Thursday, January 31, 2019

Moth appropriates the New Yorker

We have an internet outage this evening, which is throwing a very large spanner in the works when it comes to doing the evening of flat out admin that I’d planned.  On the other hand, it’s allowed me to find out that these days, one can - it seems - write a post on one’s cell phone.  I’d hate to deprive you of this handsome portrait of Moth sitting on top of this week’s New Yorker ...

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

waiting for the rain

... as seen from the second floor of a parking garage in Pasadena, and no, I have absolutely no idea what kind of establishment I'm looking at here ... But I am confident that we have two storms coming our way - one tomorrow, and one even wetter one on Saturday.  And yes, I know that's nothing to the horrible freeze that some of you are enduring - but the two to three inches of rain on Saturday that's forecast is A LOT.  And if I read another tweet from That Man saying that we could do with a little of that good old global warming right now, I shall investigate the best angle from which to stab him with an icicle.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Woolf class week 4

Everyone looks very serious and full of concentration - which is, of course, how it should be ... Why, though - is that an open bottle of prosecco hiding in full view behind my lap top?  I'm not sure how we've settled on prosecco, as well as home baking (apple and cinnamon muffins, today! and cheese and crackers, and dates stuffed with cheese and celery, and tangerines), as suitable accompaniments to our slow, deliberative progress through Woolf, but it works well ...  Out of the window, you'll just make out the end of an extraordinary apricot colored sunset.

I'm glad to be the far side of Jacob's Room: it's my least favorite Woolf novel, and I can never quite put my finger on why: it seems to be trying too hard - to the extent that (as I was trying to discuss in class) I'm not sure whether some passages are bad writing, or trying to get inside the mind of someone who thinks in, say, alliterative clich├ęs.  I think that much more of the novel is satiric than I once did - but there again, I'm not always sure.  It may just be interestingly inconsistent about (and embodying) whether pattern and ordering is a good or a bad thing (cue to talk about Vanessa Bell's textile designs, and Clive Bell's aesthetic theories, etc).  The class was made a little strange by the fact that most of the grad students came furnished with the OUP World's Classics edition to which I wrote the intro - which I still think is a good piece of writing, and points forward to lots of ideas about visuality and prose that I tried to grapple with in The Victorians and the Visual Imagination.  But the notes to the edition are terrible! and to me, that's a real give-away about what seemed habituated knowledge in England in 1992 (for which read - "for a well-educated person teaching at Oxford in 1992").  Truly, I should have given them as an exercise - find three references in the text that need a footnote, and have been overlooked. 

Also, when I came out of class and left Taper Hall at around 7.40, there were three large Great Blue Herons moseying around outside, seeing if there was anything interesting in the grass.  Why?

Monday, January 28, 2019

a reflective meeting

... and I'm back, with Decade Two!  First, many, many, many thanks to all of you who showered FTBL with love and appreciation: your response means ever so much to me!  

And, to continue ... here's a perfect illustration of how I spend, right now, more time than I'd like too doing things that I can't really write about - like sitting in meetings discussing thrilling things like website content management system upgrades, and the fact that Workday Finance is back!  (oh, goodee!) and "reliable budgetary subventions," and and and.  I don't think I've given away any state secrets there.  I was largely preoccupied with how very, very shiny the table stretching away in front of me was, perfectly reflecting the rather 60s chandeliers and our bottles of San Pellegrino.  One thing that can be said about such meetings: we're served an excellent class of mineral water (and, since you were wondering, in glass, not plastic bottles).

Sunday, January 27, 2019

a ten-year challenge

Today is the 10th birthday of Forms Traced By Light: one photograph (or more) taken that same day, with at least a sentence of two of writing - often much more - accompanying it.  I haven't missed a single day: just occasionally, when there's been some internet problem, I've not managed to upload the image, or the writing, that day (although in almost everyone of those cases, I've at least managed to shoot off an alert, and often the image itself to Face Book).

The best laid plans … So, for a while, I have seen this milestone coming up.  I have plotted – in my head – the long discursive essay that I meant to write about this blog as daily practice: taking at least one photo a day; writing about it; training myself to look at the ordinary and the visual beauties, surprises, and documentary possibilities that it offers.  There’s still an essay, somewhere, to come.

