Sunday, February 28, 2021

first jasmine flower

I planted a jasmine bush in a big plant pot last summer, moved it in the fall so that it would climb up into some front garden bushes, and it seems (touch wood) to be doing wonderfully well.  In general, our front yard drainage is so unreliable that it's safest to put things in pots: we have too much dying and wilting of rosemary bushes at the moment, and various other corners are, I'm coming to realize, not only shallow, but are like little hidden reservoirs - which when one largely plants drought-tolerant things is fatal.  Best of all, here, is the jasmine's smell.  Indeed, opening the window at night - it can't be this plant causing it, yet - the air is thick not just with jasmine scent, but with citrus blossom.  Much though I miss being in New Mexico, springtime in LA is wonderful.


Saturday, February 27, 2021

agave attenuata

... from this morning's walk, down the street and on Griffith Park Boulevard.  This is probably as tall as this will grow: any moment now two things will happen.  It'll curve over, and the flowers will start to come out more, making the plant look fluffy (it's also known as foxtail agave, because it starts to look like a fox brush).  And at that point a third thing happens - the bees arrive.  It's a very striking plant - ridiculously, cartoonishly phallic.  Of course, it's not native to here, but is a Mexican import - tempting to get one of our own, though.   (Nurseries!  Buying plants!  That's on the list for ten days time - we're counting down the post vaccine days ... on the other hand, being at a Zoom get together earlier today and learning of friends who, say, have to teach in a university classroom - in Georgia - with no vaccine in sight brings home, once again, the acutely horrible disparities between states).


Friday, February 26, 2021

breakfast, please?

Really, you don't want to argue with Moth.  But wet food has been consumed.  Kibble has been consumed.  Tiny, tiny, tiny matitudinal treat of butter has been consumed.  What else does she expect?  Maybe I could have some oats and granola and have a little bit of milk with them, and she could lick out the bowl?  


Thursday, February 25, 2021

the optimism of orchid buds

One of the orchids that found its way here for Alice's birthday last week lost a little stem of buds on its journey - so we rescued in, and put it hopefully - and with an imaginative support, thanks to Alice, I realized today - in a tumbler of water.  So far so good - it looks like it could make it ...


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

mottled bark

The unmistakable mottled bark of the London plane tree, Platanus × acerifolia.  This - as a genus - is a very new tree: it was discovered in the mid C17th by John Tradescant the younger at his gardens in Vauxhall, and seems to be an accidental hybrid between Platanus occidentalis, the American sycamore, and the Oriental plane, imaginatively called Platanus orientalis.  So even if I associate it with London itself - over 50% of trees on London's streets are plane trees - and even though it technically must count as an import (like so many trees in California), it's hardly an indigenous species from some other part of the world.

Honestly, it's remarkable that we were able to go out on a walk at all today - and even so, I was dragging my weary and exhausted feet.  However happy and fortunate I am to have had my second Pfizer shot, I had just about every possible side effect - soreness, body aches, head aches, and worst of all, deep chills and shaking.  Wearing off now, but, ouch.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

demolishing a hospital

This would have been a more dramatic picture if I hadn't been leaning out of a moving car (on the passenger side), because the demolition is in full, spectacular force, laying bare the bones of this building before it all crumbles into an asbestos-filled mound.  I may be inventing the asbestos, of course, but it's the right vintage to be completely toxic.  What will rise in its place, however, is terrific (as a concept, if not architecturally, maybe): a joint LA County/USC venture called a Restorative Care Village (this is not the same thing as the neo-Ruskinian University Village on campus - emphatically not) but a facility that will seek to treat the unhoused who have medical issues - whether they are living on the streets, or fresh out of jail, or whatever; it will address mental health and addiction problems that are best treated when the vulnerable have some kind of housing security; it'll do a lot of social liaising work, and presumably it'll add considerably to the experiences of our medicine and social work students.  I do wish that we'd hear more about this really great kind of work that USC does ...

And yes! - we had our second Pfizer vaccines stuck in our arms.  Which now hurt - but who's complaining ...?


