Monday, January 31, 2022

moss and lichen

... and here, on a wall in Hillside, you can see, very clearly, the difference between moss, and some crustose lichen.  That was this morning; it's now 6,000 miles away, and I must sleep.


Sunday, January 30, 2022

Regent's Canal

To Camden, today, to see one of my three cousins and her family (including Tiger the Cat) - and on the way there and back crossed Regent's Canal.  Of course, in a passive kind of way, I know Regent's Canal is there - indeed, I even sat beside it for an hour or so this last summer, in Granary Square.  But today was the first day that I've actively thought - why have I never walked along it?  At least, walked along this part of it - I think we walked along another bit of it about ten years ago.

Part of the answer to that, of course, is that it's only been thoroughly renovated and spruced during the last decade - turned into a kind of London equivalent of the High Line, judging by how relatively crowded parts of it were.  It's only 9 miles long - designed by John Nash, opened in 1820, and running from Limehouse, on the Thames, to Paddington: the part I saw today runs behind Kings Cross and St Pancras.  It was a bit wobbly, as a trade venture, when it started - but then the development of the railways made it a truly important, if short, thoroughfare for goods of all kinds.  (and yes, that's sunshine!  at last!).


Saturday, January 29, 2022

January sky

One couldn't exactly call this a sunset, but it's an excellent end of the day sky ... and the time was just after 5 p.m., so maybe one could pretend that the lightness works as a harbinger of spring?  As, of course, do the snowdrops.


Friday, January 28, 2022

Lichen, fence, leaves

Sometimes, days are very long, and one's glad that the road has some lichen-covered fence posts with leaves poking through them, which give one some green visual sustenance ...


Thursday, January 27, 2022

The library! It's still there!


There have been days - weeks - months - when I've wondered if I'd ever get back into the British Library.  It's been - how long? - just about two years.  But it's still there!  And, wonderfully, there are so relatively few people in it that books turn up really fast.

I'm writing a piece about nineteenth century paintings termed "Idylls" - some classical, some very much not - and their relationship to temporality and environmental criticism - and wanted to lay my hands on a couple of things that are pretty elusive, one of them a volume of engravings and poems reprinted from the Quiver as Idyllic Pictures.  From the frontispiece, one would think that these are going to be "idyllic" in the loosely vernacular sense of the word - unbelievably quiet, pleasant, peaceful.

But in fact, most of them are "idylls" in the classical sense of the term (or the term adopted by Tennyson, Landor and others), meaning εἰδύλλιον [eidyllion], or “little image,” with a strong narrative component - more like a vignette, than anything.  So one finds gloomy melodrama:

Dead and alone,

By the trysting-stone

social realism colliding with sentimental pathos:

Oh, sir! don't pass like the rest, I pray

and my favorite, an illustration for D. P. Starkey's "Hassan," which suggests that the chilly streets are anything other than "idyllic," in the popular understanding of the word:

Flitting past in wintry wather,
    Lo, a poor Lascar in tears!
His swart eyebrows pinched together,
    Pendants shivering in his ears.

Weeping for his lost equator,
    For the sun as there it shone,
The bright eye whence the Creator
    Glows upon the torrid zone.

In my fancy I could hear him
    'Neath our Arctic skies bewail
Heavens he once believed so near him,
    Now so distant and so pale!

Paltry wares oppressed his shoulder,
    Flimsy rags about him flew;
Nothing than his garb looked colder -
    Nothing warmer than his hue.

Was it Vishtu thrust thee hither,
    For some worship left unpaid,
That thy tawny flesh might wither
    'Neath our hyperborean shade?

Back! poor pedlar, tramp, or juggler! -
    Back to thine own orient sphere;
God ne'er meant thee for a struggler
    With our wretched winters here.

Due art thou unto the Ganges,
    To the palms and plains of Ind, -
To the hills whose sunny ranges
    Reach from Arracan to Scinde.

Home! to dream amidst thy roses -
    Home! to bask beneath they sky!
Heaven itself the path discloses
    Did not Eden eastward lie?

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

fragmented, England

This pretty much sums it up: part of me staying with my father; part of me coming to Cambridge to stay with friends (and having a big chunk of the day online, at a meeting); corresponding with Los Angeles, 8 hours away; wondering about Boris Johnson's future on the one hand and that of the US Supreme Court on the other; working on one essay for a volume and worrying about another (and worrying about writing a couple of talks); missing the cats but looking with admiration at my father's foxes ... and so on.  Identity, and attention, is clearly in a whole lot of pieces, with various gaps between them ...


