Friday, June 30, 2017

a cheerful bathroom

I think this is the first time that I've ever visited the bathroom in La Choza (my favorite New Mexican restaurant in town) - surely if I'd been there before I'd have remembered this? 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

work, interrupted

I don't know quite how I've managed to end up with a lot of end of the month deadlines - and another batch due by July 15th - but so it is.  So I've had my head down, working hard all day - apart from a couple of walks round the 'hood - and wasn't in a mood to relish interruptions.  This combination at my study door, however, was pretty irresistible.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

curlycup gumweed

It's still not a dandelion.  Indeed, I didn't have a clue what it was - growing by the side of our road, in a big patch; just coming into bloom; looked strangely sticky.  Lo!  It is a Curlycup Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa), a plant I swear I never heard of before today.  One of the things I absolutely love about my new wildflower book is that - in addition to all the usual botanical information, and up to five or six photos of each plant (buds, flowers, leaves, seedpods, apparently typical habitat, and so on), it tells you about Native uses.  So for the curlycup gumweed, we're told "Infusions of this plant used by Navajo to kill ants ingested by lambs" (who knew lambs were inclined that way? or maybe it's accidental), "also poured into anthills to kill ants" (that could be useful); the resinous exudate used to hold lacerated skin together until healed" (so could that).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

not a dandelion

I went looking for dandelions today.  I was thinking about/researching C19th dandelions this morning, and even though I knew that this didn't really look like a dandelion of the ordinary, common or garden, taraxacum officinale type, I also learned that there are plenty of varieties of dandelion, and thought that, maybe ... 

Happily, Wildflowers of the Northern and Central Mountains of New Mexico has arrived - a wonderful volume.  This isn't, of course, a dandelion at all.  It's Yellow Salsify, or Yellow Goat's Beard (tragopogon dubius), which also has seeds that form puffballs for easy dispersal (or to be turned into decorative designs).  

I'll keep looking for dandelions.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mexican hats

Every summer, I swear that I'm going to learn - and remember! - the names of more New Mexican wildflowers; every year, I suspect, I start with these Mexican Hats ... The new wildflower identification book is on its way, so here ... well, let's be official, and call it Ratibida columnifera, commonly known - outside of these parts, anyway, as the upright prairie coneflower.  It's in the daisy family.  The only new fact I've learned about it is that the Zuni boil up the whole flower and use it as an emetic.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

visitors from across the Atlantic encounter New Mexican food ...

Passing through Santa Fe on their Route 66 road trip ... Aneta, Hana and Dave.  Aneta (although I know her from Wimbledon) and Hana are Polish; Dave's English, and for a Genuine New Mexican Breakfast, we met them at The Pantry.  Dave had the biggest burrito ever seen - and entered into the NM spirit by having it Christmas - i.e. with both red and green chile.  Chile was not exactly what Aneta and Hana went for ... but their breakfasts looked every bit as good as ours.  OK - how many years have I been coming to Santa Fe?  Twenty-three, I think.  The Pantry has been there since 1948, but this was Alice and my first visit.  It certainly won't be the last.  And it's so exciting to introduce people to New Mexico, even if they've temporarily abandoned Route 66 and have whizzed on up to Durango.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

why I like Agua Fria Nursery so much ...

In the first place, of course, because they sell wonderful plants, with an emphasis on plants that have been grown, organically, here in NM, and that will grow here happily.  But also because they are kind to people, as well as to the earth: if you can't read this notice at the doorway to the shop part, it says:
In This House We Believe
No Human is Illegal
Love is Love
Science is Real
Women's Rights are Human Rights
Black Lives Matter
Water is Life
And Kindness is Everything
- on New Mexico turquoise with the NM state symbol women into the border.  That just about covers all bases.

And then, it's the most verdant and surprising of nurseries, since it plants out what it doesn't sell, in a haphazard and happy jumble (its land stretches way out in the back), and one can never tell what one will discover.

It mixes up - in its own beds and on the tables of plants for sale - the edible and the inedible.

And it's kind to its own critters - here's a sunbathing snake on top of a water meter.  When a young man who was helping me load bags of potting soil into my car saw a Very Large Snail on one of the plants I was buying, he tenderly carried it off to a nearby flowerbed to carry on being a snail.  It's always a treat to go there.

