Saturday, July 20, 2024

Photos from Elton and David, and a Pumpkin

I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington yesterday for a dose of culture. They've mounted a show of photography collected by Elton John and his husband David Furnish, with photos from fashion to portraits to journalism taken by many well-known photographers. It's a HUGE show, and it took me a couple of hours to get through, but it was fascinating and I bought the catalog afterwards.

Before I even got in, though, I had some challenges. I hadn't pre-booked a ticket because the V&A specifically says on its web site that pre-booking isn't necessary. Maybe they just meant for the museum in general, but anyway, when I got there I was unable to buy a ticket with my debit card because their "systems were down." They suggested I do it online, but that didn't work either. I made my way to an ATM a few blocks away and withdrew cash, which I used to pay for my ticket -- and I had to round up with a small donation because the museum couldn't give me change. The whole thing was a kerfuffle, and of course I realized later that it was part of yesterday's worldwide collapse of computer systems related to that CrowdStrike update.

I had to laugh because wasn't I just saying how much I love our cashless society? Like any technology, it's all great as long as it works!

I made my way through the show and had lunch in one of the museum's cafes, a very mod structure in their entrance courtyard. Then I went to a second (and much smaller) show on tropical modernism, a look at mid-century modern architecture in Ghana and India and other places overseas. I remembered seeing some of those structures when I traveled in Ghana 30 years ago. Lots of clean lines and breeze blocks (or "brise soleil," a term I did not know).

I was stunned to see the Bolgatanga Library included in the show. I traveled through Bolgatanga, which I remember as a dusty, hot way station on the road from Burkina Faso to Kumasi. As I recall there was a whole lot of nothing. I had no idea it had an architecturally significant library. Guess I missed my chance to check that out!

After I left the museum I walked across Kensington Gardens to see this year's Serpentine Pavilion, by Minsuk Cho. It's an interesting structure -- a collection of structures, really -- that includes a soundscape, a play area, a cafe and a library clustered around a circular patio. The light and shadow effects were very cool. When we lived in Notting Hill I used to check out each summer's Serpentine Pavilion with Olga but some years I miss it now, so I was glad to catch this one.

Finally, I visited Yayoi Kusama's gigantic "Pumpkin" on the grass near the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. Surreal and kind of like a spaceship or big alien pod, but also beautiful, colorful and shiny.

I grabbed a coffee at a cafe near Kensington Palace and sat on the grass watching other overheated pedestrians and runners. (Yesterday was the UK's warmest day so far this year, with temperatures of almost 90º F -- 31.9º C, to be exact.) Then I made my way to the bus stop at Notting Hill Gate and began a long, tedious bus ride home. It wasn't helped by the fact that the bus was packed, stuffy and SLOW. When we got to West Hampstead some guy got so frustrated by the motionless traffic that he hit the emergency button to open the doors, and a bunch of us seized the opportunity to get off between stops. I didn't even know that button existed.

Oh, another peculiar public transport experience yesterday -- I saw a man on the tube carrying a pet carrier, a soft-sided shoulder bag with a dog's head protruding. Only, this was a toy dog, a stuffed animal. I thought perhaps he'd just bought it, but then it would have been in a shop bag, not a pet carrier. Does he take it with him everywhere? Is he mourning the loss of a real dog, or is he trying to figure out whether he wants a dog -- kind of like school kids tasked with carrying around bags of sugar to see what it's like to have a baby? So many questions.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Blue Tit

This little blue tit has been coming around the last several days and picking bugs off our hogweed. It's hilarious to watch it dangle upside down from the umbrella-shaped flowers as it industriously goes after those aphids. (At first I thought it was eating the seeds, but when I took a closer look myself I saw all the bugs on the seed heads. A mini-ecosystem!)

It checks them out from every angle.

And it also keeps an eye on me!

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Teasels and a Kidnapping

The teasels are beginning to flower, forming that band of tiny blossoms around their bristly seed heads. I love teasels (as you know!) but I really need to do a better job of keeping them under control this year. The burdock, too. I think once the flowers have come and gone I need to cut the plants down entirely. Otherwise they proliferate so much that pretty soon we'll ONLY have teasels and burdock in the garden.

A parakeet is sitting in the walnut tree loudly squawking. I can't imagine what it wants because the bird feeder is full. Maybe it's saying to its mates, "Come on, guys! Let's eat!"

Yesterday was a pretty placid day. I did some more trimming in the garden, taming the monster and the bay tree and forsythia by the patio. I really need to weed the patio, removing all the grass and other plants from between the paving stones, and I've probably been talking about that forever, but my excuse for waiting is that we're out of yard waste bags. After tomorrow morning's waste collection we'll have empty ones again.

