Sunday, September 30, 2018

wimbledon roses

Six thousand miles away, these roses were looking very pretty in my parents' garden this morning.  It was, as I thought it would be, tough leaving - I don't think I've ever been quite so glad to have had ten or so hours of admin to occupy me on the plane ...

Saturday, September 29, 2018

wimbledon common, early autumn

Wimbledon Common has been the backdrop - off and on, off and on - to my whole life, one way or another.  Obviously, for the last forty years I've only seen it spasmodically - every few weeks, every few months - but it's always been there.  So - on another lovely day of late summer - I went and sat there by the pond for a while the afternoon, and looked at the heron, and the heron looked at fish.  Looked at fish very closely and intently.  The horse chestnut trees, which I thought a couple of years back were diseased and doomed, seem to have revivified.

It's not going to be easy heading back to the US in the morning - which is obviously and presumably whilst I'm trying to hang onto continuity with my past ...

Friday, September 28, 2018

British politics

This will take care of my political sentiments for the day on one side of the Atlantic.  As for the other side ... let's just say that it's surreal following along on my iPhone on the Oxford Tube's free wi-fi ... (a very, very flying visit to Oxford to examine an excellent DPhil, with huge apologies and regrets to everyone whom I wish that I'd had time to see ...).

Thursday, September 27, 2018

my favorite bar

It's just possible, of course, that there's more than one contender for this title, depending on the country.  But at the very top of the UK list is the bar at the St Pancras hotel, which has the best imaginable Victorian decor.  It also has (a) a quire superb cocktail menu (tonight was, for me, The Beekeeper, which involved lavender-infused Bombay Sapphire gin, Melfort Farm honey, sloe gin, lemon, hibiscus and elderflower - all of this curated - doubtless that's the only possible word - by Marcus Wareing) and (b) a truly crazy clientele who always seem to be having very public illicit affairs.  Such a fun and elegantly louche place ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

a final Bonn dawn, and some Köln street art

I think that it would be possible to do a series of 365 Bonn dawns - and they would all be different.

I didn't know (until I Googled) that Köln is apparently a total mecca for street art and murals - another good reason to return to this corner of Germany!  And these are just a few visible from the train.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

(a lot) more of Bonn

The mist/fog over the Rhine this morning was remarkable - one of those early morning misty atmospherics I'll remember for ever.  When dawn was first breaking, the grey clouds were up the river - and then within ten minutes they came sweeping down, swallowing up even the opposite bank into a thick grey.

Then later, after I talked, and after I'd been taken to a pretty square for coffee by a graduate student, I walked to the spectacular Botanical Gardens - spectacular for many reasons, including a huge gunnera plant (I love gunnera - there was one at Naworth when I was little, and it was marvelously huge), and some extraordinary water lilies.  I'm deeply grateful to the conference organizers for bringing me here - I doubt that otherwise I'd have dropped in on Bonn, and that would have been a mistake.  And I could well come back - I never, after all, had the time to go to the art museum (and here's the conference dilemma, when one's a keynote: does one, as I did, play one's part, and go to panels, or does one - well, go to the art museum?  I never have a dilemma if I'm giving a paper and on my own (or rather, my university's) dime - but when one's being put up with this kind of an amazing view, it always seems right to me that one gives back.  If only I could stay another day ...

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bonn, at both ends of the day

One view of the main university building (with sun!  that wasn't really typical ...), and three more from my room - pre dawn, post dawn, and this evening.  And the great news - I can stay in my room for tomorrow night, too!  I am not sure what piece of serendipity or behind the scenes manoeuvring took place, but I'm so very glad that whatever happened, happened.

I went to all today's program - and noted that in the introductory remarks given (from among a range of people) the chair of ESSE - the European Society for the Study of English - the emphasis was much more on anxieties about what's happening further east, to the edu-political scene in Poland, Hungary (which apparently has dropped Gender Studies as a state-sanctioned subject "because of budget issues), etc. - rather than Brexit (which just elicits a sad shake of the head).  As for Trump - rarely mentioned throughout the day, except to raise a laugh (with, though, an underlying sense that it's all symptomatic of related trends).

