Friday, August 31, 2018


Yes, thank you, I'm well aware that's a British expression, but you know what I mean.  Like the first cuckoo in reverse, it's a sign not of spring, but of fall.  It's football season!  And so, all kind of tents (and, obviously, other structures) have mushroomed all over campus.   Or, look at it another way: it's an excuse to post a picture of our reflecting pool - the first I've put up for a while.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

hibiscus flower

I've been very cautious about bringing flowers into the house, just in case Alice's immune system gets compromised by the chemo (orchids are fine, and probably just about everything else is, too - but [a] one can't be too careful and [b] the last thing we want is either cat getting into something toxic).  So after a couple of months of feeling sad about this, I've hit on a solution - just about every time I go to the grocery store, a plant comes back with me.  Sometimes it is, indeed, an orchid or a succulent, for indoors.  But more often it's something for outside - like this fine hibiscus, from Albertson's, the other week.  I hit lucky - it didn't have a tag on it (I think it was $16.99), and the man at the cash register looked at it, looked at me - and said "oh, I'll give you a good price on it" - as though he were a dubious Turkish rug salesman - and charged me $5.99, which appeared as "flowers" on the receipt.  It does, indeed, have fine blooms.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

stepping out

It's always exciting when one particular wall at the corner of Sunset and Lucile gets repainted, as it does, periodically.  It's been - as recorded here a while back - a pattern of multi-colored elongated splotches for quite a long while: perfectly pleasant when one's stopped at the traffic lights, but not half as much fun as this work in progress.  There were two guys working on it - can't wait to see how it develops.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

a very fine lizard

who doubtless believes that they are perfectly camouflaged.  Usually they're scurrying around much too quickly for me to get a decent shot, but this one obliged for their portrait.

Monday, August 27, 2018

transporting a goddess

Heading up S. Hoover St. on my way home - the truck next to me seems to have a South Asian goddess of some kind tucked into the back of - well, it wasn't easy to see quite what bits of junk he was carrying, but I took her smiling down on me as a welcome sign of beneficence after a long day ...

Sunday, August 26, 2018

pride in my neighborhood's pride in itself

This is more than ordinary neighborhood self-congratulation.  Our local Trader Joe's was the one caught up in a shooting and hostage situation a couple of weeks back, in which assistant manager Mely Corado was killed.  It's been reopened for a couple of weeks (TJs sound as though they were extraordinarily thoughtful in relation to their employees all the way through the process), and they've put this large billboard opposite the store's entrance.  The staff are all wearing tee-shirts with the same rainbow spiral, and ribbons and badges commemorating Corado.  

This billboard, however, speaks to more: it's the celebration of a neighborhood that very much rallied round in grief and solidarity that awful Saturday afternoon (by luck, I wasn't down there shopping - I so easily, like so many of us, could have been - just heard the endless circling of helicopters as we watched the live stream of news of KTLA).  People really do feel that it was their store and people whom they knew who suffered.  What's more, I've never seen it so full.  Shopping for groceries seems to have become a form of solidarity ... but above all, this billboard strikes an excellent note for a corporate owned (or indeed any) store: local, non-commercialized, and very much to the point.

another creepy waiting room gem

This really is deeply creepy.  Nonetheless, in the spirit of turning lemons into - well, something drinkable - I'm starting to realize, as I accompany Alice to various appointments, that there's a whole genre out there ... that is, I knew, of course (cf my remarks about dental surgery art on Monday), at some level - but really, there's a whole project ... So this my offering today - another treasure from Alice's acupuncturist's waiting room.  That gaze, that gaze ... the awful thing is that it seems to be reciprocal.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

back in business!

Yes! it's the start of the new volleyball season, and #10 USC beat #5 Kentucky.  That makes me very happy ...  Sure, it was start-of-season uneven in places; sure, our middle blocking could have been better at times; sure, the passing was wobbly in the first set; sure, there were quite a few errors (some of which looked just like the same errors made by the same people last season).  But our new Spanish setter is terrific, as is Emily Baptista, the transfer from Pacific, so I am super excited for the new season.  And yes, I realize this might be a slightly esoteric post - but hey, it was great to be back in the Galen Center (and thank you to those who came round this evening to have dinner with Alice, so that I might be there!).  And please can we always have the National Anthem sung live, by someone from the Thornton School?   

