Saturday, August 31, 2019

yucca palm flowers

Foreground and background - two views of the magnificent white floral thingy on top of the short yucca palm tree.  NB, it's not really a palm tree, even if it spends fifty weeks of the year looking like one: it's a yucca plant.  I have to remind myself of that every year, round about this time.  It's striking, but the plumbago remains my late August favorite.  I was out there chopping and trimming today, but couldn't bring myself to cut back any of the blue flowers right now, so it was mainly a matter of armfuls of ivy.

Friday, August 30, 2019

the time of the year

yes, it's football season: the time of year when the reflecting pool on campus reflects - well, conveniences.  Campus was extraordinarily inconvenient today, indeed: I was barked at when trying to walk in a straight line to - of all places on a campus! - the library (game day fences were sprouting up everywhere); then the sound of demolition and general battery above my office ceiling rose to terrifying levels.  So - it being, indeed, volleyball season too, I retreated home in order to watch USC win their first game of the season ...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

getting up to this

I'm sure that in part this is smog, in part it's residual particles from last week's fire - probably nothing good is thickening the air.  All the same, it's pretty good to have this view from one's living room early in the morning.  But also ... those trees, particularly the tree between me and the sun, have really grown up tall.  That's blocking our view of the big memento mori in the shape of the Forest Lawn cemetery cross - not, in some ways, a loss, but it's a quite striking change.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

sometimes, through holes, one can see the sky

The college football season is nearly here - which means that (since there's a home game this Saturday - against Fresno State - please, surely, we should win that?) tents, marquees, tables etc are starting to sprout up all over canvas, creating some temporary ways of seeing.  Or, to put it another way - since it was a long, long day, including two department meetings (in different departments), one of which I had to chair - to put it another way: every silver tent has an unclouded blue lining.  Or somesuch.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


There's got to be a metaphor here, somewhere, for the start of the new school year?  I confess, I'd never really taken on board the existence of these huge, two-storey high ferns outside our Music School until today.  Given their location, of course, they might just be seen as mimicking violin necks.

Monday, August 26, 2019

roof work

My office is directly underneath this work-in-progress: I need hardly tell you that it's a noisy way to start the new semester.  Still, things could be worse - a workman managed to cut through a pipe above one of the offices in English, with the inevitable damp result.  But soundproofing in Taper Hall leaves a lot to be desired generally.  I have a new office neighbor, who seems to live their life on the phone - and in the part of Art History where the Chair's office is located, there's no soundproofing between rooms.  I was driven to headphones, today (which were actually surprisingly pleasant to work inside).  Given that amount of debris, the ambient sound isn't going to quieten down any time soon.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

fire season begins

From our living room, this afternoon - a fire over in Eagle Rock/Glendale, just by the 134/2 interchange (and pity the people trying to use those freeways this evening - reports of people heading down the up ramps, and so on ...).  It's been hot today - 90-ish (and yes, I know it's just as bad in London: we skyped with my father earlier) - and with a small, but not fierce wind: my heart sinks at the thought of the couple of months ahead.

I don't do well with fire - or rather, with things like the 3 a.m. fear of fire.  My mother always put this down to living in a castle that had a devastating fire in 1844.

Indeed, that was a little before our tenancy of a tower in the late 1950s - but people still talked about What If?  Or so she said - I don't remember that, but I do remember that almost all my early nightmares - before I was eight or nine - the kind of nightmare where you wake yourself up screaming - were about fire.  I will neurotically smell (imaginary) smoke under almost any circumstances.  

So why, you might ask, do we live in a house on the very rim of Griffith Park, one of the bits of Los Angeles most likely to go up in flames?  (Indeed, in a photo and lit course that I was teaching at Rutgers back in the late 2000s, I showed an image from Shannon Road with the 2008 fire raging behind - little knowing that ...).  Maybe it's like getting on a horse straightway after falling off it?  Staring one's fears straight down the barrel?  Whatever - I'm delighted to read, just now, the LAFD update that says that all forward movement on this fire has been halted.

Saturday, August 24, 2019


It's plumbago time again: a whole bank of plumbago hedge blossoming in an intense pale blue.  I've been hard at the work grindstone today, but have dived outside periodically for whatever blasts of calm it can give me.  For that matter, I also planted out some self-seeded morning glories that I'd brought back from Santa Fe, and set up a round wire cone for them to climb up - thrown out, together with its twin, by some neighbors and pounced on by me with gratitude.  I think gardening's therapeutic, no?

Friday, August 23, 2019

on an office door

Taper Hall has left much to be desired this week - not just the feverish hysteria and lost humans that come along with the week before the semester, but the loud crashes and thuds that have accompanied whatever bits of work are being done to the roof that (hopefully) will mean that it won't leak any more (over the years, I should note that a recurrent theme of this blog has been the crumbling, collapsing, water-stained state of the various buildings in which I've had an office - never mind in which institution ...).  But my day was made - from the point of view of my immediate work environment, that is - by another department down the corridor that offers up this contribution.  It functions very well indeed as an illustration to my Essential Points that I delivered up to the graduate students at the Art History Welcome Back Breakfast today: (1) Network! (that goes along with "the importance of community") and (2) - BACK IT UP.  Is there anything else that I should have told them?

just as good as they ever were!

