Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cassette Tapes and Vincent Price

The England flags are flying all over the place nowadays. Apparently there's some big football game happening? (Yes, yes, I know -- the World Cup.)

I'm oblivious to pro sports in general, so this is probably all you're going to hear about it on my blog.

Let me tell you instead about my dog, because I haven't talked about her since, oh, yesterday!

Seriously, she is sound asleep down by my feet as I lie in bed typing. You know how she wakes me up at 4:30 a.m. every day, raring to go? Well, today she did not. We took a long, long walk on the Heath yesterday -- about three hours, I think. She ran and swam in the mud pond and in general had a ball, and she's been sleeping ever since, with brief breaks for scratches and food. The good news: no limping!

As we walked, we found a couple of boxes of discarded cassette tapes, which made me sad. I used to have tons of cassettes and it made me nostalgic to see these all piled together. There was some Al Green, some jazz, some Jamaican and reggae stuff. Kind of a shame, but the world moves forward, right? I didn't take any of them. I couldn't play them if I wanted to.

Last night I rented "Theatre of Blood," a 1973 movie starring Vincent Price and Diana Rigg. It's about a hammy actor who seeks revenge on the London theater critics that he believes have not given him his due, and it's not nearly as gory as it sounds, at least not by modern standards. Part of the movie was filmed at the school where I work, though it looks different these days, and there are lots of other interesting shots of old London -- like the Putney Hippodrome, which was used in the filming and then demolished. It's been gone for more than 40 years.

Coincidentally, a much younger Price was also in "Laura," the film noir I rented a few nights ago.

I actually met Price once, when I was a cub reporter in 1989. He came to the Florida town where I worked to shoot a promotional video for a new 3-D camera, having starred decades before in some famous old 3-D movies. Here's my article, which you can click to enlarge and read, if you are so inclined:

Price was 77 years old then, and to me -- a callow 22-year-old -- he seemed a million. I remember him moving about and delivering his lines a bit slowly and stiffly. My friends at the time joked, with the cavalier cruelty of the young, that this was the day Vincent Price drooled on me -- but to be fair, I don't think there was any actual drool. I only got one quote out of him, about the weather. No Pulitzer for me!

(And whatever happened to that camera, I wonder? Seems like 3-D photography never quite took off. There are some on eBay, for fans of obscure camera technology.)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Seed Success!

Remember those sweet pea seeds I planted back in March? Probably not, but anyway, I'd collected and saved them from our sweet pea plants last year. I wanted to try to grow them on as a kind of experiment -- I wasn't sure the seeds would be fertile or if the plants would bloom.

Ta-da! Finally, FINALLY, those little devils have started to flower. That's the first one, above, but as you can see there are some other buds coming along. Success!

Our nasturtiums are also blooming, and the cosmos and zinnias are coming along too, though we've had no flowers yet. If we have any disappointment on the seed front this year, it's the snapdragons. They haven't done much, although I think a lot of them were dug up by squirrels -- just like my purple poppies, which had finally been gaining some height before I saw, yesterday, that a squirrel rummaged through the pot. Some of them are still intact, but...grrrrrr....

This is how I spent my morning -- lying on the grass, reading. It was cool enough that I needed a sweatshirt, but at least I could wear shorts!

The garden is a flurry of activity at this time of year. Right now there are tits and robins and blackbirds on the feeders, and yesterday I watched a blackbird parent feeding its (quite large) chick. It would fly up to the suet feeder, collect some suet, bring it down to the ground and feed the chick. The chick could fly, and it was practically as big as the parent, but brown-streaked rather than black -- I'm not sure why it wasn't collecting its own food. Like any adolescent, it would apparently rather sit on the couch and play video games.

Anyway, what else did I do? I mowed the lawn. I transcribed more of my old journals. I went to the grocery store. I trimmed our front garden, which is basically a mountain of shrubbery -- some shrubs need to be cut back every now and then so as not to overwhelm the others. And between all the shrubs we have a wild foxglove blooming! Nature finds a way!

I also watched "The African Queen," which I'd wanted to see again since I read "Blood River," that book about the Congo, a few months ago. It was filmed there, and if Bogie and Hepburn aren't enough reason to watch it, the shots of the crocodiles and hippos and elephants certainly are. It's interesting to note that the population of the Congo when that movie was made, in 1950, was 12 million. Despite all the civil war and deprivation in that country since, it's now 78 million and counting. I wonder how those animals are faring?