Thursday, August 23, 2018


On our drive to USC hospital, there's a carnitas stand with a very fine belted pig on it.  It's just by some traffic lights, so I've been waiting for the day when there's red light; no cars in the opposite direction; no other distraction ... Of course, lunch itself, hours later, was - for me - a yoghurt and some grapes: this is just a kind of teaser to the imagination of taste.  Alice (whose chemo means that she is very good at imagining taste, but finds that whatever she's imagined turns to sawdust and ashes and metal shavings and salt lick in her mouth) was hoping that pasta-and-broccoli salad would provide some kind of sustenance and ballast.  Five down; one to go ... I can't speak for her (as she heads off into what are now becoming the all too familiar physical after-effects), but I have a truly nasty headache from six hours all those incessantly beeping infusion machines.  Small woes, in comparison - but.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

evening spray

Walking back to the carpark from an event at which I'd been speaking - a "conversation" in the Polymathic Academy at USC (designed to bring undergraduates together in an interdisciplinary way).  I was on stage with two wonderful, smart, and articulate physicists, talking about Time, and had been intending to make some reflections about this ... in particular, I'd been speaking about how one can use photography to make one reflect on the nature of time; to slow it down; to create a space for reflection (actually, it was one of those 8 minutes of very fast-spoken stuff when afterwards, you wish you'd started from someplace else and gone in another direction, but whatever).  Here, at least, my lens, even in the dusk, is fast enough to freeze the water spray, and offer up some contemplation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

African lilies, encore

... because they are, if possible, even more beautiful than earlier, and they seem to be bursting out of the ground in places that I don't remember seeing them before.  And because after all today's 
political excitements, I need something tranquil to focus on in order to try and get to sleep (if only, doubtless, to wake up at intervals and see whether The Orange One has tweeted about anything other than loving West Virginia).

Monday, August 20, 2018

dental art

There is probably a book to be written - but I promise I'm not going to be the person to write it - about vernacular art and dentists' offices.  Not the combination of framed posters together with paintings and photos by dentists themselves that's usually interestingly eclectic (this dentist's has both a Santa Monica beach scene and a large canvas of a pigeon - I'm fond of both of them) - but stuff that is more or less humorous.  That is, "humorous."  One dentist's office that I went to in New Jersey had a not uninteresting huge soft sculpture of a tooth, and enormous stuffed felt toothbrushes.  But this is something else again: a device for holding business cards, and then an uncertain shift between two and three dimensionality - and then - THE DRILL.  It was not an unpainful morning, in my mouth, and I didn't much enjoy contemplating that drill.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

wearing lichen

I've been thinking a lot about lichen this summer - largely Victorian lichen, to be sure, but some contemporary lichen-thinking and art work and writing, too.  And moss.  There's a keynote (in Bonn) and a different CAA paper (in NYC, next February) on their way.  But the inevitable has happened, via eBay: chasing down wearable lichen.  This is one of two necklaces - here's some lichen cast inside a marble-sized ball.  Much lichen disquisition will follow, I'm sure (from Ruskin, to Donna Haraway, to Drew Milne's series of poems, "Lichen for Marxists").  Some of you may already have heard me talking about lichen in Millais ... it's been a profitable and sustaining summer-long obsession.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

annual lily splendour

This is an annual miracle: from a clump of dry dead leaves these lilies - and more like them - shoot upwards during mid-August, and flower in all their pink glory.  I think they're the South African Belladonna Lily, or (in SA) the March Lily - whatever, they are amazingly beautiful, seen here against a background of thick plumbago bushes.  Find whatever metaphor you like, in this.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Fighting on against plastic water bottles

On (hot) moving-in day, eager and welcoming people were handing out bottles of water, left right and center - which were doubtless very welcome.  Of course, they exhort one to Fight On! and have USC's signature salute.  BUT - next year, couldn't freshmen and their parents be given reusable aluminum bottles?  Please?  They can all still say Fight On ... and then they can be re-used, again and again (for yes, there are suddenly all these new water-bottle filling stations inside buildings, instead of old-style water fountains that one bends over and hopes to get water in one's mouth).  And the Rossier School of Education (for seemingly, judging by the inscription on the other side of the bottle, it was they who were handing these particular ones out) could man a large water cart so that people could fill them up on the spot.  Evangelical though I am in my feelings against plastic water bottles, I'm not sure to whom I should be pitching this particular outrage and proposal for the future.

Nurse Moth

Moth has been a loving, stalwart, caring companion to Alice all the way through the long grind that's encompassed by 6 sessions of chemotherapy - so much so that she's earned the title of Nurse Moth.  Here she is, keeping the knees warm at breakfast - Cream of Wheat, for Alice, which I thought was a strange American invention, until I realized this is semolina by another name.  I grew up eating it with jam - usually raspberry jam.  Indeed, I didn't know there was any other way to eat it, but Alice heads for the milk and brown sugar.  I'm sure my mother made it with sugar from the get-go - my memory is definitely of a sweet gooey substance.  This disquisition on semolina has led me away from celebrating Moth, which was undeserved, given the fact that we should all be celebrating her virtues.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

moving-in day ...

