Thursday, October 31, 2019

wearing a bat

I was rather hurt today: no one seemed to take any notice of the fact that I was wearing a carefully crafted fabric bat for Halloween, despite the fact that its gauze wings were flapping around lightly in a rather fetching manner.  Perhaps people thought it polite not to remark?  Perhaps they were trying to get their head around Thomas Nagel's wonderful essay "What is it like to be a bat?"  Is it possible to imagine, or can one do no more that extrapolate from human experience - despite our unarguable difference from bats (no high frequency sound signals through which to interpret the world)?  Can one ever bridge the gap between subjectivity and objectivity?  Might one start by contemplating whether there's a difference between projecting perception and feeling onto a Halloween bat and one flying around outside (no, Nagel doesn't go there ...).  So many missed opportunities, today ...

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

getting ready for the dia de los Meurtos

I'm not sure how the tradition of USC Libraries putting on a little Dia de los Muertos informative exhibition and arts activities started, but I'm always glad to see it: maybe it's an acknowledgement of how many Latinx people work in our library?  Today, you could make your own paper marigolds.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

torn leaf

There's doubtless a metaphor here - other than the general extreme dryness of California - but I'm not sure that I'm up to extracting it.  The dryness (as in fire-fuel, etc) is felt everywhere: things crackle.  I'm peculiarly susceptible to static electricity (or maybe I just have an exaggerated startle response) - but I'm getting little electric shocks off my car, off the shelves in the supermarket, off a drawer handle.  It's as though I'm a character in Naomi Alderman's The Power - a 2016 novel in which women start to emit electricity through their finger tips, practicing through burning tiny holes in a Kleenex.  I haven't yet arrived at that combustible point, although I'm tempted to tell you I seared a rift in that leaf.

Monday, October 28, 2019

more seasonality

Campus; rainbow flags; a faint hint of mist in the air.  Oh, wait - that's not mist, but air that's full of tiny particles from the Getty Fire: not burning towards campus, but making everything there just a little bit hazy and smoke-smelling.

If this is the new normal, it's terrifying.  This morning - receiving emails, as chair, from colleagues who've had to evacuate, or can't make a meeting because they're standing in elsewhere for someone who was woken up at 3.30 a.m. and told to leave, immediately, or hearing from dear friends who, likewise, had to displace at speed in the middle of the night.  I've now signed up for every possible emergency alert, hoping that this might help me sleep, and not wake up every twenty minutes or so looking for red glows in the sky, sniffing for smoke.  The Getty Fire is some twenty miles east of us, but the beautiful views from our house come with the downside of backing onto Griffith Park and all the dry, dry fuel that it contains.  And there's such a fine line between being sensibly prepared and alert, and neurosis.  All I want, please, is still air (the Santa Anas are back tomorrow), and some rain - soon.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Halloween spider (and skull)

One of the houses down our street is always very big on Halloween spiders - slightly fuzzy ones.  This year, they seem to have invested in some skulls, as well ...

Saturday, October 26, 2019

pigeon and transportation

It would have been much easier taking Clare to the bus station (to catch the Flyaway to LAX) this morning if a whole lot of roads hadn't been closed for some kind of (very slow looking) race, or shuffle.  But we made it, in the end... Here's a chunk of very autumnal looking sky in the passage that goes from the bus part to the train part: the pigeon was fortuitous.  It's either a metaphor, or a compositional unifier.  Take your pick.

wandering around in Venice, CA

Even in 90 degree heat, it was as seductive as ever wandering around the canals of Venice, and wondering how one could ever afford to live here ...

Friday, October 25, 2019

the feeling when ...

... your best friend from England is giving a talk that's perfectly pitched to both of your departments here at USC ...

Thursday, October 24, 2019


Farmers' market, on campus - wonderful seasonal persimmons.  There was a whole tumbled heap of them on one stall - it only seemed sensible to buy three, but it was tempting to contemplate a basketful.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

more library

Txe xuntington two days running?  Unbelievable!  A quick encounter witx my office in Taper Xall at USC revealed txat txe a/c wasn't working.  Txe temperature was 95 today.  I love walking txrougx txe library past windows txat look out onto bamboo groves.  Txe only problem is ... my letter Aitcx xas stopped working.  OY.

