Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Truth and Beauty in San Francisco

I've made a very, very, very quick trip to San Francisco to see the Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters exhibition at the Legion of Honor Museum - a pretty magnificent (if somewhat pompous, for the 1920s) edifice in its own right, with some excellent paintings in its permanent collection.  But I knew I'd kick myself if I didn't get to see this - so my thanks to Alice, above all, for understanding!   

There were some obvious favorites - Millais's Mariana; Rossetti's Lady Lilith and Beata Beatrix and Veronica Veronese; Holman Hunt's Lady of Shalott; some Julia Margaret Cameron photographs; Spencer Stanhope's creepy Robins of Modern Times.  The brilliance of the show is to put these paintings alongside the earlier painters who influence the Pre-Raphaelites: Sandro Botticelli - especially his amazing “Idealized Portrait of a Lady (Simonetta Vespucci);”  Paolo Veronese; Jan van Eyck; and Hans Memling.  It's not so much an x-influenced-y show in the sense of being able to trace clear borrowings (although there are some of these) - which cleverly turns it into an exhibition about PRB style, and line, and color, rather than subject matter.

It was full of surprises, to me: illuminated manuscripts (including one that belonged to Ruskin), and then an illuminated version of Rossetti's short story "Hand and Soul," by Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe - done between 1905-1911;

some paintings that I swear I've never seen (these included some watercolors, and Kate Bunce's St Cecilia (c. 1901).

Some well-known paintings were, interestingly, represented by small-scale copies - usually by the original artists - sometimes with assistance - but here is a real revelation: a small copy of Holman Hunt's Hireling Shepherd, with a black dog.  Where did that come from?  Or where did that go to??

Also - it was an exhibition where one could get really, really close to the canvases, and look closely at detail, and paint texture (the same was true in the main galleries - I was really struck by the thick rough paint in John Martin's The Assuaging of the Waters): here's some painted fabric from Evelyn de Morgan's Flora, which seems to be suffering from an overdose of the Botticellis.

If you can get to see this show, do!

Why, though, is San Francisco so chilly and grey??  

Monday, July 30, 2018

lil' stinker (amorphophallus titanum) at the Huntington!

It's a Corpse Flower - or amorphophallus titanum - or titan arum (not to be confused with Rafflesia arnoldii, or the Corpse Lily, which I'd like to see, too ...).  I'll probably miss her when she bursts into twenty-four hours of smelly bloom, but I might prefer her in this beautiful curled but unfurling state.  She's in the big glasshouse at the Huntington - and I was so happy that, by chance, I was at the Library today.  I've always wanted to see (and smell?) one of these notorious plants, which, quite apart from their other attributes, grow a couple of inches in height a day - her height chart, chronicling all her little growth spurts over the last couple of weeks, stands to one side.

(Not visible here are her fan club, the cameras, the cords and lighting, and all the tech apparatus that's waiting for her moment of odiferous glory - Photoshop is my friend when it comes to dramatizing her ...).

Sunday, July 29, 2018

for a moment ...

... I thought that I'd caught this cactus in a rare bloom: after all, we're not normally around in LA at this time of the year, and I'm seeing all kinds of flowers (both in the neighborhood, and even in our own back yard) that are new to me.  But of course I looked up ... and some tree above it - looks like a Californian Pepper - was dropping these strands of berries onto the big lethally spiny leaves of the blue agave.  I mean - I knew it didn't bloom like this.  But it was an instant of my over-active imagination hoping for something unusual amid the familiar.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

a mystery

So what happened here?  This is on the bank at the side of the house opposite.  What's the danger?  I suppose, conceivably, someone might have thrown a bucket of whitewash into the hedge, but why?  And what would be so threatening about it?  (other than, I suppose, the fact that it might still have been wet - but then, not many people, probably, would have gone clambering into the bushes to find out.  Conceivably, I suppose their dogs might have done).  One more mystery chalked up against the man who lives opposite (something in finance, here and in New York, with a large assortment of cars.  The bargain second-hand Aston Martin that he purchased the other week seems to have been quickly exchanged for a Porsche).  This auto enthusiasm is probably entirely unrelated to dangerous white paint.

