Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cosmos: Before and After


Dave and I went to Waitrose yesterday morning to pick up some tarragon. While there, we looked over their selection of houseplants. This pathetic example sagged forlornly on a top shelf, baking in direct sun.

"I have to save it," I told Dave.

He thought I was crazy, but I took it in to the cashier. The plant, a white cosmos, was originally priced at £10, reduced to £4.99. I got it for £1.50.

Dave rolled his eyes, and the cashier nodded in agreement: "I think it's awful," he said.

We brought the plant home. I put a stake in the pot and tied up the saggy, broken branches as best I could. Then we plunged the whole pot into a bucket of water and left it there overnight.


This morning, our cosmos is looking much perkier. It remains to be seen how well it will do long-term, but we're off to a good start, don't you think?

I just can't stand to see a neglected plant in a supermarket (where, let's face it, employees are often not trained in the care of houseplants). Stores must love suckers like me.

I went on an outing to the Tate Britain yesterday to see an exhibit called "Painting with Light," about the relationship between photography and other forms of art in the Victorian era. It focused generally on photographers inspiring painters, and vice versa. It's always mind-blowing to see photos from 100 to 150 years ago and more. A lost world!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Another Mystery Slide


Remember those discarded slides I found outside my neighbor's house a few weeks ago? Well, here's another one.

In addition to the box of slides from Sardinia, selections from which I posted earlier, I grabbed six or seven loose slides. They'd been soaked by rain and I wasn't sure they would survive, but I brought them home and air-dried them, and this is one of them.

They seemed to depict the National Railway Museum in Shildon and environs, taken in the late 1980s. So my best guess is that this is an industrial site somewhere south of Durham. I have no idea exactly what it is, though. Any guesses?

Thanks to Mr. Pudding for correctly solving one of our garden mysteries by identifying yesterday's flower as lychnis chalcedonica, also known by about a hundred common names including Maltese cross, Jerusalem cross, common rose campion, flower of Constantinople, London pride and tears of Christ. (No shortage of imagination in naming plants!)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Que Sera Sera


There's all kinds of crazy talk over here regarding Brexit -- maybe we'll hold another referendum, or maybe the Scots will save us from ourselves and somehow block our exit from the EU. I just don't know what to think. I walked around stewing about it for a while yesterday, and then realized I can do nothing. So I've decided to simply let events unfold.

I'm along for the ride. Or, as my brother said when I hauled him around Morocco one memorably arduous vacation, "I am luggage."

I'm taking inspiration from one of Western society's greatest living philosophers, Doris Day.

Here's my far more important burning question for the day -- what kind of flower is this? It's now blooming in our garden. We bought it last year from a garden shop where it was unlabeled and no one knew its name.


On our walk Saturday morning, Olga and I came across this inspiring (and colorful) bit of cardboard on a sidewalk bench. I thought maybe they were song lyrics, but Googling only turned up a few references -- one an Instagram photo from Camden and one a Facebook post by a German fitness instructor. Who, coincidentally, appears to have recently traveled in London.

So, in a nutshell, authorship is uncertain.


I'm going to take more life lessons from my carefree dog, who yesterday wore herself out running and rolling in the high summer grass on Hampstead Heath. Faced with Brexit, I choose joie de vivre!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

LGBT Pride


Yesterday was the annual LGBT Pride Parade in London. I went with my coworker Chris, and had a great time capturing the energy and diversity of the day (which fortunately wasn't too rainy, despite forecasts to the contrary).


There were ecstatic people on floats...


...and colorful people in the crowds.


There were people of all religions...


...and all ages.


There were interesting shoes.


There was a pro-Europe subtext, sometimes subtle...


...and sometimes not.


And there were always interesting fashion choices...


...and beauty in many forms.

Chris and I spent several hours watching and walking the parade route, before adjourning to pubs in Soho for a couple of pints. A terrific day!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Post-Brexit Blues


I promise not to go on and on about Brexit. Frankly, we're all still trying to figure out exactly what it means.

But I am depressed about it. It's as if the ground has shifted beneath my feet. I suddenly have the sense that Britain -- or England, at least -- is not the globally-oriented, international nation that I believed it to be.

For the past five years I've enjoyed thinking of myself as an immigrant to Europe. I suppose I still am -- geography doesn't change, after all, and I can still be in Paris in two hours on the Eurostar. But Britain suddenly feels smaller, and, yes, less hospitable. Brexit seems to have revealed something threatening in the national mood, and the mood in many nations with similar movements.

As David Axelrod told The New York Times, "There’s a fundamental issue that all developed economies have to confront, which is that globalization and technological changes have meant millions of people have seen their jobs marginalized and wages decline. And so lots of folks want to turn the clock back and make America, or their country, great again."

(Fortunately, the gist of that article is that a win for Brexit doesn't necessarily mean a win in the USA for Trump.)

