Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Wimbledon Platform

I've been standing regularly on this platform at Earl's Court tube station for ... fifty seven years: sometimes going to and from school (though increasingly I took the bus, for reasons that are now opaque to me); and ever afterwards when going to and from Wimbledon on visits.  Wimbledon is still the end of the District line, here - although sometimes I'll get off at Putney Bridge and take the 93, so that I get to see, and then walk along by the Common. Disconcertingly, the destination board has recently been replaced by a new one, and "Wimbledon" is now in the middle of the list, not at the top - even as the old 1930s lettering is retained.  So it's the same, but different.  And different, too, in that I don't ever recollect seeing winter sunlight illuminating the rails and platform in quite this way.  By the time I was at Wimbledon, it was, of course, getting dark, it being England in late November.


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

more USC landscaping

... waiting for the bus to Union Station, to catch the Flyaway to LAX - a remarkably stress-free way of getting to the airport.  Here the canopies above the gates, erected when we were all having our phone apps endlessly checked to see that we had done our Covid Trojan check-in for the day, have endured, as some kind of security barrier (I suppose), but here they manage to look like a row of glass cloches glowing in the sun.


campus, fall light

Sometimes, our campus can look spectacular (the ridiculous, this time, is provided by the statue of Traveler in the background, to the left of the fountain).  Not shown - if you turn your head to the right, you would have seen what I did: that the office of our Provost (resigned just before T'giving, with effect from January 1st) has clearly been voided of everything - everything! - already, apart from the computer on the desk ...


Sunday, November 27, 2022

remodeling up the street

There's a house up the street and round the corner with - as you can see - amazing views. But it's also clearly in terrible condition.  It's being slowly renovated  - very slowly - very slowly indeed - one of those jobs where they clearly have to keep enough of the walls for it to be, technically, a remodel rather than a tear-down and build something new.  What intrigues us is the front door, because it clearly has a large panel of stained class that's almost identical to the one that we have on our second floor door to an outside staircase, and that was made at Judson studios, in Highland Park, in the 1970s. Will they keep it?  Will the door be taken out and sold to a salvage or architectural antiques company?  Of course it would be great if it stays: the speed of work is so glacial, though, that it's hard to predict when any decision will be made on its future.


Saturday, November 26, 2022

we beat the Fighting Irish!

Well, yes, we do seem to have watched a lot of USC sport this weekend ... Here is not one of the stunning moments in which our superstar quarterback, Caleb Williams, scored one of his touchdowns against Notre Dame (ran three, threw another), but the start of the fourth quarter, in which the dubiously-named Traveler canters on; his rider points their sword at the Olympic torch that rises high above the east end of the Coliseum and - the torch bursts into flame.  This is sublimely ridiculous, as opposed to the ridiculously-ridiculous: today's original cocktail served in the President's Suite in a commemorative glass, celebrating not just this particular game, but 100 years of the Coliseum (and then little brown paper carrier bags in which to take our glasses home ...).  It was quite a shift, after the last few years, to make our annual visit to a home game, and cheer, not groan ...


we beat the Bruins!

The final game of the volleyball season (post-season NCAA tournament to follow, of course - and we'll know tomorrow where we are in the draw ...) - which is always against UCLA, and hard-fought.  The Galen Center was packed, like I've not seen it in years.  And - even with our terrific setter and libero both out injured, which is a pretty scary deficiency, we beat the Bruins 3 sets to 1.  I realize this may be a post of minority interest, but the game - and result - made me very happy (even if very late to bed).


Thursday, November 24, 2022


I've never really set myself up as a pie baker, but today's was pretty good: a New Mexican apple pie (based on a memorable slice of pie that I once ate at the Pie-o-Neer Cafe in Pietown) - made with sharp cheddar cheese on the base, and then green chile mixed up with the apple.  I recommend ...


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Gingkos and more

The Huntington was ridiculously beautiful today.  Of course, I'd officially gone there to do some work in the library, but the inscription "go and see the gingkos at the Huntington" has been in my diary for an age, written against this week, so I was obeying my own instructions, along with a whole lot of other visitors.  I always appreciate how many Japanese there are in the Japanese gardens, especially since the huge makeover of these spaces.  The bonsai trees were looking spectacular (I always forget that a couple of these, like the tiny) elms, are deciduous and have color-changing leaves, but of course it was the gingkos who stole the dramatic leafy show.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

feed us

Yes, that is an empty dish between us.

Moth and Gramsci are decidedly getting along better than they used to - mostly.  At least, there's a certain solidarity around food (or its absence).  On the other hand, the sheer force of this disgruntled solidarity is quite a force to be reckoned with,


Monday, November 21, 2022

autumn leaves and a mystery house

This is a fine golden-yellow leaf collection: plane trees - I think - outside a neighborhood house; a regular walking route.  But the house itself has been a source of puzzlement since early in the pandemic - whenever it was that we allowed ourselves to go out for nervous, thoroughly-masked-up walks.  It was soon apparent that no one was living there - the mail accumulated; the car in the apron outside the garage grew grey and dusty and slowly, slowly the tires deflated; and, most tellingly of all, a burglar alarm has been beep beep high-pitched beeping for - well, it must be well over two years now.  I did some forensic digging on line, and found that the owner probably lives in Shanghai.  So that makes sense why she couldn't come back for a while - assuming, as we did, that she got stranded - but now?  With the alarm still on; the car disintegrating?  Is there some tragic story here, or can some people just let a house in the Los Feliz Hills gradually deteriorate?  And what might the neighbors feel?