Friday, July 27, 2018

an installation

If you ask me - and happily, no one's asked my opinion on this - there's a very great amount of work that's yet to be done in Taper Hall to get it ready for the start of the semester.  The big lecture theaters are being overhauled in some unspecified way.  They currently have a lot of bare walls, and walls with holes in them, and carpet covered with strips of blue marker tape - there are no seats.  There are also no bathrooms working on that side of the building.  And here's an - an installation, where there used to be a water fountain.  Or more precisely, when I stop pretending this is an art work, what's going to be installed is a new sort of water fountain, at which, apparently, one's going to be able to refill one's re-usable water bottle (this is good news).  Ummmm - maybe 12 working days before these will have students in them being Oriented?  Fifteen working days before they are used for teaching ...?  We'll see.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

the depressing wall art of Silver Lake

At the end of another (fairly brief) hospital trip for Alice - more blood samples taken; left arm left bruised and lumpy - we thought we'd celebrate the fact that she's got a bit more appetite by going and getting some pho from Blossom, the Vietnamese restaurant on Sunset.   She phoned in the order; she stayed in the car at the dead end of Manzanita; I trotted briskly up the steps and past the lovely tiny community garden there ... but the sad clown caught my eye.  It's not an uplifting contribution to the day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


This was the first morning for a while that Alice has felt strong enough for a walk - but she did! - and with it, a completely unexpected reward.  We were just coming up to the top of Holboro, and this heron flew low and steadily in front of us, and perched in stately fashion on a rooftop at the junction with Lowry.  It then swooped down, the far side - we can only speculate that someone's impeccable designer garden pond is now missing a carp.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

synchronized staring

This is what I woke up to this morning: I take it that Moth and LucyFur had been practicing for a while to achieve this symmetry of posture and where's-my-breakfast, slightly aggrieved stare.  It was, of course, effective.

Monday, July 23, 2018

threatened L.A.?

I worry about older neighborhoods in the inner city.  This is on N. Rampart, just a block and a bit above Wilshire.  Even these last few months, N. Rampart itself is changing: two small apartment blocks have been torn down.  It's not clear what will go up in their stead, but the likelihood of it being Affordable Housing is pretty small.  This brick block looks vulnerable, and this side of it was entirely shuttered at 10 this morning.  By the time I drove back, an hour later, Iglesias Fashions seemed to be opening, however ...

 (a brief trip, those who know their LA geography will say, rightly surmising I was driving between home and USC.  You're right.  It didn't improve my day to find that the Facilities guy who was coming to do an estimate for office moving "forgot" about the meeting ...).

Sunday, July 22, 2018

purplish flower

Doubtless this has a name (help, please! ...) - it's on a delicate-limbed shrub that we've had growing in a large pot for a couple of years.  I don't recollect ever seeing it bloom before - we're not usually around in LA at this time of the year.  It's pretty, but somehow rather fussily so.  On the other hand, it's a perfect example of the fact that even if I wouldn't choose to be spending so much of this summer here, one gets to see what otherwise one would miss.  And this morning, I even managed to take a couple of hours outside, working in the back yard, and only marginally disturbed by the yelling of the Korean instructor at the Junior Golf Academy over in Griffith Park.  His directions about putt holding, and the like, are relentless.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

warming up

Maybe this year, a critter won't eat my chiles?  This - all the way from Santa Fe, and living happily through the Southern Californian winter - is the most advanced of this year's crop of Chimayo chile.  It'll turn up a much deeper red before I pick it and cook with it.

Or today's heading could also refer to next week's impending heat wave, which we could do without, especially since we are already under siege with tiny, determined ants.

There's no unforced way of making the heading refer to what was the preoccupying event of the late afternoon and early evening: the gunman holding hostage people in the local Trader Joe's (having already killed one of them in an initial shoot-out; having shot his grandmother earlier in the day).  If circumstances had been just a bit otherwise, I'd have been down there stocking up on avocados and grapes and green peas.  Today's soundtrack was the throb of police and TV helicopters.  

