Monday, February 28, 2022

the costliness of a tall ladder

Who knew that ladders could be so expensive, when wielded by electricians?  Our electricians came back today, to replace our collection of errant smoke alarms (we're convinced that we were ripped off by the [different] electrician who installed them); to replace non-LED lights under the kitchen cabinets with some more eco-friendly ones, and to help reset our outside lights/Ring camera, which has, at this corner, been dysfunctional ever since Spectrum changed our modem, put us on a new network, and - presumably in company with the rest of Los Feliz and beyond - created havoc for all the devices connected with it until we righted them.

$250, I queried the electricians, when they presented me with a quotation this morning before starting on the work.  $250??  That's the cost of hiring the ladder, they said.  They were apologetic; they knew it was a rip-off - but that's what their employers charge.  At this point, I was on the point of going out and buying a ladder, but the problem is all too clear: Alice and I know perfectly well that we can't carry or lift or erect a tall stepladder like this (we tried with a shorter one in Santa Fe, and our neighbor nearly wrecked his back with it, too) - as today's electricians themselves pointed out, grunting, these things are heavy.  But at least the lights and camera are working again, so we ought to get lots of little videos of skunks and possums again.


Sunday, February 27, 2022

a brief détente

Given the completely horrifying, terrifying state of things in Ukraine, I offer you a symbol of hope - the possibility that limited reconciliation may be achieved where once it looked beyond imagination ... Here is young Gramsci giving Moth a lick on her head; and then sitting at a respectful distance on the sofa (she's not really that bulky.  I think).  


signs of spring

I think that this parasol has featured here before, in its younger and less battered days - but not, I think, with matching blossoms.  On Griffith Park Road, on the way to the Farmers' Market ...


Friday, February 25, 2022

finding an excuse

I needed various excuses to go out into the front yard today: watering; checking the mail box; taking empty cardboard boxes to the trash can in the street ... and photographing the camelias, which are just coming into flower.  Why the need for subterfuge?  I wanted to know what's happening next door ... which changed hands about eighteen months ago.  The new owner - who's a screen writer, for some well-known shows, and who seems really nice - but who works east coast hours, and who is often away - is she putting the house on the market again?  There seemed to be a large and a small van there today bearing the name of a house-staging company; later this evening, after they'd packed up and gone, two women arrived carrying in boxes with - probably - other staging must-haves, and large bunches of flowers.  Will we see the realtor arrive tomorrow, taking photographs?  Will the house appear on ready for a Tuesday open house?  Watch this space ...


Thursday, February 24, 2022

yellow and blue

I'm not sure about you, but until a few days ago I don't think I could have told you what the colors of the Ukraine flag might be.  Even now, I have to censor the thought of IKEA which tends to be my default association for bright yellow and bright blue ... I know that this appears, in my photo, as a darker blue than the blue of the flag, but there's a limit to what I can do with a blue bowl and some bananas on a desk top.  All the same, posting in solidarity.


Wednesday, February 23, 2022

praying frog

... in a front yard down on Griffith Park Boulevard, with succulents and water drops from an early morning sprinkler.  Prayer seems a pretty understandable course to follow: it is very gloomy sitting (as I'm doing as I type) watching the invasion of Ukraine get under way, and feeling extraordinarily passive and helpless.  So many of the crises of the last couple of years - even the pandemic, but I was really thinking of social justice issues, or voting rights, or abortion rights, or or or, have demanded that at some level one takes an active role - or at least there's the very real ability to take action.  But - apart from educating oneself, and apart from working to make sure that there's never ever any chance of electing the Putin-worshiping Trump again, it's deeply gloomy seeing dawn come up over Kyiv, with - so far as I can see - smoke drifting across the city's horizon.


