledge.  Yes, I know, Chavez Ravine, etc etc, and yes, I knew the Dodgers played briefly in the Coliseum before that ... but ...
- Jackie Robinson was a really complex figure in terms of the mix of talent (in four sports, before he settled on baseball, or baseball settled on him) iconicity and politics - and what I saw of the documentary pointed to this complexity, but offered very little by way of analysis
- the Obamas had some great stuff to say.  I'll so miss B and M O, and their intelligence, when they leave the White House.  It'll be worth watching the documentary for what they have to say ... 

I wish I had a photo of (or indeed had eaten) a baseball-decorated cupcake, too.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

a flashy flower vase

All I need is a little glass or plastic container that will fit into the cavity where the flashbulb would normally fit, and I have a new, unusual flower holder.  This is a Kodak Six-20 Flash Brownie camera of 1940 - the first synchronized flash camera that Kodak produced, and one of the very, very first affordable such cameras, marketed at people who were in no way experts at photography.  I was taking notes about this just yesterday ... which meant that today, when I went into the wonderful Camera Works, 2611 W. Carver Street, Durham - a true, old-style, old-fashioned, camera repair and antique camera shop (I have problems with my little Sony point and shoot's lens cover mechanism) - today, when I saw this on the shelf opposite me, I said - Oh! May I look! because I knew exactly what it was.  It's hardly a rarity, but I'm so very happy to bring her home.  (I think she may have been there a while - an on line photo from November 2013 shows her exactly in the same spot that I found her).

I have a sense that this may not be the last picture I take of her ...

Monday, March 28, 2016

heralding spring

On a wall just round the corner from where I'm living in central Durham.  That orange circle could, more or less, stand for the sun, but I suspect it's more like a basketball (also seasonal).  And the little winged heralds?  Perhaps they're symbolizing the need to blow light green pollen out of the air.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter lunch

(or: Farmers' market redux).  It seemed to me that eggs were surely in order: here are a couple, scrambled, with (a) some chopped fresh young asparagus spears (b) some chopped (and saut├ęd with garlic) pink oyster mushrooms - together with the ham and cheese scone (warmed in oven) that I mentioned yesterday.  For fans of the hot cross buns, the bakery that has a Saturday stall in the market is otherwise in downtown Durham and is called Loaf: on their Instagram feed, they have some terrific pictures of the hot cross bunds being baked ...

Yes, weekends can be - quiet, on one's own, especially when it's a holiday-day, but this certainly had a feast like quality to it, especially since my plans for a long walk were drowned by the pouring rain outside.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

hot cross buns

A day late, to be sure - but then, the Farmers' Market (where these were on sale at my favorite bakers' stall) isn't open on Fridays.  Hot cross buns seem to have been an C18th British invention: I didn't realize that they not only spread, in the C19th, throughout the Empire (makes sense) - and, evidently, to the US - but that the Australians seem in particular to have taken them to heart - and indeed, make them in other flavors - with chocolate chips instead of dried fruit (now, that might tempt me); coffee- flavored, and so on.  When I was little, we always used to have them on Good Friday morning (it was regarded as a heresy to have them on any other day, of course), which is possibly why I associate them with a sense of sadness appropriate to Good Friday, since they were consumed after the Home Service (later Radio 4) played (at 7 a.m, at 8 a.m.) a particularly lugubrious version of "There is a green hill far away/Without a city wall)" to commemorate the day.  I took particular pride in knowing (I'm sure my mother told me this very early on) that "without" meant "outside," in this context - not that it lacked some kind of erected barrier made of stone or brick.  I wonder when Radio 4 stopped playing hymns for major dates in the church calendar?  Easter Day would be greeted by "Jesus Christ is risen today," and so on.

Alas, I don't like hot cross buns (it's the fruit, I think), but I consoled myself with a bacon and cheese scone, instead.

Friday, March 25, 2016


This might look like a peculiarly scummy pond - but actually, it's the roof and back windshield of my car, after a day in the carpark under the pine trees.  It's a very good job that I'm not allergic to this thin sticky green dust.  I'm wondering what to mix it with - egg white? - to turn it into an effective painting medium.  Or I would be, if there was anything even remotely attractive about this color ...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

imagine this as a jigsaw

As a jigsaw, indeed, this would be utterly fiendish - although I guess that the secret would lie in sorting out all those branches and twigs along the edges.  At least there isn't too much unimpeded clear blue sky to frustrate one.  This thought is, of course, me sidestepping writing - again! - oh, look, spring!  But that's the great thing after a long winter: one can really celebrate it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Well, not actually blocked (unlike this doorway), but it was a sticky day, and this works very well as a visual metaphor.  It was one of those days when one's research and ideas seem like dull sawdust; or, to be more specific, when I felt like the contents of an as-yet-unwritten-though-I-know-what-it-looks-like-in-outline chapters seemed dull and descriptive.

