Friday, January 31, 2020



My passport is old, and battered.  It's just about to hit the dangerous six-months-to-expiry time period, and early next week, I'll be sending it off together with my application for a new one.  And when it comes back - it won't say "European Union" at the top.  Indeed, it might even have reverted - I know this is the plan - to the old style, the blue cover, like my very first example of the genre.

I was taken aback by my response to Brexit actually happening today.  In some fit of wanting to acknowledge the historic significance of this really dismal moment, I listened to it happening - if a second of time between 10.59 and 11.00 p.m. in the UK - midnight on the continent - 3.00 p.m. on the USA's West Coast - could really be said to be an event happening - on the BBC.  I wasn't quite expecting that I'd dissolve into tears in my office - a dismal and crumpled-at-my-desk heap standing for all that's wrong in the world (insert Trump impeachment trial and the vote against witnesses, etc).  I felt profoundly lonely, and realized that I should have rustled up some other UK citizen with whom to lament the moment.  I've been a European for 47 years: now I'm not one, any more.  And if in practical terms that doesn't mean all that much right at this moment - I wasn't planning on working in France or buying a house in Italy, tempting though such ideas might be in the abstract, and possible though they would still surely be - it's very depressing and disempowering to have a crucial component of one's identity taken away from one by a load of narrow-minded bigots led by people whose ties to big big global business surely means that they'll win out anyway ...

Thursday, January 30, 2020

fading daffs

It's been a long, long day.  Coming home and seeing these on the table at the top of the stairs sums up precisely how I feel ...

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

two fires, two views, one dentist

I heard about the fire in the apartment block at the corner of Wilshire and Barrington on my drive in to work: dramatic, scary - people being rescued by helicopter from the roof; people jumping (actually, they weren't, but fast-moving news doesn't always get it right), and so on.  And then I thought: hmmmm: that's right by my dentist's, where I'm due at 2 p.m. ... By then, I'm glad to say, the fire was well out - no Grenfell Tower cladding, here.  But from the car park, I could see the blackened apartment that was well and truly burned out all too clearly.

You must have had an exciting morning! I said to both dentist and hygienist ... But that wasn't all, they said!  They'd come in to find that the Wells Fargo bank opposite was on fire, too - and maybe because of the profusion of glass, this looked equally startling (this, at any rate, was the view when I stood up from The Chair).  Unsurprisingly, the LAFD are wondering if there's some kind of connection between them: it certainly distracted me from the business of what was going on in my mouth ...

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

you want to know what kind of evening I've had?

No, I didn't think so.  Not when it involved a smoke detector beeping every minute - and then carrying on beeping even after we replaced the battery (which had been replaced in June) and did a re-set.  Actually, I think I did the reset wrong ... after a long phone call to our electrician (a big shout-out to Kenny at USA Electric!), a trip to the store for another new battery (tip: keep your batteries in the fridge), another replace-and-noisy-reset - I think we've done it.  Fingers crossed.

The fact that I was up a step-ladder and looking down from a height at one of my grad students doing rather well on Jeopardy! made the whole thing extra surreal ...

Monday, January 27, 2020


As my flight from London neared Los Angeles yesterday afternoon, my first thought was how foggy it was (which was probably very disappointing to all the people coming from grey London to supposedly sunny SoCal).  And then, as we neared the ground, and people's phones came within reach of cell contact and pinged and burped, there was a collective intake of breath as people learned that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash earlier that day.

If I'd known that a downtown skyscraper would have been illuminated in Lakers purple, with a huge 24 on it (Bryant's jersey number), I'd have brought a telephoto lens with me: it was an act of civic homage.  Yes: I know Kobe Bryant had his problems - but he was increasingly involved, since his retirement, with women in sports, and one of the saddest things I've seen are pictures posted by members of our volleyball team posing with him (he came to several games - he knew Bob Lanier, whose daughter Khalia has been our star player for the last four seasons.  I was only able to take photos of him from behind, though ...)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

flowers at both ends

At the London end, and before dawn, a bunch of flowers that I bought for my father.  At the Los Angeles end, the camellia blossom from the side of the house that Alice had placed on my desk.  In between - 6,000 miles, or thereabouts, and teaching prep.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

South Kensington museums

It must be - what - 55 years, by my reckoning, since I was last inside the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, despite going to the V&A, next door, almost every time that I'm in London.  Much of it is hyper new tech (and conservation minded; and full of dinosaurs that bring the point home) - but I never consciously took on board the breath-taking magnificence of Waterhouse's design before.  And yes, I know I have research to do in its collections, and this was by way of sniffing out the architectural territory - how could I not have come here over and over again?

Small child about to be savaged by taxidermied swans.

I had, of course, come to go to the V&A - to see Darren Waterhouse's Filthy Lucre, his installation that re-imagines Whistler's Peacock Room, collapsing and decaying under the weight of its own opulence, and also a commentary on the financial rivalry that went into its making and ownership (and I hadn't realised that Whistler himself had destroyed - deliberately - C18th leather panels and so on by painting over them, obliterating The Taste of the Past).  It only opened today, and the installation wasn't quite finished - the sound was only spasmodically working - but it was still impressive and fun, as doubtless anyone who's seen it in the US knows ...

Friday, January 24, 2020

south bank

A very grey, murky, drizzling walk down the South Bank today.  On top, Big Ben that will not bong - no chimes at midnight to usher in Brexit because, as you can see, it's shrouded in scaffolding.  Then an itinerant musician, sitting on the rapidly disappearing beach, throwing bread at gulls and pigeons.

The object of the walk?  Tate Modern, to see the huge Kara Walker Fons Americanus, her huge reworking of the 1911 Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace - about which Woolf writes, or riffs on, so memorably in Orlando - reconfiguring it so that it's about the Black Atlantic; the place of slavery, water, violence in the history of Empire.  This meshes straight into my class this semester: I call that part of today Class Prep, even if I like the ideas somewhat more than the sometimes rough-edged, sometimes slick work itself (though nb that unlike the Vic Memorial, this is deliberately, unarguably eco-friendly).

Thursday, January 23, 2020

London coffee

I just want to confirm that one can get excellent, non-chain, and above all non-hipster-bitterness-sour coffee in London with enormous ease, these days.  On the top, in a beautiful old dairy on Warren Street (which my father reminds me used to be a very unsalubrious "and popular" street indeed); at the bottom, by Great Portland Street station (I preferred the dairy, but the Black Sheep helped caffeinate me further before a long day attending a meeting that happily was a master-class in chairing a complex agenda with exemplary tact and efficiency).  Oh, and yes, my father does remember enjoying dining at the top of the Post Office Tower, although says the food was utterly unmemorable ...

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

the Post Office Tower

... as seen from my hotel room window: in London for a flying visit - an all-day meeting tomorrow, then visiting my father (where the view will be greener).  This is true 60s new brutalism (and late January new brutal murky grey damp weather supporting it).  But the Post Office Tower! Or, as it was first known, the GPO tower (it's now the BT tower).  When it was finished, in 1964-5, it was the tallest building in London - I can remember being taken to see it on precisely those grounds.  Rather improbably, it was opened to the public in 1966 by Tony Benn and Billy Butlin - though the Butlin bit becomes less unlikely when one finds that the Butlin group operated the Top of the Tower revolving restaurant, on the 34th flower.  And so it slowly rotated - I think my father ate up there a couple of times when business-entertaining (I'll ask him), and it was something that I longed to do (presumably for the sheer novelty value, and the zoo).  But that never happened - the tower has been almost entirely closed to the public since as bomb went off there in 1971 (I'm not sure if it was ever determined whether that was the work of the IRA or the Angry Brigade).  It's still used as a major telecommunications hub, but seems to have top secret status - with only the occasional restaurant swirl for something like a Children in Need event.  But nonetheless, it's unquestionably still an iconic structure of the 60s.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

serious Trojan tackiness

This may be the worst inflatable - er - Trojan warrior?  Lumberjack?  - I don't know where to start.  I thought that Rutgers had some fairly dubious Scarlet Knights on sale when I was there, but this surpasses everything (on the other hand, some complaints must have hit home - there's now a wall of Faculty Books that's very visible as you enter the bookstore ...).  I didn't have time to stop to peruse them: I was in search of an Apple computer charger, having left the house this morning without a quite remarkable number of the things that I'd intended to bring with me ....

Monday, January 20, 2020

leaf on a branch

... from our Asian Pear, which is shedding its final leaves in an autumnal like mode, readying itself for spring blossom.  That is, if the fat squirrel who was nibbling away at blossom buds this morning will let it.  Where's that hawk, when you need it?

Sunday, January 19, 2020

carnage among the leaves

The rus in urbe view is from our living room window: steep slope, steps, wild flower seeds sprouting (I hope - I can, at least, make out some poppies that look quite healthy).  And if you look very, very closely, about a quarter of the way up, there's a large red-tailed hawk disemboweling a rabbit.  At least, she was disemboweling it very messily yesterday evening: this morning she was enjoying it in a somewhat tidier way, nose to tail.  I am (a) delighted by such a close-up view of wildlife (b) delighted that one rabbit the less is eating my wildflower shoots (c) decidedly sorry for the rabbit.  I'm aware that these opinions aren't exactly compatible.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

garden-themed outing

This afternoon, to Theodore Payne's, the wonderful mecca for native plants and local wildflower seeds.  We're actually looking for grass seeds: after the LADWP guys - charming as they were - dug up our hillside to replace the main sewer, we're left with a whole lot of hillside that - albeit covered with jute cladding - we'd rather was growing local, and stabilizing grass.  But we talked to someone who thinks that she can give us a Custom Blend - which sounds super-expensive, but, given that we're on the edge of Griffith Park, also super eco-responsible.  In the meanwhile, it was great, as ever, to wander round their grounds and look at their plants for sale; their wild hillsides; the mailbox; a California Scrub Jay with a long and unidentifiable seed in its beak.

