Friday, September 30, 2022

more art and industry

Not a lot of time to look around me today ... but I went back to the small ballroom where we had our reception yesterday evening, to look at the Historical Murals way up near the ceiling where no one can see them very well ... I'm not sure when they were painted (and it's too late to have a look at the book about the Hotel Bethlehem on the room's desk) - but they look like 1930s, to me.  This celebrates - yes - the steel industry!


Thursday, September 29, 2022

the industrial sublime

So tomorrow, I'm giving a paper on Joseph Pennell's images of industrial smoke from the perspective of environmental justice - starting and ending with his watercolour of the Bethlehem Steel Works, painted in May 1881.  So I thought I'd better go and have a look at the steel works themselves, on the bank of the Lehigh River.

They pretty much stopped working in the early 1980s; went bankrupt in 2001; and now are the site of an arts/entertainment complex (not that you'd know that from the other side of the river).  Clearly, in Pennell's time, there was much pollution - of air, and of water.  Today, a huge conservation and reclamation project means that the river looks pretty clean - and on a sunny early fall day like this, idyllic (especially when one takes very picturesque-conventional photos of it).

But what I hadn't been expecting was quite how impressive the steel plant is - of course, it's a rusted ruin rather than a working enterprise - but it is huge, and it is magnificent.  And yes - of course it was responsible (or its owners were) for spewing out masses and masses of soot particles and carbon dioxide.  However, even in its ruined state, it does partake of all the qualities of the sublime (in the most conventional sense of the word): it awes, it makes one feel small, it's like a huge Alp.  Pennell was none too good at drawing the Alps, by the way, once he saw them: this, for him was the modern sublime.  Today, I could understand that, which was rather a disconcerting feeling.


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

getting to a conference

Eventually, I (and a bus load of intrepid others) have arrived in Bethlehem, PA - which this year's valiant NAVSA [that's the North American Victorian Studies Association] organisers did their best to get us to in a hassle-free manner, but it's not the world's easiest destination to reach ...).  Up at 4.45 to get to LAX to get a flight that got me to PHL at 5 p.m. - and then a two-hour wait for a mini van.  By this time there were seven of us, discussing the crazy large amounts of money that our flights had cost us,  There were two more actually on the mini-van, which was on the other side of baggage claim, and not at all where people in the airport said that charter transport would pull up.  But the van driver didn't know where he was meant to be, either.  Then we drove at top speed through the Pennsylvania countryside for an hour and a quarter, and were then deposited at what actually seems to be an attractive old solid brick Historic Hotel. NAVSA starts in the morning!


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

knotting up the curtains

And why might we want to do this?  You might want to ask Gramsci ... he is, after all, a little frustrated and disappointed that we should tie up these playthings out of his reach, because they are such fun to play behind ... But these are relatively new curtains, and need to be protected from the ravages of little cat-spikes for as long as possible.  Also, the morning light was quite beautiful today.


Monday, September 26, 2022

not quite what I ordered

... but I'm delighted with the contents of this box, all the same (Moth, on the other hand, is wondering if there's a Returns label - Gramsci is still periodically monstrous towards her).  Why I thought I needed a winter jacket in this weather (94 degrees outside, today) is anyone's guess, anyway: a tabby and white feline is much more of an attraction.


Sunday, September 25, 2022

our front doorbell

I really haven't anything meaningful to say about our front doorbell, looking faintly Italianate on the peeling ochre outside wall.  But it's very fetching - and seeing it in this morning's sun provided one of those moments of visual gratitude for ordinary things ...


no photography

So there you are.  I thought I'd be posting a pic or two of Bonnie Raitt - playing at the Greek tonight, with Mavis Staples opening - but there were very firm signs on display, inside and out, and indeed the Image Police pounced on someone in the row in front of us who dared to take a photo.  BR was excellent - this was a delayed birthday present for Alice (that is, the birthday present was there in a timely fashion, but she then had to wait seven months), and although I've never been as big a fan as she is, she was impressive, especially (for me) the slower numbers.  And Mavis Staples, who seemed very tired when we saw her in Durham seven years ago, was full of human and political energy, and inspirational.  Perfect evening for an outdoor concert - clear and warm, with only two coyotes prowling the streets on our walk back ...


