Friday, April 30, 2021

turning on a light

I suppose if you're a horse, it would make a lot of sense to get up on your hind legs to kick forward onto a switch, to turn it on or off.  On the other hand, wouldn't it make even more sense to use your muzzle?  This seems like a huge amount of effort ...   On my way back to LA, I'm upstairs at La Posada - a rare occasion: the last time it happened was when Walter Gomez and I were watching Trump and Hillary square off in a debate.  This is the other side of the building, and so I'm encountering some new pieces of weirdness.


Thursday, April 29, 2021

a pandemic casualty?

Alas, it looks as though one of my favorite stores in Santa Fe may have gone under.  For years - decades, even - I've loved going to Casa, next door to one of the branches of Ohori's Coffee - where I went today to pick up lots and lots of coffee to take back to LA.  Mainly I seemed to buy cushions there, or occasionally scarves; certainly greetings cards, occasionally jewellery - and then other one-off items, like my illuminated white owl.  Whoever bought stuff for it had a particularly fine eye for interesting fabrics and colors.  

But alas, today - with no notice of when it closed - assuming it closed; but there again, no "for lease" sign - it was dusty; just about empty apart from a few boxes, two dead cacti, and a strange figure, half-way between a standing Buddha and the Michelin Man, holding a large orange plastic carp.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

the beginning and end of the storm

It's been a day of spectacular clouds, from the ones that were billowing up when I was on my morning walk, to the dark, dark ones that circled round and round Eldorado and eventually, when I was in the middle of a Zoom meeting, decided that they would actually drop some rain - not masses and masses, but enough to make everything smell absolutely extraordinary: fresh northern New Mexico, after it rains, may be my very favorite natural smell in the world - a combination of soil and pinon trees, for starters.  And lilac ... There was a thin yellow stripe of post-sunset lighting up the western sky, eventually, signalling, I think, the end of the storm, which has rushed on down to the south of the state.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

it's getting there ...

I can't imagine for a minute that anyone else is as invested in the progress of the lilac as I am (maybe Alice is, vicariously), but I am inspecting it anxiously to see whether or not it'll be properly blooming before I leave.  Other than that ... let's just say that admin tasks are ramping up like tumbleweed shoots as the end of this long, long, long semester draws nigh ...


Monday, April 26, 2021

not the supermoon I'd hoped for ...

I'd been looking forward all day to a spectacular pink, huge supermoon.  Alas.  Indeed - I didn't think there was going to be any sign of the moon whatsoever, since the sky was filling up with thick grey clouds, but there's a hint of something breaking through here, for just a few moments ...

Sunday, April 25, 2021

how's the lilac coming on?

It's been very nearly two weeks - and I'm still waiting for the lilac to bloom.  But it was much warmer today, and so I have some hope that those tight buds may decide that it's safe to unfurl before I leave ...  The only way that I can make it look as though it's on the verge of full-scale spring is to fiddle around on Photoshop while watching the Oscars (a great night for Nomadland!).


Saturday, April 24, 2021

goats and art

It's possible that goats and painting are two of my very favorite combinations, and it's rare that one gets to enjoy them within a few hundred feet of each other.  Today Horned Locust Remediation were landscaping down in the Railyard, and doing their best to nibble the bushes clean of fresh spring buds (I rather think that they were meant to have their heads closer to the ground).  The flock includes sheep as well as goats: a wonderful cast of characters.

And then to SITE Santa Fe to see the May Stevens exhibition - two rooms that manage to give a rich and comprehensive sense of her whole career through a selection of her very best works.  She was a very melancholy painter, in a non-obvious way: a lot of her paintings and screen prints are about death, or absence, or the unfulfilled - I hadn't known her race themed works from the early 60s, though; and I'd never seen this really moving canvas: Galisteo (Creek, New Mexico) (2001) before.  It's a sombre take on a local landscape which is richly meditative in its own right - but as with so much of her later paintings, it's the more moving when one knows that it's one of the places where she scattered the ashes of her late husband.  I only met May Stevens once, alas - and by that time she'd started to become what my mother would have called "a little vague" - so it was a real treat to be in the presence of such an extraordinary gathering of her best works.

And then to watch the Joan Braderman documentary The Heretics - about the Heresies feminist art collective in NYC in the 1970s, which made me feel very old - quite apart from it being a terrific history of women's art in NY at that time, it brought back the whole excitement - back in the UK - of collectively pasting up magazines, and of writing "position papers" in the middle of the night, quite often about stuff one didn't really know very much about.  The internet has changed everything: I have a lot of thoughts milling around about how - despite all its benefits - it's a terrific denter of confidence.


Friday, April 23, 2021

maybe rain?