Monday, October 21, 2019

back at the Huntington

A rushed visit to the Huntington today, during which brief period I decide that it's easier to take a picture of a cactus than it is a selfie.  However, even a very short trip into the library convinces me that I'm doing research - even if, in fact, it's more like admin with some good plants.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

other bits of Columbus!

After being woken up at by fireworks starting off the Columbus Marathon ... who knew that there was more to this city than concrete blocks and panhandlers - all that I'd so far seen between my hotel and the conference hotel, and those not best appreciated when under the weather ... I was so very pleased to have some time to explore further north, and as far as the University ...

... this final pic being the quite extraordinary display in the pest control company's window.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Once upon a time, at conferences, it was - at least it felt - obligatory to nod at Foucault at least once in one's paper.  This NAVSA, I think I might have heard him invoked once - and as a point of reference rather than as an authority.  All the same, that does nothing to demolish the presence of panopicons - panoptica? - in industrial urban complexes (aka another view from my grubby hotel window).

Friday, October 18, 2019

the hotel ...

For whatever reason, my hotel is star themed.  Or star struck.  Above, the entrance foyer ... When I came back this evening to my turned-down room, there's a light machine gently projecting a constellation onto the ceiling.  And there's a telescope, and some abstract art looking like star charts.

The elevators (to the apartments above the hotel itself) clearly have my best interests at heart.  I do love these old 1920s buildings ...

Thursday, October 17, 2019

bits of Columbus

Downtown Columbus has some magnificent old office buildings, and - above - cigar emporia and bars presumably designed to serve the people who work - or worked - in them.  And some of them still get to walk into their place of employment through foyers like this, in the quite magnificent L'Eveque Building.

And then the sunsets are good, too ...

For those of you kind enough to be concerned about my noroviral health, I managed to deliver my paper at 8.30 a.m. - albeit, apparently, a funny shade of white at the time - and I've graduated to eating Wheat Thins.  Very slowly.  I'm anticipating something vaguely like a normal state of health tomorrow ...

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

those begonias

It looks like they've been planted out ... en masse.  And the floating awnings are appearing.  It must be Homecoming Weekend: another of those American college rituals that makes me feel like an anthropological participant observer.

Monday, October 14, 2019

chamiso. And snails.

That's enough chamiso for now (I think it is chamiso, though I'm always called it chamisa ...).  But some of you - a small sub-group of you - will appreciate my excitement when I realized that the bush outside our garage in New Mexico was full of snails!  I think these are zonitoides arboreus, having just skim-read an article on "Some Terrestrial Gastropoda from New Mexico," and compared some names with pictures ... So maybe this last weekend could count as a research trip?  Hmmm.  These are pretty, and earnest little snails, but I also think that I understand why there was a family of bluebirds lined up on our garage roof.  Bluebirds love snails, and I'm happy to oblige.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

chamisa x 4

So what if there's a lot of chamisa today?  It's the dominant color, scent, thing today in Eldorado.  To be sure, it makes me sniff a little, but I'm really lucky not to have full blown chamisa allergies.  In bird notes ... just after we passed the mailbox with the crow, a whole bevy of quails took off in front of us: this summer's brood, intact (or more or less), we surmised.  And then, twenty seconds later, a Cooper's Hawk, in hopeful pursuit ...

Saturday, October 12, 2019

more fall color

There is chamisa everywhere; I could fill a whole page with yellow.  But instead, two images from the Farmers' Market today: skeins of naturally dyed wool with a ristra hanging in front of them, and some pumpkins and garlic.  We bought a lot of new season garlic - and greens of various kinds, and potatoes, and goats cheese, and a French Rouge hen ready for putting in the Instant Pot tomorrow, and, of course, plenty of chile.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Outside our (New Mexican) front door - a huge and very golden chamisa bush.  It is very wonderful to be back with peace and quiet for a snatched couple of days.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

our marbled pumpkin

This may be the most delicate, subtly-colored pumpkin that I've ever seen, which is of course why I bought it.  Mind you, it seems to be caving in slightly on one side: I fully expect that by the time that Halloween arrives, it will have been gnawed into a mushy mess by a raccoon or three.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

the library garden

Going and working at the Huntington never fails to take my breath away.  And how not to fall into cliché ... but the seasons - and yes, the gardens really do demonstrate that there are real horticultural seasons in Southern California - make everything change, all the time.  But can it really be, I always ask myself, that I can stroll outside for just five minutes, and see this?  Quite probably this has something to do with managing an excellent day's writing, too.  Or maybe that's just conference panic setting in ...