Monday, February 22, 2021

a birthday outing

We made it to the beach for a birthday picnic!  To the very top part of Santa Monica beach, to be exact (having somehow failed to find the entrance to the Will Rogers State Beach, which was our intention ... or rather, coming down Temescal Canyon, it looked as though there was a barrier across the entrance, and the fact that we should have gone straight across and made a sharp right was only apparent when we'd sailed past.  We'll know next time ...).  We had a picnic!  OK, cheese and Nairns oatcakes and tangerines and home made chocolate chip cookies, but it was a bona fide picnic, and we walked and walked.  This was a closest I've had to a Day Off (barring about half an hour) for - gosh, how long?  Maybe it's what USC calls a Wellness Day: I call it a birthday.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

the abandoned chairs of Los Feliz

long-time readers will remember an Occasional Series of mine from long, long ago: The Abandoned Chairs of Highland Park - Highland Park NJ, that is.  Discarded furniture, or indeed discarded anything, is much less common around here, because our streets don't really go anywhere - they loop back on themselves.  This, in turn, has its disadvantages - you can't put something out and watch it disappear.  And when we lived on N. Hoover Street, you could give the least attractive objects about half an hour, maximum, before they were gone - everything, that is, apart from one particular black and white mug, which mysteriously no one, ever, wanted to relieve us of here in LA, or in NJ.  I think I might, in the end, have snuck it off to Out Of the Closet.  This chair may be comfortable, for all I know - and I eyed it hopefully, because I miss my chair in Santa Fe - but the seat is more ripped (how?  Not even our cats could do that) than even I could work out how to mend, and leather re-upholstery isn't, alas, in my current skill set.


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Moth on the stairs

"Should I go on up?  But she seems to be going down."  It's been extremely windy today - lots of things are banging around - and this, in the time-honored way of felines, has ensured that both Moth and LucyFur have been wild: rushing around, chasing each other, demanding extra food ... Outside, the most spectacular site was a house a block or two away that had been covered in green and yellow tenting so that toxic anti-termite stuff could be pumped inside it ... only the winds have liberated much of the material, so who knows what state the house - or garden, and that palm tree shouldn't have been left inside the tenting, anyway - is in by now.


Friday, February 19, 2021

flowery transformer

Alice's birthday - and we gave ourselves a (masked, careful) daring treat - take-out lunch! - from Gingergrass, in Silver Lake.  Here's a wheatpasted curling piece of street art on the electrical transformer opposite - the first time in an age that I've felt able to look at anything other than the small changes that we observe on walks in our neighborhood.  This may not, indeed, be the most gastronomically startling food in all of Los Angeles (Vietnamese, but not as genuinely Vietnamese, one suspects, as somewhere less Silver-Lakey) - but it's been a standby for years, and so fitting to patronize it as our first Californian non-home-cooked meal since early October!  Things are looking up.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

onwards and upwards

Our front yard (with a chunk of rosemary looking irretrievably brown and dead: I think the problem is over-watering).  That thing behind the left-hand gatepost is not a bulging moon, but the street light.

Today was chiefly remarkable for seeing not one, but two of my former students excelling themselves - or representing their excellence: first, Fiona McCrae, from Greywolf Press, who was appearing at a USC event together with my colleague Percival Everett (she's his editor).  I taught Fiona back in 1981-2, at Bristol, and this leaves me worried that she probably has a particular set of insights into quite how unprofessional a young so-called professional I was then.  I remember her being completely stunning in a C20th literature class (in which the set book was Eliot's Four Quartets).  And then later in the day, I attended a lecture by Kate Thomas - Katie-Louise - whom I managed to teach as an undergrad and then work with as a DPhil supervisor, giving a brilliant lecture at - that is, "at" - Harvard on "Lesbian Arcadia: Desire and Design in the Fin de Si├Ęcle Garden."  Katie-Louise is now a named chair, at Bryn Mawr!  There ought to be an English term for the academic-maternal-pride that one feels on occasions like these: instead of which all I can do is offer up a lesbian garden.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021


The swan weather vane up the street was perfectly aligned, perfectly illuminated early this morning.  I'd just taken this - and Alice said Huh?  You were taking a photo of all those security cameras?  Hmmmm.  If you look under the tiles on the top of the squashed tower, you'll see ... well, I hope that they are all little spotlights, because if they aren't, I'm going to be a puzzle to whoever examines the security footage (unless, of course, they're just inordinately happy that someone was evidently admiring their rusty swans).