Friday, July 20, 2018


Another backyard corner ... I love this fern.  I've known it as long as I've known Alice - some thirteen and a half years; it moved from Hoover Street with us - where it used to live in the little back court.  Somehow, it kept going through the various not-very-plant-oriented tenants we had there.  It's the most Victorian plant that we have (indeed, why don't we have more ferns?  There's one that I bought this summer, in the front yard ...but I think that's it ... time for some more ...).  Indeed - I find I've missed, by a month, the Los Angeles International Fern Society Show and Sale ... but they do have a web site with some very useful fern tips ...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

broken candlestick

There's no hidden symbolism here - sometimes a broken candlestick is just a broken candlestick.  This is one of a pair I've had a long long time - back to Oxford days - and I can't even remember how this one got smashed - but it's one of those things that I've kept; that has a strange half-existence in the back yard, because I like the color of the glass ... And this corner of light and shade, which sprung into visibility as I was watering this morning, is a perfect example of one of my original reasons for starting this blog: an exercise in attentive looking; a deliberate finding something beautiful or worthy of visual note every day, no matter how unpropitious the general circumstances.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

tschotchkes in waiting rooms

Today, to an acupuncturist, in the hope that she could do something for Alice's still horrible nausea.  This helped a lot - just so long as the needles were in.  Then the nausea came back.  Meanwhile, I was left catching up on email, and wondering why people have collections of objects in waiting rooms that aren't entirely explicable - these were on top of a cupboard.  They don't necessarily have anything to do with the acupuncturist herself - there are several people who use the building - but I didn't get the opportunity to ask.

Also: tschotchke is a word I had to check how to spell, and is the kind of word that would be a dream play in Scrabble if you had tscchke, and someone had already put "hot" on the board.  If.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

chopping carrots

Back to the quest to find appetizing food for the chemo patient ... today's effort was an Instant Pot full of vegetables and lentils, which made a very palatable dhal.  This in turn could be added to bone broth, for soup - Alice - and to spinach - me.  Of course, as is always the case, these subtly-colored roots turned into dark orange circlets in the process.  A bowlful of soup was consumed - which I'll mark down in the "win" column.  

Monday, July 16, 2018

banana bread

Baking banana bread is truly a labor of love, since I like neither banana nor - usually - cake (which is what banana bread is, when one thinks about the recipe).  That last remark deserves some qualification: I like cakes made of almond flour, hazelnut flour, chestnut flour, polenta, and possibly various other creative substitutes as well.  And when I was Very Young - like about eight or nine - I used to make an excellent, light, fly-away sponge that involved a great deal of whisking in a bowl suspended over boiling water on the stove, and that was basically mostly eggs.  I should resuscitate that recipe, the next time in Wimbledon.

But I digress.  Cooking/preparing food for someone undergoing chemo has its challenges ... they think they fancy something, maybe, just possibly - and then because all their taste and smell receptors are haywire it tastes wrong and horrible the minute it reaches their mouth.  And in any case, Alice suffers badly from nausea, which makes the very idea of eating a turn-off.  But this morning, she thought that she might fancy some banana bread (to be honest, after that thought, she decided she'd like some Sara Lee Butter Streusel Coffee Cake - which I failed to find in local supermarkets, and now discover, on line, is a notoriously elusive gastro-commodity).  So this is my best shot, made with organic everything.  I tried a corner - frankly, I thought it was a bit dry, and tasted of banana, which I guess was inevitable - but Alice did, indeed, eat a slice and a bit.  I was so grateful.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

not yet autumn

Signing up to "Nextdoor Los Feliz" is a mixed blessing.  It's good for swapping info about, say, where to find a good window cleaner.  It's a virtual poster board for lost and found cats and dogs (and on one occasion recently, a rather pretty pig).  It's a clearing house for people who want to get rid of their perfectly respectable garden furniture or sideboard.  It's where people ask - as a message popped up on my screen right now - why has there been a helicopter hovering over a certain intersection for twenty minutes?  Or was that a gunshot I heard?  