Sunday, November 20, 2022


I'm not really a great baker - by which I mean a frequent baker - in large part because I don't want to weigh 200 lbs, and also because I'm not a huge cake fan.  Sometimes, of course, I wonder if that's a story I tell myself to stop myself eating too much of it, but no - for the most part, it's that I'd rather eat cheese.  But I was gazing at some over-ripe plums on the countertop this morning, and thought ... you know what: I rather fancy a plum upside-down cake.  So here you have it.  Also - today is the eighteenth anniversary of the day on which Alice and I met, so it's a celebratory concoction, as well.


Saturday, November 19, 2022

golden morning

How extraordinarily lucky we are to have this view from our living room.  Some days - like today - the light just makes one stop, and appreciate that fact.  And I spent a chunk of the middle of the day sitting on that (yes, I know, plastic) Adirondack chair, reading, because it was definitely much warmer there than inside the house.


Friday, November 18, 2022

tangle at the back door

Fuschias really are a ridiculously bright color - but they are wonderfully cheerful at this end of the year.  And there's a thin fuzz of bright green grass (and, I hope, of the native wildflower seeds that I strewed around) on the slope of the garden - which is how one can tell, in the Southern California climate, that winter may be here.  Chilly though it may be, that's a relative term, I know.


Thursday, November 17, 2022

matching the floor

You'd have thought that it was deliberate, no?  Young Gramsci does look rather solid here, I'm afraid: he's also completely unaware that he's really rather a ridiculous cat.


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

morning glow

This golden ball of a chrysanthemum is illuminating the kitchen windowsill in the morning sun - at least, I think it's a chrysanthemum: it's not a dahlia (quite the wrong sort of petal), and I can't think what else would be dense and round in this way.  Of course, if I spend the week posting about flowers, you can draw your own conclusions about how work-busy it's been ...


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

fin de saison, fin de roses

Two late-blooming roses in the front yard.  The top one is "The Poet's Wife," the bottom "Wedgewood" - both of them David Austin roses, and doing fairly well.  "Wedgewood," indeed, is full of buds.  I saw a couple of days back, however, that DA are ceasing to propagate, and to sell, some of their roses, because of climate change, which has resulted in them getting far too buggy and disease-resistant.  So no more "A Shropshire Lad;" no more "Munstead Wood," unless you happen to have them growing already.  We are hyper-aware of large-scale effects of climate change, but here's a perfect example of its slow attrition on everyday horticulture.


Monday, November 14, 2022

autumnal raffia

I ordered a new autumn door wreath with our vegetable box a couple of weeks back - but somehow it looked rather beige and depressing, like late November in the UK.  So I ordered some little bundles of raffia, and today looped and tied strands round the top half of it.  It might now resemble an untidy bird's nest, but it's certainly a bit more seasonally appropriate.  I realized I didn't know exactly what raffia is made of - and it turns out that this is a suitable sequel to yesterday's post: raffia comes from the membranes on the underside of the fronds of the Raffia palm, Raphia Farinifera.  In turn, this comes from Africa, and its sap can be used to make wine, and the fibres can also be turned into ropes ... so, versatile...


Sunday, November 13, 2022

tree trimming

I don't get vertigo - luckily - so this image doesn't cause my nervous system to trip over, vicariously - but I can see how it could ... I'm very grateful that our neighbors are so responsible with their palm trees.  If one doesn't trim off the dead fronds, not only are these liable to smash down into the streets and onto heads, cars, passing dogs, and so on, but the whole tree functions as a torch should a stray spark come its way (palm trees are, after all, full of palm oil).  With Santa Ana winds forecast this week (fine to create atmosphere in Raymond Chandler - like the rain that I was writing about a few days ago, but otherwise terrifying from the perspective of fire danger), this frond shaving is very timely, and welcome.


Saturday, November 12, 2022


All round one side of the Silver Lake reservoir some motivational posters have appeared - signed 🖤 5th Grader - even with my long-ago paleography training, I can't decide, looking at these two examples, whether we're dealing with one author or two.  Overall, and considering the temporary gallery as a whole, my impression was that more than one person was involved - the graphic styles are quite distinct.  Whatever the case, they made for a cheerful intervention - to be sure, every single homily was a cliché, a twenty-first century version of uplifting words stitched onto a sampler - but they had the same endearing amateur sincerity as samplers do: a contemporary form of folk art.  And no, I didn't sing - but they certainly were spirit-lifting.


