Friday, March 31, 2017

the trouble with working at home

The hazards differ from room to room, of course - but they mostly include Demanding Cats.  The most common problem on my desk is LucyFur - between me and the computer.  She's right - it's hard to miss her.  I know a number of people think I'm crazy going into USC and working in my office - especially when I'm on leave - but I have good reasons.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Moth, in profile

Moth is one Very Alert Cat.  It's impossible to tell, from this, whether a humming bird has her attention, or a finch, or the trash cart up the street - but it certainly captures her consummate readiness for action.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

focusing on lemons

Wednesday is Farmers' Market day at USC - a combination of food stalls (the longest lines in front of the pok√© booth), crafts, bread, and fruit.  Lots of fruit.  It's an enormous privilege to live in a state where - in March! - one can buy fresh, local lemons.  OK, the avocado came from our nearest food store yesterday - but I could have bought one of these today, too ...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

suitable for an early start

Photo taken at 5.30 a.m., 5,000 miles away, in bad early morning kitchen light - so out of focus, and subsequently doctored ... but this is my father's Quaker Oats bowl, from when he was a small boy.  Next time I'm back, I'll try for a proper image, but this certainly has a patina of age and distance, which can stand in for a long day ...

Monday, March 27, 2017

monday washday (with magnolia)

It's Monday, so chez my parents, that means that it's washday.  Note the Huntington tea-towel on the left ... It was great drying weather today.  The magnolia appears in the background, its buds no longer furled up tight.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

eating an address

... in East Cambridge: a very tasty way of labelling one's house.  Note, too, the springtime daffodils ...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

my father - the handyman (and some English Spring)

I should be very glad that my 93 year old father is happy to climb up ladders, scrape paint, administer wood filler, and re-paint, although I find the whole process a little nerve-wracking.  Here he is, waving me off as I went out for a sunny walk.  He declined my offer to hold the ladder steady, saying it was made with an exceptionally wide footprint - as he climbed past my window (I was doing final, final checking of textual references against plate numbering ...), he certainly seemed unshaky enough ...

The garden itself is just past its most spectacular part of spring display, perhaps, but it's still looking pretty good.

Friday, March 24, 2017

windowsill flowers

I'm always so very happy to find fresh flowers from the garden in my bedroom - here looking dramatic against a dark night ... (and providing a subject, tonight: my photographic eye went to sleep today.  It's curious - it happens now and again; it's as though my eyes take a rest from looking and observing.  Let's hope they revive ...).

Thursday, March 23, 2017


... or, found art, or at least, a found composition, on the window sill in my parents' kitchen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

arriving in London

There's something very tranquil about arriving in England in the late afternoon light - with familiar smells (of what, quite, I don't know - plane and train and elevator fluids?) and rhythms of speech, and skylines, and blossom, blossom everywhere.

Except today, as soon as the plane touched down about 3.20 p.m., phones started pinging with the news of the terrorist attack in Westminster, and the news has been dominated by this.  But ... much though I may hate Theresa May's policies, it's such a relief to have a calm public voice speaking out for the government, and not tweeting, or leaping headlong into hysterical new measures.  Indeed, the overall tenor has been one of - we've prepared for something like this to happen - we are, after all, living in an age of international terror attacks; we've foiled attacks in the past; we're very well prepared; we'll carry on, at least until we have more details of this specific attacker, doing our surveillance, following our leads, being alert - business as usual.  The contrast with Trumperica couldn't be more intense.

(and yes, I know I'm probably idealizing, in various ways - but my point echoes that made elsewhere and in a different context today: Trump will almost certainly take domestic terrorism, when it happens, as an opportunity, not as tragedy).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Believe me, these lilies aren't next to the azaleas by design ... this is a little eye-searing.  But who knew that our azaleas were going to flower quite so abundantly this year, anyway?  After all the rain, we have a huge swath of bright pink - and then wild flowers, and, well, everything's in flower that possibly could be.  

Monday, March 20, 2017


This truly has to be seen to be believed - a new apartment block on S. Hoover, very close to USC, called "Element" - and boasting panels of false grass.  Doubtless the wood is plastic, too.  It's architectural brutalism in eco-clothing.  It's almost the nastiest bit of falsity I've seen all day - almost, but not quite.  Jennifer Tucker, giving one of the presentations at today's VSRI event, showed an unforgettable slide of Donald T---p getting his likeness sculpted and primped at Madame Tussaud's - and the hair on his wax effigy is YAK HAIR (and, I find on-line, squirrel).  Could anything be more perfect?

