Monday, April 30, 2018


The last few days, we've been conducting a determined cleaning assault on Moths - both the clothes kind (this time, the culprits were some old kitty toys - including feather-ended wands - that were in a large pot in the living room, and, close to them, a rug in the front hall), and the pantry kind (who knew that they liked rose fertilizer?).  This has meant much dusting and scrubbing with vinegar and wiping down the insides of baskets.  Here, however, one of the baskets has filled up again, with a different kind of Moth.  To be sure, she was named after the Miller Moths, who were having one of their sporadic emergences in Santa Fe the summer that we adopted her/she adopted us - but she does, on occasion, take the name very literally.  Also, it's confusing.

In fact, I still think the real moth culprit is my parents' house, where, these days, you can almost hear the munching sound of tiny caterpillar teeth working their way through the cashmere sweaters that I buy them at Christmas.  At least my mother keeps hers in plastic bags - my father goes around wearing what looks, by now, like camel-colored netting.  Yes, of course we bought them a stack of pheromene-laden gummy moth traps (Green Way brand, for what it's worth, which we find really works).  They remain unopened.  These days, when I'm there, I keep my clothes zipped up in a hard-shell suitcase ...

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Saddest Sidewalk

Seen on Los Feliz Boulevard, more or less at the junction with Zoo Drive.   There's a novel or a movie here (maybe, this being LA, that's the answer: the lettering has always been a prop, an artifice).  But it's a piece of poignant bleakness, however it arrived on the grainy sidewalk.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

back yard

The steps down the side of the house, into our back yard ... I was standing watch there, because I'd seen the Western Exterminator van next door (rats?? We had a large dead rat in the crawl space under the house the other day; the neighbors the other side caught a rat in a trap this week) and I worry that WE puts down poison, rather than setting traps - I was ready to have a confrontation about this, given that owls and hawks and bobcats and coyotes and even the beloved local mountain lion are so at risk from poisoned critters.  But no exterminators (or neighbors) came into my line of view - nor Alice's - she was similarly on sentry duty in the front yard, at the top of the steps.  Still, I do worry.

Friday, April 27, 2018

working lunch

yes, in the very broadest sense of the word, it was a working lunch - in that it was lunch with a colleague, and we had something that we needed to talk through.  But when this is the view (over the Huntington Gardens) from one's lunch table, and there's a plentiful supply of books that one needs inside the library, and some quite extraordinary gardens outside, the concept of a working lunch is a very loose and flexible one indeed.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

evening poppies

Our yard doesn't really get sunshine in the evening - but I was sitting at my desk around 5 p.m. and suddenly saw sunlight hitting a clump of poppies.  It had more or less moved on by the time I arrived ... but this, nonetheless, is a pretty good example of the sustaining effects of nature ... I've been reading Florence Williams's excellent The Nature Fix, and I'll just steal this quotation from Frederick Law Olmsted from her, writing in 1865 that viewing nature "employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system."  It seems like he was right - five minutes of this today, and I could go back to (slow) paper writing ...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

cardinal and gold ...

This is doing well in our front garden - which is to say, it hasn't yet been eaten by anonymous wild animals.  I was on my way out of the door this morning when Alice - watering early, before the sun emerged - exclaimed on its beauty.  Yes, but - it's unmistakably in USC colors, just like all the flowering annuals that are emerging all over campus in the annual pre-Commencement planting bonanza.  I'm not at all convinced that my institutional loyalty extends to any deliberate horticultural choices.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

a (sort of) rosette for Flash!

When I'm lucky enough to get some kind of accolade, my father likes to pretend I'm been awarded a rosette, that I've had what Americans call a ribbon pinned to my bridle - a relic of the days in which I proudly cantered round a ring having won Best Junior Rider, or being placed third in Jumping, 13.2 and under; or second in a dressage event, or whatever it might have been.  It's been a long time since I amassed a drawer of those.  And this isn't actually a rosette, but a medal (it's even got my name the other side!) from tonight's Academic Honors Convocation, with USC's colors in scarlet and gold.  There's also a ridiculously large citation.  Actually, it's more like take-home time from the Richmond-Upon-Thames drama festival (Shakespeare, under 16) ... an impassioned rendering of Imogen discovering the headless body of Cloten, if I remember right - which, since the speech contains the lines "All curses madded Hecuba gave the Greeks, / And mine to boot, be darted on thee!" was remarkably prescient of USC ...