Friday, June 22, 2018


Yesterday was the solstice, and it was basically daylight the entire time I was awake. Olga started wiggling around at about 4:30 a.m., eager to get up as the skies brightened, and the sun didn't set until about 9:30 p.m. (and dusk continued for a while after that). I'm not complaining. All this light is wonderful!

Olga and I took a long walk in the morning. Doesn't she look a little downcast in that picture? Her stomach was upset yesterday -- she probably ate something suspect. Anyway, she seems better today.

I stayed home all morning, finishing "Less" by Andrew Sean Greer, which recently won the Pulitzer for fiction. It's a terrific book. The guy is a magical writer.

Then, when Olga went on her daily trek with the dog-walker, I went into town to the National Portrait Gallery. It's time for the annual BP Portrait Awards exhibit, which I always try to catch.

On the way there, I made my own photographic portrait of Pikachu (top), hanging out in Trafalgar Square.

This is the BP first-prize winner, the stunning "An Angel at my Table," by Miriam Escofet. There is nothing about this painting that's NOT amazing. At first it seems hyper-realist, a careful portrait of the artist's mother -- but then you notice some mysterious things going on with the tableware, a supernatural ghostly movement. It's remarkable -- as were all of the other portraits, each in their own individual way.

Afterwards, I walked through Soho and up to Oxford Street, so I could pop into Selfridge's and redeem a gift card that Dave got from one of his students. I picked him up a couple of pairs of colorful socks. Then I continued wandering, and wound up in a crowded little square called St. Christopher's Place, where there were cafes and a sculpture and hanging baskets full of petunias:

I grabbed a coffee and a chocolate muffin and soaked up the ambience for a while. In London, when the weather is nice, everybody gets outside -- you've got to seize the moment! We're actually having a pretty lengthy period of remarkable weather, with temperatures in the 70s and lots of sunshine.

Finally I continued my walk north to Baker Street, where I caught the tube for home. A good day all around!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Beautiful Weeds

What's the difference between a weed and a plant? It's the age-old gardening question. A lot of people say a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place, and there's something to that, I think. We allow several plants to grow in our garden that many people consider weeds.

Above, the red campion, or Maltese Cross, which is going gangbusters at the moment. It's not really a weed, but its cousin the pink campion spreads readily and grows wild -- we have quite a bit of it, too.

These are the first blooms on our comfrey, which I just planted a few weeks ago. It's a variety that doesn't self-seed, which is supposed to help contain it. I've already seen bees crawling in and out of those bell-shaped flowers.

This is Lamium album, known as white nettle. It doesn't sting like true nettles, and it can create quite an impressive patch of ground cover. I found this lying on the sidewalk, no doubt discarded from someone else's garden, and brought it home and planted it in a hanging basket -- it seems to be doing fine there.

This is self-heal, which spreads like crazy and grows all around our patio. I pull some of it up and leave some of it -- the bees love it and the purple flowers are impressive.

And finally, this is valerian, which also spreads readily. We have four plants -- both dark pink and white, as you can see -- and innumerable seedlings. A light pink variety grows around the steps to our front door, and comes up every year all on its own.

I spent all day at home yesterday, working on my many little projects. I now have all my old photos moved off CDs and onto a portable hard drive, which makes them much easier to access. I also watched "Laura," the 1944 film noir, which I hadn't seen in years -- I love those crisply shot, shadowy old black-and-white movies! Dave isn't a fan of old movies, so now is my opportunity to revisit some of them. Maybe "The Maltese Falcon" next?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Camden Tropicale

There used to be a big mural of Carmen Miranda on the wall of this Brazilian restaurant in Camden. When Dave and I rode by on the bus the other day, I saw that Carmen had been swapped out for a pair of parrots. I miss her, but I do love the birds. (Maybe younger people don't know who Carmen Miranda is?)

I got myself back to the dentist -- again -- yesterday morning so he could adjust my crown. I tried to live with it, I really did, but it was driving me crazy. I felt like I could barely close my mouth, much less chew. So he ground it down a bit and made some other changes, reducing its height by a millimeter, and that made a big difference. It still feels a bit high, but I think I can adapt.

