Thursday, September 30, 2021

a day at the Met

Such a beautiful day in NYC: a touch of autumn; a blue sky with fluffy clouds, and I walked over 17,000 steps, I find - up to the Met from midtown; a day looking largely at C19th American art, and taking many, many photos of details that I can use in teaching and maybe research (now I have a crazy number of close-ups of lichen on rocks and tree trunks), and seeing various images I didn't know at all, like this British portrait by William Wood of Joanna de Silva (1792), which the Met bought last year (Joanna was a nursemaid in the family of an officer with the British East India Company, 

or Charles Calverley's relief portrait of Little Ida (1869) - which he revised in 1889 to bear the inscription "The Race John Brown Died for," thus turning her into a representative rather than an individual ,..

and then just so many things I'd not really seen before.  Of course I knew there's a cat in Henry Mosler's Just Moved (1870) - but I hadn't previously seen that it's kept from straying from its new residence by a piece of string that ties it to a tin tub.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

after two years ...

... or, to be precise, two years minus ten days, I'm back in NYC, with a lot of art to see in the next few days.  But first, a drink and a flatbread in a rooftop bar, because, despite the very evident fall leaves, it's still warm and clement enough to sit outside.  This may not last ... 

And yes, of course I miss everyone - human and feline - back in LA ...


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Gramsci faces some challenges

Oh no! says Gramsci.  I drownded my mousie!  Poor Gram.  As if it wasn't bad enough my getting up at 1.45 a.m. to Zoom-attend a meeting in the UK, when he was allowed down to join me in my study (well, ok, he was brought down by popular request ... you know who you are, who was wondering where he was) - he found the meeting very boring, even though I was throwing his little mouse for him, and then he put it in his water bowl, where it became sodden, and no longer rattled, and what should he do?

And then ... he found I was packing a suitcase.  Much though he thinks he would enjoy NYC and the Hudson Valley, I really don't share this assumption, though I will miss him dreadfully, and fully expect him to be full-grown-ocelot size by the time that I'm back.


Monday, September 27, 2021

in which Moth seeks refuge

Poor, dear Moth - still feeling bereaved, and still sensing LucyFur's absence (she sniffs Lucy's favorite places, hopefully) - continues to have difficulty coping with a four and two-thirds month kitten.  To be sure, Gramsci is daily more mature - less given to jumping on her (or for that matter, on my laptop) incessantly.  But he wants to play; she doesn't.  Indeed, she thinks of him as a harrasser (she clearly remembers, with dislike and disdain and fear, her nemesis, the wonderful Walter Gomez).  So much of the time they spend apart - and even when apart, she looks for places of refuge.  Here she is in a basket in the dining room, oblivious of the fact that she's on top of our hoard of folding umbrellas.  We hope that rapprochement can slowly be achieved: I persist, in my Pollyanna-ish way, in thinking that Gramsci is fundamentally the sweetest little cat - just rather exuberant.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

more Los Feliz garage demolition


Seemingly, it's a trend.  This is what - 500 feet away from yesterday's half-hearted attempt at garage dismantlement, and represents a very efficient job.  So what now?  There's no sign of any planning application notice, and that's quite a lot of garage space.  But there's a more immediate problem.  Look closely.  Why the stationery bicycle?  What's going to happen to that?   

And for those of you who think that we exist in perpetual sunshine here in LA, here's excellent proof that sometimes, and even fifteen miles away from the ocean, we get covered with a dull grey sea mist of some not very picturesque kind.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

a detached garage

So - the house opposite ours is for sale (do come and see it!  Open House tomorrow!).  It seems like a pretty nice place - but.  We know that they intended to demolish their garage (I'd say they succeeded in that) and rebuild it with a flat for a nanny on top.  In the end, they bought a new house instead - some 600 yards up the road.  But this leaves - something that really, surely, isn't going to appeal enormously to buyers.  I looked up the details, and the realtor claims that the property comes with a "detached garage," which seems like an extraordinary underestimate.  Real estate in LA is a never-ending source of spectatorial amusement ...