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bonn (and confusion)

On the top, a view of Bonn University, where I've come to a conference of German professors of English to give a keynote on Tuesday morning.  Below is the beautiful view of the Rhine from the window of the beautiful room that they've booked me to stay in.  Yes, it is all as grey and cloudy as it looks ...

But.  At check in - I found that the room is booked for just two nights.  The hotel is - and will be - full.  I had asked the organizers if I could stay for all three nights of the conference (apart from giving my talk, there's an exhibition about the C19th flâneur at the art museum; there's a famous botanical garden, and, well, I've never been to Bonn. And there are some conference papers I want to hear.  And my train ticket back to London is booked for Wednesday, not Tuesday).  The organizer that I'm dealing with hasn't yet answered my email.  I don't have their phone number.  My original email was sparkling clear.  As a doyenne of room booking, I'm not exactly happy (and that's despite the barges going prettily up and down the by-now-dark river outside).

Saturday, September 22, 2018

three views of leeds, and an international tale of hipster food

There's rich Leeds, and there's poor Leeds - and that's been true since the Victorian period.  So here are two contrasting receding perspectives.  On the top, a street in Harehills.  It's wide enough - as you can just see, to drive a car down, but it's also narrow across to hang one's washing to dry over it.  It's too wide, though, to be called a ginnel, one of the narrow lanes that the house that my father was born in backed onto - but otherwise this is very much the red brick that he knew as a small boy.  I'd have done better going to Cross Gates and looking for the house itself - I was in Harehills hoping to get to see the Frank Brangwyn mosaics in St Aidan's Church, but next time I'll go when there's a service, and the doors are open ... no phone number for the vicar; no hint of what to do if you're an art historian on a pilgrimage (yes, I should have known better).

So I walked back into town, and looked at Victorian and Edwardian opulence, instead: here's the County Arcade, which opened in 1900.

And here is the view from my hotel window this evening - quite shockingly, the grey drizzling clouds have disappeared.

At lunchtime, I thought I'd make a different sort of pilgrimage to the home of the Best Ever Avocado Toast, at Laynes Coffee house.  Alice and I ate there a couple of years ago, and it was memorable.  But what is this?  It is toast with ... crushed peas and cannellini beans!  and the same accoutrements as the avo used to have.  It was pretty good, though I couldn't help thinking of the story (I hope it's true) of Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's former sidekick, who when campaigning for the Labour Party in Whitby (also in Yorkshire) allegedly went into a fish and chip shop (Whitby is famous for them), and, pointing to a soft green substance, asked for some guacamole on the side.  "Eeeeee, love, that's mushy peas ..."

My own dialogue, as I was paying, went something like this.  If you know LA, you'll appreciate it ...

Me: what happened to your avocado toast?  
Man behind cash register (maybe the owner?): well, we've just changed the menu around a bit
Me: but it's the best avocado toast I've ever had!  And I'm from Los Angeles, so that's saying something!
Man: Oh!  So where do you live?
Me: Los Feliz - so, do you know LA?
Man: No - I've never been to the States.  Is that anywhere near Sqirl?
Me (taken aback): Yes!  Well, that's about ten minutes away.  Do you have the cookbook?
Man: YES!!!

Hipster food travels.  Or, in the case of avocado toast, some days it doesn't.

Friday, September 21, 2018

some wise municipal owls

There are owls all over Leeds!  How have I never taken this important fact on board before?  There is even a Leeds Owl Trail!  OK, yes, I'd noticed their friendly presence on the city's crest (three barn owls), but not the large numbers perched in all kinds of other locations.  These are at the back of the Town Hall.  There is a carved owl in every single court room in the Magistrates' Court!  There are owls all over facades.  Clearly, hunting them down tomorrow would probably be much more fun than giving a keynote.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