They're here!   When I arrived on campus this morning, lines were long outside the dorms.  It's quite an operation: you can order your supplies from Bed, Bath and Beyond (or other such providers) to be waiting for you, curbside ... or your parents drive you up and are duly confused by parking officials waving and blowing whistles.  Quite amazing, I saw a Penske truck ... do they know how small the dorm rooms are?  A colleague's freshman son explained to me quite how tiny the gap between the two beds in his room is.  

It's quite a scene, and a far cry from my own arrival in Oxford a million years ago.  Indeed, my mother did drive me, from London - she'd passed her test only a couple of years before, and at that time had a very racy, and somewhat unstable Triumph Herald - something like this, but in dark blue.

My pre-college purchases largely consisted of some mugs and some plates from Habitat.  We didn't share rooms, at St Anne's (that is, apart from, seemingly, the two 3rd years who shared a room opposite me, and had a quite alarming couple of whips hanging on their wall).  My mother subsequently said that she was surprised that I didn't express dismay that my own room (in a Victorian house, overlooking the Woodstock Road) was so very small - I think she underestimated how exciting it was Having A College Room At All.  I couldn't wait for her to leave, and put my yellow and orange Indian bedspread on my (tiny) bed, and dig out the blu-tac to mount my posters: Millais' Autumn Leaves  (THAT WILL SURPRISE NO ONE):

 and Theophile Steinlen's 1899 poster for Motocycles Comiot.

Then I went out, and bought poster # 3, Burne-Jones' The Beguiling of Merlin.

So that was my room decorated.  My mother left me with some money - £15, I think - to "go and buy a beanbag cushion," but there quite definitely wouldn't have been room for that on the floor.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

behind the (catering) scenes

Getting ready for one of those many, many receptions that are mushrooming up all over campus, here's a row of catering containers for stacking trays of stuff - like little wardrobes, or coffins, or porta-potties (which may not be an American term, but you'll know what I mean).  Their wheels, however, make them look as though they're about to set off independently on a dash for freedom - or maybe, it being the start of the semester, I'm just projecting.

Monday, August 13, 2018

back to school

Back in Taper Hall today, after The Summer That Never Was TM, and the noticeboards are starting to fill up with flyers.  This one is particularly delicious.  I've been changing offices today - my 8th office since coming to work in the US, I think, which seems too many - and this one, being the Chair's office, isn't a permanent lodging spot, either.  But it's not the same office, either, as it was the last time I held this position, since the whole Art History department has moved.  This time, I'm hoping that by swiveling my chair, I should have some good sight lines for comings and goings to Bovard, our main administration building ... these are, as they say, Interesting Times at USC.  

Classes don't begin for another week - but it still seems very early in August, to me ...

Sunday, August 12, 2018


These look posed, but they're not - I just looked up at breakfast and there they were, caught in the sunlight.  They've probably been there for a while - I don't drink tea (except for mint tea, etc) (yes, I know, I know - bucking the national stereotype), and Alice isn't into it at the moment.  But (and these are, really, her teapots), they make for a hospitable and comforting image.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

a leonine (and jaundiced) view

Here's another of the not-so-Venetian lions that decorate some of the houses in the roads around us.  This one looks very much as though he should have a fountain stream pouring out of his mouth - but no sign of it.  It was a cooler Saturday morning; everyone out seemed in a good mood; everyone said Hi or Hello! or ¡Hola!, depending.  I couldn't help but contrasting this with my father's daily effort to get a Hello! out of everyone - or a Good Morning! - as he heads up his street and along another block and a half to the Co-op (the newsagents that had been there on the same stretch for five decades or more having gone belly-up with the advent of said Co-op).  Five decades?  Why does one think that one's own memory somehow equals historical stretch?  I find, with a little digging around, that Jenkins the Newsagent was in fact started in 1880 by Edwin Jenkins, whose brother Henry was already running a grocer's on the opposite corner - which later became Cullens.  That makes me very very sad that it's now closed, and it's probably worthy of a post all to itself when I'm next back.  Perhaps its very demise signals a lack of neighborhood; the same lack of spirit that makes my father feel as though he's had a triumphant outing if he's successful, even in a small way, in his mission to get the world to acknowledge another human being.