And then …time started to run out.  I thought at the very least I would bake it a cake; put ten candles on it; take the cake’s picture, and use it as a jumping off point.  That didn’t happen: work obligations have made this a hugely truncated weekend.  Perhaps, then, I thought, a cupcake or a muffin from Gelsons, when I went down to buy urgent pre-dinner supplies (onions, arugula, San Pellegrino, wine).  It was only when I came back that I realized that I’d forgotten the ceremonial baked good.  

So I cast my eyes around.  This stands, indeed, for one of those fairly rare days when taking a photograph has seemed like an obligation, not a pleasure; when I find myself at nine or ten in the evening looking, rather desperately, for something – anything – that might be an object of record.  Cats, flowers … you’ve seen them.  These are the same subjects that have provided very useful stand-ins for the days in which I’ve simply been unable to take a picture of what’s really been dominating the day – usually work-related stuff.  For of course, I do self-censor: I allude only in the broadest terms to departmental politics (and three separate stints of chairing during the last ten years have brought plenty of them), and to various other meetings and responsibilities.  

And yes – a candle, on the kitchen windowsill: not a commemorative cake-candle, but a candle in the form of a coyote.  That’s especially apt today – there have been lots of coyote howls outside, and as I drove down the road to buy those onions, two coyotes trotted boldly up the road.  I was foiled in taking a picture – I reached for the camera that’s almost always riding shotgun with me in the car, and then saw that someone was backing out of his garage, waiting for me.  How do you signal the presence of coyotes in the street that he can’t see?  Tooting my horn made him decidedly impatient – and by the time we’d negotiated that, the coyotes had melted off to do whatever evil deed they next had in mind.

I light the candle; I darken the kitchen; I focus … and yes! My camera reads Battery Exhausted.  Waiting for it to charge up a bit gives me the space to write more than I’ve usually managed to of late – partly a function of time, of course; but partly a wavering uncertainty – one that’s been increasingly there for most of the past ten years – about tone; about readership; about genre; about self-revelation (or not) – is this a public diary, or an experimental set of personal essays, or documentary, or – well, the idea of it being something of scholarly meditation on the role and nature of photography probably disappeared before Year Two.

So do more than a handful of people ever read Forms?  Look at the pictures, yes, but more?  I’ve deliberately stuck to an identical format for ten years, even though I know that shifting to Instagram, or putting the whole amount of what I write into Facebook, might well have given me a larger readership.  

And then – now what?  I’m expecting that my camera battery will be sufficiently charged by now to take the image of the coyote candle that you will have already seen.  Do I carry on?  Forms has become such a part of my daily life that I find it impossible to imagine ceasing this image plus prose mode – but was it, all along, just – just a year’s challenge?  A five-year challenge?  A ten year challenge?  I guess I’ll find out – but it’s a strange feeling to have carried out something that would have seemed unimaginable ten years ago, when I first started Forms Traced by Light.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Getty in winter

A startlingly clear day - one would never think that the air in Los Angeles was polluted, ever ... a view straight out to sea, and to Catalina Island, over the more-or-less resting gardens of the Getty Museum.  The wisteria is still dormant.  And yet - by the time I left, the temperatures were in the low 80s.  I was there, however, not to admire the view, but for the West Coast Art History graduate symposium - which was a terrific event, with excellent speakers, including our very own Ambra Spinelli, talking about the decoration of tablina - the tablinum was an inner room of a villa opposite the entrance, and since Ambra's been researching them I've learned a huge amount about their usage, and appearance - and how it was tied to broader popular/public visual culture in Pompeii.  She did us proud (as we knew she would).

Friday, January 25, 2019

a morning meeting view

If only all meetings that I attended had such good views (this was from the committee room in the MLA offices) ... here's Lower Manhattan's helipad, but there weren't a whole lot of comings and goings today.  I guess it's one side of Shining Sea - or river, at least: I'm now on the other one, and need to sleep ...