The last time I went to a really, really big stadium concert was in 1982, at Bristol City's Ashton Gate stadium, and that, too, was the Rolling Stones.  This time they were in the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena - the last concert they played here was in 1994; they first played LA 55 years ago.  Tonight, they played ten of the same songs that they did in Bristol (I just found the old set list on line) and a whole lot of other old favorites as well; they were amazing.  I'll state the obvious: for a bunch of guys in their 70s to still have all that raw energy, talent, and fun is phenomenal (Keith Richards in particular was grinning away; Mick was still strutting and mincing and lunging as much as ever; Charlie Watts reminded me weirdly of Joe Biden, but I think that's accidental).  They had aged much, much better than most of their audience.  The lights/projection was terrific, as well, and the whole show ended with fireworks.  When that happened in Bristol, there was such an outcry from the neighbors that Bristol City refused to have a rock concert in their grounds ever again ...

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


An early lunch today, at Botanica, in Silver Lake - which, true to its name, was full of flowers: after yesterday's eye-aching display at USC, flowers with gently discreet colors.  If you're passing, may I suggest the burrata with roasted peaches, and balsamic vinegar, and a halved tomato?  This was by way of celebrating another successful check-up for Alice at Keck - it felt great to be giving her oncology team a cheerful interlude.  They've been such good carers - exactly the right combination of practicality, realism, and optimism, and themselves deserve endless bouquets.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

the shocking brightness of USC's colors

Yes, it's the start of the semester.  Or it will be, any moment - right now it's full of people being Oriented to the place, which means Receptions, which means flowers on tables, under canopies ... This was more or less under my office window today: the cruelty lay both in the assault on the eye that's created by cardinal and gold, and the fact that even closer to my window they were serving some extraordinarily flavorsome-smelling barbecue, which wafted up to the third floor rather too effectively.  

I do wish that the university's colors weren't so atrociously garish ... I could do with some discreet blue and white, or blue and black, or I'd settle for purple and puce, even ... but these are quite wearing on the eye.

Monday, August 19, 2019

roses in decline

Not particularly easy to leave, this morning - leave my father, the house and the garden, Simba the elderly orange cat, and damp London, and head all this way back to Los Angeles.  These roses have a certain appropriate weight of melancholy to them ...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

one last damp English summer's day

Even the aliums - alia? - in the family garden are starting to look ragged and faded in the damp.  There were some sunny intervals, to be sure - but we became completely drenched this morning on a walk around the 'hood, and then just missed another heavy downpour later in the day.  Somehow, this week hasn't quite lived up to my hope that Alice would, at last, be convinced that it doesn't always rain in England ... I certainly feel by now that I might grow lichen on myself, like a Costa Rican sloth.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

lichen, Wimbledon Common (and a surprising encounter)

For all I know, the lichen of Wimbledon Common had a formative influence on me ... certainly it was on magnificent display today.  This was on the back of a bench, as we walked past the Crooked Billet, across to the Windmill, down to Queensmere, and back - a good trek.  There seemed to be many more people out on the further reaches of the Common than I remember from decades ago - many, many runners, but perhaps fewer family groups.  We were very struck by how many unpicked blackberries there were, for a while - but happily, closer to the windmill, the pickers were out in some force.

Over the years, I've seen a number of surprising things in Wimbledon Village, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone taking such a small pony for a walk before ...

Friday, August 16, 2019

wet wet wet

It was very wet today.  Anyone who knows what it means to Drive Over Shap in cloud and driving rain will sympathize.  This is Shap going the other way, on the train - a delayed train, since the line between Preston and Oxenholme is rain-affected.  The sheep are wet.

The landscape is wet.

Kendal - where we saw the truly terrific exhibition of Turner and Ruskin- was very wet.

And Alice is clearly giving me a sub-umbrella look - as we left our hotel this morning - which signifies What Wet Hell is This?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Mostly Ruskin, and bits of landscape

Today, to Brantwood (down some of what were surely the Lake District's narrowest roads?) to visit Ruskin's house.  Here's the view from his bedroom; here what one sees when one sits on a seat in his terrific garden.

And here's Ruskin's very own seat, covered, of course, in lichen (though I do remember from his letters that when he was building walls here, he placed lichen on the inside.  Why?)

Back inside the house, a bell cloche over moss, rather than lichen (and if anyone has any spare Victorian glass cloches like this, do let me know ...);

and a shell fireplace (this room was used by Severn, rather than Ruskin, though, so I'm not sure how far back the shells go - but surely the fireplace motif itself is original?).

Back outside - does anyone know what these pretty flowers might be?

This was Ruskin's boat (I appreciated the painter rope curled in the bow in a perfect spiral);

and another view of the magical garden.

Then off we went to walk around Tarn Hows - pretty, but we were disappointed not to see any red squirrels;

and back to draw the view from our room's terrace - the intimidating presence of Ruskin notwithstanding.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wet. And Arts and Crafts.

It was a very wet day - an English Summer Holiday day, to be sure, but a wet one.   Here's Lake Windermere, from below our hotel:

the hotel's main house belonged, it seems, to Wordsworth's landlord, and Felicia Hemans rented it for her summer holidays in the late 1820s and early 1830s (probably it rained then, too).

So we went through Bowness to Blackwell, a really stunning Arts and Crafts house built by Baillie Scott for Sir Edward Holt - a future mayor of Manchester - as a holiday retreat: completed 1901, and full of stained glass

and with a notable white sitting room with views over the lake (or over where the lake would be, if there wasn't rain and cloud);

and tiles.

A wet view from our room;

some wet boats;

and some gunnera - or giant rhubarb (so-called) - a crazed native of Brazil, and something imported into damp Victorian gardens.