Mrs. Kravitz borrowed three of our yard waste bags a couple of weeks ago and she has not returned them. I suppose I'll have to chase those down. 🙄 (Can you all see my eye-roll emoji? I am never sure those things display equally well for everyone.)

Here's your daily photo of Olga relaxing in the sun.

I sat out with her and finished my latest book, a crime novel called "Never Seen Again" by Paul Finch. It's another one from that book club membership that one of Dave's students gave him but that I took over (with his permission). It was about some investigative reporters who try to figure out what happened to a kidnapped woman, but as a former reporter myself I found it somewhat laughable what these "reporters" wound up doing. I mean, I've had a few angry reactions from story subjects, but I never had to leap from a moving cable car to escape security thugs, or had someone bash my shin with an iron pipe (so that I could then run around on an apparently broken leg for the next several hours, as the character in the book did). It made reporting seem a lot more exciting and dangerous (and unlikely) than it really is, in other words. But overall it held my attention and it was good to pass the time.

I'm still coming to grips with all the changes being ushered in by the UK's new Labour government. I've seen a flurry of news stories about all sorts of initiatives, including phasing out smoking entirely by raising the legal age to purchase cigarettes by one year every year, so that today's young people will never be able to purchase them. (I guess they could still steal them from granny, though.) And supposedly the UK is ending that ridiculous, inhumane and expensive scheme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda while it considers their paperwork. Sanity prevails! Is it too much to hope for sanity in the USA as well?

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Snail Sex and Voting

When I walked Olga yesterday morning -- which can hardly be called a "walk" anymore, because she only goes to the corner, sniffs the garbage inevitably piled there and comes home -- we came across these two snails. I think this is SNAIL SEX! I've seen slug sex before, but I'm not sure I've ever seen snails going at it. Not that there's much to see.

Unfortunately, this was in the middle of the sidewalk, which is a dangerous place for even one attentive snail, much less two distracted snails. So who knows whether they survived their canoodling.

This was my breakfast -- bran flakes with the season's first blackberries from our garden. They're still a little firm and tinged with red, as you can see, so they're not quite at their ripe peak. I may wait a bit longer before harvesting any more. Still, it's good to know we're coming around to harvest time.

I did some more work in the garden and put the fox cam back out after compiling yesterday's video. Some of you asked how the fox gets access to the garden, when it's fenced or walled on all four sides. Well, there's a spot in the back left corner, where the fence and back wall come together, where the fox enters and exits. It walks along the wall and jumps down onto an old compost container that's sitting back there, and then into the garden. It departs the same way. It's a very agile critter! Anyway, I put the fox cam in a new position where we might see some of that action.

And then I noticed this, which just amused the hell out of me -- a pigeon, sitting on the Russians' balcony railing, despite their fiddly pigeon spikes and their silly bird-deterring beach balls. I got such a kick out of it. I am a terrible person.

I had to drop by work in the afternoon to run some quick errands. This year I'm voting for the first time since changing my permanent U.S. address from my parents' house to my brother's house in Jacksonville, and there's a primary election in August. Even though it's just a primary, I wanted to vote so I could test the process before the big election in November. So I went to school, printed the primary ballot and the supporting documents, and got it all mailed. I only voted in one race -- for Florida senator -- and everybody knows the Democrat faces an uphill battle anyway, so my choice in the primary probably doesn't make a huge difference. But as I said, it allowed me to get familiar with the process.

I mailed my ballot and once again marveled that I could pay the postage (about £2.50) with a credit card. Seriously, who needs cash anymore? Even tiny transactions can be done with a card and I am all for it. In fact, as I think I've said before, if someone came up with an implantable debit card chip that allowed us to scan our wrists in order to buy anything, I'd get one of those suckers installed in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, I've also had some bad health news coming from family members, and I've been depressed about that. I don't want to go into any details in order to respect their privacy, but safe to say I have a couple of relatives who have had or are having serious health issues. A reminder, I suppose, that we live in a world of constant uncertainty.

Last night it rained and the slugs and snails were out like crazy. I pulled handfuls of them off our vulnerable plants and brought in a few of the dahlias to keep them from becoming slug chow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

More Fox Sightings

Two more loads of laundry yesterday, and now I think I finally have all our South America clothes washed. I also cleaned up the windowsills in the house, and I moved the orchid above from the dining room to the living room, where we can see and enjoy it more easily. That stalk is so full of flowers that I had to prop it up on a boot-shaped glass vase to keep it from dragging. And behind it, you can see how happy the banana and avocado trees are on the patio. They love summer!