Tuesday, February 22, 2022

palindromic birthday lunch


I can't tell you how exciting it was to have a birthday on 2.22.22.  And ... who would have believed that one can walk ten minutes from the USC campus, and feel as though one's on vacation?  This is Mercado La Paloma, which has a food court dominated by two separate-but-linked outlets, Chichen Itza (from which we very often get catering for departmental events), and Holbox, which has the same chef, but does Fish.  This is, of course, ideal for a couple where one of us is determinedly pescatarian and the other eats meat ... and we also had a good friend with us, and so it was a very excellent birthday lunch indeed, in the middle of what was a teaching day for Alice (and I was meeting a potential grad student) - so we had to be within easy reach of campus.  Below - my ceviche.  The only problem? - monstrously high winds, so we were nearly decapitated by a wild loose palm frond ("frond" = chunk of palm tree ...) on the way back. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

the wildlife of Griffith Park

This seems to be a rather rusting zebra.  But taking its picture prompted me to find out what the school buildings are that it's lurking around - we've heard the morning bell ringing; seen students head into classrooms - and it turns out that it's a Magnet Center offshoot for North Hollywood High School (a quick 10-minute bus ride away), which concentrates on biological sciences, and gives students hands-on experience working with zoo animals (mainly, because of age-based legislation, the petting zoo and things like peacocks and llamas until they're seniors) - as well as working with the Autry, the LA River, and so one.  How amazing!  What an incredible experience - obviously if one wants to become a zookeeper, but also a veterinarian, a conservationist, whatever ... I quote from their website:

"The North Hollywood High School Zoo Magnet Center inspires and develops our students’ interests in biological and zoological sciences by providing relevant, hands-on instruction to extend learning beyond the classroom. The Zoo Magnet is recognized by the American Association of Zookeepers as one of only six high schools in the nation partnered with the a working zoo. Our close proximity and ongoing collaboration with the Los Angeles Zoo, Autry Museum of the American West, and Griffith Park Rangers facilitates implementation of unique internships, animal science courses, and interdisciplinary, magnet-themed curriculum."


Sunday, February 20, 2022


There was so little traffic - it being a Sunday morning - today that I had time to go for a walk round the La Brea Tar Pits - still bubbling, lethargically - reminding us that Los Angeles has a long, long prehistoric past.  There's oil about 1,000 feet down below these tarpits, and asphalt has risen to the surface periodically over the last 50,000 years, and trapped animals and plants ... so that there are many Ice Age fossils (mammoths! sabre toothed tigers - rather like Gramsci) and so on that have been excavated over the last couple of centuries.  I'm so excited to see what Mark Dion does with the installation based on the Tar Pits for PST 2024.  

And then on to LACMA - what's left of LACMA, before the new buildings go up - for the wonderful City of Cinema: Paris 1850-1907 show - in part curated by my colleague Vanessa Schwartz - and a wonderful assemblage of painting, film, photographs, advertisements, ephemera - really bringing home how much Paris in the latter part of the C19th was a city preoccupied with the visual and with the business of spectatorship.  I didn't nearly have time to take it all in, and I can't wait to return - but the gem of what I've seen to date is Louis Daguerre and Charles-Marie Bouton's Diorama of the Camposanto in Pisa, 1834 - oil on canvas, with - and this was the truly extraordinary part - illumination from behind.  Truly, there's so much to see - some C19th realist paintings that I didn't know at all - but this Diorama is extraordinary.


Saturday, February 19, 2022



It is quite something to go to a farmers' market "normally" again, here in LA.  We wandered down the road to the Silver Lake one after celebrating Alice's birthday with breakfast at Tartine.  To be sure, we've been to the Santa Fe FM, and I've been to the one on the USC campus - but this is the first visit here (and, PSA, it wasn't crowded at all - for the sake of the vendors, I hope that it was busier later on).  We did indeed buy a lettuce from this stall, and some passion fruit - incredibly cheap - I hope they're still there next week - and some very good spinach.  The other stand-out was a stall selling microgreens - dinner also involved daikon radish sprouts and something else similarly crunchy - maybe sunflower sprouts?  All of this seems very (well, tangentially) relevant to a question I was trying to think through today about the decline - I'm sure there was a decline ...- in biodiversity in 1870s Britain.  I doubt they were branching out into daikon radishes, at the time.

Friday, February 18, 2022

art supplies

Paint brushes, in a tin mug (wherever did I get that mug?  It looks like the kind of thing one buys of necessity, on the road, but I can't remember where), on my desk.  