Friday, August 10, 2018

a rose

Sometimes, one just wants a single, isolated rose to look at (that being said, as the only rose actually blooming, right now, in our garden, that's not hard).  This is The Poet's Wife - her second (and surprising) bloom of the season, and I offer her up solely in the spirit of having something beautiful to contemplate.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

imperfect color co-ordination

Walking down the car park steps at Keck - that's Keck Medicine of USC, where I was running errands for Alice - I realized that I could have done a better job in color co-ordinating my shoes.  Or they could have done better with their line painting.  Either way, something about this doesn't quite work, even if it very nearly does ...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

strange things in waiting rooms, part 2

Back at the acupuncturist today, for Alice to have needles stuck in her, with some apparent effect, I'm glad to say.  I gritted my teeth, and concentrated against all the distractions, and managed to get some work done - a report written - but fell foul again, despite myself, of the lure of the distracting tchotchkes.   This would seem to be a greyhound, seated at the base of a complicated tree trunk: had it been cast in bronze, it would have looked like an escapee from the Antiques Road Show.  I realized, eventually, that its mysterious loopy form probably spoke to its identity as an umbrella stand.  It's hard to think of anything that we're less likely to need in this hot and dusty (or ashy) weather.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

a surprise flower

I'm not entirely sure of the nature of the surprise - what is this?  It's curiously bent over here (from an upstairs window I thought maybe it was some kind of hibiscus) - from the ground, it looks more like gladioli.  Either way, I've never seen this bloom before.  It's surely yet another horticultural compensation for being here all summer - either because it always flowers this week in August, and we're usually still hungrily grabbing the last few days of monsoon-filled New Mexico - or because being here, I've watered it assiduously every other day - it is, after all, next to my trough of arugula, which continues to grow on a happy cut-and-come-again basis.

Monday, August 6, 2018

flight of parakeets

Sure, you can't really see them.  I promise they were there - see below (from the same image).  But try imagining what they sounded like, screeching across the morning sky.  For some reason (nothing that they like to eat, I suppose), we don't ever see them in our back yard: these are down the street.  There are, indeed, more parakeets visible in my parents' back yard in Wimbledon, which doesn't seem right to me.  But with so many bird species here that are different from England (apart from sparrows, and they are unthinkable, to quote E. M. Forster), I invoke parakeets as some kind of tenuous avian link between the two places.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

a thoughtful garage door?

Seen on my walk this morning - at the top of Amesbury Road.  At the time, this struck me as an extraordinary benevolent gesture.  But subsequently - I've been wondering.  Is this kitty permanently banished to the garage, and is this a compromise (not a bad compromise, to be sure)?  Is someone in the house allergic?  Do they have a new baby, and are they fearful of it sitting on its face? (which it almost certainly won't do).  Is it a Monster Cat, who terrorizes their other cat(s)?  Does the garage have a bad mouse problem?  It's very cute, whatever the rationale ...

Saturday, August 4, 2018

neighborhood rose

Alice still had enough energy left this morning for a hilly walk around the neighborhood - a different route from our usual one.  A slow walk, perhaps - and the great thing about that was the number of opportunities that it afforded to admire the considerable number of roses that are still very much blooming and flourishing.  It's a hot week approaching, in which presumably none of us will feel very much like flourishing at all, but the display was an impressive one today on Shannon and Prestwick.

Friday, August 3, 2018


Another of those plants that we installed - and then rarely get to see bloom, because we're usually out of town ... It's not one of those crazy, extravagant mallows that look like fried eggs, but a pale mauve one with small, super-abundant flowers - that are way, way over our heads.  But it's delightful to see it in its full glory ...

Thursday, August 2, 2018

hospital art

At least there's an attempt to be bright and cheerful in this part of USC's Keck Hospital: it's modern; there are safely meaningless paintings and installations in bright colors - although outside the blood drawing room, there's an endless video of Norwegian scenery.  The music that accompanies this is possibly meant to be meditative and soothing, although it's a little like a very tasteful crematorium ante-room.  This soothing quality is radically interrupted by the slide show - the very short slide show - that plays in the elevator, with a dangerous deep blue sink hole; a scary hairpin mountain road; something volcanic and dangerous; a sunset (not, really, a good metaphor), and a blue sky with fluffy clouds (also capable, very easily, of being over-read).  There may be a few more - three or for floors isn't, mercifully, enough for them to run through and repeat themselves - but you get the idea ...

... and for those waiting for an update on Alice: all went well today (4 down; 2 to go!) and her oncologist was very, very encouraging about what she could(n't) feel.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


I'd intended, this morning, to pay a quick visit to the De Young Museum before flying back.  I nearly did - I took a couple of buses to get there (I much enjoyed seeing San Francisco by public transport, and seriously recommend an app called Moovit which tells you how to get from A to B - but more than that, tracks you as you're trundling along, tells you when to get off; tells you how long till your next bus will be ...).  But I didn't really know about the Californian Academy of Sciences, which is a magical museum teaching the young (and I guess the older) about precarious environments, from rainforests to coral reefs, and the importance of conservation.  That seemed to be where the masses were heading - so I walked over out of curiosity - and, in fact, I couldn't walk away.  These are, of course, only a fraction of the photos that I took ...

Somehow, I missed (well, I could have spent far longer there) the African Penguin Colony, but I did get to see an albino alligator called Claude.