In other news: you really don't want to hear how flattened I was by my Pfizer Booster - an experience of intense chills that involved multiple duvets, a hot water bottle, and so on.   I don't know what it says about my immune system that it reacted so strongly both to the 2nd shot and to this, but I hope it's good.


Friday, September 24, 2021

la vendemmia

The Los Feliz grape harvest is looking good - deep wine-dark grapes here (not ours, unfortunately).  I'm not sure that we have a wall that would be warm and sunny enough, but I'll contemplate it ... 

I'm still reeling from the shock of booster shots being approved; making an appointment; driving over to Keck and getting boosted, all within a couple of hours (and the USC Keck pharmacy was bizarrely empty - I thought there would be lines snaking out of the door).  So I'm waiting to see if I'm as flattened as I was after the 2nd dose - if so, poor Gramsci will have a very uncomfortable night.  For by now, of course, he likes to sleep draped across me ...


Thursday, September 23, 2021

a smoke-greyed sky

There are now so many tents and canopies all over campus that it's started to look like old photos of the hillsides before the battle of Balaclava.  These particular ones, I think, are in readiness for Saturday's football game against Oregon State.  Once before, when I took a photo of these awnings outside Taper Hall, it showed a startling contrast between blue sky and white canvas.  Today, yellow-grey smoke clouds were rolling up and over the mountains at lunchtime, and all was yellow haze by this evening: the wind has changed, and this was all coming from the fires further north in California.  I wish I'd been in a position to take a picture of the evening sun: bright and ominous red through the haze.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021


Twenty weeks of Gramsci!  And he'd like you to admire his teeth, please.  I'm by now not sure which are deciduous, and which are Permanent Adult Fangs - I'm just grateful when he doesn't stick them in me.  He's developed a stylish pounce from cat palace to the bed, which makes my feet very thankful they aren't mice.  And yes, he's now a cat who is learning to sleep on the bed, which even he regards as an enormous Adult Privilege.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

halloween is rockin' in ...

This is the very first time, I think, that I've posted a video, rather than a still image, to the blog ... so I'm hoping that it works, for those of you who aren't seeing this on FB.   But truly, even if it's only 4 seconds long, you have to see this skeleton mother rocking her baby in action ... The Halloween Decorations in Los Feliz are starting early this year.

For those of you who find my fascination with such decorations a little over-enthusiastic, I attribute it to going on the Ghost Train at Battersea Funfair in c.1962 (a remnant of the 1951 Festival of Britain) - I found this so thrilling that I tried to get my gang of neighborhood children to build a ghost train in the back passage of 12 Hillside, and the rather fine painted 2D cardboard skeleton that I constructed for this event (just about everything else was hanging sheets and string spider-webs) still hangs on the back of the hall cupboard door at No. 20 to this day ...


Monday, September 20, 2021

Here in Los Angeles ...

Alas, this turns out to be publicity for a new animated show called Teenage Euthanasia.  A synopsis for the show reads - I SWEAR I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP - 
"“Set in near-future inland Florida, Teenage Euthanasia centres around the owners of Tender Endings funeral home, the Fantasy Family: Grandma Baba, her adult children Uncle Pete and Trophy, and Trophy’s teenage daughter, Euthanasia (“Annie”), a name accidentally given to her during the time of Trophy’s own unbearable suffering. Back when Trophy was a teen herself, she ran away from home after giving birth to Annie, leaving her newborn to be raised by Baba and Uncle Pete.   Now, 15 years later, Trophy returns to Tender Endings…as a corpse, for burial. When a bolt of lightning strikes Baba’s homemade embalming fluid and one of Annie’s tears, Trophy comes back from the dead. As a resurrected woman, Trophy has a variety of quasi-useful death powers. But more importantly, she has a second chance at unplanned parenthood.”
Actually, plenty of late C19th novels had plots just as weird (and really not all that dissimilar) from this, if one leaves off the last line.