Friday, September 23, 2022

a happy volunteer

There are over 1,000 varieties of morning glory - imagine! - and I'm really not sure which this is.  Nor am I sure how it arrived in our front yard - I'm thinking that somehow, it could have hitched a ride from Santa Fe - others have, in the past.  But of course, it could equally well have blown in from somewhere round about.  I'm pretty certain that the only deliberate MG planting I've done has been in New Mexico.  But it was a wonderful surprise to see it blooming this morning - a happy volunteer.  I love the phrase "volunteer plant" - something that just grows of its own account, and hasn't been deliberately sown or dug in or grafted.  My favorite sighting this year (until this one, of course ...) has been a tomato plant flourishing, rather surprisingly, near the entrance to Cannizaro, in Wimbledon.  I can only imagine that its seed escaped, at some point, from a picnic sandwich.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

day in the library

... with my nose profitably to the grindstone, although work would have been easier if the section of the Huntington's basement with C19th US periodicals on the open shelf hadn't been out of bounds because of earthquake retrofitting, or some such.  Let's hope this doesn't go on for ever ... I could still get the volumes I needed, but hand-delivered, which lacks the potential serendipity of prowling around.  And at the end of the day I treated myself to some horticultural prowling - I'd written enough of my NAVSA paper for this to be a genuine reward.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022


Hallowe'en is - what - five weeks away?  I would have thought that one might, in all decency, wait until the calendar has flipped over into October before bringing out the ghouls.  But this guy is a new component in my very favorite ensemble (you'll see the skeleton mother rocking her skeleton baby in the background), so I guess I'll forgive it, especially since I realize that I'll be out of the country on the witching night itself, this year.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

taking a very large banana for a ride

By comparison to far-away New Jersey, there isn't a great deal of the bizarre and the curated to be seen when one's walking around our 'hood.  So this was quite a find: a very large squishy banana - with a coil of rope on top - sitting inexplicably in the back of a pick-up truck.


Monday, September 19, 2022

a wonderful lunch stop

It was a very wet drive back to LA - it didn't stop raining - raining hard - until we were almost down as far as Santa Barbara.  But we broke the drive by stopping off in Los Alamos - just off the 101 - a completely delightful small town in wine country, with at least one (apparently there are others ...) excellent restaurant, Bell's.  Yes - that's a little red Michelin star sign on the bottom left.  A small bowl of chilled garlic soup, and three local cheeses with home-made chutney and some frisée - and a cappuccino - perfection.  We are plotting a return, staying locally so that we can come back for dinner, and have some wine, too ...


Sunday, September 18, 2022

More (wet) Cambria

A wet beach, wet vegetation, a wet day.  Admittedly, this morning it was only drizzling, but nonetheless, it turned wetter and wetter, subsequently ... All the same, the beach was stunning: seaweed, driftwood, little pebbles - some of which may very well have been moonstones, but I think I'd need someone to point out to me how one actually identifies such an object.  There were moonstone hunters out there, with little buckets and doubtless sharp eyes, but it seemed a little over-naive to stop one and ask ...


Saturday, September 17, 2022


These elephant seals aren't actually in Cambria, but a bit north of San Simeon - about twelve miles north of here.  And they are beautiful.  The whole colony is about 24,000 strong - so the rest of the gang are off swimming and eating fish.  Watching them is like watching evolution in motion - you can see them as a shoal of huge basking fish, but when they start shuffling along the beach on their flippers, you can see very well where the idea of legs came from.  I was so happy with this pic of seals - look at that adorable pink barking mouth.

Here's a view of Moonstone Beach - more of a rocky shoreline with a boardwalk - which is just by Cambria.

There seem to be a huge number of dogs here - so many that even the public toilets at the bottom of our street seem to be celebrating them.

And here's Alice at lunch - with my pomegranate lemonade in the foreground.