Then I took a walk through Camden Town, so I could shoot the wall above and some other interesting stuff. It's been a while since I've taken an urban photo walk, having spent all my recent walking time on the LOOP or with the dog, but I hope to do more this summer. I started at the Kentish Town overground station and walked south and then north again, in a sort of U-shape, eventually up Haverstock Hill into Hampstead and then home.

And then, last night, I had my big night on the town with Lulu! I saw "42nd Street," and let me tell you, Lulu may be 69 but she's still got a great voice. It was a fun, flashy show with lots of big song-and-dance numbers  -- I'd seen it in New York years ago and I remember enjoying it there, too.

I bought a glass of white wine at the theater bar before the show, and the barman asked if I wanted a small or large.

I didn't have much time before curtain, so I said, "I think I'll take a small."

He said, "Do you want it in a plastic cup so you can take it to your seat?"

I said, "Oh, I can take it to my seat?! In that case, I'll have a large!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Flute, a Fox and a Philadelphus

The last few mornings, someone in a building behind us has been playing a wind instrument.  As I sit on the back garden bench reading and having my coffee, I can hear it drifting over the treetops. I romanticized it into some type of exotic Asian flute -- maybe played by a virtuoso of this obscure instrument, who otherwise plies his or her talents on stage in front of adoring multicultural fans.

But then I asked Dave about it, and he said, "Oh, that's just some kid fooling around with a recorder."

I'm not sure I agree with him. There's definitely a repeated pattern to the notes, which to me suggests deliberate playing, and this person plays for at least an hour at a time. I don't know why I think it sounds Asian, and I hope it's not offensive to anyone for me to say that, but it's definitely not "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Listen to it in the video above -- while enjoying a serene corner of our garden featuring our gong wind chime and blooming Philadelphus, or mock orange -- and tell me what you think.

And here's another mystery.

Yes, that's me, and no, I did not kill that animal. But it is a real animal, or at least, it used to be. While walking Olga I found a discarded round hatbox-style suitcase, very fashionable in a sort of Linda Ronstadt "Lush Life" way. I looked inside, and it contained some vintage women's hats, including a nice red 1940s number with a Macy's New York tag. It also contained this fur stole, which was made to be clipped around a woman's neckline. You've seen photos of those types of furs before -- they used to be quite the thing. (You can still buy them, although I wouldn't advise it.)

Apparently it's a fox, and it's extra long because it's made from more than one. (I picked up that little fact here, a website for a museum where a nearly identical stole is on display.) Although it looks a little scraggly in the photo, it was actually in good condition.

As gruesome as it is to my modern sensibilities, I couldn't let that creature go out with the trash, could I? Some vintage clothing aficionado would be so into it! So I picked everything up, hats, suitcase and all, and later took it to Oxfam. I showed the workers there what the bag contained, so there would be no ugly surprises when they opened it.

Meanwhile, Dave couldn't resist taking a picture, because without a doubt this is one of the weirder things I've ever brought home.

Speaking of Dave, he got launched on his American odyssey yesterday, and last I heard he was in New York waiting for his connecting flight to Michigan. He's probably there by now, and probably sound asleep.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Mid-Life Heath Walk

Olga and I went back to Hampstead Heath yesterday -- the first time we've been to the main Heath since her leg injuries several weeks ago. I know! It doesn't seem that long. I'm happy to report that after a walk of more than two hours, she was fine. There was no limping and no evidence of any re-injury.

That dog is never happier than when she's running free in the forests, looking for squirrels.

Except maybe when she's lying in long grass, in the sun.

The grass on the Heath is an amazing color, green and straw-brown but with hues of pink and purple. I haven't seen a photo yet that really does it justice.

We looped through the woodlands and meadows before climbing Parliament Hill to take in the view. As you can see, lots of other people had the same idea... Olga snuck off to the side to find a quieter spot.

She's still in good health, but I definitely see the effects of age on Olga. Where she used to pull me to the Heath with puppyish abandon -- I literally could not walk fast enough -- she now pauses, sniffing here and there and taking her time. She runs through the trees and chases her Kong, as always, but she takes more rest breaks. I don't mind that at all. I guess middle age catches up with all of us.