Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 fades out

It's the ritualistic end of the year sunset ... I was apprehensive that the rather sullen clouds wouldn't clear in time, but they disappeared, leaving this somewhat Samuel Palmer-esque tower against the setting sun.  I suspect that it's really an air conditioner - whatever it is, I find, looking back through earlier December 31sts, that it's been something of a regular feature.  This is certainly the warmest Dec 31 that I've recorded - usually there's been snow on the ground; sometimes thick ice.

Let's all hope for a better 2018.  I can't complain in personal terms - I've had a good year (apart from the horrors, the tedium, the tension, the exhaustion of executing well over 100 picture permissions for Flash!), but that pales by the side of the continual sense of anger and outrage generated by this country's politics; Brexit politics, etc.  It felt good doing the other ritualistic December 31st practice today - not the photographing of the sunset, but the sending off of charitable donations to the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, New Mexico Wildlife Center, etc etc etc - with a sense that every cent is even more necessary than usual (and then the dilemma - would one big donation matter more to one organization than spreading oneself out ... and how does one choose, how does one choose? - in addition, that is, to one's monthly giving, which is probably the best way to do it ...).  But I think that spreading out one's giving matters for more than financial reasons.  I've been reading a good deal of John Berger very recently (for MLA related reasons), and when he was accepting his Booker Prize and simultaneously sharing the prize - and the money with the Black Panthers (and regretting that the prize wasn't bigger so that he could give more), he emphasized that "the sharing of the prize signifies that our aims are the same."  That, I think, speaks directly to the symbolic importance of showing one's support.

And even as I typed this up, I remembered one more destination I'd meant to give to, and paused, and clicked ... 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

miscellaneous book shelf top

A very miscellaneous assortment of things on top of a bookcase in my study, in the golden late afternoon light ... from left to right: a cat print mounted on wood, from a second-hand store in Paris, Texas (yes, of course I once drove through there because of the Wenders movie); a sake tumbler from Ten Thousand Waves's store; a ?1920s postcard of a woman and a cat, from a flea market in Havana; a large quail jar, from Pasadena; a small painted wooden box, from, I think, Mumbai (the price sticker on the bottom indicates that it cost 3 rupees); a photograph/print loosely based on a statue that stood on the terrace of Alice's old house in LA; a painted tin cat from Doodlets, in Santa Fe; and a fused glass vase.  That's the only one whose origin I can't trace ... some crafts fair, somewhere ...

Friday, December 29, 2017

what Moth thought of USC's performance at the Cotton Bowl

It had not been our intention to watch the Cotton Bowl from beginning to end - but alas, our dinner companions couldn't make our date in town because of illness, so we stayed at home to watch ... well, it was dismal.  Or rather, Ohio State's defense contained us, completely.  Old-time fans of Rutgers Football will know how we feel when I point out that the OSU defensive coach is Greg Schiano.  Probably, everyone else will wonder why we didn't just go to bed early.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

ears from above

... on a (relatively) hard working day - broken into only by a walk in the waning daylight, the sun sinking in a clear blue sky - what was the most obvious thing in my line of vision, other than a computer screen and piles of notes and books?  Why - the view of Moth on my knee, of course.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

geranium, off-season

Geraniums flowering in late December in Los Angeles is one thing - and I hope ours are flourishing.  Geraniums in Santa Fe ... I'm always amazed at my luck at keeping them going through the winter.  I put them into the garage, under a skylight - so it's cool, but frost-free; give them lots of water when I see them - that is, about every six weeks - and there they are, ready to be brought into the house when we're here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

not leaving yet ...

Poor LucyFur was so worried by our use of the washing machine and drier today that she thought that this could only portend one thing, I suspect ... I found her inside a bag, inside a suitcase ... By now she's unpacked herself, but is still walking around in a thoroughly suspicious way.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas walk

... or, to be exact, the first of two walks today (the better to be able to exercise away - proleptically - the effects of our Christmas dinner).  This is at the very top of our road - and manages to miss the dramatic dark clouds over the Sangre de Cristos; the Jemez mountains with some exquisite light falling on them, and the Sandias rising solidly to the south.  What it does show is how terrifyingly dry it's been here, for ages - not as bad as in LA, but still, everything's very brown and dessicated.  But let these shadows also stand for us pointing forwards towards 2018 and a great new year ...

Sunday, December 24, 2017

from our house to yours ...