a little bit of family history

So - I'm in Leeds, to give (on Saturday) the closing keynote at a conference celebrating 250 years of the Leeds Library - an old, old circulating library, that (with over 900 members) is still in existence.  What the organizers who invited me didn't know beforehand is that just over a hundred years ago, my grandfather, Joseph Flint, would, as a very young man, have been behind the issue desk that you see here: he was a clerk, entering names of borrowed books in the register.  Family lore  - or the bit that . I've heard, anyway - says that this is because of his beautiful penmanship.  Certainly, he didn't come from a library-style background, although at least one of his sisters, Rosie, became a teacher.  But he must have been very young - and in 1914, he signed up to fight in World War One. The current deputy librarian apologized to me, this evening, that they didn't keep his job open for him when he returned.  For return he did - but he was gassed in the trenches, and this meant that he had weak lungs, and flu carried him off in 1928, just before my father's fifth birthday.  But even if I never knew him - obviously, he's a very close part of my immediate ancestry, and doubtless he inhaled and passed on some book dust  together with that mustard gas.  It's a privilege to be in his old workspace.

It was a wonderfully English reception - you don't hear people at US conferences saying Well, wait fifteen minutes - the organizers have just gone to the off license to get some more booze, and to Sainsbury's for some more sausage rolls ...

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

drying dusters

in my parents' front hall.  Which is not at all the same as Dry as Dust.  

My enthusiasm that they have someone coming in five days a week for a couple of hours to - to what?  Help?  Clean?  has been severely muted now that my father tells me that she is very good at Throwing Things Out.  There are things - plenty of things - that mean - well, don't in some ways mean a lot, but that are, nevertheless, part of my own history.  Do I want to hang onto them?  No.  But would I like to have taken a small square of the blanket woven from shoddy in my great-grandfather's shoddy mill?  Yes.  And then there are plenty of objects, like the eiderdown that I had when I was little, that all I want to do - to have done - is take a photograph.  Earlier this year I made my father promise not to throw things out before I could do just that because, as I told him, there's no way that I would expect him to know what had sentimental value to me and what didn't.  But that promise didn't stick.  Instead, I had an earful about my Not Having Been Here - which, given the circumstances of the past few months, seemed a little unfair.  I'm sure this happens to so many of us, but I'm using this space, for once, to wail and lament.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


I get that my hairdressing establishment - like so many hairdressing establishments, and when did this start as a Thing - is named punningly - "Crowned" (and for anyone looking for a Pasadena recommendation, I very much recommend it).  But there are crowns, everywhere.  And coming from the land that has the woman whom my father resolutely calls Betty Windsor on the throne, I have a strange relationship to this - part seeing it all as some kind of princess-queen-for-the-day-blow-dried-hair-fantasy-land; part TV show (hmmm: couldn't Elisabeth Moss have won last night?); part, well, The Monarchy...

Monday, September 17, 2018

glassell park fire

You were wondering about pollution in Los Angeles?  This was the view from our living room balcony this evening.  OK, this looks closer than it was, thanks to a telephoto lens, but it was still pretty dramatic.  Apparently this was a two-story commercial building of some kind - and I should think that's very much a "was."  I'm glad we're not downwind of it ...

Sunday, September 16, 2018

a laid-back cat

I do wish that I could channel LucyFur's zen-like qualities.  It wasn't that kind of a day.  On the other hand, sheer panic about the prospect of giving two quite different keynotes in the next ten days has produced, shall we say, a frenzy of work this evening.  The ideas are there, and the argument, and indeed the material (or rather, too much material) - but I crave more time for the stuff to marinate ...

Saturday, September 15, 2018

another episode from the weird waiting room

I should contextualize - maybe.  Alice's acupuncturist shares her premises with a chiropractor who specializes in sports injuries.  At least, I think he does - but he had a string of remarkably overweight and underfit clients this morning.  I know, because there's no receptionist there, which means that the person sitting in the waiting room - yes, that person, trying to write a keynote about lichen - talks to everyone who comes in.  Who can blame them, when there's no one else with whom to converse.  They've never had acupuncture before!  (I sing the praises of the acupuncturist).  They need a physiotherapist!  (I point to the cards, and suggest they call).  They come in, and want to listen to a football game on their iPhone (no earphones), because they've forgotten the time of their appointment, and want to wait and ask (I can't help).  Or, evidently, they bring a plastic foot with them, and leave it behind.