I was somewhat disappointed that a quick Google revealed that what I'd seen driving back from the dentist was not For Real ... I mean, on Santa Monica Boulevard, approaching West Hollywood, anything is possible.  It was the Two for the Price of One that raised my suspicions.  But it had me musing on coffins all the way back home.  Plain wicker will do for me, thank you.  My father was holding forth the other week about the good value and practicality of cardboard ... I guess glitter would stick quite well to one, although he seems to have been particularly struck by a family friend buried in one that had been covered with paint hand-prints from the small children with whom she'd worked through her South London faith group, which does, admittedly, sound rather touching ...


Sunday, September 19, 2021

you mean...?

You mean ... I get to unpack, and live here, too?  As well as in Santa Fe?  And this room is so wonderful!  It already has a kitty tower, and kitty toys, and a bed, and I can run around?  And car journeys aren't so bad, after all ...

Young Gramsci didn't utter a peep between Winslow and Los Angeles - the Kitty Who Lost His Miaow. Whatever trauma he has associated with cars (being trapped and taken away from his mother?  Being taken from a Foster Home back to the shelter?) may, we hope, have been nullified.  Or maybe he just has laryngitis.  We're trying to introduce him very gently to his new house, but he's so very excited ...


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Gramsci's first night in a hotel!

We are, of course, in La Posada, Winslow, on our way back to LA - a departure distinguished by my going to turn down the thermostat on the water heater, and finding that some water tank on the boiler/furnace had corroded in two places and has been dripping rusty water for a couple of weeks (amazing how plumbers don't return Emergency calls ....).  So after failing to deal with that (except by turning off the water), we then had a yowling, screaming kitten in several ranges of operatic register for a couple of hours, before he settled down - something he's now very reluctant to do in a hotel room ... I have an entire Hamley's Toy Department bag of toys for him; as ever, trying to impress that Moth is Not a Toy, and that pillow ... that's protecting Alice's toes.  Toes in a bed!  What fun!  Who knew!!

I'm about to put him in his traveling - what would one call it?  Tent?  Crate?  - and hope that we get some sleep ...


Friday, September 17, 2021

fall, sunflowers ...

It's a sunset picture, a sunflowers in decline picture, an end of the summer image.  I have very mixed feelings about returning to LA (though I'll be back here soon enough ...) - great to see friends; intrigued to see how Gramsci copes with Stairs (and a much larger house); and other than that ... well, we hope that this evening's earthquake isn't the forerunner of any more.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

a levitating computer

My computer really isn't meant to be tilting up from my desktop in this way.  Young Gramsci seems completely unperturbed by the angle ... but I would prefer to be able to type.  Little does he know that he's about to become a Los Angeles cat, where he will doubtless be able to cause many new types of havoc.  Today, I was on a Zoom call with a grad student when he (deliberately) knocked a picture off the wall behind me, causing it to fall down behind the bookshelf, with a very loud bang ...


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

a quiet evening

Far too often this summer, the Jemez (and other mountains) have been obscured by a smoke haze - a lot has looped down from Northern California.  But this evening was clear, and still, and once more, one could see for miles and miles.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

other people's sunflowers

Truly, there are sunflowers everywhere at the moment: growing wild (this is just down our road - and note the tiny slice of rainbow in the background), and then at the farmers' market.  Although I've been a regular at our Eldorado market, today was the first time I'd been down to the big market in Santa Fe for - gosh, it must be about two years.  Who knew what would happen in between?  But (apart from ubiquitous mask wearing), it was, happily, much the same outdoors - quieter than Saturday, as is always the case on Tuesdays, but full of tomatoes, and potatoes, and chile, and more chile, and, yes, sunflowers.  Sunflowers in flower arrangements; sunflowers in large bunches on their own; and sunflowers being wheeled away by the bucket full in shopping carts ...


Monday, September 13, 2021

starting, barely perceptibly, to wilt

The sunflowers are just, but only just, passing their prime - at least the hugest of them are.  Their heads are beginning to hang a little more; the petals are getting ragged.  I'm torn between wanting them to flourish and flourish; wondering whether the weather will cool down enough for them to survive when I'm no longer here to water them; and being selfishly glad that I won't have missed them in their most glorious phase.  I'll be reprising this display next year ...


