Saturday, March 31, 2012

Three Months

Yesterday marks three months since Ernie and Ruby died. That's slightly more than the time they lived with us here in England. It's amazing how time passes.

I still miss them every day. Those dogs were a constant source of joy. It's funny how my brain blocks out all the bad stuff -- the cleaning and laundry, the disinfecting and medicating -- and remembers only the way they'd cuddle up next to me on the couch, or greet me at the door, or snore in bed at night.

Yesterday I ran into a neighbor in the courtyard, walking his little terrier, Sam. He asked how we were coping with the loss of our dogs. I told him we still miss them, and he offered to let us keep Sam for Christmas! It was a nice offer, though one that no doubt benefitted him too. I made a politely enthusiastic but non-committal response!

Dave and I have discussed getting another dog or two, but we think it's still too early. We have a lot of traveling to do, places to go and things to see, and besides, a rented flat on the sixth floor is not the best environment for dogs. (Especially young, energetic dogs.) I think we need to wait until we move to a permanent home, preferably with a yard. (Or "garden," as they say here in England.)

Speaking of traveling, Dave and I have made plans to go to Paris after school lets out in June. He's on Spring Break for the next two weeks, but we're staying in London on a "staycation." In fact, we'll have visitors April 6-14 -- the couple who kept Ernie and Ruby for us last summer while we moved and got situated. (Our deal was we'd bring them to London and put them up if they'd watch the dogs.) Life goes on!

(Photo: Reflections in Shoreditch, March 17.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Queens Cinema

This old Art Deco cinema is on Bishop's Bridge Road in Bayswater, not far from our neighborhood. I've long admired the building, but photographing it was a challenge. I wanted a good straight-on shot that didn't cut off the bottoms of the artfully positioned phone booths out front -- but I couldn't step any further back without a troublesome light post creeping into the frame. This (above) was the best I could do.

Finally I just stepped as far back as possible, took the picture and later cropped out the light post. I suppose that works.

Taking a photo from the side isn't so hard.

According to this web site the cinema opened in 1932 and closed in 1988. It spent part of the years since as a TGI Friday's restaurant, but that closed in 2007. As long as we've lived here it's looked exactly like this.

Apparently a developer called Derwent London has plans to redevelop the site into apartments and retail space. If I'm calculating correctly, they'll be quite large apartments, too -- 16 of them at an average of just under 1,200 square feet. (I'm sure some will be larger and some smaller, given the number of bedrooms.) If you're really, really interested, details are here and here.

Work is supposed to begin next year and finish in 2014. The building facade will be preserved, thankfully.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sunny Days

We're having a spectacularly sunny week here in England. From a human perspective, it couldn't get much better -- comfortable temperatures, blue skies, hardly a visible cloud.

I've been taking advantage of the weather with lots of walking and photography. I walked more than five miles yesterday through Hackney, in northeast London, and on Monday I went to Brick Lane, the popular street art area. I have so many photos that I'll be uploading them to Flickr for a month!

There is a downside to this weather, though. Much of England is suffering a drought because rainfall has been lower than normal for two consecutive winters, and the authorities are talking about instituting "hosepipe bans." (I'm still not clear on exactly what a "hosepipe ban" is, but I think it's basically the equivalent of watering restrictions.) Fortunately, we have neither a lawn to water nor a car to wash, and I venture to say our water usage is pretty low.

I do worry about all the creatures that depend on water, though -- all the fish and amphibians. On Saturday I asked my friend Sally, who in past years made the appearance of tadpoles in her garden pond a feature on her blog, whether she'd seen any yet this year, and she said no. Maybe that's more a matter of chance than water shortage, but I can't help but think it's a tough year to be a frog.

(Photo: Hackney, yesterday.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

That's Our Joni

"Eight* years ago, Michael Dorf, who founded the Knitting Factory and now owns City Winery, staged the first of his perennial charitable tribute concerts at Carnegie Hall. The honoree was Joni Mitchell. Offering up a token payment, a chance to play Carnegie Hall, and the Karmic benefits of raising money for the musical education of underprivileged kids, Dorf enlisted twenty-one artists to perform her songs. Mitchell signed on, too, but a few hours before showtime she called to say that she wasn't going to make it. Her cat was sick. As she explained the significance of this, at great length, Dorf, in spite of his deep admiration for her work, found himself thinking, Um, I gotta go. That night, she sent him fifty yellow roses."

-- Nick Paumgarten in The New Yorker, March 26

*The concert actually occurred in February 2006. Where are those legendary New Yorker fact checkers? Here and here are some links to articles about it, listing performers and songs.