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

signs of an American spring

There are three small clumps of daffodils on a neighbor's front lawn, each marked by a rather superfluous - or aspirational - stake and tie.  What makes this so obviously, quintessentially American is the picket fence - something that I had no idea what it could possibly be before visiting the US for the first time - I think I had in mind something like the imposing barrier that Aunt Polly gets Tom Sawyer to paint: "Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high."  Nine feet?  On the other hand, this fence is decidedly miniature, and more ornamental than functional.  On the other side of it, one finds one of our street's great mysteries, which has been there as long as we have (and therefore, probably, a lot longer): that is, a lawn sprinkler with an old chopping board propped up against it.  I imagine this is to stop people tripping over the sprinkler: you'd have thought the man who lives there might have come up with some other solution by now.  It's good to see daffodils - there aren't a whole lot of them in Los Feliz.


Monday, February 15, 2021

fallen cactus: the scourge of the agave snout weevil

This was a surprise encounter on our morning walk: the prostrate form of a huge cactus.  There's not been much wind to speak of; nothing seemed to have hit it; it's rather a prickly object to pull over on a whim.  The answer seems to be (doing due diligence into sudden and dramatic cactus rot) - the agave snout weevil!  Whoever knew that there was such a wonderfully named creature?  Scyphophorus acupunctatus, to be more formal.  They are like bigger versions of the insects that infected our honeysuckle plants in the summer: they have long probisci that they stick into the core of the plant, and then they lay their eggs there - and other micro-organisms get in there too - and that's likely to lead to the cactus's demise.  What's more, they aren't native to California - they have arrived from Mexico, and are on the list of the world's top 100 invasive species. which is a pretty terrible distinction to have.  It's also known as the sisal weevil because - guess what - it attacks sisal, too.  One can attack it, apparently, with truly nasty pesticides in the surrounding soil, which probably do all kinds of other damage - but people are researching using pheromones to lure them away from cacti to what are euphemistically termed "collection sites."  I suppose that's like baiting moth traps?


Sunday, February 14, 2021


It's been a very welcome change this year to be at home for all of Valentine's Day: usually I'm at CAA in some place a great deal colder than Los Angeles.  This means breakfast with my favorite human and favorite cats - even if Moth is the only feline visible here.  It'd be great to have a loving picture of the two of them, but although they are, at heart, good friends, and act in choreographed consort if they think that there might be any food in the offing, "togetherness" usually consists of Moth going lick, lick, lick to LucyFur's head - that's three licks, and then she bites her ear.  Then they glower at each other, and slowly each raise a forepaw, like a pair of furry heraldic griffins.  Fairly soon after that (some tumbles, battering, ominous yowls) their ploy has worked.  We feed them.


Saturday, February 13, 2021

another cabbage

It was a very cabbagey kind of day: overcast, for the most part, and one in which you think that your work week is emphatically over, and it proves to be full of small nibbling bits of departmental business, after all.  To be exact, I think this may be ornamental kale - and looking at the many varieties of Brassica oleracea that one can grow from seed, I think this is probably Nagoya White.  I am very, very tempted next season to order a whole lot of different seed packets and to try and grow my own ...


Friday, February 12, 2021

los feliz noir

I've never quite understood why there's so much rain in Raymond Chandler's fiction, when it only seems to descend a few times a year, these days ... But in the early hours of today we did, indeed, have a couple of hours of determined drizzle, and so the after-effects, of sun groggily rising on the damp street.  Somehow, the shadow and the roof rack on the car make it look as though this is a flash-back to the 1930s, when our street was known as Pill Hill, being full of doctors and dentists (our house was built by a dentist, and I fear may be haunted by molars).  