So ... why is it that it's so hard to unblock?  If I were a domestic drain, I'd swallow vinegar and baking soda: I know perfectly well that the writerly equivalent for me (if no shower is to hand) is to go outside, go for a walk, change pace, change scene, change (which doesn't mean "sit on office floor and investigate what papers one's forgotten about in cupboard.").  And indeed, as soon as I gave up, around 6 p.m., and headed through the pine-tree smelling car park, it became instantly clear to me what I could move from the (equally unwritten) next chapter, and made an effective - I hope - hinge.

I note the blocked doorway has no hinges, and will try not to see this as a further, and grim visually articulated message.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


I seem to have become obsessed with signs of spring this year - even the simple leafy ones seen from my parking garage.  I think that this is what one gets for exchanging the subtle season-changes of Southern California for a long, slightly chilly, grey and very damp eastern winter.

Monday, March 21, 2016

looking at lee friedlander

This afternoon, I was looking at all 358 photos in Lee Friedlander's book of self-portraits, trying to work out in how many of them he was using flash.  Maybe twelve or fourteen - probably a few more.  There were just a couple in which he'd very deliberately used its properties to bleach a face - his own - or to illuminate the faces of himself and a friend - as seen in a shop window reflection; more interesting were the small handful in which he'd used it playfully, made it impossible to work out whether the flash was flaring, or whether the light came from a birthday candle or a carefully positioned light bulb.  What I learned, far more than anything about his use of flash, was how ludic he was with his self-portraits, and how free of vanity (as his face becomes longer and more jowly and more camel-like).  There are self-portraits in which he frames himself in store mirrors, or his head appears in front of a tv screen on display, or he juxtaposes his reflection with a cardboard cut-out beauty in a photographer's window.  And again and again, he used his shadow as part of a composition - maybe side by side with another head or sculpture; maybe with a tree or cactus growing out of him; maybe, again, with an image of someone else's face where his own would be.  It's not as easy as one would think, doing something creative with a shadow that creates a tiny narrative: all I could offer up at 5 p.m. this afternoon was an exercise in symmetry.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

sandias (and aurochs)

The Sandias - so called, it's alleged, by the Spanish invaders because they thought that the range looked like a watermelon, but probably so called, in fact, because they found lots of gourds there - tower above Albuquerque.  This picture flattens them, but at the same time it gives a sense of what was once a huge sea on the right.  The mountains themselves are young, pressed and folded up about ten million years ago by the Rio Grande fault.

I have geological age on the mind, since I was reading (and much recommend) Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction.  It's chilling, indeed, to learn once again that we of the Anthropecene are destroying the earth as we know it, of course - but the big impact of the book for me was the sense long-time, successive periods of destruction: in other words, once we destroy the earth, some forms of life will surely, somehow, remain, re-evolve .. Somewhere into this came a mention of aurochs - a word I didn't believe that I'd seen before; meant to check.  What was super-weird was that there, in the next book I read (Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree - an historical novel with - so far as I've got - Victorian natural history at its heart) - there, again, were aurochs.  They turn out to be a form of primeval cattle that went extinct in Poland in 1627, but farmers and genetic scientists are trying to resuscitate the type ...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

blue eggs (nearly Easter)

This is in my occasional series of Egg Photographs (if the eggs are lucky, they're turned into digital negatives and thence, appropriately, into albumen prints).  These were elegant eggs; Araucana eggs; eggs from birds that may go back to pre-contact hens (originating in Chile) - which would make them the only eggs from chickens originating in the Americas.  But.  These eggs are a delicate, extraordinary, pale blue.  This is the result of a DNA retrovirus that occurred sometime early in domestication.  It's really hard to capture this blue, it turns out ... and I can't go back and rephotograph these eggs: I cooked with them.