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

marmalade making

Time for the annual ritual of marmalade making!  About twenty four pots were potted.  Yes, my father is shining a flashlight into it, to make sure that he could see for sure if the thermometer had reached the right temperature.  I am so impressed by this venture - which I've known all my life - and was glad to have a hand, this year, in stopping any disaster from happening (pan burning being the most likely of these ...).  Doubtless tomorrow he'll write up an account of what was learnt this year, and this will join a significant archive of trial and error.  I only wish I liked marmalade, but ...


Monday, January 24, 2022

different sorts of swans

At the top of the road, The Swan pub is undergoing renovations - or rather, it's having a complete make-over, and becoming, of course, a gastropub (the menus aren't yet up on line.  We shall see) called The Cavendish.  "Cavendish," after Henry Jones, who wrote under the name "Cavendish" - apparently! - who came from Wimbledon, and who, after training as a surgeon, changed tack entirely, and became an expert of whist - codifying its rules, and writing about it extensively - and being a member of the All England Croquet Club, proposing that one of its lawns be set aside for the new sport of lawn tennis ... and that went pretty well, in the long run, even though it ebbed somewhat in the last years of the C19th. 

 "Be sure," we're told on the rather clumsily written webpage, "Be sure to visit us for a delicious roast after your sunday morning walk around the commons, Cannizaro Park and Rushmere pond."  I suspect I'd be more likely to choose something off the "rotating cocktail menu," especially after walking round Rushmere at the end of a grey, grey afternoon, and seeing that the number of live swans (and an adolescent cygnet) swimming gently round it has increased exponentially.  

But in a few years' time, who will remember that the Cavendish was ever called The Swan (or, for that matter, that there was another and much better pub a few doors down, called the King of Denmark - closed in 2007, demolished 2011, and a building that now houses a small branch of the Co-op erected on its site).  It had a small geranium filled garden - well, yard - out back, and was much more friendly than the Swan - although that shifted somewhat in later years.


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Victorian sewage (and a very grey Thames)

As if I hadn't had enough of plumbing yesterday, I headed off today to somewhere I've been greatly looking forward to seeing ever since a student of mine did a presentation on it in class a few years back ... Crossness Pumping Station, designed and built between 1859-1865 by the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, Joseph Bazalgette (and architect Charles Henry Driver) and built by William Webster, it's one of the stars of Bazalgette's works to clean up the smelly Thames by redeveloping the London sewerage system - never more obviously in need of reform than after the Great Stink.  It housed four huge steam driven pumps which raised the incoming sewage - called, inevitably, "Victoria," "Prince Consort," "Albert Edward" and "Alexandra," - and at the center is the Beam Engine House, with elaborate painted wrought iron.  Alas, Prince Consort weren't running, today (I knew that before I went - but the whole site only open at all one day a month - and on some other occasions for guided tours) - but he, and maybe in time the other pumps, are being lovingly restored by volunteers who manage the whole site.  The pumping house was finally decommissioned in 1953 - abandoned, vandalized - so it's been a long long journey of restoration.  And yes, there's still a sewage plant there, and it was so useful to be wearing a sturdy mask.

The Pumping Station is at the edge of marshland - shades of Great Expectations, although the marshes that were actual inspirations are further east - now a nature reserve, but under grey dank skies looking like the kind of sullen and hostile place that bodies are dumped.  It was a complicated journey, since the train to Abbey Wood, the nearest station, wasn't running (hey, it's an English Sunday! Line repair time) - two tube rides, a long bus ride through the Olympic Village, and Woolwich, and Plumstead, and out to Thamesmead, site of much rather grim (and some ok) social housing from the 1960s onwards.  Then just over a mile to the Pumping Station - I walked out through the nature reserve, and back, in part, along the Thames, which was magnificently muddy and sullen.