Thursday, February 11, 2021

ornamental cabbage

It's not at all easy to choose between the close-up or the in situ view of this improbably pink cabbage, growing in a front yard on Griffith Park Boulevard. 

We're already feeling that we need a change in walking routes, around here: in Eldorado there's always the changing sky, but although it grew cloudy this afternoon here, that's no compensation for the spectacular in New Mexico.  Our one venture into Griffith Park itself was a little unnerving, thanks to the unhoused and the hordes of Unmasked (here on the streets, at least one can, and does, hop into the road to avoid the latter, whereas the GP trails are narrower).  On the other hand, the hills are steeper here: that, and the flights of stairs in our house, probably keeps us fitter.  And, truth be told, there's more variety when it comes to plants, and architecture ... but I miss all that space, which turns walks into spaces for thinking.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

from the bedroom window

The Asian Pear is its spectacular February self, although the mornings this week have been cloudy and misty, and deprived us of the early golden glow on the hills behind.  On the other hand, the blossom will all have dropped off, at this rate, if I wait for the perfect light.  This is, after all, pretty good (and it's been the kind of long, long day in which a peaceful and slightly misty view is suitably tranquilizing.  Is it really only Wednesday, still?).


Tuesday, February 9, 2021


I'll admit that until recently, I hadn't given bark a great deal of thought, unless it had lichen on it, or unless it provided a useful way of identifying a tree.  And then I was asked to write an afterword-chapter to a volume of essays on Surfaces, and thought - well, I'll consider bark.  (final copy-edits sent off yesterday!).  Now, of course, I look on it both as a substance that's both part of a tree, and that can be separated from it; something that has an extraordinary number of uses - both practical ones, and as a metaphor.  I think bark may be finding its way into the book ...

This tree surface is very striking: one of several similar trees on Griffith Park Boulevard, it belongs to the Californian Pepper Tree (which inevitably isn't native to California, but was imported by the Franciscans when they wanted something shady for their missions, and quite probably didn't ask the locals what they habitually sat under). We have one of these in the back yard ... I realized today that it has the potential to grow a great deal taller than I'd ever previously contemplated.


Monday, February 8, 2021

the site of that fire

... Saturday's fire, that is.  The good thing, indeed, is that it was right by a track in Griffith Park - that would explain why it was so easy to get vehicles there.  The bad news is that it was right by a track ... and the crushed beer cans under the foliage suggest that it's very likely that there was a little encampment there.  We saw one guy walking away from us with back pack and bed roll and a lot of shouting: we suspect that the unhoused are increasingly finding shelter there, coming up from the tent city that's growing along Riverside Drive.  

PSA: don't think that it's a good idea to head for a little hike in Griffith Park between meeting with a grad student and setting up a Zoom job candidate talk.  There really isn't the time that you hope there is, although the rapid pace at which you'll have to power-walk up the hill home will persuade you that you've had plenty of exercise ...


Sunday, February 7, 2021

neighborhood looking good

Back in Eldorado, we have all kinds of ordinances against signs: election material, for example, has to be taken down the week after the election; Christmas lights on February 1st (and that represented an extension, this year), and so on.  Here in Los Feliz, many houses are still proudly sporting Biden/Harris signs (and one, just one, a bedraggled and half-hidden Trump banner), and many, many have BLM signs - many, as here, hand-made. (On a side note, I was pleased to see the Women of Troy wearing BHM - for Black History Month - tee-shirts as they warmed up for today's volleyball game against Oregon.  They lost - another 5-setter - but I feel more optimistic than for a couple of years ...). 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

this is not a drill

Believe me - pretty high on the list of things one doesn't want to see from one's living room window - 728  feet away, according to Citizen - is a plume of rising smoke.  On the other hand, what one is pleased to see is one of the two LAFD helicopters circling round and dropping water on it.  Indeed, it was the sound of a crazily low and loud helicopter flying at speed across our back yard to get to it that alerted me to the fact that this wasn't actually a peaceful sunny morning, and that once again it's faintly scary living with a lot of combustible material behind us.  Admittedly, it's February, and we've had some rain, but still.  