Friday, March 18, 2016

thistle triptych

Not as good as the chamisa, alas, but another assortment of dried remnants of last summer, thrashing about in the wind.  Other things to be observed today: some very cross ravens; multitudes of bluebirds; a Cooper's Hawk that swooped in front of my car as I was driving home, and some new gopher holes in the back yard.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

sweet lily

It's impossible (one would hope) not to live next door to people for 13 years - 13 years! - and not know that they're excellent bakers, but it's quite another thing to visit the bakery/cafe that they've just opened (or to be more accurate, taken over) with fingers crossed that, hands on heart, one would think that this was somewhere one wanted to return. Santa Fe people!  People visiting Santa Fe!  Go and eat at Sweet Lily!  It's next door to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (I will doubtless put on pounds and pounds when I'm a Fellow there this summer); the space is airy and tranquil; the food divine ... The reason that there are no green chile scones left here is that we ate them.  I only wish that we'd had space for pie.

And then ... weird.  My father grew up in Birmingham -after leaving Leeds when he was 5, and via Derby - in All Saints' Road, King's Heath.  The other partner in Sweet Lily is, once upon a time, British - from Birmingham.  And guess where he used to live?  In the house opposite the one in which my father grew up.  The world is surely very, very small.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

chamisa triptych

It's very hard - my theme for this week, I suspect - to capture the tan windy dryness that's Eldorado this week - and that characterizes Northern New Mexico at this time of the year so very often.  But there, blowing in the stiff wind, are the dry chamisa heads, which certainly sum up the brittle tan environment.  And playing around with one's iPhone turns them into something extra-beautiful.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

flowers, mountains

Plenty of mountains outside; fewer flowers, apart from some tree blossom - but these flowers indoors are set against one of my Gloria Montoya rugs that depicts, in abstract but very recognizable terms, the landscape of the southwest ...

Monday, March 14, 2016

spring sunset

The view from our New Mexican back yard tonight.  I was very pleased to see the sky light up - it had been a day of curiously flat grey-brown light, even if full of hazy sunlight, and very windy, as one expects at this time of the year - not unattractive, in a kind of wild bleak way, but terrible light for photography.  Those streaks of thin cloud suggest that wind: although it had pretty much dropped by this evening, imagine a continual cross jangle of wind chimes.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

springing forward, ha ha ha

ha, ha.  So much for coming back to Durham for a good night's sleep.  The fire alarms went off at 6.33 a.m. - that's 5.33 by any normal reckoning.  Admittedly, my own alarm was set for 6.45, but that's not the point: it was chilly out there on the street.  And yes, if one's corridor smells of smoke, one thinks one had better vamoose.  Admittedly, again. the smell wasn't bad enough for me to try and bag and pack up an anti-social orange cat, but it did have me scuttering round thinking - what should I flee with?  There's a website and book called The Burning House project, which asks you to imagine - if your house were on fire, what would you take with you?  I've used it in a writing and photography class; a prompt for thinking about self-portraits without a picture of oneself.  So what did I take with me?  (I'm not good at choices).  Answer - my cell phone, a pair of glasses to read it with, and my shoes (a pair of pants and a shirt were instantly to hand.  Admittedly, it's not my own house - few sentimental objects.  But no passport, no wallet, no wall art? (I do know everything on my computer is backed up to the cloud, several times over).  I felt unimaginative, even as I was padding down the stairwell in my bare feet.  And next time?  Even more useful and important might have been stopping for a pee before I fled.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

spring forward

My original intention was to stay in Asheville tonight, and get up very very early to drive down to RDU airport ... about four hours' drive.  And then, when I took on board the fact of the time change, it made more sense to come back this evening.  So I'll think of this as the last sunset of winter (not that it was remotely wintery today: the temperatures were disconcertingly in the high 70s).  It was a terrific INCS conference - wonderful conversations with friends and colleagues old and new.  I've long recognized that I'm envious of so many US friends who use conferences as a chance to hang out with their pack from grad school - and my own pack is a long way away.  BUT - and this is a terrific place to have reached - I now get to hang out with my former US grad students - the vanguard of these on the brink of getting tenure.  I feel so proud of them.

Friday, March 11, 2016

asheville, black mountain, etc

Let's just say that I badly needed some of this, this morning (room not serviced yesterday, so no coffee replenished in room; elevators malfunctioning so they didn't deliver me to 12th floor breakfast whilst there was any coffee left, etc) - so I was deeply, deeply grateful for sidewalk signage.