(Photo: Street art in Shoreditch, London, on Monday.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I read an interesting article the other day questioning whether the U.S. soldier charged with the recent massacre of civilians in Afghanistan had been taking an anti-malarial drug called Lariam, or mefloquine. Apparently days after the massacre, the military ordered a review of its use of the drug, which has been known to trigger psychosis-like symptoms in some people.

(The military says the review has "no connection" to the massacre, but the Pentagon won't say whether the soldier charged was taking the drug, which is sometimes used in Afghanistan.)

I've been interested in mefloquine for years because I took it during an eight-week trip through West Africa in autumn 1994. I'd just finished my service in the U.S. Peace Corps, and some friends and I planned to travel through Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. We didn't need malaria drugs in Morocco, where we were living and working, but the Peace Corps medical staff gave us mefloquine for our journey.

Mefloquine has an advantage over other anti-malarial drugs because it only has to be taken once a week. I dutifully took my mefloquine during the trip, and only long after I'd returned to the states and stopped using it did the world begin to hear that it might have scary psychiatric side-effects.

At the time, we were told only that it could cause very vivid dreams. We sort of looked forward to them, like they'd be a harmless sideshow. I don't remember whether I had mefloquine dreams or not.

I did, however, begin to feel a tremendous sense of anxiety. I wasn't a seasoned world traveler at the time, but I'd spent two years immersed in Moroccan culture and I'd been to Spain, so I wasn't a novice, either. Yet I remember doubting whether I should be traveling to such exotic locales. Was I jeopardizing my safety, and my chances of finally going home after two years? What if I were in a car crash? Or a plane crash? What about the notorious crime rates in some West African cities? Would I get Guinea Worm?

Overall, I had fun -- in fact, I look back on that trip as an incredible experience. But toward the end I was exhausted, and I decided to go back to Morocco a week early. (I'd also come down with a terrible virus in Ghana that left me hallucinating with a 104-degree fever in a cheap hotel room one afternoon. That didn't help things.) I went to the Royal Air Maroc office in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, and tried to change my ticket. When they told me there was no room on the earlier flight, I actually burst into tears! "I've got to get out of here!" I said.

They told me to go to the airport, present my ticket and try to board. I did so, and I got on the plane with no problem. I was very relieved to get back to Morocco, and when I did, my anxiety disappeared.

I've often wondered, in retrospect, whether my fears were related to the mefloquine. I've subsequently traveled in other parts of the world on different anti-malarials and never had a problem. (I believe I also took mefloquine when I went to Madagascar in the late '90s, and I don't recall much anxiety -- but that was a relatively brief trip, just two weeks.)

I guess there's no way to know for sure. But when I went to Botswana in 2006, and India in 2009, I did not take mefloquine -- I don't believe my doctors even gave me the option.

(Photo: Street art near Camden Lock, London.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Short Items

-- I discovered on Thursday that entering "how to kill a pheasant" into Google images produces, near the top, a photo of our late, great Ernie and Ruby tearing apart their pheasant dog toy. How funny is that?! I uploaded the picture to Flickr years ago so there's no mystery about why it's online, but I'm amused that search term brings it up. I discovered it because the picture got several hits the other day from someone using that search. Go on, try it!

-- Do you remember a musician from the late '70s and early '80s named Vangelis? He did a series of electronic compositions, some used in the TV show "Cosmos" and the most famous serving as the theme music for "Chariots of Fire." Well, my old journals recently reminded me that my friend John and I were Vangelis fans in high school. At the time we were excited about a piece called "China" that was used in a car commercial. I didn't really remember this piece, so I did some internet research and found the commercial in question. Turns out the piece itself isn't called "China," but it is from an album of that name. Back in 1981, John bought the album and gave me the song on tape, which made me happy. (The music hasn't aged particularly well -- now it sounds a bit bleepy and sterile!)

-- Went for a nice long run yesterday, 4.5 miles. It was such a perfect day, weather-wise, that the distance seemed relatively effortless. Sometimes I struggle to run just a couple of miles. It's amazing what a difference a nice day and cool temperatures can make.

-- I have discovered, the hard way, that geraniums cannot be left outside in a snowstorm. Now I'm rooting a few last, sheltered sprigs from our beautiful trailing geranium, which I allowed to perish on our balcony this winter. Next year I'll know to bring it inside. (Assuming the shoots survive.) Dave is excited, meanwhile, because he can put a tomato plant in the pot for the summer.

-- One of my blog readers mentioned feeling guilty about my koi (right). No matter how much she feeds them, she says, they always want more. I had a good laugh because I feel exactly the same way. It's so funny how these little computerized fish trigger a real caretaking impulse. My subconscious has never been convinced they're not real. When I feed them I find myself thinking, "There -- that should hold them for a while!"

(Photos: I've been playing around with reflections in the waters of the Grand Union Canal. I especially like it when people hang out colorful laundry!)

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Wow, was yesterday ever busy!