Sunday, March 19, 2017


One of the glass light shades in the gardens at La Posada, Winslow.  Our wonderful hairdresser in Santa Fe, Ashley, can't get her head around the fact that Alice and I are both Pisceans (we console her that we weren't born in the same year, and hence not with the same planetary alignment).  I've struggled all my life with the different parts of myself that swim against each other, so I see the logical dilemma, the crazed fishtank of two Pisceans, but ultimately, all those differently pointing fins surely cancel each other out.  In any case, I've always liked the aesthetics of two fish.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

rituals of the road

On our way back to Los Angeles ... and one of the things that we always try and do is to have a little vase of flowers (and if that sounds a bit twee, rest assured, this time, as often, it's a tequila glass) in the console between the front seats ... today, three stems from the euphorbia that's already blooming in the back yard, plus the one remaining viable stem from the hyacinth.

Friday, March 17, 2017

not exactly a teapot

One of the pleasures of Rainbow Gate (which mercifully has nothing to do with the Rainbow Bridge), but is a hand-painted, mostly one-of-a-kind pottery store in Santa Fe, is not just their plates and bowls and mugs, but the other pieces that are scattered around the store and workshop.  This has a beautifully confused air about it - not a water jug; not a teapot; but a sculpture that maybe was something that went wrong in firing, but that has its own impeccably non-functional identity.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

santa fe spring

Breakfast with one of my graduate students at Sweetwater Harvest, on Pacheco, today - very close to this.  The last couple of days have been so hot it's been like early summer, and leaves and blossoms are shooting out in all directions.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

our neighbors at breakfast

Sitting at my own breakfast, I was suddenly aware of movement, rather close by, the other side of the yard wall ... three large, healthy coyotes, in the process of catching their own meal.  This one seems to be trotting off with a packrat in his mouth.  I'm delighted that they're making themselves useful.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


I always think of hyacinths as winter flowers, whatever T. S. Eliot may have taught us to think about them (or Tennyson, in The Idylls of the King, for that matter).  In their case, they were writing about hyacinths in nature, springing up through the ground as a signifier of spring, or resurrection, maybe. But my mother always used to plant them - pink, blue, white - so that with luck, they would be blooming indoors at Christmas, or just after.  These are white, in our front hall, bought on the point of flowering, and doubtless to be planted outside at the end of this week, with our fingers crossed that they aren't immediately chewed up by hungry gophers.  The smell is the same, though: powerful, slightly bitter, instantly transporting me back fifty plus years.

Monday, March 13, 2017

the Prophet Muhammad, and cats.

We're just back from seeing Kedi - aka: Nine Lives: The Cats of Istanbul, which if you haven't yet seen it, is unmissable for cat lovers, and pretty amazing for anyone.  Yes, as all the reviews say, it might be shot from a cat's visual perspective, much of the time, but it's also very much about humans, human kindness, human love of cats, the consolation and calming properties of cats ...

But what has barely been mentioned in reviews is that this is also a film about Islam.  This isn't, indeed, anything that's mentioned in the film ... although there's the faint sound of the muezzin at one point.  But nor is it ever discussed why there are so many cats in Istanbul, and why people seem to love them so much.  The Prophet Muhammad, it's worth bearing in mind, loved cats - so much so that he let a cat give birth on his robe; that when it was time to answer the call to prayer, on one occasion he let his favorite cat Muezza carry on sleeping on the sleeve of his robe, and cut it off rather than disturb her.  The Prophet had a great friend called "Abu Hurayrah" (his name means "father of kittens") - whose cat one day saved Muhammad from a poisonous snake.  In thanks, he stroked  the top of her head (ever wonder where those dark M-shaped stripes come from?  They were left by the Prophet's fingers) and the back of her neck, granting her and her descendants multiple lives, and the ability to land on one's feet (very handy when jumping from Istanbul awning to tree to roof top).  The Prophet would share his water with cats, and a cat's saliva is deemed to be pure (unless there's some visible reason why not).  Cats are not to be bought and sold by Muslims; Muslims are to be punished for ill-treating cats; Muslims are allowed to live with cats so long as they allow them some freedom.  Perhaps the closest that the film comes to suggesting that cats and Muslims have a special relationship is the water barrel labeled "If you don't want to be desperate for water in the next life, don't touch these cups."

So - why has hardly any commentator (the review by Amy Nicholson, the MTV film critic, is a notable exception) picked up on this?  

(that's a rhetorical question - although it may also speak to general lack of knowledge about Islam in the US ...).

LucyFur and Moth - exhibiting new found friendship, thank goodness - will watch it when it's available on line.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

still with (C)her

Yes, I can think of all kinds of ways in which this is radically inappropriate, but it was remarkably witty for a pillar in our local gas station ...

Saturday, March 11, 2017


It's been wonderful, this past nine months or so, to have found a terrific hairdresser in Santa Fe (Ashley, at Salon del Mar, if you want to rush and book an appointment with her) but part of the pleasure of this salon is the art work - lots of big prints of Anne Staveley's lyrical but wonderfully off-beat photographs, and then surprises, like, today, these cascading butterflies.  They managed to suggest springtime (and lots of that, outdoors, today) whilst, miraculously, escaping being twee.