But it's also the site of much paranoia.  "Suspicious black Honda with tinted windows on Amesbury."  "Suspicious man with backpack - maybe casing houses - on Cromwell" (I'm not saying these alerts have no utility value, although occasionally I suspect them being planted by local security firms who want to make us sign up for their patrol).  Yesterday witnessed a further ramping-up of anxiety: someone who though that a street's trees were being poisoned, because the leaves were all turning brown.

I've got news for that person.  Last week the temperature went up to 110F!  The sun was hot!  It is very Hot and Dry.  Leaves Die in these conditions.  I'm usually posting pictures of this table top with dead leaves in January, when they've fallen off in Los Angeles's very belated autumn.  Yes, it's weird in July, but that's why.

And yes - that is an apple from a USC University Club sandwich box.  It's been there for weeks - no . critter has tried to eat it; no sign of decay.  That confirms all my suspicions about those apples.

Also - I can still hear a helicopter.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

an altercation is taking place

at the top of this tree.  It's hard to see, unless you blow it up - but it was something I've never seen before.  All summer long, a pair of woodpeckers have been using this palm tree - opposite our house - as a food source.  They were still going backwards and forwards this morning - I'm imagining that their young must be outside the nest by now, but still being fed - or maybe this is Brood Two.  Suddenly, two large crows appeared, with a great deal of cark-carking, and latched themselves to the sides of the tree, apparently feeding on whatever little bugs the woodpeckers like.  They were being dive-bombed by the said woodpeckers, screeching away.  Was this real feeding, on the part of the crows?  I know they're omnivores, so a tasty insect is going to be as good as anything else.  Or were they merely antagonizing, or threatening, the woodpeckers?  They stayed about fifteen antagonistic minutes of high avian drama.

Friday, July 13, 2018

why, yes ...

... I am looking particularly distinguished today.  Thank you for agreeing.  

Respectfully yours


Thursday, July 12, 2018


USC's Keck Health Center 2 - where Alice and I have spent too much of our time this summer - does a good job of providing vats of iced water, full of mint and strawberries and other bits of fruit.  Most of the cancer patients eye it very warily indeed, but I'm always glad to guzzle this parodic resemblance to an up-market hotel.

In a different sort of infusion, Alice underwent chemo session 3 - so she's now officially half way through (and tired, very tired, after today, though in part that might be the amount of Benadryl that they slowly seeped into her).  For those on the bulletin list (and let me know if you want to be added to it), a proper account will follow tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Not, alas, our own lemons - they're hanging thickly on a tree down the street.  I'd love to have a tree - maybe in a pot, whilst we sort out our yard - but (quite apart from the inadvisability of planting anything in the height of summer, probably) it's not been a summer when there's been the opportunity to head off to lemon tree emporia.   This will come ...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

a quiet dawn

A quiet dawn seen from our living room.  One might think of it as hazy; one might also consider it polluted - certainly, by mid afternoon, it was distinctly smelling of smoke.  I was heading back from USC when I saw a great plume of smoke go up, just to the north west of Griffith Park Observatory - I drove faster than I should to get home, to make sure that the indignant cats were within reach of carriers (why was there a mouse hiding under the carriers, which were on the back steps, and to put into practice my rehearsed-in-my-mind-but-not-in-practice drill of grabbing my most precious pictures, some photographs, my passport, and so on - and having stuff ready to evacuate in the front hall.  Happily, it didn't come to that.  Why, however, didn't I take a photo of the fire, dramatic as it was?  It would, I later realized, have seemed like fiddling whilst Rome burned - the most apt available simile - but I'm amazed that the thought didn't even cross my mind.

Monday, July 9, 2018

"beyond exceptional"??