Sunday, September 12, 2021


It's kind of menacing to have these paws coming round one's computer screen when one's trying to write: that's clearly not our Gramsci's concern.  Those paws have been doing lots of things today: this morning he discovered the delights of little cherry tomatoes, which can be lifted from a bowl and then batted around the floor.  I have a bad feeling that there may still be two of them rolling around under some bit of furniture that I haven't yet managed to retrieve.  Little Gram looked so sweet when he was trotting across the living room holding a tomato in his mouth ...


Saturday, September 11, 2021

false acacia (or: both sides now)

A strange coincidence: the trees outside the house in Wimbledon where I grew up are False Acacia; here, in New Mexico, the trees in our back yard are Locust Trees, also known as ... false acacia.  There's so little correspondence, environmentally, between south-west London and Northern New Mexico as to make this improbable, were it not for the commonality of sandy soil.  Still ... it's a correspondence that I cherish.

It was a day for reflection on the transatlantic, not just because of Emma Raducanu's stunning victory in the US Open (how could she be so consistent, and good?) - but, of course, because of 9/11.  Twenty years ago I had just, literally, moved to the US.  It was my first full week teaching at Rutgers, and I was still pretty much figuring out how to navigate NJ roads (let alone NJ; let alone American academe).  So when the first plane hit, I was driving along Route 27, listening to something on the radio - I hadn't yet figured out NPR stations - when the news broke through as a news flash, followed by a weirdo assortment of people phoning in live: I remember well one ex-airline pilot saying this was only explicable by an error in the control tower.  By the time I was in New Brunswick, the second plane had hit.  I was in my Mine Street office, and a guy from maintenance was round, trying to fit me out with bookcases, and we agreed that this was weird.

I'm proud of one thing - that I realized well enough that something unusual was happening, and I called my parents - before, as it turned out, international telecommunications went down - to assure them that I was OK, and that I wasn't in New York, whatever was happening there.  In Murray Hall, my new English Department colleagues were in a state of understandable shock and concern.  We had a department Executive Committee meeting: before that, I ran into several people in our mail room and then - this is the bit I'm not so proud of - I was super calm, simply because I wasn't taking on board the magnitude of it all.  Unlike probably most other people there, I'd had years of IRA bombing campaigns in London: blasts round the corner from the bus stop where I was standing; endless disruption - I initially saw this as much of the same.

But then the EC meeting was endlessly interrupted by Ros, the department's administrator, sticking her head round the door with updates: one tower had collapsed.  Another plane had flown into the Pentagon.  The second tower had collapsed.  In retrospect, this was surreal, horrific, unthinkable.  At the time ... it felt as though my arrival in the States had taken a very unpredictable turn that I didn't have a clue how to deal with.  And then Ros delivered the message that Rutgers' president had said that we should all go home, and be with our families.  Home?  That was still, to my mind, some 3,000 or so miles away. Walking away from Murray Hall, people kept asking if they could borrow my cell phone - I guess I was holding it: these phones weren't yet ubiquitous in the US, but I had one, since they were already common in the UK.   And so I drove back - to what was now, suddenly, perhaps, very much home, because the very events of 9/11 welded me to the country, especially since we were so close to NYC - and hung out with the cats, watching TV, and wondering what I'd walked into.


Friday, September 10, 2021

golden pollen

Oh - I know I'm back to my sunflower obsession.  Some of the ones in the back yard are the size of salad plates ... and their leaves are speckled with golden pollen.  What's especially rewarding, too, is the number of big velvety bumble bees that are grazing on them.  And when the seed heads dry, then the birds will move in - these are the most conspicuously rewarding of flowers to have grown.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

morning glory

I fear that the morning glories have rather been taking second place this summer to the aggressively flamboyant sunflowers - but this is to prove that they are still going strong (another self-seeded one from last summer, as they almost all are).  


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

kitchen in morning light

I love the early morning light at this time of the year, made, alas, even more golden by the thin layer of smoke that's drifted down - via a slow arc of air currents - from Northern California (the evening sun is a bright red ball, too).  It makes even a cluttered countertop, full of last night's supper equipment drying, look carefully composed - or that's what I'd typed, when I realized that it reminded me rather too strongly of John Bratby's Still Life with Chip Frier (1954): a painting of which I'm extremely fond of, though not, perhaps, as a point of domestic identification or comparison ...