Thursday, January 24, 2019

a wet day in NYC

New York, today, was extraordinarily wet, and increasingly cold, and the streets increasingly became a morgue of umbrellas.  And then, suddenly, the clouds lifted, or rather rolled off to become a thick purply-brown bank above New Jersey, and Lower Manhattan was bathed in gold.

Note the banners on the shore of Battery Park, looking over to the (presumably shut) Statue of Liberty; and note that they celebrate the presence and contribution of immigrants to this country.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

at a distance

Only 2,444 miles away!  Why I should follow last week's rain in LA to New York, I'm really not sure.  Oh, wait ... I have to go to a work dinner and a meeting ... Since it's 1.30 in the morning; I've just arrived, and I'm on the 17th floor of a hotel with a gale blowing hard outside, that's all I have to say on the matter (apart from being disoriented: the cab driver from JFK was from Tahiti and didn't understand English, so, speaking French all the way, it was disconcerting to get out and be in a NY hotel ...)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Woolf class, week 3

This might have been the week that I've been most nervous about - I mean, when did you last read - let alone teach - Night and Day?  I don't even dare count the decades - in many (ok, read "most") ways it was like reading an entirely new text.  And I have my very old collapsing Penguin, and my new Penguin edition - and one seems to proclaim it's about women/people/character, and the other - a brilliant choice of cover illustration - about place, and lighted windows ...  Of course it's not easy to say what it's "about," nor to nail down its style, and the more we examined it, the more slippery it became.  Also: silkworms - they provided a great diversion, as did the scene in the zoo.  For me, it was all about (I mean, not entirely, but this was what grabbed my attention the most) how the atmosphere in a room can shift, completely, when someone comes in to it - or their feelings can shift when they enter a room.  So we looked at Teresa Brennan on affect, since her book starts with exactly that sensation, but with the problems of explaining it.  Slow, chronological Woolf: this is working well.

Monday, January 21, 2019

horticultural experimentation

When I first saw how Trader Joe's was selling amaryllis lilies this year, I was very sceptical.  A bulb cased in wax (and imitating a pomegranate)?  And apparently needing no water?  (indeed, watering would be impossible).  But a couple of these have been sitting inside our living room, in relative warmth - very relative, some days - and I have to admit that, even if a little shorter than one might anticipate the growth in a pot to have been, the end result is pretty impressive.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

two rarities

A blood red moon, and a black unicorn.  The moon became even redder than this, but photographing it was less than easy, in a street with bright lamplight.   The unicorn, on the other hand (on a wall on North Commonwealth, just off Sunset, was perfectly lit).  On some other occasion, I'll go back and take a photo that does justice to the wall in all its painted wonder, but I wanted the two side by side, a statement of magic and rarity.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

walking, post deluge

Alice is not, I promise you, standing in some strange calisthenic posture.  It's just that if you go for a walk in Griffith Park, on muddy trails, and then clamber up a bank that's the quickest way home, you have very muddy shoes that necessitate propping yourself up against a lamppost and prodding your shoes with a short stick.  The park was beautiful - green and fresh, though, yes, muddy.

Friday, January 18, 2019

steamy orchids

It may have stopped raining - but it's still very humid outside.  So when one takes a shower, and opens a window to clear the steamed-up bathroom mirrors - nothing happens.  On the other hand, when one decides that it's time to water an orchid in the washbasin, these particular misty background effects would have taken a fair bit of playing around with the camera's focus to achieve ...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

not exactly abstract

Some of this blog's long-standing, faithful readers may remember how long, long ago I used to post a series of images of the dilapidation of various parts of Rutgers University, especially Murray Hall, and the Union Street house in which I had my (much loved) office.  Here's a reprise of a familiar theme, then ... Taper Hall at USC, where the flat roof on top of part of the Art History department has caused a number of problems during the last few wet days.  Here's a ceiling tile, displaced to see quite what might lie behind it ...  Early this morning, as the rain was still pouring down outside, the Office Manager and I patrolled one corridor of offices looking for spreading coffee-brown patches, bulges, and in one depressingly bad case, little pools of water on a desk top (we knew that offices leaks - it's not a permanent faculty room, right now).  You don't want to hear the saga of Facilities promising to repair our roof, now, do you?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