... a very Happy Christmas!  (at least the odious Orange One has only taken ownership, it would seem - judging by his latest tweet - of the phrase Merry Christmas.  So I hope that yours is genuinely Happy).  Today's achievement - getting all these lights working.  Almost all of them are solar - and the issue has been hitting the right knob on the back of the miniature solar panel; making sure that they're not blinking, and generally finding secure bits of trees and walls (bearing in mind the strength of the wind out here) on which to hang them ...

Saturday, December 23, 2017

a New Mexican Christmas

Chile decorations, in Santa Fe Farmers' Market!  Not that we bought any of these - rather, it was root vegetables for roasting (tiny turnips and kohl rabi and things I don't really recognize, and fingerling potatoes, straight from the ground, and the world's most elegant cauliflower, and black garlic, and garlic paste, and some very small carrots).  It's great to be here, for once (if also disorienting - and I suspect it'll only become more so, over the next couple of days, Skyping with my parents rather than exhausting them with our presence) - and planning our Christmas dinner from what's locally available, as opposed to what my father has advanced-ordered from Waitrose ...

Friday, December 22, 2017

an approximation of snow

Really, I'm extremely excited to see any precipitation at all, even if it's only a frozen half inch or so.  
I didn't believe the alert when it showed up on my iPhone late last night - there'd been no snow forecast at all - and indeed, this could hardly be said to be a major blizzard.  So much for my fantasies of ski-ing this break - hardly anything other than beginners' runs are open either here in the Santa Fe Ski Basin, or up at Taos.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


... or so the sign above the doorway reads.  So - is this an empty store, that at some recent time sold or displayed Art?  Is it a description of the whole building, an installation that's pale cream against a deep blue sky?  Is it a command, asking us to go off and produce or prioritize?  Or none of the above - simply a provocation to do with art, meaning, referents, and the impossibilities of interpretation?  I'm sure there's one, perfectly straightforward answer: please don't tell me.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

the perfectly prepared artichoke

I've been very fond of artichokes, ever I encountered them chez la famille Pascal in the late sixties - first in Paris, then on the Ile aux Moines.   They were always prepared very simply: boiled, drained, and served on a round plate - with a large bowl in the center of the table ready for the sucked and discarded leaves.  These leaves had first been dipped in a simple oil and vinegar, or oil and lemon juice sauce.  The real refinement in all this, somehow, was when Claude taught me how to prop up my plate on a teaspoon, so as to create a slope - a slope that allowed for the sauce/dressing to form a convenient pool ready for leaf dunking.

Clearly, this artichoke, cut in half, and with three little pots (one of slightly, but only slightly browned melted butter, one of some kind of pimento sauce, and one with lemon-thyme aioli) reached unsuspected heights of sophistication, and was delicious.  And where did I encounter it?  Why, at a restaurant in Albuquerque called Artichoke, of course.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

puss in boots

I found Moth asleep on top of my best cowboy boots today - "best" in the sense of the best ones that I can fit into, since my feet seem to have expanded with age (or, more likely, my arches are subsiding), and so I can no longer wear the beautiful ones that I bought in the 1990s.  Even though I thought I might put these on today,  I really didn't have the heart to disturb here - they suit her very well.

Monday, December 18, 2017

an icy dawn

Sunsets may win the clichĂ© prizes, but I love the dawns here in Northern New Mexico (less so, perhaps, when I find myself scraping hoar frost off the car so that LucyFur can go to the vets to have her teeth looked at.  All well).  In truth, I always find myself proclaiming that every season here (apart from windy dry late March, and the heat of early July before the monsoons arrive) is my absolute, absolute favorite.  But I suspect, if I had to choose one, it would be winter.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

thin wintry sunset

Sometimes one watches the build-up of clouds on the horizon, and thinks that there will be a spectacular sunset.  Sometimes, like today, they disperse at the last minute, leaving one with just some shards of light in the distance, and a sharp golden-blue glow.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

decorating the Christmas tree (with help ...)

From the moment that I put the first strand of shiny beads up, I thought that this might not go well ... perhaps I didn't help things along by buying a goldfinch ornament ... But I can't resist tree birds: when I was tiny, we had two, then three, on our tree at home - and my parents used to move them around at night, after I'd gone to bed.  Of course I really believed, until I was seven or so, that they had really flown.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Ninja tangerines

Yes, this is really what they are called - little miniature tangerines (I should have put a quarter or something alongside them for show) - incredibly sweet, pipless, and just adorable.  I realize I sound like a commercial for them, but they are a treat that's really worth hunting down (for all I know they are everywhere, this season, but these particular ones come from the Santa Fe Whole Foods ...)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

not this year's Christmas card

... but it could have been, if the real one wasn't designed and printed and on its way to the mail box ... on the other hand, this is a fairly sad looking angel, so maybe not ... in a shop window in downtown Santa Fe, itself looking its seasonal(and chilly, though not snowy) self.