My pals Jim and Karla Murray, who wrote this amazing book among others, passed through London on their way to continental Europe. They were only here for a few hours, but I'd agreed to hold some bags for them while they're on their trip, so they stopped in early yesterday morning. We sat and chatted for a while about their arduous, stormy ocean crossing -- they came by boat! -- and then we went for a quick photography walk. I took them up toward Trellick Tower, where I knew there would be some good graffiti. (Jim and Karla are graffiti enthusiasts as well, and have published several books of graffiti photos.)

We walked up into Queen's Park, where we photographed some interesting storefronts like the one above. Then we hit the jackpot in the courtyard at Trellick, where numerous artists were taking advantage of the bright sunny day to paint. (Apparently painting at Trellick, while not exactly legal, is tolerated. That's what one artist told us, anyway. We certainly didn't see any cops around.) We watched them for a while and then made our way back home.

Jim and Karla had to catch a train, so we joined Dave at a pub for lunch and then they went on their way. I got some valuable information from them about submitting my own work to a publisher, so hopefully that will help move my own photography forward.

Then Dave and I pulled together a dinner party last night for lapsed bloggers Liz and Sally, their respective husbands and Sally's daughter. Dave made a terrific leg of British lamb and some excellent sides, and though we were a bit worried we wouldn't have enough food, we seem to have judged the quantities perfectly. (And we had plenty of wine -- always the secret to a successful dinner party.) Whew!

Saturday, March 24, 2012


If "florality" isn't a word, then maybe it should be. That's what's going on in our neighborhood at the moment -- an explosion of florality.

In other news, I had a job interview yesterday. Too early to say much about it, except that it's a part-time position that would allow me to continue my daily photography, writing and wandering while making a bit of money. And I'd get to work from home. (When I describe it like that, it sounds like one of those shady spam e-mails we all get, but I swear, this is a real position -- with Dave's employer.) So keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Yes, I know, they're not really lovebirds. They're just plain ol' pigeons. But don't they look cozy, sitting on that branch with each other? I must have taken 20 pictures of these birds when I spotted them yesterday along the Regent's Canal.

I worked yesterday morning on that web site project for my former boss and billed for a healthy 27 hours of work during the past week. It's nice to have some income again!

Then I had a good long walk yesterday afternoon to Camden Market, where I'd intended to have coffee at a coffee shop I like before walking home again. Instead, I found the coffee shop closed for renovation. *sigh*

So I detoured to St. John's Wood and met up with Dave after school. We found a pub named the Ordnance (gotta love pub names!) and had a pint before making our way to the grocery store and then home. Ah, domesticity!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mouthing Off

Oh, brother. Sometimes I just can't help myself.

I don't know what's gotten into me over the past few days. Usually I try to stay out of political discussions, at least on my blog and on public forums like Facebook. I find there's too much potential for misunderstanding and conflict when you're typing away on a keyboard rather than facing someone and having a discussion.

But that hasn't stopped me from offering all sorts of opinions, on everything from gun control to a bill that would forgive student debt. (My opinion: I don't mind forgiving debt for certain people, like those who invested thousands for degrees in low-wage but necessary professions like art or social work. I don't want to forgive the debt of doctors, lawyers and MBAs. Especially when I didn't go to graduate school partly because of the expense!)

Maybe I really need to just bite my tongue. Part of the problem with Facebook is that it presents you with an issue, usually in just a few lines of text. You may be linked to a single article, but no more than that. And you're tempted to make a snap judgment based on that article or that short summary. It's not really the best way to have an intelligent, well thought-out discussion, you know?

Take the student loan law. The fact of the matter is, the law (summary here) would limit the amount of each payment to 10 percent of a graduate's discretionary income, arrange for forgiveness after 10 years of successful payments, and set limits on interest rates. Which doesn't seem so bad. It wouldn't simply erase student debt -- at least, not initially -- and higher earners would repay more.

Meanwhile, a blog pal posted a link to this excellent essay about the Right's exploitation of diminishing knowledge among voting citizens. I put that on Facebook too, no doubt with the potential to annoy some of my right-leaning friends. (Yes, I have a few.)

I have a congenital need to make people happy. It's one of my worst faults. I hate stirring up controversy when I know it will upset others. On the other hand, sometimes it's important to speak out, and damn the consequences. Otherwise, will we ever get anywhere?

(Photo: Off Tottenham Court Road, Saturday.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stand Your Ground

I've been reading about this appalling shooting in Florida. Without recounting all the facts of the case -- after all, I'm not sure all the facts are yet known -- let me just say that I'm glad the Justice Department is looking into it. Hopefully this incident will encourage Florida legislators and voters to rethink their crazy, Wild West approach to guns.

There aren't many guns running around London, and it shows. