Thursday, April 30, 2020

garden view (with deer)

The view from our back garden this afternoon managed to look like picturesquely framed English parkland.  This effect was decidedly increased when one spots the deer in the middle distance.  This rolling green grass is actually the Marty Tregnan Golf Academy, where kids attend junior golf classes: understandably, there's been precious little of that going on lately, although the grass is all still watered and mowed and kept in excellent condition (for grazing).  We saw deer here a few times the year that we moved in, but not for a long while.  The presence of coyotes here a day or so back suggests that all is not as harmonious as it looks, out there, so there may well be good reasons why we don't see the deer more often.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

cabbage, roses

Another early morning walk, seriously masked up - and maybe because it was grey and cloudy, a marine layer having rolled in, there were mercifully few people around.  So once again, here's visible evidence that other people's roses are somehow much healthier than our own.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

a rose for Zooming

... when it occurs to you that the First Rose of Summer should be plucked from your garden and left on your partner's desk for her to find as she settles down to her penultimate day's zoomteaching...  This is "The Poet's Wife," and her yellow petals smell wonderful.  Admittedly, just about every other garden in the neighborhood is crammed with roses in full bloom, and our three bushes are not only stunted and grumpy and in need of feeding, but TPW is being nibbled away by something - two thirds of her leaves have been chewed into intricate lacy patterns, although I can't find any culprits.  

Monday, April 27, 2020

interlopers in the nasturtiums

I look out of my study window this morning, and what do I see?  Coyotes!  Three of them (only two visible here - the third was trotting around further up the slope, looking for rabbits).  Two of them were very fit and fat indeed.  This goes a long way to explaining why the Wildflower Meadow has been looking a little flat in places, the past couple of days.   Blurring due to mosquito netting in window; black line due to bar across window.  But you get the general effect.

And this is why our kitties are indoor kitties.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

an early morning walk

We really couldn't stand being stuck behind our front gate a moment longer - now that we have some decent (aka not home-made) masks - so we headed out for a walk in the very early hours of the morning, and only encountered three, maybe four other people, all masked.  Two things that it takes getting used to (a) you have to wave - smiling isn't very decipherable behind layers of cotton, and (b) - that facial recognition thing on your phone?  It doesn't work when half of your face is unrecognizably masked, does it?

It was an ideal hour of the day to take in the beauty of other people's flowers.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

bottom of the front steps ...

... and now, moving round to the front yard, and what meets one's eye when one opens the front door.  Except - this should be filed under (a) escapism (b) falsism.  For of course, what one really sees when one opens the front door is an assortment of outside-only footwear; two Amazon boxes decontaminating themselves for 24 hours; yesterday's mail (ditto); and a small heap of plastic wrappers that I drop neatly, after gathering up the newspaper with a trash-grabber stick at the end of a long handle, and then, as it were, filleting it.  On a special day, there might even be one or two paper bags of recycling, or an old cat litter container, ready for the masked excursion up the front steps, the dash to the trash cans, and then the shedding of the outdoor shoes, the re-entry, the hand-washing ...

In other words, this is failing, sadly failing, at visual documentary, even though considered from another point of view, it's a perfectly truthful antidote to life under lockdown.

Friday, April 24, 2020

nasturtiums at night

... by way of an experiment: using the iPhone's Night Photography feature - i.e., no flash,  Basically, of course, this just means a three second exposure: a mini tripod would have helped, as would a still, quiet night.  As it is, there's a hot Santa Ana wind blowing, at the end of a hot day.  But unlike poppies, which shut themselves up when there's no sun-worshipping to be done, the nasturtiums stay open and awake.  They, too, are part of my wildflower seeding ...

... although not deliberately.  Try as I can, I really can't bring myself to like nasturtiums.  I think this has everything to do with the fact that all the early ones that I met - when I was about four - invariably had earwigs in them.  I hate earwigs.  They are the only insect I really, truly, detest.  I'm sure that for someone (another earwig?) they have their attractions, but other than being one of the very few non-social insect species to show maternal care, I can't think of any.  Tennyson called them battle-twigs, which is decidedly less body-invasive: I guess that's Lincolnshire usage?  Anyway, I didn't run into any this evening, which was a relief.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

working outside

The wildflower meadow gets better ... ok, if I put a chair at the top of this particular slope, I'd probably topple right down it, but I walk along the hill crest between the back terrace and some chairs much closer towards Griffith Park to admire the poppies as often as I can (that makes it sound like a healthy trek - we might be talking sixty steps in all).  Despite the heat, our back terrace (a very poncey name for what are increasingly uneven slabs of subsiding concrete, in need of garden architectural remediation, and indeed substantial engineering work, once we're back in the land of construction-normal in - what? - a decade or so) - our back terrace is a pretty shaded and hospitable place to work.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Moth's connoisseurship

Moth has long been an admirer (as everyone should be) of Connie's work.  She's having an especially good look today: on Sunday, my father (having doubtless seen this photograph in the background of hundreds of Skype calls, in this house and in previous ones), at last asked what it was.  I guess Moth heard us describe and explain.

Or, alternatively, she calculated that this was a posture in which she might just get our attention, and feed her.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Rossetti's Muse

A screen shot from today's class ... in order to make the best of screen-sharing on Zoom, all the participants other than the presenter are hidden, alas, so this is a poor simulacrum in various ways of our classroom.  Today's penultimate session in "Victorian Visual Culture" was devoted to presentations on contemporary visual re-interpretations of the Victorian - from BBC TV's The Paradise - Zola transposed to northern England - to enthusiasm for collecting large houseplants to Victorian themed board-games to Ben Cauchi's ambrotypes and tintypes to Yinka Shonibare CBE: any one of them would have been material enough for a whole class, let alone trying to squeeze ten people into three hours.  

But this was irresistible to share.  Who ever knew there was such a thing as a Dickens Village Series?  (and if you knew, is that knowledge that you're glad to have?  There was an intriguing sub-theme running through today's session that we didn't really have time to discuss - that there's a very American version of what constitutes the [English] Victorian that somehow isn't all that recognizable as a homegrown English style).  I think this must, pretty much, be Fanny Cornforth modeling for Bocca Baciata.  Whoever was responsible for this is maybe one answer to "what use is a course in Victorian visual culture"?

Monday, April 20, 2020

wildflower meadow (again)

... from another angle, at least.  I just can't get over the wonderousness of having planted lots of seeds, and having this appear as the view from my study window.  Little did I anticipate that this was going to become a very familiar outlook during this half of the semester, but the floral display has proved to be remarkably timely.  Also, there are lots of butterflies and bees making good use of it ...

Sunday, April 19, 2020

ready for cooking

The Instant Pot is about to produce another wonderful pot of vegetable/bean stew ... vegetable broth (made earlier, with beet tops, carrot tops, fennel tops, onion and carrot), then beans, more onion, more fennel, chopped up red chard, garlic, salt, pepper, chipotle chile powder, and the pi├Ęce de resistance, juniper berries.  I promise you: they make all the difference.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

all one mushroom

This single and singular mushroom was in our produce box this week (they have a fine selection of funghi: one just imagines that restaurants are no longer the active market that they were ...).  I have no idea what this was - maybe hen of the woods? - it's not on offer next week.  It reminds me, in its unusualness but edibility, of the time that my uncle Don cheerfully went off gathering funghi in Cumberland with my cousins, and me, and my father (his brother) - showing us what was, and wasn't edible, and coming back with a fine haul of miscellaneous mushrooms ... to my mother's horror.  She thought we would all be poisoned.  But we weren't ... I can't remember how those ones were consumed: these, fried up with some onion and garlic, found their way into an omelette together with some goat's cheese and some cut up left-over asparagus (all the above courtesy of the produce box, too.  What would we do without it?).,

Friday, April 17, 2020


I don't often look at (meaning, I don't remember ever having looked at, but that surely can't be true?) the lamp fixtures on one of the upstairs balconies before: I suspect from when the house was refurbished in the 1970s, rather than the early 2000s, but I don't know - I doubt that it harks back to 1929.  However, the sun was catching it this evening, and so I was very struck by the alert little griffin-shadow.  I can't claim that I particularly like it, but it's definitely an attempt at Cali-Spanish design, and, translated into black and white, has ambitions as a piece of set design for a Chandler remake.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

more poppies

The seeds that I sowed back in the fall really are coming up well (though I think all that one can eat here is the wild fennel).  What one can't see are all the tiny, and medium-small flowers that are threaded through the long grass, but it is all very rural.   

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

from one home to another

Home is both the here and now - Los Angeles in a time of coronavirus - and is nearly 6,000 miles away, on a quick Skype call with my father between meetings.  It's the distance between one sunny backyard and another (so sunny, indeed, that my father is wearing a hat in order to enjoy, doubtless, his pint and pipe outdoors).  He's looking decidedly spry, especially for 96.

And yes - of course it's worrying being such a long way away, with no inkling whatsoever of when it's going to be safe to get on a plane again.  On the other hand, Skype is a remarkable invention.  I can remember when I was much younger swearing vehemently that I would never, ever get or use a phone where you could see the person at the other end - the very idea was terrifying and repellent to me (quite why, I can't remember - I think I didn't much care for the idea of having to look respectable and presentable at any time).  The fact that it might have its benefits would have been as remote to me as the possibility that I might, one day, live at a vast distance from London ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


Social distancing, this is not.  I thought that I was hallucinating when I walked into the living room early this afternoon: never have I seen LucyFur and Moth curled up together; never have I seen them share a cushion - the only time that they crowd each other's space is when they're seeking mutual solace in one carrier during a trip to the vet's.  I can only assume that Alice's zoomteaching of her morning class drove them to this ...