under the umbrella

All of my outdoor views today have had polka dot spots fringing them.   Here I'm waiting to get into Alice's car this morning, before she took me to catch a bus to USC (complicated transport arrangements day ...).  But it was a lively bus ride, not least because, driving past a picketing crowd outside Virgil Middle School on Vermont (also under umbrella), the bus erupted into an enthusiastic chant of STRIKE STRIKE STRIKE.  Outside, there was an equally heartening number of car horns being tooted.  That being said - I do seem to spend more time than I'd want explaining to people that this isn't just - isn't even, necessarily, primarily - a strike about teacher pay, but it's about class sizes, about the provision of an adequate number of psychiatric social workers, of librarians, of nurses ... of the things one would want schools to have.  And that's before one even gets to the issues with charter schools in LA ...

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Virginia Woolf class, week 2

Never teach an evening class (this one is 5-7.20, which I think counts as evening) without insisting on a snack roster, and without (I learned this lesson back at Rutgers) encouraging Home Baking (it's ok - there's a Trader Joes on campus - we'll do just fine even if there are culinary cowards in our midst).  And this picture doesn't even show the cheese and crackers and the mango with chile powder ... Katie Ogle set a very fine standard for our second class, and this carrot cake will be hard to beat.  (Also, I don't think I can find any parallels with The Voyage Out, which is a novel with a good number of meals, but really very little interesting food).

Monday, January 14, 2019

a very damp campus

This was the view from my office window this afternoon.  Truly, turning it into vintage sepia was the most interesting spin that I could put on the gloom.  (And yes, I do love rain in LA!  It's just that campus, today, was looking irredeemably soggy).

Sunday, January 13, 2019

looking up

This may be the last blue sky that we see for a few days: standing under the Asian Pear in the back yard, looking up ... The rain from two days ago did a good job of stripping a number of the (late) autumnal leaves.  I'm looking forward to the next few days of wet: however much I appreciate SoCal sunshine, I love it when it does something else, too ...

Saturday, January 12, 2019

after the rain

It's wonderful enough that it's raining here (yes, I know that in many parts of the country, let alone in the UK, that deserves to be met with a hollow laugh).  But truly - not only do we need the rain, but the clouds over the mountains are so beautiful afterwards, and then the water drops on the plants; the water-crushed and blemished flowers - they are all, all of them, stunning in their colors.

Friday, January 11, 2019

cheering on the Notorious

Today's best possible news was that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has learned that she has no trace of cancer remaining after her recent operation - and that she'll be back at work very soon.  Or rather, that (obviously, given who she is) she's working hard at home, and she'll be back on the Supreme Court bench very soon.  She's standing - well, a little effigy of her is - on our kitchen counter top as an emblem of fierceness, tenacity, persistence, and general amazingness: badly needed at our current political moment (on both sides of the Atlantic).

Thursday, January 10, 2019

after the Christmas tree is taken down

This year, we had (circumstances ...) the world's tiniest (live) Christmas tree: small and perfectly formed, to be sure (well, actually, not at all perfectly formed, which is probably why it was the last one in Trader Joe's - let's settle on "small").  But tiny.  Now that it's down, and sitting outside waiting for the rain, and for me to decide where to plant it, the table at the end of the living room looked bare.  So I put the equally miniature strings of battery operated lights into a glass vase, and put them on the bobbly felt mat that the tree was standing on, and Lo.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

sistema de apartado

Try as I can, I can't make out what's on offer here - a store window on my way to work.  "Sistema de apartado" is a layaway system, I believe - which I associate with furniture, but this doesn't seem like a furniture store.  Maybe clothes?  Whatever, I'm always appreciative when I get stuck in traffic in front of something that I haven't really noticed before.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

first class

I always feel so nervous before the first class of a semester - and so happy when it's underway, and I've met the students, and remember that yes, I do vaguely know something about what I'm teaching, or at least enough to keep the ball rolling ... This is definitely a self-indulgent grad class (even though the impetus came from the grad students themselves, who asked for it) - it's on The Visual World of Virginia Woolf, and largely seems to be made up of creative writers, which should be a whole lot of fun.  But if a Chair can't be self-indulgent in what she teaches, who can?  It's years since I've taught Woolf, and even then, it's always been one-off novels: this time, it's a slow, close-reading, largely chronological approach, considering style and the visual; visuality and the material world; color and motion and photography and film and gardens; and, of course, the whole Bloomsbury shabang of painted furniture and abstract curtain fabrics.  I can't wait ...