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

morning sunflowers

I still can't get over how good they look - even if they're being very chewed by caterpillars ...  By the end of the day, though, they are seriously wilting - unlike the sunflowers that are growing wild throughout Eldorado.  It's been hot - I had to sneak them some water, even though it's not an official Hosepipe Day ....


Monday, September 6, 2021

he's growing

Gramsci the adorable is definitely a Growing Kitten.  He's not quite as huge as I was fearing - I thought that two weeks might have turned him into something more cat-like - but he is certainly bigger, and in many ways better behaved - although he seems to be rougher and more pissed-off with Moth, who still refuses to play with him, let alone to consider being friends.  I wish there was some way of turning this round ... the air is thick with the scent of Feliway, but it doesn't seem to make much difference ...

And did Young Gramsci miss me?  It was hard to tell, yesterday: today he's decided that, undoubtedly, I'm his long lost friend, and keeps landing on my shoulder, wanting to be petted and petted.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

the success of Project Sunflower

When these sunflowers were but yellow and gold and rust-colored gleams in my imagination, they looked just like this - a thick, tall patch of green leaves and brilliant color.  When I contemplated the poor soil in which I planted the seeds, and waited a couple of weeks for any sign of growth at all, I assumed my optimism had probably got the better of me again.  But it's been a wet summer, and they've been assiduously tended - look what I've returned to, in both the front and back of the house!


Saturday, September 4, 2021

a long day, seen from both ends

A last view of the tomatoes, through the perennially condensation-covered window ... and sunset from the Sheraton, Albuquerque Airport.  I would be too tired to take another step, tonight - Alice will come down and collect me in the morning, and then I'll be excited to see how much the little Gramsci has grown ...


Friday, September 3, 2021

family, friends, neighbors ...

Much sociability today!  But I forgot to raise a glass to the house itself - sixty years old this summer, with its architect sitting on the right, here ... For once during this trip - last evening, of course - the weather became a perfect English late summer's day.


Thursday, September 2, 2021


One major treat of being back in the UK - getting really, really, really good Indian food.  Lunch was at Dishoom - the Kings Cross branch - and was spectacular: non-pretentious Iranian influenced Mumbai food.  I say non-pretentious, but the setting was pretentiously non-pretentious.  Only the website will do: "a vast multi-storied space with the unique aesthetic of an old gentleman's club housed in an industrial godown (am East Asian warehouse).  Wood panels and open ironwork; plenty of authentic-enough Indian fixtures and fittings, but all of them somehow arranged as though one's walking and sitting inside a vast set for a video game.  Whatever: it was excellent.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

umbrellas for a very grey day

I thought this morning that I would rush down to Derby Square in Liverpool to see the 1906 statue of Queen Victoria, Redressed.  It would have been stunning - I quote below from the project's website ...

... but the project seemed to be Over.  The QV statue outside Lime Street Station - draped, I read today - in the colors of the first woman to win the Grand National - was back to its normal pigeon-spattered self today.  So I had a long walk under grey skies, in an early morning that smelled of stale chip fat, with only these inverted umbrellas offering a spot of brightness ...

Fashion Creative Karen Arthur collaborated with historian Laurence Westgaph, to create a stunning cotton and hessian dress for the Queen Victoria monument inspired by Gone With The Wind
During Victoria’s reign, cotton played a crucial role in Liverpool’s trading activities, and the wider economic success of Britain, but up until the American Civil War in the 1860s, this cotton was being picked by enslaved people in the United States - as depicted in the film. 
The upcycled hessian transported goods from the African continent which added to Britain's wealth. This satin patchwork cloak pays homage to a handmade quilt gifted to Queen Victoria by Martha Ricks, a black woman who travelled from Liberia especially to meet her idol. 
This piece reflects on Liverpool’s complicity with slavery, and how Queen Victoria and Britain were beneficiaries of that as recently as 150 years ago.