I mean - you'd think it would rain, wouldn't you?  This was accompanied by a fierce and gritty wind (not for nothing are the students and teams at the Eldorado Community School known as the Dust Devils), but apart from a few drops this morning, nothing fell - not here, anyway.  But the evening views from our dessicated back yard were good ...


Thursday, April 22, 2021

new leaves for Earth Day

The new green leaves are starting to appear!  Think of it as a metaphor: the Biden administration has really hit the ground running as determinedly as I'd dared hope when it comes to environmental issues.  In more literal terms - during the past couple of days, some trees really are starting to look as though winter is over, chilly though the wind still is.  I live in hope that - with a warm weekend ahead - the lilac will bloom before I leave.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

quoth the raven

A fine mailbox, from down the road.  The ravens around here have, as usual, been saying Kark Kark (a couple of them in an especially angry fashion - I think their nest was raided by an owl or hawk, because I saw them roosting for a couple of days, and then Nevermore.  Today I heard that adorable kok kok kok sound - the one that makes them sound like a bar tenders' convention - but only a couple of times.  I don't know whether this life sized figure is meant as an homage, or to scare them off ...


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

in which dinner becomes an unmitigated disaster

Let's start with the pasta.  I was so excited to see artisanal kale and cheese ravioli in the local supermarket that I'd ignored two crucial things written on the packaging: first, that they were gluten-free, and the pasta itself made from corn and rice, and second, the instructions "do not freeze."  So although I'd defrosted them this evening, the minute they hit boiling water they disintegrated into a mushy mess.  When cooked, their draining - well, let's just say that I've got the colander clean, now.

But there was a reasonable amount of something edible left.  Some tomato sauce, I thought, and some seasoning ... at that point, the top came off the peppercorn grinder and the entire contents of a full container spilled over countertop, floor, and, yes, my dinner.

I gave up after a few mouthfuls, and reverted to cheese and crackers.  I can only claim in mitigation (so far as the pepper goes) that I was rushing back to the TV to see, once again, the wonderful footage of Derek Chauvin being led off in handcuffs.  It mightn't exactly be justice, but it's accountability, and today, and in this case, I'll celebrate that.


Monday, April 19, 2021

cut flowers

A continuation of yesterday's theme - these are certainly flowers that I couldn't have with the cats in the house, sitting on top of one of Gloria Montoya's lovely weavings (and then I moved it back, onto a little mat on top of the wooden bookcase).

But these are also to celebrate my terrific student Victoria Kornick's qualifying exams: she's a non-fiction creative writer and also a critical writer on nineteenth and early twentieth century cultivated plants.  The final chapter of her eventual dissertation will be on Woolf, and Mrs Dalloway in particular, and the commercial flower trade.  It seemed appropriate to wave these at these at the Zoom screen at the end of the very successful exam - but I was truly glad to learn that there were real, live, three-dimensional flowers waiting for her at home.


Sunday, April 18, 2021

when the cat's away ...

... or, indeed, when the cats haven't traveled with me - I can have flowers!  Tulips in the dining room; some irises in my study - things that are toxic to felines, so we never have indoors when they are around (LucyFur, in particular, has a tendency to chew anything resembling vegetation - which is terrifying, and therefore means that we have to vet every plant or flower that comes into the house to make sure that it's not lethally poisonous).

The sentiment could be understood in other ways, as well: I am enjoying eating/drinking things that Alice doesn't/can't ingest: halibut, cilantro, sauvignon blanc ... I'd forgotten how much I like halibut ...


Saturday, April 17, 2021

spring's not here yet

If you enlarge this photo a little, you'll be able to see better all the little white floating things: snowflakes.  They didn't settle; there's another band coming through tonight that may.  Why, you might well ask, am I not enjoying the Southern Californian spring?  Answer: I have books here.  And quiet.  I need to do a couple of weeks uninterrupted work (uninterrupted apart from admin, that is, that keeps sweeping in like bands of snow).  But.  It is cold.


Friday, April 16, 2021

weather forecast

Wind; more wind; stronger wind tonight.  Much colder tomorrow.  Maybe some snow tomorrow night.  Then by next weekend, temperatures in the high seventies.  That's New Mexico at 7,000 feet for you ...


Thursday, April 15, 2021


It was very, very windy today.  I always think of winds being especially strong in March, here, but it's the middle of April.  The first large ball of tumbleweed has lodged itself in the lilac.  Then I took the car out to the store around 4 p.m. - and by the time that I went out for a walk at 6, it had three of the round spiky weeds lodged beneath it.