Monday, April 13, 2020

wispy dawn

And this probably would have been good from outside the front gate, too, but we're not going there any more - at least, only once a week, to put out the trash and recycling.   The thick cloud is starting to break up - we're promised sunshine tomorrow.  It's tempting to find a metaphor somewhere in this: I'll try just one word - Wisconsin.  

Sunday, April 12, 2020

a watchful eye

LucyFur, trying to sleep, but ever on the look-out in case another depressing Zoom meeting might be about to start up.  No point telling her that it's the weekend - the admin hasn't let up all day.  Nor has the thoroughly gloomy Marine Layer - about 3,000 feet's worth of thick grey cloud that was so densely damp that eventually it got round to dropping drizzle.  The good side of this was that, one hopes, it kept people inside ...

Saturday, April 11, 2020

our beans are here!

This may not sound like world-shattering news, but in these times ... So we were a fan of Rancho Gordo beans already, and ordered a box of different kinds ... and then there was an article in the NYT on "Boom Times for the Bean Industry," just after we'd placed the order, that highlighted this company and their specialization in high-quality heirloom beans, and I'm sure that was responsible for a slight delay in their despatch: they must have been deluged.  Everyone, it seems, wants beans (they are, after all, something that completely justify all those Instant Pots).  And then - no beans.  Allegedly, they were delivered - we think they must have been Stolen (perhaps by the wild-eyed skinny guy who appeared to be casing the house next door this afternoon, and, we hope, was surprised to find someone at home there).  A new box was sent ... and here they are.  This should keep us going until the arrival of the next box, already ordered ...

And tonight's bean stew?  (with a packet of pinquito beans, soaked overnight, that I'd ordered as an add on from last week's produce box) - excellent, with carrot, parsnip, curly kale and a few slices of spicy chicken sausage (all from the same box), fennel seeds and juniper berries (courtesy of the Savory Spice shop).  We are getting to be dab hands at on-line ordering ...

Friday, April 10, 2020

working from home

Somehow this doesn't look quite as tidy as I think that it should - but this is pretty much the background that people can see - or see some of, given the fact that my head is a pretty effective blocking device - every time that I go on Zoom.  Moth, however, hasn't made the guest appearances that I'd hoped, despite her comfortable self-positioning here ... 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

the best kind of breakfast reading ... (and many heartfelt thank-yous)

To everyone who's reached out today - thank you so much! - it means a lot, but especially I'm really happy to be the source of good news at this elongatedly awful time (with that in mind, I'm pleased to be able to take my fellowship in 2021-22, when at least we should know what the parameters of the New Normal may be).  I know many of you have, over the years, heard me speak about lichen and slugs and seaweed, and have helped this along by inviting me to talk, or by asking great questions, thank you, indeed!  For those of you who, on the other hand, are thinking - slugs? - here's what USC put together today:

I'm intrigued, indeed, that this ended up in Fine Arts Research - clearly imaginative reshuffling takes place somewhere in these processes!  Because I applied under "Literary criticism and theory," figuring that this interdisciplinary stuff could belong anywhere, and that I might well have more - what should I say? name recognition in lit studies.  I think I put down Art History as secondary field, all the same.  The takeaway - what I always tell people putting in for grants: write for a fairly general audience.

Now I'm slinking off, since tooting my own trumpet - is that an Americanism as well as a Britishism? - doesn't come all that easily (that tendency is certainly fully British) - but I just wanted to offer heartfelt thanks to everyone who's been a part of this journey.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

all right for some

Things have sunk to this.  Not even time to make the bed, and it's been repossessed.  Such inactivity - whilst the rest of the household spends its time in Zoom meetings until its eyes ache.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

a wet azalea

There wasn't much stomping up and down the terrace today: either I was teaching, or in a meeting, or it was pouring.  I dived out of the back door, and then back again, and that was about it.  

Monday, April 6, 2020

drip, drip, drip

Raindrops, caught in a spider's web.  It was very, very wet here last night and this morning.  But drip, drip, drip to a reader of Dickens can only call up one place: the terrace at the dampest of all country houses, Chesney Wold, and Lady Dedlock walking up and down the Ghost's Walk, on which rain always seems to be falling.  As I walk up and down, up and down the back yard here, calling it Exercise, there's something very Lady Dedlockian about it, indeed.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

a singular, beautiful flower: in memoriam, Cheryl Wall

Waking up this morning to the terrible news that Cheryl Wall had died was a devastating and completely unexpected blow.  I've been thinking all day how best to memorialize her.  It's impossible to do so adequately, but certain things stand out.