Friday, September 14, 2018

two more living room morning views

... I mean, it looks so beautiful in this golden light - why not?  And what would you rather have?  A picture of two blood packs dripping slowly into Alice, as her hemoglobin count - we hope - gets resuscitated?  She certainly looks much better - less of a grisly pre-Halloween pallor - this evening, even if she's exhausted and nauseous ... But you don't want a picture of that, either, so it's home-grown house porn again.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

a peaceful start to the day

Our living room was looking especially peaceful this morning - there was a shaft of sunlight perfectly striking our New Mexican bulto of Nuestra Señora de los Afligidos (who seems rather too appropriate, right now), and an early morning blue haze on Griffith Park outside (cf yesterday, on LA pollution - but still, very pretty ...).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

end of cycle

Alice's chemo ending where it began - in a fourth floor cubicle at Keck, looking out over the mountains.  And yes, this is dusk, and yes, we didn't leave until 8.30 p.m.  Given how fatigued I am, I can only imagine how she must be feeling ... It was (for those of you looking for a bulletin) the most grueling of all the sessions, but at #6, she'd been warned that it probably would be.  If only we could go out and celebrate ... but that's hardly on the cards (mind you, that hasn't stopped me pouring myself a large glass of wine).  And - this is a bummer - it's back again on Friday, because her blood work up shows that she's anemic, and will need a four hour blood transfusion to give her some energy back (and to put her on the right road for surgery next month).  

That glowing sunset?  A perfect image of polluted late-summer Los Angeles.  I spent a good deal of the afternoon reading about lichen and industrial pollution, and came away with the fun fact that lichen in/near LA shows particular signs of nitrogen pollution.  Frankly, in an atmosphere like this, I'm hardly surprised.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

a campus lily

... or maybe it's an iris.  I do tend to confuse them.  It's doing its best, whatever it is, to be cardinal and gold ... I took this at standing way above it and holding the camera into the flower, in an attempt not to cast a shadow over it, and so it's a reminder to try more often to take photos at unusual angles ...

Monday, September 10, 2018

above the feet

Back on August 29th, this mural was still in development: now it's finished, and I was in prime position at the lights today to record the fact.  It's undemandingly pleasing, which is what I need, right now.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

catching the light

On our walk this morning (yes, that shadowy figure on the left, by the car, is Alice, able to take a constitutional again), this branch across the sidewalk was particularly pretty, suddenly catching the light (that was before it got hot, but not as hot as it had been threatening).

Saturday, September 8, 2018

onward and upward

Nearing the end of the 5th of 6 chemo sessions ... Alice is looking pretty cheerful, all things considered.  Yes, she's sitting on a bed - but that's because we were watching the US Open Women's Final.   Yes, indeed, she's holding what I'm beginning to feel is her trademark strawberry frozen yogurt popsicle.  (I don't know how she'll feel about them in the future, but I know that their smell is one I'll never want to sniff again, and I'm not the one consuming them).  Yes, she's being carefully guarded by the ever-faithful Moth.

I have, of course, her permission to post this photo - I wouldn't do so without letting her have a say in it.  These whole last three and a half months have thrown up so many issues for me about what I feel comfortable posting - but how far has it been an honest reflection of what I've been feeling, and what Alice has been going through?   Or how far is that conveyed between the lines (or between the flower stamens, or the individual fur-hairs, or whatever), for anyone with any imagination?  Probably.  But I have taken downbeat photos, that I wouldn't share - at least, not until Alice is the far side of all of this, and they become part of something else.  And that's the photographer/archivist in me.