I'd been thinking that I'd put some tumbleweeds in one of my book chapters, as a kind of Western counterpart to dandelions - getting everywhere.  But although there's some exciting contemporary art that uses the concept of tumbleweed to talk about boundaries, and migration, and for that matter litter, it's spectacularly absent from nineteenth century paintings of the West.  Sagebrush galore, but no tumbleweed that I've yet found.  And that, of course, is not at all surprising, because it's a vegetative latecomer, an invader - "invader," that is, because the whole vocabulary of "invasive plants" is so loaded.  Its first aggressive, tenacious seeds seem to have arrived in South Dakota in a shipment of contaminated Russian flaxseed - and since each large tumbleweed ball can have up to 200,000 seeds to scatter (ouch!), all the ones that don't get eaten by prairie dogs and mice and seed eating birds grow into new tumbleweeds ...

... so if it spreads that quickly (and indeed, although it's chilly outside, its new tender shoots are just sprouting in the front flower beds) why didn't it make its way into nineteenth century paintings?  Time to visit some more Western art galleries ... I could be very wrong. 


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

lilac, continued

A perfect view of the unpruned side of the lilac bush, magnifying itself in the setting sun.  It's a perfect week to witness winter turning into spring - leaves are unfurling greenly all the time.  That being said, there's still a freezing cold wind ... very grateful, though, for some brisk walks to help pace myself through one of the busiest days of this semester to date ...


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

an experiment with apples

When we left, in January, we had very little space left in the car, and a superabundance of apples.  It seemed a waste to put them in the compost bin, though - so I suggested putting them, spaced out, on newspaper, and seeing what happened.  One of these five is a bit wrinkly - the others are perfect (and the living room smells faintly of apples).

This wasn't entirely guesswork.  Our Wimbledon house was built in the orchard of an old Victorian property, and for years we had four ancient apple trees in the garden - they died off, slowly, from old age, but there for a while there was an annual bumper crop: apple pies, apple crumble, apple sauce in jars, apple upside down cake, baked apples with raisins and brown sugar, stewed apple and custard, and gifts to neighbors.  And this still left us with spare apples.  So we laid them out, carefully, on newspapers in the loft, and all through the winter headed up the shaky ladder to retrieve them whenever they were needed for cooking.  I'd wondered whether the dark was a necessary part of it - but we couldn't here really leave them in the garage because of possible Mice - but leaving them in a shady corner seems to have worked just fine.

Monday, April 12, 2021

lilac, budding

... and it's just turning a gratifying lavender-grey lilac color.  Actually seeing this bush near our New Mexican front door in bloom is a rare treat - I might actually manage it, this year.  It's easy to miss-co-ordinate - we've been known to come out for a long weekend, and still fail to catch it.  Last year we not only missed the flowering, but were six weeks or so too late for the kind of pruning that would let it bloom copiously this year.  The result is that the top of the bush, where we couldn't reach, will be magnificent.  Still, on the other hand, I could reach the front door without dodging branches.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

A surprising oasis

This place was a weird and serendipitous find.  I was looking for somewhere to pull off and have my lunch - and a break from driving - on the long bleak stretch of I-40 between Barstow and Needles.  Both rest areas were Closed for Repairs.  So I exited at Goffs Road - which I could see had a gas station - but little did I know it would have this oasis (with picnic tables).  Goffs is an old Route 66 stop - a very old Route 66 stop, because the road was rerouted even before the building of I-40 - and a defunct railroad town, apparently - and now a ghost town, a few miles further up the road (I didn't know about it until just now, or I'd have gone to have a look, and not just stopped here, at Hi Sahara Oasis).  Apparently the area is also famous for desert tortoises, too.  This took me right back to the American Road Cultures course I taught at Rutgers one year ... I had such fun with that ...


Saturday, April 10, 2021

the painted corner

Over the years, this corner (Lucille and Sunset) has hosted so many different murals - this time, sky blue, mimicking the sky above, and with a vapor trail leading straight down to the tip of the bird's wing.  It looks like a barn owl in flight, to me - but that strange wavy bars, like a 1950s television set warming up, tempt one to call it a barred owl ... And the wall coloring makes the image look weirdly exposed, too - until one looks at the ground, and realizes that this is something of an illusion - it's just very, very blue.  So far as I can see (from the car), the left hand mural is labelled Isle of Eigg - a very remote island in the Hebrides, and a somewhat strange place to find depicted in Silver Lake, though doubtless there's a story behind this ...