Art supplies have been on my mind today, for two very different reasons.  Very early this morning - 7 a.m. here in Los Angeles - I was on, and chairing, a CAA panel - and for me the highlight of this was a Japanese-born artist, Nishiki Sugawara-Beda, talking about her practice, and especially about the soot used to make the Japanese ink that she uses in her paintings.  This ink - sumi - is made from powdered charcoal and animal fat: what distinguishes her work in this respect is her attention to place - the place where the tree grew that was then turned into charcoal that was turned into ink; the different consistencies and densities of ink according to the type of charcoal used, and so on.  I wish I'd known that there was a visitable sumi workshop, making and selling sticks of ink, in Nara ... Nishiki's work is beautiful: take a look.

My day began (yes, even earlier) with reading sad news online, though: Fielders, on Wimbledon Hill, is to close (a pandemic casualty, it would seem).  It was founded in 1928 as a bookstore, and it was where I would go and spend my book tokens when I was still a child (Jill Enjoys Her Ponies! Pony Club Camp!).  It was just down the road from the school that I went to until I was 11, and next door to a Fuller's Tea Room - a trip to Fielder's and a slice of Fuller's coffee and walnut cake was a very special treat indeed (they also did a very good raspberry cake with Real Raspberries on it - I believe that I was bought one of those for my 7th birthday).  Later I'd go and browse and buy paperbacks in Fielders (and - now, writing about it, I can remember looking up Bad Words in the dictionaries that they had one of the front tables - lest I be caught doing so at home - but they didn't have the very Worst Words, so I still got taunted for not knowing what "fuck" meant - taunted by a mean girl called Carolyn Andrews, who menaced me with a lacrosse stick because I claimed to know, but wouldn't tell her).  Then later (the firm's shop history suggests 1978, but I would have thought earlier, because where did I buy art supplies if not there?) they came to stock inks and paints and pencils and drawing books and pads as well.  And for the last few decades, there have been no books - only art and craft supplies, and an excellent selection of greetings cards.  But I'll miss going in there, so much - it's always been a ritual, when I go back, to go and purchase something, even if only a card, or a brush.


Thursday, February 17, 2022

morning sleeping

I envy Gramsci, apparently able to sleep through Zoom meetings, Zoom conference sessions, and the steam coming out of my ears because of trying to meet a crazily large number of deadlines, answer an equally crazy number of emails, and all the other things that being on leave fails to protect one from.


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

DWP, pine beetles and CAA

If CAA had been in Chicago, as planned, rather than on line, I'd be there now, and not going for an early morning walk on the eastern fringes of Griffith Park, where the Department of Water and Power has a very elderly flag pole outside a small pumping station.  It's fringed by trees - probably dying trees, because the pines in Griffith Park, like elsewhere, are drought stressed, and vulnerable, and are being chewed to death by beetle larvae.  I'm not quite sure what kind of pines these are (maybe Canary Island pines?) - to know that would be to know their predators (Canary Pines are especially vulnerable to Hylurgus ligniperda, or the Redhaired Pine Beetle - the CP memorial pine planted in Griffith Park in memory of George Harrison was killed by this species).

I've read a huge amount about pine beetles over the last month or so - pine beetles being a terrible scourge, and proliferating not just because trees are weakened by climate change, but because less cold winters, less severe frosts, don't kill off larvae as they used to (obviously this was never true of LA, but still ...).  I'll be talking about pine beetles - and Suze Woolf's amazing wood books made from beetle damaged wood; and about my old friend the woolly adelgid beetle (which attacks Eastern Hemlocks) in my CAA paper on Friday, relating Woolf's work to Thomas Moran, and Jean Shin's Fallen to Thomas Cole and Frederic Church - so, for all you CAA types, that will be at 7.00 a.m. (!!) PST on Friday morning.  Oh, and my copy of Sibley's Guide to Trees should arrive tomorrow - I find my inability to distinguish between pine trees and fir trees increasingly infuriating.


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

the moon and mountains

A wonderful late evening sky tonight - as seen from one of our east-facing living room windows, looking over Atwater Village, and onto the San Gabriels beyond - if you look closely, you'll see that a storm passed through (apparently the ground went white with hail in Pasadena today!) and left them snow covered.  On the other hand, the weather just about entirely bypassed Los Feliz - despite the promise of rain, there was the barest sprinkle for about two minutes.  Such is winter, in these parts.


Monday, February 14, 2022

slicing carrots

These carrots looked so very pretty as I was slicing them that it seemed a shame not to arrange them in a date-suitable manner.  Also, orange is Alice's favorite color, so that made this extra-irresistible as an image ... 