Monday, April 23, 2018

tent city

Well, I guess I'm not going to find, tomorrow morning, that each of the booths that's still standing after the Los Angeles Festival of Books has a homeless person inside it - with an extra privacy curtain drawn over the front; a couple of food stations outside; a row of toilets and showers; a set of portable laundry machines (do such facilities exist?).  But it's a thought.  

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday morning

A very small vase of flowers on the kitchen windowsill: beckoning to a horticultural morning (more herbs bought and planted; other plants trimmed and repotted; yet more plants cut back, or split up into new configurations).  We're eyeing our back yard with the possibility of more extensive changes over the next year or so ... meanwhile, it's just exhausting comparing different pieces of advice about the smaller stuff, like how to care for the avocado tree, which has, I'm glad to say, survived its first year, but still doesn't look as healthy and happy as I'd like ...

spring scrimmage

Spending the morning in the USC practice gym, watching us beat both UC Long Beach and (more of a struggle) the scrappy, wouldn't-give-any-ball-up UC Riverside was a pretty good way to spend a Saturday morning - making me look forward greatly to the Fall, especially given various promised transfers/new arrivals ... 

Friday, April 20, 2018

the most literate seagull in America?

Campus - getting ready for the Los Angeles Festival of Books, with a seagull in the middle of the semi-drained reflecting pool.  I'm taking a dim view of the Festival, since they showed no interest in Flash! when I put it forward as a book that - surely, because I'm a faculty member, and also, because, well, it's readable (and even if you're not into reading, the pictures are good) - they ought to take an interest in.  But, whatever.  Maybe it doesn't appeal to seagulls.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

April sunrise

Almost every morning, the view from our living room is extraordinary; sometimes, like today, it's breathtakingly spectacular.  The clouds were low and grey and rushing westwards - some ten minutes later, it was drizzling (though not for long).  I'm writing a brief-ish discussion paper about painting light (in the C19th) at the moment - this photo looks as though it's trying to make a bid for inclusion.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

a sofa full of party

Flash! was given a party in English today, courtesy of David St John - seated left - and the English Department, and I was so happy to raise a glass to the book and all who'd helped launch her, in various ways - it was held in the Ide Room, where I once gave a talk that launched a number of questions that actually found their way into the finished volume in one way or another.  I just wish I could have a sofa-full like the one above to party with every day ,,,

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

local traffic

There's a lot going on that you can't see, here - and in fact I was a split second too late in taking this shot, since a moment earlier, the dog's head was turned the other way, barking hard at first the police car, then the ambulance that were racing up the street.  Indeed, I'm much lamenting the fact that the dog isn't more in profile - it's a surprising topping to what's already a somewhat overladen bicycle.   

Monday, April 16, 2018

drive home

Sometimes, on my drive to and from USC, I feel as though I'm a mutated form of paparazzi.  It's not as though the objects of my lens necessarily move around a great deal: I'm sure that this junction box is still there this evening, in all its vaguely 1967ish pink and orange glory; and I'm sure it was there yesterday.  But ah, the patient waiting that's necessary to have the traffic stopped at just the right place; to be able to wind down the window without any other traffic in the way; to have plausible lighting (and no, I'm not going to park the car round the corner and walk back: if I were a documentarian collecting the painted junction boxes of Los Angeles that would, of course, be a plausible option, but not just yet ...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

please, someone, supply a name?

Magnificent mystery plants, passed on our walk this afternoon - I'm sure someone (probably lots of you ...) know what they're called?  They are like lilac colored red hot pokers ... I have a feeling at the back of my mind that I may once have known, but the knowledge has disappeared ...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

floral drama

No - there's nothing dramatic about these poppies - it's just great to see them again.  The drama took place in the front yard, where there was another great flowering of The Poet's Wife - a beautiful pale deep yellow rose.  That is - it was flowering yesterday evening, and sometime during today, all the blooms on this new bush had disappeared.  Gone.  Apparently cut.  Someone would have had to have hopped over a low-ish fence to get them.  It's hard not to take this personally, when there are plenty of extravagantly blooming rosebushes all over the neighborhood, whereas our bush was just two weeks old, and low, and had just these four or five pretty blooms.   

Friday, April 13, 2018

stained glass door

Two fragmented pieces from our middle-floor back door.  I know I've posted an image of this before - indeed, a couple of years back, it was even our Christmas card.  But that was before we knew as much about it as we do now - not an original piece of the 1929 house (indeed, that's quite obvious, when one thinks and looks closely), but (and our information comes from an earlier habitant) from the 1970s - and almost certainly made by the wonderful stained glass workshop, the Judson Studios, that I visited last summer with Chris McGeorge's class.  They've done a whole lot of stuff recently for USC, including windows for the new Harry Potter dining hall in the University Village ... it's not actually called that, but it might as well have been ...