And then there are the oddities of Asheville ... a plaster foot in a window;

and the commemorative: these two images are of the Black Mountain College commemorative wall (Black Mountain - the liberal arts college founded nearby that flourished from 1933-1957, according to the principles of John Dewey - think Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Vera B. Williams, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, Arthur Penn, Buckminster Fuller, M.C. Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Dorothea Rockburne, etc etc.  Good to know it's still part of the culture of the streets, 

even if, in some cases, in a rather shattered, battered form.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

biltmore and movie wedding dresses

Biltmore House has one of the most stunning situations imaginable, against the Appalachians, folding away behind it.  It has terrific gardens, designed by Olmsted - so there's a curious echo of Central Park.  But the house itself ... I guess it's what Donald Trump would have lived in a hundred and twenty years ago - opulence upon dark wooden opulence.  The art work was downplayed, and not easy to view - and not that interesting: a handful of Sargeants, a Boldini, a couple of small and very chocolate-boxy Renoirs.  The most curious thing, among all the fresh flowers, were the wedding dresses - wedding dresses from recent films, set in every room, like a ghostly flock of Miss Havishams.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Asheville, NC - the view from my room.  I'm here for INCS - the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth Century Studies - conference (keynoting on Seaweed) - and can't wait to go exploring tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


This wasn't meant to be today's picture - let's just say that I took various others back in Wimbledon this morning, but I dropped my camera; the door with the card inside came open and the card dislodged, and I didn't notice ... Still: it's a pretty tree, three thousand or more miles away.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

what the well dressed windows

of Wimbledon Village are wearing this season.  Lots of dried flowers, hanging on wires (beautifully fiddly and compelling);

nautical ropes;

taps.  And more taps!  in case you've just bought an overpriced Wimbledon Village mansion;

More dried flowers!  And so on.  Seasonal.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

English weather

I am absolutely sure that the Ship Pub, by Wandsworth Bridge, is a picturesque spot to sit in good weather.  I went to meet 2 of my 3 cousins and their spouses for lunch - and it was great to see everyone.  But ... it being Mothers' Day here in the UK, it was full of mothers ... and we had a very strict time limit on our table, and carried our glasses outside to finish them, and ... well, you can see.  That white pebbly stuff on the tables?  That's hail.... I am very glad that I brought a thick winter coat with me ...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

muses (and indoor gardening)

Some muses (I think all seven were there, plus a few fluorescent tubes, unilluminated in grey daylight) on a warehouse behind the OXO building, on the South Bank ... walking down here en route to the Performing for the Camera and the Alexander Calder shows at Tate Modern - the Calder was particularly spectacular, with the mobiles throwing their shadows onto the white walls.  In the Turbine Hall, there's an installation that has only about six weeks to go before - well, before one can say that it's weirdly unspectacular.  By Abraham Cruzvillegas, and called Empty Lot, it involves 240 soil filled planters - the soil comes from all over London - and it's a game of wait and see - what will grow?  What will people plant?  (had I known, I'd have at least brought a handful of sunflower seeds, and hurled them over - no Ai Weiwei porcelain imitations, but a return to nature ...).  As it was, I could see some herbs, some nasturtiums, some unidentifiable weeds, and a bus pass.  According to the Guardian, Chris Dercon, the director of Tate Modern, said the work was about “waiting, patience and hope” because these “are the best words to address the situation we live in today”.  Well, o.k. ...

... and just in case you didn't see, earlier, my picture of Tower Bridge with a rainbow ...

Friday, March 4, 2016

unarguably spring

My father, trimming flowers in the spring sunshine;

my mother, walking round the springtime back garden (magnolia, daffodils).  Try not to notice that she's wearing the garb of a gamekeeper in winter: this fact might lead you to tonight's weather forecast for frost/snow;

and their cat, Simba, springtime exploring.

not spring (March 3rd)

Really, this is a long, long way from being spring. If the weather's going to look like this, it's going to have very boring photos taken of it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

christmas (?) cactus

Sign of some season or another is the Christmas Cactus (at least, that's what I know it as) blooming away at the National Humanities Center, and catching the light of the setting sun.  I believe the temperature is due to sink back below freezing tonight.  My optimism about spring was a little premature ...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Yes,  I know it's those rather bleak trees out of my office window again.  But the sky is pretty!  The sky has pinkish-yellow bits in it!  The temperature reached the 70s today!  - even if they will sink again tomorrow.  But as a man in a store said to me today - beware of April.  It can get very cold in April.  Oh, great ...