Saturday, January 22, 2022

mending the dishwasher

One of the things that makes it hard mending an antique dishwasher (who knows quite how old? over twenty years, at least) is that all of those nifty little YouTube videos are for, shall we say, more recent models.  Luckily my father managed to find a replacement part for the defunct valve/inlet hose from some online parts warehouse, and off we trustingly went.  Five and a half hours later ... well, five hours later, or maybe four and three quarters - my father decided he'd turn it on "just very briefly" to see if it worked.  While it was still on its side.  I suggested this wasn't a good idea, but Click! - on it went.  Yes, we'd managed to get the water flowing into the machine again, in a lively fashion - but of course the fact of it being on its side wasn't conducive to the water then going where it should.  OFF!  TURN IT OFF!  I yelled, damply.  But it only took twenty minutes, or so, to mop up the floor, and to screw at least some of its metal plates back ... There has been a fan heater blowing at it all evening, rather like a plumbing version of a hairdryer.  Keep all your fingers crossed for tomorrow ... I actually quite enjoy plumbing (unless it involves gas), but this was quite a challenge.  Thank goodness I photo-documented, step by step, where everything went, and labeled all the many screws as we took them out ... but it wasn't quite the day I'd planned.  


Friday, January 21, 2022

an encouraging sunrise

Ah, but you know England!  Bright sun, blue sky ... and by the time I was ready to go out for a real walk, later (as opposed to fetching my father's newspaper), it was really unpleasantly grey and bone-chilling.  But the early morning, clear and frosty, was wonderful.  This (for those of you who don't recognize it) is the view down the road where I grew up - from outside the house; so this is, in other words, the cul-de-sac in which I rode my bicycle; played cricket; raced down on a home-made co-cart; and generally prowled.


Thursday, January 20, 2022

from my bedroom window

... in Wimbledon.  Such is the strange lighting magic of the iPhone that it doesn't actually look like this - the sky is, one would think, so much darker than it appears, but of course is full of the radiance of a million street lamps.  Back here for ten days - a trip planned many months back when I thought I had an in-person meeting in London this coming week (but hey - at least I get to Zoom from the same time-zone) and could get a bargain-basement priced ticket - and this way I get to do some useful and practical stuff for my father.  And also to observe the compelling mess that's British politics right now ... 


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

in which Moth buries her face in an orchid ...

... rather than engage with the fact that Gramsci is the other side of the kitchen door, sticking his dear little white paws (at the end of long tabby legs) underneath it, and making irresistible "prrrrrrrp, prrrrrrp, play with me" noises.  Irresistible, that is, to everyone apart from Moth, who persists in regarding him as this unspeakable interloper, although she did forget herself enough to give his head two tiny, tiny licks today, when he was held under her.  We are being patient ...


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

another neighborhood front garden

Soon, I'll have documented all the front yards on Griffith Park Boulevard - though in the rising dusk, and under grey skies, we did branch out, got in the car, and found another Very Flat Walk in Griffith Park.  All suggestions of anywhere flat to perambulate - that won't stretch or strain Alice's Achilles Tendon - are very much welcome.  Her orthopedic specialist has said No Hills (which, given that we live on a steep one, is crazily hard to implement) - but we're working on Variety, rather than feeling that we're constrained to walking up and down GPB, even if it does have lots of pretty tiles and pots and bits of foliage, as here ...


Monday, January 17, 2022

from under the dresser

... or from under what Alice mysteriously calls the Credenza, but I know perfectly well to be a Welsh Dresser.  Gramsci seemed a little low on toys this afternoon, and was staring under the dresser in a meaningful fashion, so Alice took a long wand (belonging, necessarily, to another cat toy) and poked around underneath it, rescuing various toy mice, corks, bottle caps ... little Grams is in the background, helping to sort them.  None of them, of course, are quite as exciting as my toes.


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Californian wildlife

At the corner of Griffith Park Boulevard and Los Feliz: I don't recollect seeing this painted junction box before (which doesn't mean that it is brand new - it may just be another example of finding new things on a slightly changed walking route).  It's a puzzling design - the raccoon on a boulder; the vultures; the tree; the mountains are all reflected in a lake (or maybe a far-from-full reservoir) - but the bear isn't reflected, and instead, the upside down big mammal is a mountain lion.  In recent good news in these parts, ground will be broken this coming spring at the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing, over the 101 freeway (that separates off the Santa Monica mountains from everything further north), and one hopes so much that mountain lions (and bobcats, and coyotes, and so much else) will learn that this is a place of safe passage.

This is, of course, a daytime scene.  Had it been night, it would have been good to have had a Great Horned Owl in it: it's territory and mating season, and there's one making some very impressive hoots outside my window right now.


ssn ... huh?

An unfathomable piece of sidewalk art.  What's more, I can't confidently (having no grasp of any potential irony, or otherwise) decipher its political leanings.  It's on Griffith Park Boulevard, just our side of Los Feliz Blvd, but that doesn't necessarily certify its ideological slant.