Friday, September 16, 2022

mid-coast sunset

The view from our balcony this evening, in Cambria ... and yes, that is the sea in the distance.  We're here in a house rented by friends for a couple of days: friends arrive later!  Murderously busy drive up here: we were very glad to park the car, pick up keys, find the farmers' market (local cheese!) and then the house: tomorrow we get to find out where the sea actually is.  I mean, to the west, to be sure ... but for a supposedly seaside town, it seems weirdly concealed.


Thursday, September 15, 2022

a battered wall

A couple of days before we came back to LA, our house sitter sent us an alarming account of what had just happened in the street: a great screeching of tires; a big bang; the arrival of fire and ambulance crews ... We have a bend - quite a sharp bend - on the hill outside the house, and it looks as though a car was going too fast to see or navigate it, went straight ahead, demolished the wall that these railings were sitting on, dented the railings, and made quite a large hole in the house wall itself, which is next-door-but-one.  None of us know whether the car driver and any passengers were ok (there was nothing in the press, on Nextdoor, etc), and the inhabitants of the house itself were out of town.

But you'd think it would be mended by now, wouldn't you?  Maybe they're waiting for insurance money, but ... I've seen a workman there once or twice, doing nothing in particular, but in the meantime, the late afternoon shadows are quite fetching.


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

a departmental retreat

I have my own strong ideas about what would constitute an effective - and enjoyable - departmental retreat.  Let's start with - ok, our department administrators had organized a great breakfast spread, so let's start with that, even if the coffee was [USC] hotel coffee.  And then - how about half an hour's guided meditation, and then twenty minutes gentle yoga.  By then - perhaps we'd be ready for a hands-on art project - working on a group collage, say, or a mosaic (smashing some crockery for that could be therapeutic, too).

Then I'd make sure there was a taco truck outside for lunch, and maybe a build-your-own ice cream sundae station.  Then a lengthy country/forest/beach nature walk (OK, not so easy around the USC campus - maybe we'd have to settle for a guided tour of the rose garden outside the Coliseum ... but a walk, at least.  But maybe we'd be away for campus for this whole day, anyway).  Then some free time - a choice of the swimming pool (we're definitely away from campus, by now), or the hot tub/sauna, or a well equipped art studio - followed by a class in something that none of us know how to do (and what would that be?  The tango? - though I did once, long ago, learn to tango for a production of Goethe's Faust at the Young Vic, come to think of it.  And if you don't remember that bit of Faust, we're talking witches on Walpurgisnacht).  Then twenty minutes free writing - then happy hour, a barbecue, and a few rounds of charades.  That's my ideal ...

Instead of which, what do we get?  I should add - this was mandatory, even for those of us on leave.  Two hours - well, more like ninety seven minutes - with a pleasant-enough-seeming woman from the Ombudsman's office, who told us about various forms of emotional intelligence; reminded us about Perspective, and the fact that not all of us might have the same perspectives (gosh! never thought of that!); shared - that's the chart that you see in the left of my pic - a color-coded feeling wheel; and then asked us to sort pictures - a variety of super-kitsch stock pictures - with the other people at our tables so that they would represent our vision for what we wanted from the department.  Only I imagine other tables were just like mine - we went "yuk" or "hmm, I like that," very fast, and then carried on bitching about the university administration, as one does.  The point, of course, wasn't our Vision itself, but to get us focused on a task.  A group howl might have been more effective.

We were told that we didn't have to absorb everything that we were being told: we could "sip the nectar."

And there's another one in six weeks.  It felt like punishment - it had, after all, been centrally mandated - though of course what the punishment was for was never elucidated.  


Tuesday, September 13, 2022


... that would be me, today, although I am channeling how I feel through this Wedgwood Rose.  As predicted, the booster hit me hard - down I went with the intense icy chills around midnight, despite Gramsci stretching out supportively and very warmly down my side.  The rest of today - I just have the sensation, both physically and mentally, of having been passed, very slowly, through a wringer.  But at least, with luck, I should be more protected than I was ...


Monday, September 12, 2022

back to my usual lake ...

... or at least, reservoir - a very excellent early morning walk.