Keck Hospital of USC: two buildings, two elevators.  I can't speak with confidence about Elevator 1 - this wasn't in a building that we normally go to, and for all I know it was very temporarily out of action indeed.  But Elevator 2?  This is in the parking garage, and has been like this for weeks.  With all the USC hospital scandal, you'd have thought that they might try a bit harder to live up to the preposterous slogan that we encounter at every hospital self-promoting opportunity: "Keck Medicine - Beyond Exceptional."  It's even on the back of buses.  There's something faintly amusing about having all the cardinal and gold branding from one's everyday campus existence - on the University Park Campus - pop up on the Health Sciences campus every time that one sets foot on medical territory - no escaping the Trojan Family.  But these elevator problems are, well, certainly Beyond Exceptional in a way that's unintended.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

cotinis mutabilis

- also known as the Figeater Beetle, and a member of the scarab family.  Really, it looks as though it ought to be a Victorian brooch.  He lives on cactus fruit, and sap, and decomposing stuff in compost piles, and mulch, and, presumably, figs.  Or, rather, lived - because I found him, deceased, in the gutter and gently carried him back to photograph him somewhere a little less gutter-like.  That's an amazing emerald green.  I was just so glad that he wasn't an Emerald Ash Borer, which are invasive and terrible (but the only emerald beetle I could name off the top of my head) - they are long and thin, but actually much much smaller - only about half an inch long, whereas the body of this one measures an inch, at least.  I'll be on the lookout for a live one ...

Saturday, July 7, 2018

morning trees

For what was to become another hot day, the early morning was extremely beautiful.  This was the only time that we could really head out for a walk - by the time I exited briefly to the shops, it was already stifling; when I went to pick up the mail from the mail box at lunchtime, I made the mistake of not wearing shoes - and the paving stones were too hot to stand on. But it's worth while getting up at dawn ...

Friday, July 6, 2018


These are probably not the offending grasses - but after being struck with aggressive hay fever in England (my immune-acclimatization back in the UK seems to have worn off), my system doesn't want to grapple with Californian irritants, either.  But my eyes are itching, and I sneezed six times in quick succession this afternoon, as though I'd been absentmindedly sniffing pepper.  Everything - including grass seed - is so dry - and for those of you who haven't been watching the thermometer with horror, the temperature went up to 110 today, which was unspeakable.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

the morning after July 4th

One wants there to be a story here.  Seen on our morning walk, there's something decidedly surrealist, positively Magrittean about this.  Had the hat been there all night?  Would someone leave it there early in the day, because they thought they wouldn't be needing it, after all?  (given the quickly rising temperatures, that doesn't seem likely).  Is there a particularly large spider underneath it? (there are, after all, a number of spiders' webs stretched across the neatly trimmed bush).  Indeed, that neat trimming adds to that surreal quality: it's as if there's a natural green hat table by the side of the path to the front door.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

before the onslaught

Moth and I would like to make the following observations:
i) if one's going to be kept awake by loud fireworks, having a good rest on a cool glass table top during the afternoon helps.
ii) I hate fireworks.  That is, I like looking at fireworks, but I hate bangs (and the fear that they might set Griffith Park alight).
iii) you can see a lot of fireworks from our house - including spectacular ones at the Rose Bowl.
iv) acoustics are weird.  What sound like industrial explosions from the bedroom - or at the very least M-80s - can be seen, from the living room, to be rockets going off in Glendale.  That is some consolation.
v) then one hears a sound - or two - of which one thinks that can't possibly be true.
vi) I really hate to think what this does to a vet with PTSD.
vii) Moth copes with fireworks better than I do.
viii) Moth has appointed herself my protector.
ix) when will these bangs STOP?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

street art in production

One doesn't often see a junction box in the very middle of being transformed.  I can't claim to like this psychedlia-meets-fractals number - indeed, it's a bit like a coloring book page that's being filled is using a very limited number of very bright felt-tips.  But I very much like how this is being treated as a serious undertaking, chair and all.

Monday, July 2, 2018

more poppies

A long way away (for now I'm back in Los Angeles), on an English summer's morning, I still was obsessed with the poppies.

Memo to self - do not return from LHR on a late flight.  That will coincide with every single flight arriving from China and Taiwan.  Immigration at LAX was beyond chaos.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

fading poppies

Read whatever metaphors you like into these: it's a hot, dry summer here in Wimbledon, and that fades and exhausts all living things (except, apparently, the magpies.  But they wouldn't pose).