..maybe this one, decked out in a borrowed scarf, is more upbeat ...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

withered on the vine

... or at the very least, on the morning glory stem - a tangle of twigs set against a cold winter sunset.  It's so wonderful and peaceful being back in NM.  Now I'm going outside to look for Gemenids in the dark clear sky.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

on the road ...

... and the best part of today?  DOUG JONES'S WIN!  It's restored some kind of hope and optimism ... the rest of it - off later than we'd planned - isn't one always? - but it was a packed day yesterday; driving through California and Arizona, and arriving at La Posada, all decked out in its Christmas lights ...  On the dashboard - a camellia flower from our back yard.  I fear it'll be frozen solid by dawn.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

ambiguous signage

OK - help me to decipher this.  On the USC campus, it obviously references USC students - that kind of flattened Mohawk is, in fact, a Trojan helmet.  But what's happening with these two particular members of the Trojan Family?  Is it a warning that if you're a pedestrian, you might get mown down by a bicycle (a potential hazard just about anywhere on campus)?  Or, vice versa - if you're charging along on your bike, that you could hit a pedestrian?  Or does it tell us all that, frankly, it's a free for all on this bit of parkway?  At least the University's Cardinal and Gold colors have been accurately deployed ... but to what end?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pineapple, with Suzanne

I knew that it would be wonderful seeing the Visual Voyages exhibition at the Huntington under the guidance of its curator, my colleague Daniela Bleichmar - but I didn't realize quite how much I would learn about what was outside the show.  Somehow, I hadn't quite noticed that the gardens in front of it had been temporarily planted with Central and South American plants and fruits and all manner of botanica that would, indeed, have been strange and wonderful to the first European visitors.  This included pineapples - Suzanne and I - Suzanne's in the background, presumably contemplating the issue - wondered if we can grow pineapples here in Los Angeles.  I mean, surely the evidence above would suggest so?  The whole existence of the pineapple - how to draw it; how to describe it to someone who'd never seen or smelt or tasted or felt one - was a running theme in the first part of the exhibition.  The whole of Visual Voyages is stunning - the illustrated books, atlases, herbaria; the botanical illustrations; a large, contemplative portrait of Humboldt, is terrific - go, if you haven't already been - or even if you have, go again.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

different leaves

Two different sorts of leaves in the Huntington Gardens - some vine leaves, and some palm leaves.  The vine leaves were spreading over a canopy in the Ranch garden - only open for a couple of hours each Saturday - it's an urban agricultural experiment and teaching tool, and is a wonderful corner of the Huntington I didn't know existed, full of butterflies and bees and fennel and artichokes and kale and native plants and fruit trees.  As the people who run it said: it's the edible side of the Huntington (this was whilst offering me slices of blood orange, and chocolate persimmon - that is, vaguely-chocolate flavored persimmon, not some gussied-up Christmas treat), as opposed to the ornamental.  It was the antithesis of the hothouse (despite being around 82 degrees - surely not natural for December?), and extraordinarily peaceful.

Friday, December 8, 2017

the translucency of whiskers

It's time that LucyFur had her chance to shine (aka, for those of you who decipher the hidden message behind these things, it was a long, long, long, longer than that, long day of meetings).  But - what strikes me most of all her is not just the intelligence of her profile, but those extraordinary, thick, translucent whiskers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

why it's worth living with the danger of fire ...

I could have sworn that I would never buy a house that was vulnerable to fire - I have a long-standing fire phobia; used to wake up, as a small child, with screaming nightmares about fire; and have a tendency to hyperventilate when near burning logs in a fireplace.  I haven't the world's best sense of smell, but I can sniff out the scent of burning at a hundred paces.  Yesterday's skies of smoke made me on edge, jumpy.  (Yes, I know that I've just co-edited an issue of 19 on "fire," but that's either perversity, or a form of aversion therapy).  So why would I ...?   Here's the answer: the view from our living room early this morning.  It's a trade-off - vulnerability for view - but it's pretty wonderful to have (only) a 10 mile drive to work, with this vista (that bright green spot? The umbrella shading my precious avocado tree is still there ...).