Thursday, April 12, 2018


I have a feeling that every year, I check out the name of this spectacular tree, and find out that it's a Bottlebrush, and that its Latin name is callistemon citrinus, and comes originally from southeast Australia (where I've seen it, blooming and blooming away).  To me, it's a sign of spring ... and one that comes just before the jacarandas.  Campus, in other words ...

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

a departmental farewell party

A celebration today in honor of Nellie Ayala-Reyes, retiring after - what? - 39 years as the Office Manager for English.  It's impossible to imagine the department without her ... the tributes were heartfelt and moving, and spoke volumes about her friendships and help that extended way beyond the standard path of duty.  The huge departmental turnout spoke for itself, too - as did the presence of administrative staff elsewhere on campus.  She and her husband have bought a camping van, and off she'll head on her travels ... Happy Trails, Nellie, indeed! (the University Club outdid itself on the cake).

And (in addition to a check), there were written tributes gathered together and placed in a mock tenure file (she's had plenty of skilled practice in assembling these), and a huge card signed by us all.  Special thanks to Tania Modleski, Aimee Bender, David St John and indeed everyone involved in pulling this all together.

I do have an uncomfortable feel that some of these images approach academic satire - but hey, yes, this is our department at play ...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

into the light

This reeks of "stock photo:" - shall we say it's suitable for graduation, for heading into the future, for starting a new, post-college life?  Look at that stance, ready to dance into the sunlight, reflected on the shiny door.  Hey, you could write the date and place and time of the invitation to the party on the steps!

I just happened to be in the right time and place for this, coming up the stairs from the Fine Arts Library, which, for those who don't know it, has the unattractive entrance of a deep, dark bunker.

Monday, April 9, 2018

underneath the orchid

Orchids look just as good when you crouch underneath them as when you see them from above, or from the wide.  Or, to put it another way, we're getting to that crunch point of the semester when pictures of plants (and cats, and other things that are very, very close to hand) are likely to predominate for a little while ...

Sunday, April 8, 2018

the poet's wife

Which poet?  Who was her or his wife?  No idea - but this is one of the David Austin roses that we bought last week in Pasadena, already blooming and fragrant ...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

dandelion heads

My (academic) enthusiasm for dandelions will come as no news to many of you: they are a star exhibit in my current work on Victorian close observation of the natural world, its relationship to contemporary ecology, and to critical practice artists who, in adapting Victorian methods/allusions, draw attention to the relevance of C19th natural preoccupations to today's environmental crises.  That's such a mouthful that every time I try to articulate what I'm doing it comes out differently, but I keep practicing my back-of-a-postcard version (at some point, "back-of-a-postcard" became "elevator speech," but I'm old school and still write postcards).

What I've been missing, though, are my own dandelion images - not of the golden, sun-like heads, but of the seeded puffballs.  Not only did I find three in the back yard this afternoon (whilst heading out to put coffee grounds round the young avocado tree ...), but, as I was posing them, a gust of wind made them behave like dandelions ...

If I print these up as a set - which I may well - I shall probably use the first image that I took as a kind of book-end.

Friday, April 6, 2018

close looking

There's nothing that beats teaching a class that involves actually standing in front of the works of art that we're discussing ... today our Victorian Visual Culture class went to the Getty, each member with a work to introduce.  This worked very well, apart from the officious Outside Tour Guide who elbowed us out of our position in front of Alma Tadema's Spring and said that She was going to talk about it to Her group.   Harrumph.  This is Sarah - once she got back in front of Spring - and Dylan, looking at Henry Weekes' Bust of an African Woman - by common critical consensus Mary Seacole, although there's no hard evidence there.  What one can't see in photos of the bust - but what fascinated us all - was the detail with which the snood that held her hair into place is sculpted.  Was this a nod to fashionability, or was it complying with common-sense when it came to hair and nursing?  (I do love this class - I'm going to be bereft when the semester is over ...).

Thursday, April 5, 2018

spring on campus

Blossoms, everywhere.  Even though we seem to be having June Gloom in April - the sun comes hazily through by the afternoon - it's unmistakably spring.  Seasonal changes may be much less dramatic here than in so many places, but all the same, they happen, and the longer I live in Southern California, the more appreciative I am of the slow, subtle movement from one month to the next.  (well, ok, truly, I'd still settle for the dramatic jumps from snow and frost to flowers and greenery ...).