Friday, June 23, 2017

remember when?

Hope, a second time round, still lingers on a rusty mailbox in the next road.  I feel sad not just at this in and of itself, but sad about the fact that Obama may well have scuttled things by being too principled, too desirous of being Presidential and non-partisan (as well as firmly partisan in other things, like health care) to call out the Russians loudly and publicly before the last election.  When being principled lands us with the least principled "leader" imaginable, what value, though, does one place on it?  Going and seeing Beatriz at Dinner has put me in an even gloomier mood.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

a murder of ...?

Flying up the road in front of us this morning: four large crows.  At least, there were four, and there are four shadows, but I can only detect three fat shiny bodies here.

When I was very small, my mother taught me a whole lot of collective nouns - not just a gaggle of geese, or a murmuration of starlings or a parliament of rooks (apparently a parliament of owls in the US, which sounds as though someone was consonant-challenged when they heard about Chaucer's Parliament of Fowles).  I loved the sense of possessing useless, but specific arcane knowledge. That probably says something prophetic about my scholarly career ... So it came as something of a shock to read this article on the Audubon Society website, which is adamant about the preciousness and futility of using fanciful collective nouns.  Birds come in flocks, the author asserts, like sheep.  And that's that.  Anything else belongs to the realm of pub-quiz trivia.  Nonetheless, I truly like the sense of connection with generations past of country people that comes with knowing these terms.

On our way back, we came upon what I think was a murder victim (though probably not a crow victim - they are scavengers - there's been a very alert Cooper's Hawk around): a thin gleaming silver and pale green snake that must have foolishly been sunbathing in the road, and had a large hole pecked in it, with protruding entrails.  I respectfully took a couple of sticks and relocated it, despite its demise, so that it wouldn't be car-flattened.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

the money frog

This is our money frog.  It usually lives by the front door, where - with a cent in its mouth - it's meant to bring us - well, money.  Or at least good financial fortune, of some kind.  It's made its way onto a windowsill so it didn't get knocked during some furniture moving, but I think it's meant to be by the front door.  It's Serbian; a souvenir of a wonderful evening on a restaurant boat on the Bosphorus in Belgrade, with the USC women's volleyball team coaches and trainers, some 5 years ago - and ever since then, I've been thinking this was some quaint Serbian custom (we were all given one; all told to place it by the front door).  It turns out, now that I check it out, that there's nothing Serbian about it whatsoever, apart from it provenance (and the fact that there are a lot of frogs in the Bosphorus).  It's a feng shui frog, and should be used to create financial good energy - by the front door, to be sure, with its mouth pointing away from it, to bring that prosperity into the house.  But not, I learn, on the floor, since that's considered disrespectful.  So I think it's going to have to be replaced on the hallway bookcase.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

lunchtime shade

The awning is over part of the back yard at Harry's Roadhouse - a suitable place to celebrate the fact that Flash! is off to be typeset - next step, the proofs - since the establishment even makes its way into the acknowledgements.  How could it not?  It's been a sustaining force all through the writing of this book ...

Monday, June 19, 2017


Continuing yesterday's Weeds or Wildflowers? theme ... only a few moments after I took these, a woman walking her dogs stopped and said how much she HATED these seed heads, which I guess makes them weeds.  For her, anyway.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Today's been a day of labor - mostly re-arranging things (our books written, we're changing round studies in the house again, which is more hellish than it sounds - think books; think papers; think stationery; think all kinds of personal Items), and pulling weeds.  These are very thorny, spiny, vicious thistles, so I was extremely thankful for my pair of leather Royal Horticultural Society gloves from Kew.  And then, pulling tumbleweed.

And also, reading Richard Mabey's Weeds.  I never fail to enjoy Mabey's writing on things British and natural - and this is truly fascinating (and scary - did you know that a tumbleweed seed can germinate in 36 seconds?  I'm not sure that I'm glad to learn that.  But I was super-grateful (as I start to think about dandelions in a more academic light ... more will follow) for some of his generalizations about weeds; about how they disrupt categories, resist cultural classification, become domesticated into food, or children's playthings, or are regarded as - a perfect phrase - "vegetable guerrillas."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

well-traveled flowers

Our kitchen window sill in New Mexico, in the early morning sun.  With the exception of the white flower, which has journeyed all the way from pre-Amazon Whole Foods (though doubtless had a larger carbon footprint before that), the rosemary and the geraniums and the mint originated in our front yard in Los Angeles.  Clearly the habit of placing little flower vases on window sills runs in the family.