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

all the air is full of smoke

The view from my parking structure at USC today - that smoke is coming up from the Bel Air fire.  The air is anything but Bel: of course, at work, and in Los Feliz, it's nothing like as dense and horrible as further west, though it's making my already scratchy throat scratchier, to be sure.  We're lucky; friends of ours who live down where that smoke is - waiting to see.  But in a way, so are all of us, especially if, like us, our homes back up against tinder-dry brush and woodland.  This means that we're always looking anxiously outside, wondering where sirens are heading, wondering if the sound we hear is helicopters circling overhead for some ominous reason, picking up cell phone messages about red flag conditions being declared again (and that means we can't park on the street), gauging how much the warm Santa Ana winds have picked up.  Of course this is the price one pays for living on a hillside, having amazing views, enjoying the rural.  But I wish it would rain.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

a photobomb

A long, long, long day, mostly spent doing Skype interviews, with occasional pauses to eat dried mango.  The kind of day when one comes home and casts desperately around for something to photograph, and once again, hits on the bright bowl of tomatoes.  But.  What is that, in the top right hand corner?  Moth really can't bear not to be the center of attention ...

Monday, December 4, 2017

last class

I will miss this class! including the other ten students who are out of this picture, but seated somewhere around our living room ... We ended with 5-minute presentations from everyone about their final project (and that had me looking forward to each of those final projects, very much indeed).  This was, however, interleaved with a pot-luck dinner that included some truly excellent food - I so enjoy having students round to the house (although, I have to say, gatherings these days are much more decorous than some that I remember from many decades ago, especially in my flat in Bristol).

Sunday, December 3, 2017

you can't go away again

Moth is adamant.  No more traveling, for an age.  (Little does she know - in just over a week we'll be off again - but with her and LucyFur in the car, too).  We crawled home after an 11 hour flight a couple of hours back; left the bags in the front hall whilst we foraged for dinner, and Moth made it quite certain that we couldn't leave again - at least, not without her ..

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Victoria Regina, reflected

I've long been very fond of the statue of Queen Victoria that stands outside Kensington Palace - the palace in which she grew up.  It was designed by her daughter Princess Louise in 1893, and shows her mother aged 18, in 1837, wearing her coronation robes.  Here she is, upside-down, reflected in the little moat round the plinth, with a few floating late autumnal leaves.  I'm sure this ought to function as a metaphor for something ...

Friday, December 1, 2017

two Oxford walls

One new; one old.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say - one piece of new (to me) graffiti, on a fairly old wall at the top of Great Clarendon Street, and one elderly (so far as I know) piece of Virginia Creeper, on what's almost certainly a very old wall fronting Trinity College.  I was on my way to and from a radio interview with a Dublin station that I recorded at OUP.  Quite how I kept the shredded remnants of my voice together enough for it I don't know (although a cup of hot herbal tea and endless Strepsils surely helped): for the rest of today I've been painfully, frustratingly laryngitic - my old-time response to using my voice after a cold.   Really, I shouldn't speak for a week, but returning to a full week of meetings and teaching is going to scuttle that plan ...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

well and truly launched

walking back from dining in Linacre tonight, with Flash! well and truly launched on the world, or at least on the UK.  It was a long, surreal, and wonderful launch-day - and I have now completely lost my voice (which will not be useful when I do some broadcast interview for Dublin in the morning).  It moved from an interview at the BBC with my old friend (and former undergrad and DPhil student) Matthew Sweet, whom it was truly terrific to see again, to London's Google Headquarters - a magnificent, glass and airy building at the back of Kings Cross, which was just as much a fantasy playground as one would imagine (although alas, even in signing in, one had to sign away one's right to take photos) - I gave a lunchtime talk to a room of people who asked great questions, before being whisked off to the world's (well, London's) most wonderful free and extensive cafeteria ... and then to Oxford, for a smaller party at my (old and current) college, Linacre, followed by dinner.  Gosh.  This has been the first, and I'm sure only time that I've written a book that's been treated with such enthusiasm, and it's been utterly due to the quite fabulous publicity team at OUP.  I'm now out of superlatives, but thank you, everyone.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Geometry of Bloomsbury