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

is it time to rename the begonia?

I thought that this post was going to go in a quite different direction.  Seeing all of the begonia-trays waiting to be planted out, and observing newly-sited begonias in the planters on Trousdale Parkway, I was going to berate - indirectly - our new eco-friendly University President for enabling (also, probably, indirectly) the transplanting of thousands of plants that guzzle up water.

But.  Checking on their thirstiness, I found that begonias (native to many moist sub-tropical and tropical climes, which certainly doesn't include Southern California) were first named by Charles Plumier, a French patron of botany, to honor Michel Bégon, a former governor of the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti).  The name was then adopted by Linnaeus, in 1753.  Bégon was, to be sure, a huge collector of plants.  He arrived in Saint-Domingue in the mid-1680s, having previously been in the Antilles; he sold an estate on Martinique; he became involved in the spice trade; he went on to become superintendent of Rochefort, on the Atlantic coast, where he started a naval botanic garden.  There's a brief history of his career in, of all places, the Daily Express in 2015.  But this doesn't mention how his overseas properties functioned; what I do know is that his son, Michel Bégon de la Picardière, not only went on to become Intendant of New France - French Canada - but, in order to accelerate that territory's rapid growth, introduced slavery.  Did his father have useful connections?  Maybe not - the appointment happened the same year as his father's death.  And indeed, one biographical source that I found with some hasty googling says that Bégon père was "humaniste et philanthrope," which may mean that these are not Tainted Flowers, after all.  Tell me if there's a family bio of the Bégons out there - if there isn't, there should be.

Monday, October 7, 2019

fall colors, from above

somewhere down there, the lower slopes Rockies are turning golden with aspen leaves.  It's for views like this that I always try and get a window seat ...

Sunday, October 6, 2019

some New York walls

Here this evening, gone tomorrow ... not these pieces of wheatpasting, but me, grabbing a very quick moment or three here on my way back from the Princeton conference.  Disappointingly, it's grey and drizzling, but all the same I had a good walk around.  Imagine!  there is now a Whole Foods on the Bowery!  For those of us who have known NYC for over forty years, that is beyond inconceivable - although there again, so is the whole concept, or at least the scale, of Whole Foods.  I used to subsist on salads - mostly lettuce and garbanzo beans - from those endless take-out diners (if that's not an oxymoron) that had rather limp salad bars down the middle of the store, with an occasional - a very occasional - treat of tortelloni salad from the Balducci's that used to be around 13th street, I think.  

For those of you intrigued by the idea that Freedom is a New Kitten,

LA LIBERTE EST UN NOUVEAU CHATON is a Photo Zine of staged but vibrant photographs which tell the story of a young woman arriving in New York City to establish a modelling career, but instead finds meaning - not in the bright lights and allure of money and fame, but in the simple pleasures of compassionately caring for an orphaned kitten.The strange adventure begins when her new pet is kidnapped...

The characters of the story are themselves played by high-fashion models recognisable from their work for big name brands and fashion magazines.

So now you know.  

All the other collage/posters may be considered as writing prompts.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

serendipitous snail

So this is strange: very strange.  I come out of the building in which I've just given a lecture on "Snails, Slugs, and Scale;" I start to cross the courtyard, look up to a window opposite, and what do I see?  A large - much larger than life - white snail.  Unless someone deliberately put it there, hoping that I'd glance up - and that's not exactly likely - this is one of the world's weirder improbabilities.  Oh, and if you were at the talk itself - thank you so much, and for your questions, and keep sending along gastropod examples ...

Friday, October 4, 2019

sustained shards

In Princeton for a C19th art and lit conference - and heard some terrific papers - and went to a small but beautifully put together C19th show in the university art museum - a notably lovely small Millais I'd never seen before.  And outside - glass sculpture/panels - like stained glass windows out on the range.