Friday, June 16, 2017

tonight's apocalyptic view

... from which you will gather that the fire in the Jemez is still burning strong.  The smoke is stretching right out to Eldorado - we have closed our windows to stop our throats getting any more scratchy or our eyes even more sore.  Even Mothy has runny eyes ...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

fire sky

Doing its very best to look like a Turner painting, or a volcano, or both, here's the sun setting over the Cajete Fire in the Jemez mountains, as seen from our back yard.  Cajete?   In fact that comparison to a volcano isn't so far fetched.  This is just by Valles Caldera, a huge volcanic area (and still, indeed, quietly active), and El Cajete is a huge plug of pumice that the volcano spat out at some point.  All the same, yes, the word does mean - as well as "earthenware cooking pot" - toilet bowl, or bum, or ... This ignited in the late morning: let's hope that it's not as drastic as the 2011 fire not too far away from the site of this one ...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


This is the side of a food truck from which all kinds of synthetic and unhealthy things are being unloaded into a Taco Bell in Gallup, NM.  We ourselves were breakfasting on bean and cheese tacos.

But doesn't La Posada have wonderful breakfasts, you ask?  Were you not looking forward to your Arizona Green Chile Eggs, complete with that tomatillo sauce?  Their fresh squeezed orange juice, perhaps?  Alas.  Let's just say that it wasn't a Peaceful Night With Cats.  LucyFur, unsettled, took it out on Moth, and on us.  The only way she would stop hissing and yowling was when she took full possession of the bed, under the covers.  This left us huddling under a thin blanket on a mock leather sofa.  So we hit the road very very early - a beautiful clear still empty light, and all the shooting in Alexandria, all the aftermath of the London tower block fire, all the breaking news of the day, faded in and out with the unpredictability of NPR stations when one's on the long road.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Moth on the road

Having liberated herself from my sock drawer, Moth has now taken up a position of comfortable dominance on top of a bookcase in her favorite hotel - La Posada, Winslow.  LucyFur, meanwhile, is in a little huddled lump under the bedspread.

Monday, June 12, 2017

mallow, flowering

One very small, isolate pink mallow flower - although many more look as though they will follow. This is its first flower, so we are super excited to have seen it before we leave town ...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

more packing difficulties

Getting ready to head off to New Mexico - and clearing space and packing things away for the people who'll be in the house for a couple of months.  Let's just say that Moth finds all this activity extremely unsettling and - apprehensive that we might forget to take her - has sought safety in my sock drawer.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

a belated birthday

Belated birthday celebrations for my oldest friend, Véronique, at the Getty Restaurant!  And what might Alice be doing in the background that's so preoccupying?  Why - unravelling the tangle of artfully primped and curled ribbons that had been tying together the bag with Véronique's present in it, so that she could take them home for her kitties to play with ...

Friday, June 9, 2017

the view from my desk chair

... the view, at any rate, when I swivel round and away from the screen.  I've pretty much chained myself to my desk today - I had to finish writing an article, for my own sanity, and this week has been far too full of political distraction.  Indeed, I feel as though all this past academic year has been full of political distraction, and I would love to think that I might have some success in not clicking on various news sites every few minutes during the day, to see what's happened now.  The company in my study has also been a little distracting: Moth and LucyFur may look demure enough here, but you may perceive that their backs are pointedly turned on each other.  Both would prefer to be on my desk as I write: failing that, Lucy likes to squeeze behind me on my chair, and growl, and - worse - bark at Mothy when she comes too close.  She is the only barking cat I've ever known.  Woof.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

