Tuesday, May 31, 2016

texas skies

This was the early morning view from our bedroom in Alpine this morning - we'd had a pretty sleepless night, since one of eastern Texas's thunder clusters parked itself over the town in the middle of the night, drenching it, with lightning and thunder right overhead (no pictures of this, you ask?  it was so close that I didn't wan't to stand near the windows).  Then another storm came through ...

but had departed by the time we were the far side of Marfa.

Back home in Santa Fe (the usual dramas for this time of year - a sparrow poking its vicious head out of the bluebird house; too many clothes moths around;  I stood on a cactus that went sharply straight through my shoe sole), the skies were, for a rare occasion, tame.

Monday, May 30, 2016

alpine and big bend

Here's the view from our terrace in Alpine, Texas ... a small town (just along from Marfa) with a sense of being caught in the early 1970s, maybe - currently experiencing the same violent thunderstorms that have been chasing us all day.  So the skies are spectacular, as they were in Big Bend - apparently the least visited National Park in the US, and it certainly felt so, even on a Memorial Day weekend.  These pictures don't nearly do justice to the huge and changing skies over the mountains.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

san antonio

Of course, the Missions themselves were the real stars - but how could one not love the drive-in?

This is is Mission Concepcion, above, and San José, below.  I've wanted to see these for aeons - ever since I knew about them - part, I suspect, of a desire to experience American history as a complex and old history - one that engages with the Old World in all kinds of ways.  Certainly, I felt - and I know it's anachronistic - as though I was very temporarily back in Europe, or at least within a very familiar time-scale.

Here's the entrance to the church at San José: the facade was one covered in painted stucco (that, so far as one could see, looked like a bad lino design).

Here's some more recent architecture (Gothic revival, but with proleptic hints of Art Deco) in the form of the Emily Morgan Hotel - built in 1924 as the Medical Arts building (architect Ralph Cameron, from San Antonio); then an office building; then a hotel - seen from the Alamo.  It was built in 1924 - rather startlingly, to me, after my mother was born;

and here's a koi carp, in a pool in the lovely courtyard of the McNay Art Museum (below) - itself largely remarkable for an interesting, if depressing show about Coney Island.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

texan art deco

I have a growing obsession with American Art Deco, and was delighted to turn off I-10 today to head into the center of Beaumont, Texas - just over the border from Louisiana - to visit the Kyle Building (constructed in 1933, when the rest of the country was hurting, but this part of the world was doing well from oil).  Today, it houses a lot of quiet-looking law firms (it was originally constructed as retail stores) - indeed, the whole of a once prosperous downtown was semi-deserted, and all known life forms seemed to have moved to mall-land in the suburbs.

Texan thunderstorms haven't arrived yet, but we saw plenty of floods, and this was the sky driving into San Antonio.

Friday, May 27, 2016

fragments of Mississippi and Louisiana

This lovely outline of a horse's head was drawn on the inside of a barn housing the cotton gin at Frogmore - which is still a working cotton farm in eastern Louisiana, and which gives a terrific tour that emphasizes how cotton was and is grown, and the life of a slave and then a sharecropper on this land - none of your great house Gone With the Wind stuff (not to mention that it was stressed how hard laboring with cotton was - we were all given little bolls of the stuff and told to pick the seeds out - and it also helped that there was an African American tour guide modeling, if that's the right word, how the cotton gathering sacks were worn, as well as showing us round.

Here's a cotton boll decoration on the side of the gin.

Back in Natchez, in Mississippi, the decoration was stranger and more fragmentary - a once very-rich town, now struggling, but trying (and we'd recommend the African American Museum, with its energetic curator).

Here's a pigeon on top of an alarm system.

Alas, the Ritz Cinema is no longer functioning.

A great decoration on a water fountain;

but my impression when I drove through 9 months ago - admittedly in the dusk - that the town was full of flourishing galleries and antique shops was sadly misplaced.

You wanted a Swamp of the Day?  This is in the grounds of our hotel (where it's currently pouring, pouring, pouring with rain).

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Yes, that was a deliberate (and bad) pun: today was the one section of the trip back West that more or less replicated my itinerary in the fall, but in reverse ... mostly down the Natchez Trace parkway - hours of slow driving through perfect, green, damp woods.  Here's a section of the original Trace ...

but first, back to Money, to pay homage to the store where Emmett Till, visiting from Chicago, allegedly whistled at a young woman working behind the counter - which led to him being killed by her relatives.  I was shocked to see that the whole of the top part of the facade of the Bryant Grocery has fallen in since last September (see FTBL, Sept. 3rd ...).

On the Trace, we visited the Windsor Ruins,

and the Cypress Swamp - the lack of sun made it particularly gloomy.