Friday, November 11, 2022

distant snowcaps

The heavy rain at the start of the week, and the clouds that came before and after it, have all cleared out, leaving the first deposit of snow on the distant mountains.  If you peer closely; if you blow this up, you'll see - it's always a magical moment of early winter for me.  And it's cold.  Although the thick walls of our old (by LA standards! 1929 ...) house are wonderful when it's hot, since it rarely warms up to unbearable temperatures inside, by the same token they trap chill air, and the central heating never seems very keen on reaching all the way down to the bottom floor, and my study.  Or rather, it happily warms the bathroom and the laundry room down here, but I can't very sensibly hunker down on the floor in there to write a book ...


Thursday, November 10, 2022

sinister plant

This was looking very otherworldly.  I think it's tradescantia pallida: flourishing in a rather sinister manner, and glowing in the outside light.


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

shadow existence

shadows of a plane tree and of a lamp - after two days of rain, the sun was out again today.  Being on campus when one's on leave - and I'll be there three days this week! - is like having some kind of shadow existence: present but not quite present, a phenomenon made even weirder when one's sitting in one's office attending an English department meeting that's still, for whatever unarticulated reason, being held on Zoom.  Not that I felt shadowy when meeting with students ... but even so, there's an element of lurking ...


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Gramsci and the weather

Poor Gramsci.  He thought he was watching the early election results come through - his first election night! imagine! - and suddenly the screen (and my phone) started screaming with a flood alert.  He looks remarkably composed from behind - but in reality he was staring in a horrified way at the television.  We're still glued to the results, at 9 p.m. PT/midnight on the east coast - but are not in the state of intense gloom that we'd feared that we might be in.


Monday, November 7, 2022

it always rains in Raymond Chandler novels

It was raining today, and should be raining even harder tomorrow.  I was driving back from USC reflecting that when it's wet like this, Los Angeles takes on the rainy atmosphere of a Raymond Chandler novel - it always rains in Chandler's novels - and then, immediately, I cam upon some crime scene - half a dozen or so police cars, yellow crime tape - the whole kit.  I have no idea what was going on, but it was quite fitting in this weather.


Sunday, November 6, 2022

fin de Halloween

This couple, hanging around in some trees near us, really are rather creepy.  But I'm glad all the Halloween stuff hasn't yet been taken down - there was something very depressing about the way that, the minute the calendar page turned over to November, English shops started to be full of Christmas goods and displays.  Thanksgiving, here, acts as a very welcome buffer, in that respect.


Saturday, November 5, 2022

gaping maw

Even though I missed Halloween here, I'm delighted that there are a fair number of decorations (huge spiders strangling skeletons; a ten-foot werewolf, and the like) still around.  I rather liked this garage-becomes-ghost set-up by the reservoir.  


Friday, November 4, 2022

6,000 miles away

Early morning, just before Dimitri the Bulgarian Uber driver arrived to take me to LHR.  Not too easy leaving, this time, but I'll be back in a little over three weeks ...


Thursday, November 3, 2022

polishing up for Christmas (and Williiam Kentridge)

The windows of Fortnum & Mason should be brilliantly shining after this polishing ...  I was actually across the road at the Royal Academy for the amazing William Kentridge show: for those of you who don't know his work, he's a South African artist who makes, above all, huge charcoal drawings, which in his own invented technique he reworks and reworks and reworks and reworks, leaving traces - adding figures - subtracting, erasing - and photographing them each time, and then turning them into films.  But he also produces free standing drawings and tapestries and collages and set designs - South African history - going back to the C19th - apartheid, cruelty, capitalism, profiteering, history, memory - incredibly powerful stuff.  It also made for an extremely interesting point of comparison with the Anselm Kiefer that I saw in Venice last week: huge, intellectually and historically informed work that also makes an emotional, visceral impact which for me - in both cases - mingled beauty and despair and grief.


Wednesday, November 2, 2022

leaves, fence, wall

Two small glimpses of leaves against backgrounds in Hillside today, as I went to fetch the paper.  I doubt they still look like this - it is (at 11 p.m.) pouring torrentially outside, and I'm just hoping that nothing in the house leaks ...


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

poppy pillar box

As my English readers - and others - will know, in the two weeks leading up to Remembrance Day, little imitation poppies are sold to raise money to help those who have served in the Armed Forces and, one way or another, are in need.  This tradition began in 1921 (inevitably, it's not without controversy, since the British Legion, who run it, seem to sit on rather large financial reserves, which could, say, be more directly spent on the unhoused.  But still).  So outside the Morden Sainsburys/M&S (a bit of a come-down as an outing compared to Italy, admittedly) there was a large table with poppies of all sorts: I made my donation and helped myself to two - one for myself, one for my father.  There can't be that number of poppies sold, any more, that will be worn by WWII veterans.

What was especially striking was the mail box by the side of the table - a QEII number, but wearing a kind of knitted camouflage net, with flowers, and a soldier wearing a helmet on top of that - a peculiarly British example of craft-kitsch.