Monday, January 7, 2019

the sogginess of Los Angeles

Let's just say - driving to work today was not remotely like the beauties of New Mexico yesterday.  It was raining (not, of course, something to be complained about, here) - not in a dramatic way, but in a steadily damp one.  It was, indeed, remarkably English weather.  

Sunday, January 6, 2019

New Mexico dawn

And this was all within the space of ten minutes or so ... dawn started a fiery red; progressed to something more yellow and blue - and then, if you turned your head to see the sun catching on the Sandias, and on the Jemez mountains, and the Cerrillos Hills - there was the magnificent ice-bow in the sky - made by the sun shining through tiny ice particles.  I've seen the strange circular phenomenon of sundogs, once - but never this wonderful arc, which appeared even though there wasn't a raincloud in the sky - at least, not between where I was standing and the bow. And then, I turned my head back again, and the sky had turned a curdled yellow, and there on top of our birdhouse was a bluebird - I'd seen him or her head inside at dusk the previous evening (for all I know there was an entire bluebird family inside there, keeping warm).  Back, now, in LA - more or less revived, or at least sufficiently revived to be able to face the semester.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

waiting for lunch

You wouldn't expect me to go back to Los Angeles without having some New Mexican food, would you?  So - after writing a 1600 word review, and before polishing up the syllabus for my grad course, I drove to my favorite diner, Harry's Roadhouse, for lunch ... coming back here, especially in winter when there are very few out-of-town people, always (as I'm sure I've remarked many times before) feels like home.  That empty chair?  You can think of that as the one that Alice would be occupying as she, too, waited for a lunch table, were she able to travel.  I'm hoping that we'll both be here at Spring Break.

What was that?  Oh, yes, you were wondering: a chicken burrito, with red.  (Red chile, that is - open to misinterpretation in that local, abbreviated form: I promise you it was water in my glass).  

Friday, January 4, 2019

chamisa, snow, rabbit tracks

Very little to do today of importance other than contemplate little bits of very ordinary, very beautiful nature - like this dried chamisa hovering over rabbit tracks in the snow (I'm ignoring review writing; syllabus writing; article-that's-nearly-overdue writing; admin correspondence ... yes, I guess all of that took place, too).

Thursday, January 3, 2019

outside the front door

One beautiful evening; and two dead allium heads against the snow.  For those of you who wondering what it's like inside (current temperature at nearly 10 p.m. - a balmy 17 degrees) it's improving: the problem was a faulty damper on the (supposedly high-end, reliable, 18 months old) heating boiler.  That, however, did nothing to dampen (every bad pun intended) the wonder of being here, in the quiet.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

a chilly sky

After six months, I've made it back to New Mexico for a couple of days of complete quiet - aka syllabus writing, review writing, article writing, etc etc, and collecting some books that I need for this semester's teaching.  Only ... the chill isn't just outside (down to 7 degrees F tonight, the weather forecast warns).  Something is very wrong with the boiler that supplies the radiant heat, it would seem, and I am huddled over a space heater (thank goodness for its existence in a closet), and will soon be huddled over a hot water bottle.  The house isn't completely frigid, and I'm trying to trap heat in it before I call Reliable Tech the minute they open in the morning, but it's not quite what I planned ... all the same, it's wonderful to be back.

Also - it's much warmer in Chicago, this year's MLA location.  Since I don't have to be there, I was avoiding it on the principle that it's always unbearably cold there.  That's called Ironic.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

opening the bathroom window

I was highly ambivalent about opening the bathroom window after taking a shower this morning.  On the one hand ... steamed-up mirrors; horror of mould, etc.  On the other - it is, for Los Angeles, cold.  But practicality won out ... and here, as you can see, opening the window onto a new year reveals sunshine, and camellias in full bloom.  May this (and really, it wasn't that cold ...) be an excellent omen.