In Natchez, the American Queen riverboat rather blocked our view at dinner (this picture was taken walking towards the restaurant).  After the last few days, I have catfish, shrimp and grits coming out of my ears ...

but I fulfilled a lifetime ambition (well, ok, a fifty-something years-old ambition, ever since I read Huckleberry Finn) to see a large riverboat actually moving, propelled by its impressive paddle. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Would the proprietors of this be for Remain or Brexit?  601 miles of driving under our belt (fan belt?  do cars still have them?) today, so precious little stopping to take photographs, especially since I'm doing all the driving (a pact, a promise - Alice did almost all the driving when I was back in Los Angeles at various times during the year).  But this establishment was pretty much opposite the conveniently position Panera that we stopped at for lunch, somewhere in Alabama.  Yes, I know - corporate food.  But this was cancelled out this evening (in Greenwood, Mississippi) by fried green tomatoes with crab, and baked kingklip.  Kingklip?  Turns out to be what, in the UK, we call ling.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

SCAD and sea

A second day in Savannah, and more art - especially at SCAD - the Savannah College of Art and Design, which had some terrific small shows and installations.  Just opened was a room of Caroline Herrera fashion designs - above - but more interesting than this by far, to me, was the Carrie Mae Weems show, and some works in ballpoint pen - huge works - by Gamaliel Rodriguez - that managed to be both abstract, and to show, somewhat abstractly, military installations.  

Earlier in the morning, we'd been to Tybee Island - much grey Atlantic - and a good underpier perspective.

In turn, this receding perspective prepared us for Daniel Arsham's Wall Excavation - holes in thick styrofoam, in human outline receding to abstract space.

Arsham also had a Selenite Eroded Broken Figure, here being contemplated by Alice;

and there were some fascinating Cornelia Parker pieces - including two that played around with Rorsasch blotches, and with poison and antidote - what she's used in the one below is rattlesnake venom and black ink, and on top of that, antivenom and white ink ...

Back to the Tybee pictures, and, swivelling round under the pier, here's a sunbather.

Monday, May 23, 2016

savannah - anticipated and unexpected

Savannah is a wonderful small city to visit -leafy and tranquil and, well, old feeling.  Who knew that, for example, John Wesley had spent a year here?  At the same time, it's very quirky: yes, it's full of tourists - lots in little carriage-like buses, some in horse-drawn carriages - others, scooting along ...

Savannah is, as I was expecting, full of late C18th and early C19th houses, leafy squares with Spanish moss;

statues to notables;

but one never knows quite what's coming next.

Somehow the guidebooks fail to mention the extraordinary very early C20th architecture.

The Jepson Center for the Arts had a great exhibition (that started at Crystal Bridges) on American Art today - very full of craft-oriented stuff, including some extraordinary paper cutting by Hiromi Mizugai Moneyhun based on Japanese kiri-e, or hand-cut paper arts: there were three pieces taking various hair styles as their inspiration - here's a fragment of Gisoeng (Korea), from 2014.  

Then Angela Drakeford had a terrific piece, Self- Portrait II - flowers made of tar paper - and an artist's statement talking about its relevance to the fact that she was attacked for being too white in primarily black schools, too black in predominantly white ones.

And who knew that there were all kinds of unsuspected C19th riches in the Telfair Museum of Art - mostly American, but some European, and this wonderful mawkish Arthur Hacker, who went on to do all kinds of ghastly sub-Sargeant, sub-symbolist stuff, but executed - evidently - some early realist paintings, like the Crimean War themed Relics of the Brave (1882-3): it looks rather Newlyn School to me, but I don't know how far his connections with them went - though he was at the RA with Stanhope Forbes.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

name the city?

Is this Manchester?  Is it Leeds?  No, it's Savannah, Georgia, and this is the Cotton Exchange, built in 1886 By William G Preston (a Boston architect).  First impressions of this city (most of which doesn't look remotely like Northern England) is that it's very quiet and lovely.  But if you think there's something strange about this building, look again - you're right.  It's built over a street (that in turn leads to the river).  I'm glad that it's not earthquake country...

Saturday, May 21, 2016


You know those plans?  The ones that involve sending off tidy boxes of notes and books and clothes and saucepans, and then being impeccably organized, and ready to enjoy one's last day in NC, with the car not only neatly packed, but with lots of space for stray things.  Yes, those plans.  The ones that don't begin to answer why I had to make one last emergency trip with LOTS of boxes to FedEx, or why Alice, so far, has been in the passenger seat carrying four orchid plants, or why all the best-possible-plans for a 10 day road trip - from mosquito repellent, to napkins and sharp knifes for picnics to - yes - the road map, and printed out directions for every stretch of the trip - well, they were planned, and they're in the car somewhere, if you'd like to dismantle my mosaic of packed goods.  Please can I roll the clock back a few days, and start again?