Friday, March 10, 2017

shelf of morning sunlight

three parts New Mexico; one red part North Carolina (though arguably it's chile colored) - one great thing about coming to the same house at all different months of the year is that the morning and afternoon sunlight hits in different places, so different things become visible ...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

the exhaustion of the ranunculus

Alice arrived today - so of course I well stocked the house with flowers ... or thought I had done.  For the bunch of ranunculi sucked up a whole jug full of water during the night and, aqua-soaked, collapsed in a soggy heap.  I rescued five or six heads, but that was, in truth, a wild expenditure of $4 that, despite their original beauty, turned out to be the horticultural equivalent of built-in obsolescence.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

not spring yet

Don't be entirely duped by this sky - it was getting warm by mid-afternoon (and I don't just mean indoors, as a result of the mended boiler), but it still looks very brown and grey and barren outside. This is the same dryness that, together with strong winds, is causing the terrible fires in Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle.  Global warming?  Well, let's just say that I was really grateful to be introduced to the website I See Change - a "community climate and weather journal" - thanks to a program on NPR.  This is a form of crowd-sourced observation, recording all the tiny signs of change in nature - like mosquitoes appearing unseasonably early - and real testimony to the importance of detailed observation when it comes not just to knowing detail, but understanding its relationship to a whole.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

a stone in the bed

... and a fine stone it is, too - normally a door stop for the back door, it's perhaps 6 or 7 inches long, and curved, with some flatter parts.  Typical of the Galisteo basin and round about, it is, I think, conglomerate rock, found at the middle level of the rock deposits here (and constituting about 15% of them).  It's reasonably heavy.  And - this is germane to my purpose - it holds heat.  For the second night running, it's heating up in the oven, ready to warm my bed (even though Reliable Tech, having determined that our new boiler has some kind of faulty heat sensor, have left me a massed array of space heaters, I'm not going to leave them on when I go to bed - indeed, they haven't been on for a while, but it will chill down soon).  Putting the stone back in the oven a couple of hours ago, I felt that I should be anointing it with olive oil, like a baked potato. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

on the road with cats #1,347

This is what I woke up to this morning: Moth, wanting to be back on the road (LucyFur is somewhere round the corner, but she felt the same way).  La Posada has a new pet policy: you have to sign that you will never leave your Pet alone in your room - no, not to eat, even - in case it disturbs the other guests with its barking.  I risked being fined and thrown out - what are you meant to do, if you're traveling on your own, and when your own food isn't allowed in the rooms?  (and I'm not snacking on kitty kibble).  Happily, neither of them barked.

... though I might not have been in such a hurry to arrive if I'd known (a) that there was a dead rabbit by the front door - I sincerely hope that Animal Control has picked it up by now - and (b) that the (new) central heating boiler had stopped working.  I have a stone heating in the oven, which I'll wrap in a towel and take to bed - spot the Victorianist, here ... 

ah, yes, the perils of dual home ownership and country living.  Yes, I know.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Kingman, AZ

The drive between LA and Santa Fe is well-finessed, by now, right down to which gas stations not only are conveniently positioned for refilling the tank, but which also have clean restrooms.  For years, the Chevron station on the west side of Kingman has stood out in this respect, and although we've never eaten there, we've seen a whole string of eateries comes and go next door - a Quiznos, a dubious-looking burger place, a Subway, and now this ...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

desert wildflowers

... and here are the Anza Borrego wildflowers just coming into their prime, which should be during the next few weeks, but these were quite spectacular - dune evening primrose, sand verbena, desert lily, and brown-eyed primrose - also lots of onyx plants in the top picture.  

And we also managed to find a track empty of people or vehicles ...

Friday, March 3, 2017

los borregos

I mean, yes, I suppose I realised why Borrego Springs/Anza Borrego Park had the name that it does, but I never imagined that this would translate into seeing several flocks of bighorn sheep.  These ones look as though they're in a diorama, but I promise you that they were alive and scrambling over the rocks.  These are all ewes - the really curly horned rams were half a mile away - some with lambs, and trying to get down to the creek without becoming too stressed by hikers hoping to find wildflowers.

This involved a great deal of standing look-out;

sometimes with bleating ...

This is the back yard of our hotel room (Borrego Valley Inn - we recommend - unpretentious and laid back and lots of Views).

Oh, yes - we came to look for wildflowers, which are just starting to be superb - and there were a good number of them ...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

look whooooooo!

It's one of our Great Horneds!  Harriet, we think.  Today she was staring in to Alice's study, like a great big feathered tabby cat.  (unfortunately the mesh on the window screen made it hard to get a really clear picture).  That stare?  I retreated.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Somehow, it's perfect that this numberplate (parked in front of me in Los Feliz this morning) should be on a - what color should we call it?  A metallic lime green? - Prius from Vermont.  Hard to know whether this is a descriptor, or an imperative.