The LAFD reported that "the fire may have spread from a palm tree," but off the trails, palm trees don't generally spontaneously combust.  We can't be talking Moses and the burning bush, here.  So it was, indeed, mildly unsettling, although the LAFD (who apparently despatched 25 units in our direction!) were impressive.


Friday, February 5, 2021

camellia time

... or it was, a week ago: I think the camellias must have received quite a battering when it rained ten days ago, since they are browning and somehow not looking quite their best.  Even close-up, as here, it's almost impossible to avoid the signs of wilting, even though they also look as delicately beautiful as they should.  I'm still wilting, too, after Tuesday's jab: I'd been expecting a sore arm, which didn't really happen, and maybe some aching (which did), but not the sustained fatigue.  And yes, I know this is nothing compared to catching covid itself, and for obvious reasons I shouldn't complain, but goodness, I'm very glad it's Friday.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

LA evening

I miss walking around our Eldorado neighborhood back in NM: here we are incessantly dodging other humans (although the level of mask wearing is definitely much higher than it was when left).  But there are still golden skies, and yes, that's snow on the mountains in the distance.  It's a view from just up our street and round the corner, with a distinctly non-New Mexican palm tree.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021


There was a lot of today - Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting - and I was still aching and weary after yesterday (hope that's a sign of antibodies kicking in ...).  But it's good to walk around the neighborhood again (in the dawn, in the dusk, at either end of the day), and see how the fruit is coming along ... such a shock to see green grass again, after winter in New Mexico.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021


Believe me, this was worth driving 900 miles for!  OK, we ache all over (and not from the driving), and expect to sleep like logs, but the sense of relief at having had Jab 1 is extraordinary.  And even if we haven't seen so many people for eleven months as we did today in Keck Hospital of USC, it was all very smoothly managed.  Roll on three weeks time, for Pfizer dose #2.

Of course, I'm not at all immune to the ironies of privilege: that the job that allows me to teach and chair a department from the warm safety of my own home is also one that means that, as a (suitably aged) patient of USC's medical system, I have efficient and ready access to the vaccine.  OK - I'll rephrase that - I was hovering over the computer like a hungry Cooper's Hawk waiting for the sign up link to turn up - but in turn that's privilege: access to fast internet; time to hawkishly hover.  Should a front line worker (of any age) be vaccinated before me?  Undoubtedly - and indeed, very many of the people in today's line, and occupying today's chairs, were health services workers getting their second shot; and I'm proud of USC that they have also been letting the families of essential hospital workers - the cleaners, the porters, and so on - be vaccinated too.  But were either of us going to turn this chance down?  Of course not.  We just want as many people as possible to have the same feeling of relief, as soon as possible.


Monday, February 1, 2021

dessicated and deceased

This is - or rather, was - my beloved avocado tree.  What happened between early October, when I last saw her, green and flourishing, and now?  This would have been her fifth year in the ground - and the one when she had a chance of developing and growing little avocado pears.  I protected her from the sun - hence the strange black net arrangement, looking rather like a decapitated Hallowe'en witch with broomstick.  She had just the right amount of water, I thought.  The answer would seem to be Avocado Root Rot - which doesn't just happen, but is caused by a combination of over-watering, and oomycete, which love damp ground - oomycete being a kind of water-borne mold, with the avocado being assaulted - specifically - by Phytophthora cinnamomi. The Global Invasive Species Database counts Phytophthora cinnamomi in its list of "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species". These water molds were originally found only in tropical and subtropical countries, but are now found around the world.  And how do they spread?  It seems that - absent other ideas - it's likely through the burying habits of squirrels. Bah.  Where are the Great Horned Owls when you need them?  They were chatty enough during this evening's job talk ...