I spent most of the morning in the garden. Remember that rose we staked up after it collapsed a few months ago? Well, we've had a lot more rain recently and it was collapsing again. It's done flowering now so I finally gave it a hard prune to lighten the weight at the top of the plant. I'm hoping that makes it more stable.

I also pruned some other stuff and mowed the lawn, and now we have three full yard waste bags to go out with the trash on Friday.

While we were gone, I left the wildlife cam running at the back of the garden. Yesterday I skimmed through the videos -- about 200 of them (!) -- and made a two-minute compilation of the interesting ones. You'll see our neighborhood fox, carrying something in its mouth -- I think it's a large dog treat, and I say that only because we've found similar treats buried in our garden. Where this fox is getting treats is a mystery.

You'll also see a squirrel doing a weird belly-crawl that I thought was pretty funny, and a mob of starlings at the end. The starlings, which live in the trees at the back of the garden, did a lot more grazing on the ground than they normally do, and I'm guessing that's because we weren't here to keep the bird feeder full. That's OK -- they need to be reminded how to be self-reliant!

Monday, July 15, 2024


Here's a happy sight that greeted us upon returning home -- blooming dahlias! After a spring in which the dahlias were cursed with rampaging slugs, I'm glad to see most of them now flourishing. There are still slugs and a few plants still look rather ragged, but I think they're all big enough now that at least the leaves will sustain the roots and they won't die.

So, yeah, dahlias! And also...

...penstemon (see the little hoverfly?)...

...and day lilies, and about a hundred other things from crocosmia to buddleia to hydrangeas. No doubt you'll be seeing it all over the next few weeks.

I did manage to stay awake yesterday, mostly, though at one point I was trying to edit photos and finding myself repeatedly nodding off. Hopefully I didn't delete anything by mistake. I got a full night's sleep last night and this morning I feel more or less normal. I was so happy to wash all my travel clothes and dry them out in the sunny garden, and straighten up the house. Now life can move forward.

When Dave and I went on the boat trip at Iguaçu Falls, there was a guy on board with a Go-Pro camera making videos to sell to the passengers. (Of course!) Dave and I bought a video and within 48 hours or so, the guy sent us a link to download it. I didn't look at it while we were traveling, but I did yesterday and was dismayed to find he'd sent a video of the wrong boat trip, with completely different passengers (and crucially, not us!).

I do not speak Spanish but I wrote the guy an e-mail using Google Translate. God knows what I actually said to him, but I tried to ask him to send the correct video link. I thought the chance was slim that he would, because how many videos must that guy make in a day and this was almost two weeks ago! But lo and behold, he responded promptly with the right one and we're in it:

So yay for Google Translate and the Iguaçu videographer!

Olga woke me this morning at 5:30 by licking my hands, as she often does when she thinks it's time for all of us to get up. It was wonderful to open my eyes and see her there, looking at me expectantly, tail wagging. I've missed that over the past two weeks!

Sunday, July 14, 2024


Well, we made it. After more than 24 hours (!) of travel, we are home sweet home.

But first, because someone specifically requested it (you know who you are), I want to share one more photo from Brazil. This is the statue of Brigitte Bardot on the waterfront in Búzios, where she apparently spent a lot of time. (At least enough to have her name and likeness all over the place there.)

Yes, we are exhausted. We were up and checked out of our hotel by 3:30 on Saturday morning, and a driver picked us up promptly for the 2.5-hour ride back to Rio de Janeiro. We then spent several hours cooling our heels in the airport before our 10:20 flight to São Paulo, which was only the first of three flights we took to get home. I had visions of lost luggage or missed connections or other complications, but actually everything worked out fine. Except for the sheer fatigue.

Was I really in Búzios, Brazil, just slightly more than a day ago? That seems inconceivable to me now. I must have been dreaming.

We did get the news about Trump as we were changing planes in Madrid.

I'm trying to stay awake until this evening -- to get myself on a natural body clock -- so I'm doing laundry and tidying things up around the house. We love Warren, our friend and dog-sitter, but he stacks the bowls in the kitchen wrong (and commits other ridiculously minor transgressions), and the house needs a good vacuum and I need to change bed linens and that kind of thing. So that will probably be my day.

Olga was SO excited to see us when we got home. She jumped around and did her happy head-shaking thing, and then went out in the garden and collapsed. She's now napping and is the picture of satisfaction.

And speaking of the garden, look at it! So much is huge and/or blooming! Pictures to come in the following days!