Friday, September 7, 2018

this time, inside a mallow

... it's next to the hibiscus.  But it cheers me.  I need cheering - all day I was haunted by last night's dream (something that rarely happens, much though I dream - I usually think of them as very welcome free novels) - in which I was clinically depressed: really, catatonically, hospitalized depressed.  And I was woken up mid dream (blame a cat), and I've remained in that state all day.  So gazing at the beauty of petals and stamens is restorative (more restorative, at any rate, than watching USC lose volleyball matches in Milwaukee, doing much admin, or trying to write - slowly, slowly - a keynote for Leeds in - eek - a fortnight's time.  If anyone thinks that is LOTS of time, I have another to write for the subsequent week, and that one is currently a paragraph long).  But before then - I find myself dreading going to bed tonight, since I don't really want to fall asleep, this time.  So maybe I'll meditate on a mallow, first.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

solidarity at the vet's

Since we weren't in Santa Fe this summer, Moth and LucyFur didn't get their regular check-up.  The Village Vet, close to us, has had one vet leave, and the other's only there a couple of days a month - and we don't know the others ... so back we went to Dr Carlsen, our very favorite vet (I'm speaking for Alice and myself - not necessarily the cats) - whose only drawback is that he's on the West Side.  (This meant, mind you, that this was the longest car ride that Alice has had since early June - and hence should come under the heading of a Triumph for her).  Yes, we do have two kitty carriers.  The minute we opened them up, in the examination room, Lucy climbed straight in to be with Moth - there is safety in warm numbers.  Since they were both adjudged to be a little overweight (though otherwise in excellent health), there wasn't a whole lot of space in that carrier ...

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

evidence in black and white

The last week or so, there's been a mystery in our back yard - a smallish, but rapidly enlarging, shallow hole.  On close inspection, it seems to be an uncovered ant hill.  What eats ants?  I mean - ant-eaters, but that seems unlikely in semi-urban Los Angeles.  So I set up a trail cam, and after a couple of nights of capturing waving leaves (I couldn't quite get the angle right), the mystery was solved - a very handsome skunk!  There was also a possum that came and sniffed around, much earlier, and a field mouse that wanted nothing to do with it.  Not the best of photos - they are screen shots from videos - but mystery solved ...

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

the morning after several nights before

well, who knows when?  But I always suspect game days for making the car park elevators less than savory in one way or another, so let's blame Saturday.  You'd think - unless this was the aftermath of some very strange breakfast - that Facilities would have a quick peek into elevators on the morning after a long weekend?  It seems like a sensible precaution ...

Monday, September 3, 2018

watching RBG

I was so grateful to CNN for putting on the RBG documentary as a Labor Day treat.  We'd not been able to see it when it was in the theaters - that coincided with Alice's diagnosis - but here it was, beamed into my own study ... Hard to know what was the most impressive part - I mean, obviously, her impact on women's rights issues - but beyond that - her press-ups?  her work ethic (hard at it until 4 a.m.? that puts the rest of us to shame ...) her dry sense of humor?  her capacity to enjoy everything, seemingly?  her clarity and principle?  I felt Alice wince gently beside me when we learned that she didn't miss a day in the courtroom because of her chemo - from which one surmises either that she was fortunate in her timing, or else that she didn't endure taxotere.  What a woman.  And meanwhile, the White House refuses to release - what? 100,000 pages of records pertaining to Kavanaugh's service there.  Please, RBG, keep doing those press-ups; doing sit-ups with volleyball throws; lifting the weights ... we need you.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

a shy spider

I really don't know what this is.  I went to look at the African Lilies, which are on their last fading legs (stalks?), and found (a) that they are covered in ants (but so is everything in Los Angeles, this summer), and (b) that there were a couple of really unusual skinny spiders, with long thoraxes striped like marrows, feasting on the ants.  Does anyone know what they are?  Peucetia viridans, the Green Lynx spider, doesn't quite have these stripes, and anyway has lighter legs.  The Green Spider, Araneus juniperi, has very similar stripes, but a much rounder body, like a gourd or water melon.  It was incredibly shy and nervous, and of course I had no idea if it was friendly to humans or not, so I was hardly going to pursue it further - but even with a pretty good image, I can't find anything that looks like it on line.  Of course, in fall, I end up labelling everything that I don't recognize an Orb Spider, but that seems a bit of a stretch, this time.