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Gramsci's favorite thing about the Super Bowl

... was getting to sit on our knees for a whole long time.  After a while he got bored, and started to fish out the ice cubes from the bowl in which they were resting, waiting to re-cool our glasses of Topo Chico.  For those of you who don't know Topo Chico - I don't think it's made its way to the UK yet - it's a particularly good sparkling mineral water, bottled in Monterrey, Mexico.  And YES, I know that it's not environmentally sound to drink bottled water, but I do ever so much like TC.  However, I've just become very disillusioned about this apparently very SoCal drink from Mexico - the brand is actually (now) owned by Coca Cola.

Anyway!  The Rams won!  (just! It was a nail biter!).  There have been fireworks outside! 

And yes, Gramsci, for a nine month old kitten, is working on his Grumpy Senior Lawyer face.


Saturday, February 12, 2022

withered fiddlehead

A year ago, I bought a magnificent fiddlehead fern - I love fiddlehead ferns - and it flourished excellently until a few days ago - when it dried and withered, just like that.  It had been watered; it hadn't been overwatered.  But now - it is apparently no more.  Maybe - when it's turned completely brown and dessicated, and I de-pot it, I'll find that it's had some root rot or other issue.  Meanwhile, it makes for good photographs ...


Friday, February 11, 2022


The herons are back! at the Silver Lake reservoir.  Admittedly, when the reservoir was being drained, they only moved locally, to a large fir tree down the road - but now they seem to be back in force.  There are two here - one sitting on a nest - but at least two other trees also have occupants.  They are Great Blue Herons, and although not especially blue (they have dark grey wings), they are magnificent - the largest herons in North America.  We saw one male flying back to the colony - the males gather twigs; the females do the actual building - and they take turns in incubating the pale blue eggs, which seems only fair, since this takes 25-30 days.  And then they both feed the little heronlets, through regurgitation (and they don't just eat fish: lizards and mice and other rodents (even gophers!) and little birds - I'd always thought of them as pescatarian, but the heron dinner table seems to be much more varied than that.


Thursday, February 10, 2022


The first of the year, and smelling wonderful!  This was actually a plant that came from Trader Joe's at some point, and was doubtless intended as a short-lived flowering indoor embellishment, but I planted it out, hopefully, and now look at it!  I was busy with the hosepipe today, and have turned the sprinkler system back on: the temperature hit 82 degrees (that's 27.77 C, for you in England), which is, frankly, too hot for February, especially when we haven't seen any rain for an age.


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

bark, trees, talk

A rather undistinguished plane tree trunk outside THH - but its undistinguishedness is, one might say, its crucial characteristic.  It's more or less something that one takes for granted.  That, anyway, was the presumption on which the talk I gave today was built: that tree bark is something (in real life, in a painting) that one takes pretty much for granite [as one of my Rutgers undergrads once wrote in an essay] - but we shouldn't.  And indeed, if we were are bark-eating beetle, or a bark-invading fungus, we wouldn't ... (the talk was actually on "Bark and Beetles").  My thanks to everyone at Case Western's Art History department who not only attended, but who asked great questions - since this was the first full-length airing of what's up to now been an unwritten book chapter, these questions were especially useful in helping me think what else might or might not be there.  Alas - this was all via Zoom - I would so much rather have been in Cleveland in person, and heading off to dinner afterwards, and talking more ... But there was an unexpected other pleasure - because we were on Zoom, there were many, many more cats in the audience than I usually have coming to my talks.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

University of Student Compliance??


Inside an elevator in the Royal Street parking lot, this is a mysterious riff on USC.  Mysterious, because it's hard to know whether it's a piece of right-wing satire, mocking the need for masks, and the requirement that before we go onto campus - every single day - we have to fill out a "Trojan Check" app on our cell phones, swearing that we don't have a sore throat, etc., and get a pass for the day (today's was bright pink).  Or is it some kind of celebration of the University's engagement with Title IX?  Or complaint against it?  I think that it goes into my little photo archives of pandemic oddities (some of these, nearly two years old now, seem positively quaint ...).  I suspect that this one is the work of a GOP grumbler from OC.