And what I really, really appreciate is that I can't get to the bottom of the mystery. So often, over the years, I've seen something that appeared to be a complete puzzle, googled it - and found it was a mystery no longer.  That's both the wonder, and the demystification, that the internet supplies.  So I'm very happy to be none the wiser about Social Security numbers for everything (I imagine that every ant and dandelion will now have to start paying taxes).


Friday, January 14, 2022

privilege, checked

Someone has been issuing a reminder, on campus ... But among all the obvious privileges that I possess, let's not overlook that of working for a very Covid-aware university, with a medical school and lots of labs, and where one can go and get a free PCR test and get the results the same day (and, yes, where I have the kind of employment that means I can take the time off to go and deliver my little test tube of saliva).  Both Alice and I have been feeling - not sick, exactly, but under the weather this week - scratchy/sore throat, itchy eyes, general fatigue - and at this point it's easy to believe one's nose is runny, etc.  So it seemed wise to be tested.  Both our tests came back negative, so even if there was something mild going on at the beginning of the week, nothing now.  It felt good to be on campus, however briefly (we went for a walk round it - it was so empty) - but so tantalizingly unlike normal.


Thursday, January 13, 2022

dawn (with distant snowy mountains)

The shepherds were warning us this morning (or the sailors, depending on whether you go for the pastoral or maritime version of the old saying) - but it didn't actually precipitate - just threatened, greyly, all day.  I love this time of the year when, with luck - as here - the distant mountains (the far end of the San Gabriels) that we see from our living room windows are covered in snow ...


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

table decoration

Since this isn't the South-West (I mean, it is, but typically Southern California doesn't ever count as the SW, for reasons that may be clear to Americans) - one doesn't expect to see skulls on table tops on front lawns.  And it's unclear to me what kind of animal this is, or was ... some small species of deer, with big antlers?  Probably not a jackalope, unless someone's been busy with a glue gun.  It also seems strangely tasteful - grey toned, to go with the table and chairs (which, in turn, are a puzzle.  Surely no one's going to be sitting out there on Griffith Park Boulevard, watching the runners and dog walkers and the "gardeners" with leaf-blowers?


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

unexpected musical figures


Alice was teaching this morning - online - and so I decided to walk down to the shops on Hyperion, which is a change from any of our normal walking circuits (and longer).  I'd never seen these cut-out guys before, outside a window on Griffith Park Boulevard - so good to take a different route, and see new things, even if I don't think I'd ever previously noticed that it's significantly uphill all the way back ...

Monday, January 10, 2022

strangely autumnal

and, following on from yesterday's bronzed and golden leaves, the view from the bedroom window this morning.  What's strange here is that although the Asian Pear is, indeed, shedding its autumnal foliage in a spectacular dropping of yellow and orange color, the hill behind is greening after the rains - and yet here, in the very early morning sun, it could plausibly be covered in bracken.  


Sunday, January 9, 2022

identification of trees

Yes, I know that this is a plane tree, thank you (and yes, autumn/fall does come very late in Southern California - a lot of trees are only turning truly golden right now).

I was shocked today to find I'd mis-identified a hemlock tree - or a bunch of hemlock trees - in a painting, though, and I'm very glad that I didn't go to print thinking that they were anything other than balsam fir (for those of you hearing me pontificate about Jerome Thompson's The Belated Party on Mansfield Mountain recently, my apologies - the basic argument was sound enough, if only the trees had been hemlocks ... but they don't grow over 3,000 feet, so they have to be something else in this painting).  Happily, the Thomas Cole in USC's Fisher Museum fits my argument just as well - it's not nearly such an interesting painting, but the trees in the background are undeniably hemlocks. 

And I could have posted images more easily if Spectrum hadn't asked us to replace our modem/router - which I've done, and they are running at a scarily glacial speed, and yes - the new semester begins tomorrow, and everything is meant to be happening on line ...


Saturday, January 8, 2022

pickled onions

We had some wonderful pickled red onions on a salad at a restaurant the other night.  How difficult could it be to make them at home?  Absolutely not at all (as I'm sure the rest of you know). I've only ever tried once before, which - so far as I recollect - was something complicated involving freshly squeezed oranges: this was simple, and perfect (and the onions were, indeed, far more finely sliced than they look here.