... staying at the Bloomsbury Hotel, for my book launch at Birkbeck tonight (a truly wonderful event, so a million thanks to Lindsay Smith, for a Response, to everyone involved with the Photography Research Centre and the Nineteenth-Century Studies Group, and of course OUP, for making everything possible).  Apart from the slow elevators, the Bloomsbury Hotel has much to recommend it - but it is becoming (like so much of Bloomsbury - and I'm not counting the fact that I was speaking in the Keynes Library, with three large Vanessa Bell oils on the walls) very Bloomsbury-Group-ized.  Yes, that's VW on the breakfast menu.  But the true coup de grace (or disgrace) - the notice by the Dalloway Restaurant saying "They lived in squares.  They loved in triangles."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Magdalen, Oxford

Three utterly picture-postcard-perfect views of Magdalen College: top and bottom of the Cloisters, and then in the middle, the New Building - so-called; begun as late as 1733.  Startlingly modern, one might say, compared with the Cloisters, which date, give or take bit of rebuilding, from 1474-80.  Such a fabulous place to be spending the night, post-talk ...

Monday, November 27, 2017

late autumn in Oxford

or even, I suppose, early winter.  An early-ish walk in the University Parks this morning (with two dogs); admiring the lone heron who's standing somewhere in the larger island; and processing (as I have been all day), being back here, where - in toto - I spent 21 years of my life.  It's all both deeply nostalgic and a radical experience of difference.  Speaking to Victorian graduates in the English Faculty today (about my new work on attentive looking, ecological awareness, what it means to look at this material in the light of today's environmental state of crisis, and so on) made me feel so grateful about the intellectual fierceness back in the US that makes us - makes me, anyway - think about questions, not themes.  So, in the end, I guess that this is what I was talking about ...

Sunday, November 26, 2017


On the one hand, it's quite amazing having Machiavelli quoted on a London Tube station.  On the other ... well, let's just say that I don't believe that Niccolò quite intended his words to be read in the non-sinister, non - er - Machiavellian spirit of self-affirmation that this Thought For the Day puts across.  It's probably a good idea to check the context and purport of one's pithy quotations ...

Saturday, November 25, 2017

home skies

There's home, and then there's home.  Wimbledon Common, and its skies, has been home for - well, a long time.  This is the seventh decade, I guess.  So when I'm looking at this particular quality of late November light, at the reflections off the pond and puddled bridle paths, at the bare horse chestnut trees, I know exactly where I am - as rooted as those trees.  At the same time it's all tinged with nostalgia, pastness, and being here makes me feel as though I'm about a hundred and ten.

Friday, November 24, 2017

LucyFur, sleeping

You wouldn't think that this dear, peaceful cat was someone who turns into a solid growling boulder of aggrieved tabby around five o'clock every morning, would you? - aggrieved that Moth would dare even occupy the same bed.  Whilst I always miss her (and Mothy) when I travel, I also look forward to uninterrupted sleep ...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

a cranberry waterfall

I'm not big on last-minute Thanksgiving shopping, but early morning found me in Gelson's, buying those well-known essentials: garlic and printing paper (well, o.k. - some lilies, cat food, paper towels, and seaweed snacks for the plane tomorrow found their way into the basket, too).  But had I not gone - I would have missed this kinetic sculpture, which looked as though it had escaped from a 6th grade science fair, and this was very endearing.

OK - you want a recipe for a mean sweet potato and kale gratin?  I feel stuffed.  And it was all the better for that garlic.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

a good season for the Dodgers

To be completely honest, baseball is the last American Sport that I've really got to know in any detail - with no particular reason for this tardiness.  But by the time the Dodgers were in the World Series a few weeks back, I was sitting up late at night reading up the rules on my iPhone - I feel a little more confident now about how the whole thing works.  OK, so they - we? - didn't win.  But at least this means that when I see miniscule baseball player figurines, I have a hitherto unsuspected sense of attachment, or at least identification.  These are sitting on the windowsill of a more-or-less neighborhood cafe, Go Get'em Tiger - we went and gave ourselves a pre-Thanksgiving treat of lunch out (at Kismet, almost next door to it), and Tigered it for coffee afterwards.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Putting aside the aesthetic merits of USC's new statue of Hecuba (or demerits - it really is an overwrought and embarrassing piece), let's just acknowledge that, like all bronze statues, it's taking on a pleasing greenish patina.  But what about the hand (and, indeed, some other spots).  Did Hecuba have vitiligo?  Did a seagull or three take a crap on it, and was some unfortunate bleaching liquid used?  I'm sure that it shouldn't be taking on such a strangely lightened hue.