Friday, April 9, 2021

other people's water sprinklers

Evening walk, and this spray, a couple of streets away, works as a pretty water feature.  Ours own day's encounter with Water Features was not a good one.  We have a waterfall in a front grotto, which operated with an increasingly defective motor - the guy who came to replace that today installed a sub-power motor which resulted in a sad dribble.  I guess that will get changed out, yet again.  Then I finally got round to writing the neighbors to tell them that water slowly seeps through from low down their garden wall into our yard - something which has meant that the Asian Pear has grown to record heights, but which also means dampness, moss, and at this rate, a potential mosquito farm.  No reply, as yet - but I also see that they have no lights on - so who knows where they are.  And so on.  Home ownership is a privilege, to be sure - but some days it just feels exhausting.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

los angeles goes back to work

Nothing, but nothing says Return To Normalcy so loudly, in these parts, as finding that there's a large film shoot going on just down the road: a long, long parked assortment of white trucks (and facilities); a house being taken over for the day (and furniture being moved in and out), and so on.  Los Angeles is completely ridiculous, on some days, playing itself (as the film title goes: if you don't know Los Angeles Plays Itself, you should ...), but it's great to see this side of itself coming back to life.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

another University Wellness Day ...

... to be sure, I spend the morning in my office, sorting out old papers and ruthlessly throwing very ancient admin and xeroxes away - I'll be moving back out of the chair's office in a few month's time, and into a  much smaller room, and there's not all that much storage space ...  But we drove over to Santa Monica to see some friends for lunch, and the beach was devoid of the massed hordes that apparently have been descending there at weekends.  So despite the constant barrage of admin emails, I feel decidedly restored. I think that the main point, or at least the main advantage of these scattered Wellness Days is to stop one feeling guilty if one isn't nose-to-computer all day - and I haven't Zoomed, once!


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

wild radishes

The one bumper bloom in the back yard at the moment is of wild radishes: flowers so pale, so translucent that it's hard to see that their petals look like simplified moth wings until one's magnified them.  I could scatter them in salads: they have a kind of peppery flavor, but I'm letting them grow, rather than foraging dinner from them, right now.


Monday, April 5, 2021

what are you doing in my yard?

This was one very indignant squirrel!  It was warm enough to be reading outside, but my ability to concentrate on the historiography of British Imperialism was decidedly compromised by a barrage of angry insults.  Finally I realized that I had my cell phone with me - but even being recorded in its audacity did nothing to deter it.  For a while, I was really quite worried that it was going to hurl itself out of the Asian Pear and attack me, but eventually it scampered off, cursing.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

broken eggs

Farm Fresh to You - our trusty vegetable and fruit delivery company - also sell some groceries, and this last week they had - ready for Easter - some glazed cookies, molded after FabergĂ© eggs.  How could one resist?  One of them, alas, arrived cracked in pieces (doubtless because it had been under the carrots and potatoes and cauliflower), but that didn't affect the taste.

Less lucky, however, was the morning dove nest above our balcony.  We've been very careful the last week or so not to disturb the building, the egg-sitting - so no lunches or dinners on our outdoor perch, until today ... We should have known.  Two days ago there was a large raven hanging around, and a threesome of morning doves looking sad and anxious on the neighbor's TV aerial.  Today we checked: the eggs had smashed three floors down onto the terrace - at least, one had, and there were white shelly remnants all around.  Somehow, this didn't seem like the right kind of discovery to be making on Easter Day (but at least we have our balcony back ...).


Saturday, April 3, 2021

a foggy view from the living room window

I was going to call this "A Foggy Start," and then I thought that sounded far too much like a bad nineteenth century hunting scene, so I stopped myself ... You wouldn't, in this murk, know that there was a fence between us and Griffith Park, and the barren, rabbit-chewed flat part at the top of our steep bank looks like an enticing path ... There's a carefully-composed spot of red complementing all the green (that would be some bougainvillea), and on the hillside up to the left the beehives, with the neighbors' bees doubtless wondering when all this cloud is going to lift and they can head back down to the jasmine blossom again.  I love mornings like this.


Friday, April 2, 2021

first poppy!

In fact, after a very warm week, there were two poppies in bloom, out there.  Here in California, that's a definite announcement of Spring.  With luck (or, really, with planning, because I sowed masses of poppy seeds, and there should be some self-seeding from previous years), it's going to be a great year for them - from now until the end of May, which is when fire regulations mean that we have to cut all kinds of annual foliage like pretty wildflowers right down to the ground.  So gather ye poppy flowers while ye may - at least metaphorically.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

April roses

I flipped over our calendars this morning (as ever, the annual calendar is put together from last year's favorite photos, which made for a unusually home-based selection, of course) - and the image was of roses.  More particularly, the pink roses here, seen from the other direction - and they hadn't been pruned anything like as vigorously last year, so this is hardly a different-angled repeat.

But the flowers that really cut me to the heart today were those in my father's garden in London - images sent by a friend of him, and her, there - with the magnolia tree in (very) full blossom, the daffodils doing extremely well, the primroses thick on the ground - the absolute epitome of an English spring, and all ready for Easter.  It's painful how something can be so viscerally present, and yet be 6,000 rather-difficult-to-navigate-right-now miles away ...