stained glass

It was a real privilege to join the last session of the class that my grad student Chris McGeorge has been teaching this summer - a truly exciting and experimental class, on public art then and now: C19th England (his area of specialization) and Los Angeles today.  So he was talking about frescoes and murals, stained glass and - well, stained glass.  Today's visit was to Judson Studios - stained glass workshops in Highland Park - and just over into South Pasadena.  We were taken through the whole process, from (computer) design to cutting the patterns that allow one to cut the glass; the binding in lead; the soldering and cementing; the painting; the restoration - really excellent to seeing what one knows in theory being carried out in practice (and, a throwaway remark, still in an apprenticeship/guild model).  Much of this was in a building that was - from 1910 to the early 1920s - the original home of USC's school of art.  Translucent color everywhere one looked ... and many extraordinary, unintentionally decorative corners.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

presenting Dr Bess Murphy!

Mission accomplished!  Bess successfully defended her dissertation this afternoon.  A Forward Looking Art: Education, Creative Exchange, & the Rise of Modern Native American Artists looks at Native American artists in the Southwest in the C20th, and at the art education they received and gave; their relationship to the traditional Indian art of their tribes and families and to developments in modernism; at the impact of the G.I. Bill; at the different forms of commercialization that they embraced (and resisted) - it represents terrific research, and much perseverance!  Truly, there's nothing like the happy feeling that a graduate student's defense brings, and if I feel that way, I hope that Bess is having a completely wonderful celebratory evening.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

june gloom, or ...?

No, this isn't Beijing.  But it's for everyone who thinks that living in Los Angeles automatically means blue skies and sunshine and palm trees.  This is downtown at around 6.30 this morning, en route to Alice's procedure at USC Keck (all went very well, I'm delighted/relieved to report) and is shockingly - well, what?  Just June Gloom?  June Gloom thickened with carbon monoxide?  It certainly conveys my relief that California is leading the way in committing to the Paris agreement, even if this crazed President is happy to see our lungs and windpipes clogged with whatever particles are thickening this grey air.

Monday, June 5, 2017

door work

Our front door has a little hinged door in the middle of it, with an ironwork grille on the outside - perfect for opening up so that one can get a (pre the days of a/c) current of air traveling through the house, or perfect for seeing, for that matter, who's rung the front door bell.  However.  We had the door re-surfaced a few weeks ago - a job involving much smelly varnish, but this will probably preserve the woodwork against sun and rain (?) and the sharp nibbly teeth of termites.  But our painter managed to varnish the little door tight shut, so that it was pretty much glued into place.  So he's back.  Here we have duck tape over it in some optimistic attempt to keep Moth from exploring her way through it (in fact, she's been kept in a closed room all day - we didn't think this would work) - and yes, that is a NM chile wreath from Christmas - very useful when one needs some sharp dry chile pepper.  Somehow, the overall effect, at least in a photo, is like unusual stained glass.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

farewell, cardigan

It's been time for one of those periodic closet and drawer purges and cleanses - not quite life-changing magic, but it certainly feels good - until one comes across an old favorite that is ragged, that has many wool pills and rubbings, and that has enough small moth holes to make me feel very unwilling to keep it, or to recycle it - and it would be ridiculous to try usual moth remedies like putting it in the freezer, or dry cleaning it ... because when did I last wear it?  Not this year.  Not last year - it didn't come to North Carolina.  Presumably the year before, at least once (my clothes have to pass a wear-it-once-a-year-or-you'll-be-thrown-out test, and that test just didn't happen last summer).  But.  Still.  A pang.  I bought it in England sometime in the early 2000s (at Jigsaw, on the King's Road, if I remember correctly) and although I can't summon up any particular memories associated with it, I'm fond of it (even as I write, I find myself wondering if I should sneak upstairs and liberate it from the trash),  Of course, a photograph is meant to record, to do the memory work, but I have a gloomy feeling that every time I encounter this image, I'm going to wonder if I couldn't have done something to rescue it ...

Saturday, June 3, 2017


There's very little sidewalk art in our 'hood in Los Feliz, so it was something of a surprise to see this little dark grey rodent in the gutter today.  He's carrying - what?  It looks like some kind of rat version of a pilgrim's staff, but that makes little sense.  His right fore-paw, and his downbeat surroundings, are marginally improved by the presence of some fallen jacaranda petals.  But it's hard to put a name to his expression - imploring? exploratory? tentative?  frightened?