On a day when I got up at 4.45 a.m. to deliver a virtual MLA paper at 5.30 a.m. (it wouldn't have been that civilized an hour, even on the west coast ...), it's remarkable I could make anything.


Friday, January 7, 2022

a foggy start

Foggy, indeed.  And I think mostly it really was fog, not pollution, although definitely there was the residue from nearly five million commuters in there, too.  Maybe not so many, given the pandemic - but I was going to type "half a million," thought I'd better fact-check, and find that an estimated 4,856,523 people in LA commute to work every day.  ("estimated"?  Seems pretty exact to me, but whatever ...). 

The top image is from our living room, the other three are of gaps between houses, as seen on our morning walk, and looking towards downtown LA - or, maybe, more like Wilshire - the tops of buildings just sticking through the fog.


Thursday, January 6, 2022

a hole is being dug

This is a soil engineer, Conrad, peering into a five-foot-deep hole.  Bedrock has been located!  Slowly, slowly, we're moving forward with the Back Yard Project - the construction of a terrace that isn't slowly sinking and collapsing, and a deck ... this will take a Very Long Time, I suspect, and certainly will have huge gaps in its progress.  And a lot depends on how blind an eye inspectors turn to various aspects of our back yard (like too many retaining walls.  But if we call them Landscape Features ... well, who knows.  That might be ok).  

I was very, very struck by how soft and crumbly the bedrock is - not at all what you'd call Solid: it's compacted sand, and clay, and shale, and no wonder it's loose and unstable in an earthquake.  But it's not as though one could dig down a bit further and find something really solid - in the Los Angeles basin, this soft mess is some 30,000 feet deep.  Conrad seemed a bit surprised that I knew anything about geology at all - I explained that I'd done a whole year of it (in what would, in US terms, be 11th grade), because it was the only thing that actually fitted my school timetable as one of my two "minor" subjects.  The other was Italian, which has, until today, been of significantly more use.


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

back in the land where lemon trees grow

It's always strange returning to Los Angeles from New Mexico - the shock of the urban noise; the hazy air (which is beautiful, even when one reminds oneself it's pollution); the houses - and then the climate: warm in the daytime, right now, and it's citrus season: we walked this morning past front yards with lemons and oranges and pomelos.  Two days ago, I was still crunching snow underfoot outside the house - and here's the thing: because of all the precipitation here, we can see snow-capped mountains from our living room. 


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

standing with Indian farmers

... that's South Asian Indian food, not Navajo tacos.  For years now, there have been a growing number of Indian restaurants attached to gas stations on US interstates (I once had a very good plate of dal on I-40 near Cuba, heading west), feeding the growing number of Indian truck drivers.  We stopped here for gas today - outside of Barstow, on I-40 again - and though it smelt wonderfully of Indian spices, the food vats didn't look exactly tempting, even had we been looking for lunch, rather than gas and a rest room.  But what was interesting was the sign in the window: "We stand with Indian farmers" - in other words, a profoundly anti-Modi gesture, aligning themselves with protests again big agri-commerce.  Whether or not this is a political position shared with many, or even a majority, of their customers, I don't know, but it was a welcome principled stance in the middle of a very barren stretch of California.


Monday, January 3, 2022

ice crystals

It was, indeed, another really cold night - so much so that the grass stalks overhanging the heated birdbath had developed complex arrangements of crystals.  Alas, I'd already packed my macro lens (indeed, I was out there turning the heating off), or this would have been more spectacular still as an image ...

Memo to next year's self ... we had the Christmas tree outside, because of Gramsci.  It is much harder to dismantle it when the spikes from the stand that screw into the trunk are frozen, and when the water in which the tree was standing is one tight icy ball.  And I couldn't find the tool kit with a wrench (at least, not until later), so had to exert leverage with a tea towel.   We made it onto the road, eventually ....


Sunday, January 2, 2022

it was a very cold day


... It was very cold indeed, and the young Gramsci found it best to bury himself into the bed.   8 degrees 
(F) when we got up - "feels like -8".  That's cold ...

Isn't that a pretty paw?


Saturday, January 1, 2022

a sudden flurry

We did, indeed, wake up to snow - not masses and masses of it, but a good few inches, making everything look wintry and spectacular.  And it got colder and colder throughout the day - but an impressive sunset seemed to be in the making.  And then - a fierce and rapid whirl of snow moved in front of the sun, laying down another inch or so very rapidly, and then hurtling off towards Pecos, leaving us with the remnants of the setting sun over the Cerrillos Hills.