I'm all in favor of the worker. But turning back the clock to an idealized period of earlier greatness, when huge segments of society -- and the globe as a whole -- were in fact marginalized or invisible, sends shudders through me. Those earlier periods were great only if you were white and straight and generally male, and stuck to your assigned gender roles.

It's as if I'm swimming, and a dark shadow has suddenly appeared beneath me, looming and unidentifiable. It could prove to be nothing, or it could prove mightily dangerous.

I wonder what Brexit will mean for all the people I interact with every day -- the young Polish woman in my French class, or the Portuguese cafeteria workers at school, or the Czechs at the cash register at Costa. If this vote makes me feel uncomfortable, imagine what they're thinking!

Oh well. On to other news.

The trash-can rebellion yesterday proved something of a non-event. I went next door and spoke to Mrs. Kravitz, and told her that our upstairs neighbors had bought new rubbish bins, which we now needed to put in our alleyway. As a result I would have to move her bins to her own alleyway. She tried to talk me out of it -- "the alley is yours, not theirs," she said, adding that she'd called our landlord to make sure that was true. (!) Regardless, I told her, we share a single house with our upstairs neighbors, and they're more entitled to the alley than she is, when she has her own alley that she simply wants to keep clear for aesthetic reasons.

(In other words, she wants us to store her trash on our property because it looks, well, like trash.)

"I'm very hurt," she said.

"I'm sorry," I said, and moved her bins to her alley.

So that's that. We no longer have to manage Mrs. Kravitz's trash. I probably should have done this long ago, when we first moved in, rather than continue the arrangement she struck with the previous tenant. Which is how we got here in the first place.

(Photo: The lawns surrounding Kenwood, on Tuesday.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Well, This Should Be Interesting


So we're "Brexiting." Does anyone know what that will really mean? I sure don't, although I don't think it will affect Dave and me in any immediate sense. The school where we work pre-exists the European Union and the Common Market, so there has long been a need for international education in London, and I don't suppose that will go away. Fingers crossed!

I woke this morning with the sense that Britain was probably going to Remain. The news reports last night indicated the country was leaning in that direction. But then I looked at the news, and while I wasn't shocked, exactly, I was sorry to see that right-wing xenophobia won the day.

Or, as The New York Times eloquently put it, "the power of anti-elite, populist and nationalist sentiment at a time of economic and cultural dislocation."

As I told Dave, I hope this doesn't foreshadow how Americans will vote in November. Brexit is the British version of Donald Trump. The forces and impulses behind the two movements are the same.

So, now is the time for questions. Foremost in my mind is how Scotland is going to handle this news. While England was virtually all pink or red (Leave) on the map of voting returns -- with the exception of some urban centers and counties near London -- Scotland was entirely blue (Remain). This sets up an issue that could drive a renewed movement for Scottish independence. Northern Ireland may also seek to leave the UK rather than build a fortified border with Ireland, and that will be interesting.

Meanwhile, France probably won't be all that interested in continuing to accommodate UK-bound migrants in Calais, and I wonder if more people will desperately try to boat themselves across the English channel -- with potentially disastrous consequences.

What a freaking mess.

In other news, I've just been talking to the upstairs neighbor about our trash cans. We're having our own private political rebellion -- today we're going to move Mrs. Kravitz's cans into her alleyway and liberate our alleyway for our own trash. If you think Northern Ireland is a sticky wicket, watch how this plays out!

(Photo: West Hampstead, this week.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit with Wildflowers


Finally, Brexit day is here. Whichever way today's referendum turns out, I'll be glad to have it over with. (You all know how I feel.) It's pouring rain this morning and I hope that doesn't keep too many voters from the polls.

The New York Times did an excellent article the other day on divisions between family members over staying in or leaving the EU. I thought it highlighted the generational differences quite well. That article came to mind when I saw these two signs in the windows of a house on our street -- though they're probably neighbors in a house that's been turned into flats, rather than family members. I wonder if they have lively debates, or if they just don't talk about it?

Incidentally, to date, this is the only "leave" window sign I've seen, and it appeared just a few days ago. "Remain" signs, by contrast, have been all over our neighborhood for weeks. I'm not sure how representative we are of the national electorate, though.


In other news, our wildflowers are positively overflowing the pot where they've grown from last year's seed. For some reason, none of the blue cornflowers seem to have re-seeded. We got plenty of poppies and those yellow guys, though.


Also, one of the mysterious poppies that appeared in our front garden bloomed yesterday. Nice! We have seven or eight of them, and I'm guessing they're all going to be this pink-purple color. I'm still vague on whether they're actual opium poppies, but our Russian upstairs neighbor took one look and said they'd be illegal in her country -- so that may be an indication. (Ornamental opium poppies are apparently not illegal in the UK, and several of our neighbors have the same kind.)

Yesterday was Dave's birthday, so last night we went to dinner at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, which we've wanted to try for a while. We both had the tasting menu with wine pairings, as usual, and it was fabulous!