Monday, February 7, 2022

lion cab

One of our Flat Walks (Alice's Achilles Tendon is still not meant to be exercised on hills) is in Griffith Park, down by the Zoo and the Autry Museum - providing one doesn't make a left-hand turn and walk towards the 5, it's a really pleasant walking track, by the side of a golf course that's been planted to look very much like rolling English parkland, albeit with eucalyptus trees and Douglas firs.  We were a little taken aback to see a couple of self-driving golf caddies: apparently they roll along in front of you, stop when you stop, obey your every whim - which must ensure that one gets in a walk (no golf carts) while not having to pull a heavy load of clubs along.  I must look and see whether there are any of these roaming Wimbledon Common.

And there's also a fenced-in lot where there are a number of stray park-things, like old tables, and this lion chariot.  Is it from the merry-go-round?  Has it escaped from a children's area at the Zoo?  It's very fetching, whatever its origins: adult lion is holding a little lion cub on its shoulder (the position is, of course, very familiar, given Gramsci's desire at times to be carried around).


Sunday, February 6, 2022


Perfect spring-like weather for walking along the Venice CA canals, and down the board walk, and down Venice pier ... I never have any problems about fantasizing about living over in this part of town, not least because it's so quiet.  And also because the architecture is almost as eclectic as the watercraft.


Saturday, February 5, 2022

angles (with blossom)

the back of the house, from outside my study door.  I wasn't moving very far: I had an on-line symposium all day that kept me tied to the computer, but I could dive out, periodically, for air... I actually rather regretted being online and not at the Getty: it was the drive that put me off, not Covid-apprehension - but in the end, I was sorry not being able to see people in person.  Of course, I do very much appreciate the blossom - but things tend to bloom around the Getty, too ...


Friday, February 4, 2022


A startlingly clear, still. early February morning: we were up early for a walk at the Silver Lake reservoir, where everything was reflected with geometric precision.  Up very early, since we had to be back for the plumber.  Gramsci owes us $150, because the cork that he dropped down the bath's plughole caused quite a few problems with its drainage.


Thursday, February 3, 2022

and from below

More celebration of the Asian pear - and of the blueness of the sky.  It seems suitable to carry on posting about the tree today, since I've been writing about them all day (or, at least, about bark - and a tree needs its bark, even if we don't think about its covering all that much, unless it's a startlingly bright silver birch, or a mottled plane tree).  Tomorrow, bark beetles, in all their infinite, voraciously munching varieties.


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

view from upstairs

It's the annual wondrous display of the Asian pear.  Usually I post a picture from the bedroom window - here, I was looking out of the house's most mysterious room, on the floor above, and thinking how extraordinarily pretty it looked from there ...

It's a mysterious room, because it's hard to grant it a proper function (at present, it houses a couple of tables with a large collection of orchids (resting) and cacti (cacti are always resting) and, for some reason, the vacuum cleaner).  It's connected by a corridor to the kitchen, and in theory it ought to be a breakfast room - especially as there's a little balcony, too.  Or it would make an excellent writing space.  On the other hand ... the upstairs bathroom leads directly off it, and is, admittedly, rather too close.  I always feel that it doesn't live up to its potential, and this is never so apparent as when the pear blooms.  On the other hand, where would we put all those plants, and for that matter, the tables on which they sit.


Tuesday, February 1, 2022

back home!

It is wonderful to be back.  Moth looks confused to learn that she is 12% Maine Coon!  Her DNA test results are back: we gave the cats DNA testing kits for Christmas, and she's the first to hear.  72% American Domestic Cat (we thought she'd be 98% that ...); 12% Maine Coon; 7% Oriental Longhair (huh?); 4% Siamese and Oriental Shorthair; 2% Siberian.  I guess some of this explains why her coat has a very thick plush pile.  The best news is that she doesn't carry any of 48 genetic markers that would make her predisposed to one problem or another.

Of course, we really got these so that we could see what Gramsci might be... I would not be at all surprised if he has something oriental and something spotted in his make-up  ... it didn't seem fair, however, not to find out something about Mothy's genetic origins as well.  We had some issues with registering Gram's test - it seemed like another client had entered the wrong numbers in the online portal, causing us to be told that the test had already been activated for a cat called Squeak ... However, all was fine in the end, but I think it'll be another couple of weeks before we learn that he's 80% ocelot, 20% teeth.  Right now, he seems convinced that he's part of today's organic vegetable delivery.