I'm waiting to be flattened - I had both my flu shot and booster #3 today - the one that's meant to repel Omicron - so judging by the effect of all the other anti-Covid jabs that I've had, I can expect to discard tomorrow.  So far, I just ache ... ache all over ... but I note that I've slumped into a little heap on the sofa, watching the Dodgers.  


Sunday, September 11, 2022

from grey to orange

Or, from Wisconsin to Los Angeles - on a day in which the heavens opened in the mid-west, meaning that I drove south to Chicago in a deluge.

PSA: if you put "Enterprise Car Rental Chicago Airport International" into your trusty GPS system, it will take you to Chicago MIDWAY, not O'Hare.  You probably don't want to be there.  It was raining so hard, and all my concentration was going to seeing - or trying to see - where the lanes could possibly be, and whether that car in front of me was going fast or slow, that by the time I realized that things didn't look at all familiar, and I was heading to the wrong Chicago airport, it was getting a little late ... Kudos to American Airlines, who got me onto the next flight - just two hours later (and only delayed a little when two planes behind ours backed into one another ...).  But this will teach me to check, and double-check, my route ...


Saturday, September 10, 2022

another hard-working day in perfect surroundings

A second day by the shore of Lake Michigan, talking about ecocritical studies and the nineteenth century - in the very suitable company of frogs (there's a lot of wildlife in these parts - I came within a couple of feet of a bounding deer hitting my car as I drove back to where I'm staying.  But luckily everyone is unscathed).

There's a storm coming in ...

and you can see how very, very hard we were working,

sustained at the end of the day with wonderful food and drink.

How really terrific to spend a couple of days with friends/colleagues, and to come away re-energized ...


Friday, September 9, 2022

how to hold a perfect seminar

Wonderful company, and papers and book proposals to discuss.
Wonderful location, on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Ditto, with rising moon.

and, not least, LOCAL CHEESE.  I have also established that one can purchase Blakesville Creamery's Afterglow Cheese (a goat cheese washed in red ale) on line - although maybe not while it's still so very hot.


Thursday, September 8, 2022

a sad day

Wherever I thought that I would be when I heard of the Queen's death, I don't think that I ever had Milwaukee Art Museum on my list of possibles.  It was, therefore, a memorably surreal visit to what is, unquestionably, a superb museum - the building, the collection (I was looking primarily at C19th US art), and the curation - so much care going into the labels, and especially in making one see racialized history that would otherwise be invisible.  And now I'm forty five miles further north, in a little house overlooking Lake Michigan (lake?  it is a huge lake, with waves, and at its widest point 118 miles across ...), with the moon gilding the water, and this offers plenty of space for contemplating, and indeed grieving, a figure who was there for my entire life.  It is - as I knew it would be - a huge, huge jolt to the scheme of things British.

So I'm likely to remember the museum ... but it's memorable in its own right.

I took so many photos of paintings - but I'll share just two details: a cat in a painting by Martin Drölling, The Music Lesson (1796) who seems really aggrieved that this bowl isn't full of something delicious, and a completely daft Fragonard sheep.

Milwaukee - with a downtown full of monumental buildings - seems a very art conscious town: here's a sculpture by Maren Hassinger, Pyramid, from this year - right next to the tall Northwestern Mutual building, it uses repurposed sticks from Fox Point.

And here, for good measure, is my view when I arrived in Oostburg this afternoon.  Two days of workshop lie ahead ...


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Milwaukee evening

The view from my room in the Saint Kate - the best possible name for a hotel!  (and a very good hotel it is, too - lots of art work, and even a ukulele in the room - !  I've never played a ukulele before, and it's fun ...).  Nor, to be honest, had I ever thought of coming to Milwaukee ... indeed, all I knew of the city is the song "What made Milwaukee famous | Has made a loser out of me" (and no - I haven't tried that on the uke, yet, although I have been listening to the Jerry Lee Lewis and the Rod Stewart versions, and can't made up my mind which I prefer).  But I'm en route to a two-day workshop; want to see some paintings in the art museum tomorrow; it's an easy, if very boring drive from Chicago - and here I am.