Cheryl was the Chair of the Rutgers English Department when I was hired back in 2001.  She Without Cheryl, I think it's fair to say, the last 19 years would have unfolded completely, and unimaginably differently.  She led me through the negotiations, and through my introduction to the department.  It's only when I look back that I can see how tolerant Cheryl was of someone who understood the American academic system very imperfectly indeed, and how gently she educated me.  One of the means through which she did this was by putting me, right away, on the department's Executive Committee: my first meeting of this took place in my first full week's teaching, on September 11th.  As the news of terrorist planes and falling towers kept arriving, Cheryl was unflappable, and gallantly carried on with business, despite the increasing jitteriness of the room: we only disbanded when a message came through from the University President that we should all go home.  Cheryl was, indeed, a model Chair.  I learned so much from her in this respect: how to steer a discussion; when to remain quiet - sometimes very quiet; how so very much depended on making sure that the office staff are kindly and fairly treated; how to try to be fully present, always.

It's impossible for me to write of Cheryl without using - probably over-using - the word gracious.  Gracious, and elegant: she had an extraordinary and enviable collection of striking scarves, which she would drape around her neck to great effect.  And she was also extremely kind and hospitable - witness numerous start-of-year parties at her house, where she would go out of her way to welcome the most junior.  And she had a terrific, and sometimes wicked sense of humor, often built on her deep sense of human absurdity.  I remember after one job dinner that was held at my house, she - characteristically - stayed to clear up.  We didn't even need to discuss the decidedly full-of-themselves (and unsuccessful) job candidate who had just left: we caught each others' eye, and it was minutes before we stopped laughing.  I will miss her laugh; I realize that I often tried to make her laugh for the sheer pleasure of hearing it.

And there are so many other things I could say.  We had a shared enthusiasm for Paule Marshall's fiction - it was a treat to discuss books with her.  Cheryl was one of the few people I've ever met who was genuinely afraid of cats (which meant that some doors had to be firmly closed in our house when she visited) - but somehow she held it together at a dinner party at Barry Qualls' house when one of his cats jumped on the table mid-dinner and inadvertently put his tail in a candle.  Cheryl had, indeed, extraordinary poise, even under such circumstances.

Others will write far better than I about Cheryl's scholarship, but she was compelling in her clarity, and in the deep sense of justice that also infused her writing.  I can't believe that she's left us.  I owe her so much, and it's unbearable that I'll never get to tell her so.

Saturday, April 4, 2020


At last our calla lilies are blooming.  Their first attempts were chewed off - I think by a raccoon.  Even on a day when it's been getting cloudier and more storm-menacing, they are spectacularly luminous.

Barry - as ever, this calla is for you!

Friday, April 3, 2020

stay home save lives

We looked up from the balcony at lunchtime, and there was writing in the sky.  STAY HOME SAVE LIVES seems a clear enough injunction.  It's one we'd taken to heart already, having decided that for the next couple of weeks at least, going out for walks is just too risky: the arrogant young hipsters walking designer dogs who don't wait for one to get out of the way; the families with three children; the man up the street - this was the worst - sitting in front of his house, coughing.  So now exercise is going to consist of Stairs - up and down them, inside and out, and walking along the narrow top of the back garden and trying not to fall down the hill onto the increasingly splendid poppies.

Of course it's impossible to look at skywriting, ever, and not be reminded of Mrs Dalloway.  If that was a fictional device - everyone looking up at once; trying to decipher the letters that might or might not be advertising toffee - designed to show that disparate people in London were, indeed, at some level connected, I guess that this might well be said to be happening for all of us self-isolating in Los Angeles ...

Thursday, April 2, 2020

someone else's flower

Memo to self: some of these would look good next year, if we planted them.

This isn't the photo that I'd planned: the ones of us venturing out of the house for the first time actually wearing face coverings were - well, ridiculous.  Not in a good way; not in a way that might brighten your day - just pathetic.  I was reasonably proud of keeping a scarf tied round my face for the duration of the walk, but looking at the visual evidence, it was decidedly further down my nose than I'd want.  By the time of our afternoon outing, I'd sewed myself something more practical (I was especially proud of the bent paper-clip hemmed into a nose-bridge), but judging by Alice's reaction, it was hardly an aesthetic success...  So this iris will have to act as a very bland stand-in.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

other people's houses

... one of the bonuses of walking round the neighborhood is that one has a good chance to look, and look, at the houses up and down the local streets.  This one was for sale relatively recently - I'd always coveted it from the outside, but the realtor's photos showed - well, if ever there was a house with too much fancy tile work in it, this is it.  I never thought I'd think that there could be Too Much Tile, but I realize that I was unimaginative in that respect.