Friday, January 17, 2020

amaryllis, post rain

The amaryllis bulbs, still blooming, if coming to the end of their glory, were transported back from Santa Fe.  Out in the front yard, they much enjoyed last night's rain - as did everything else.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


How would you cook this?  I'm thinking wedges of praline-flavored cookies, stuck into soft-ish chocolate fudge icing, and dusted off with a hazelnut-almond crumble.  Oh - wait a bit ... this is probably only edible if you're a squirrel.  It's a pinecone that landed on my path at USC today - a huge pinecone, which somehow (despite my lack of squirrel tendencies) seemed worthwhile picking up and bringing back to my office.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

shaved palm trees

These palm trees are in the front yard of the house next door (in other words, yes, should they fall over, we'd have to hope that they missed us ...).  They've undergone a radical haircut - but this is a very good thing in fire-prone Southern California, because palm fronds, especially the dead ones that usually form a fringe around the top of the trunk, are like great big torches waiting to ignite.  A very efficient close shave has been performed, here (and the left hand one, at least, has all its knobbly bark intact.  Inside that bark are insects, and we have a constant flutter of screeching woodpeckers going back and forth and banging on the trunk for their dinner to come out).

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Silver Lake window

Passed on the way to dinner at Alimento (after parking) - a very tranquil and somehow very Victorian lighted window.  One of those evenings when, after much teaching and committee work, you think that you can neither eat, nor drink, nor talk - and then the combination of a sub-balmy LA evening, and good company, jolts one back to normalcy.

Monday, January 13, 2020

abandoned chair

It's been a long time since there's been a contribution to my Abandoned Chair series - an old favorite, back in Highland Park days, but for the most part sadly neglected of late.   But there, on Benton Way, as I sat in a line of traffic ... But.  To frame as a wide, and quintessentially Los Angeles view, as below?  Or - my second and zoomed shot - just focusing on the chair, alone?   In part, I think the answer must depend on the size of the image: if I was printing this large, the second one.  To be seen on a cell phone screen - the top chair.

OK - back to preparing tomorrow's class.  I really think this deliberation is procrastination.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

room service?

We're very glad that La Posada, in Winslow, doesn't have room service, or we fear that Moth and LucyFur would probably order up some salmon.  Here they are wondering what we've brought them back from breakfast (answer: a tiny bit more butter).  They deserve it, before having to get into their carriers for nine hours or so - en route, a little conversation from Moth, but really, very little by way of complaint, although they - and we - were most happy to get home to Los Feliz ...that last stretch, along the 15 and the 210, always seems to go on for ever.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Saturday night in Winslow, Arizona

Driving into Winslow as the sun goes down ... there's not a whole lot happening.  I can't quite put my finger on why this is such a quintessentially American scene for me: the particular spacing of the street lamps and traffic signals?  The Hopper-like sense of loneliness?  (it might be more Dorothy Hughes).  Of course, La Posada being just round the corner from here, we were soon in non-bleak comfort (for how well the cats have settled into the Sam Maloof room, see mothandlucyfur on Instagram ...)

Friday, January 10, 2020

last NM day

Really very close to us - just the other side of I-25, although it's a slightly longer wiggle on side roads to get there, but about three or four miles as the crow flies (and there are a lot of crows, at the moment) - is a very rural, older Northern New Mexican little village, La CaƱada de los Alamos.  The road doesn't run much past here: imagine living down a dead end called Camino La Llorona...  La Llorana, you'll remember, had an unfaithful husband (who nonetheless loved their sons).  She found him with another woman, so she drowned the sons in a river, and then herself.  But she wasn't allowed into heaven until she'd found the souls of her two sons ... unable to do this, she hangs around in river beds, wailing, and stealing other children (in other words, she's a bogey woman, used to threaten naughty kids).  Back in the village itself, is the church with its tin roof and little steeple - again, very Northern New Mexican style.

Back in Eldorado - which, by comparison, is faux adobe suburbia - there was an extraordinary sunset, and almost equally extraordinary moonrise.  Alas, the car is packed, and we're ready to go ...

Thursday, January 9, 2020

leaving soon

Well, not actually until Saturday morning.  So how does LucyFur know?  For this is not a spectacularly unmade bed: under here is a large tabby cat. who assumes that somehow she is invisible to the world.  Lucy would probably say: duh?  The washing machine?  The SUITCASE?  The general air of gloom and despond and Oh-No-So-Much-Admin-and-Course-Prep-to-get-Done screamingitis?  Yes, Lucy: you'd be right.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

bread making

Here's the first slice, flying off the loaf!  No, not my triumph, but Alice's (but you should have been able to work that out from the delicacy of her hand - a far remove from my stubby peasant-stock fingers).  

But it's not any bread.  For years - more than a decade - maybe since I've known her - Alice has waxed nostalgic about a particular loaf that her mother would bake when she was on some kind of health-diet kick in the 60s.  So the smell and taste is right up there in madeleine territory.  But Alice couldn't, for a long time, find the recipe again (which involves cornmeal, and molasses, among yet more basic ingredients).  However!  Re-discovery!  And today was the day!  I'm not a big bread eater, myself, but I avow that it was moist, and delicious, and crusty.

And you know that breadmaker?  You know, the one that is four plastic crates down in the garage, and that you excavate whilst you're putting away the Christmas decorations?  Yes!  It still works!  And you should use it more often!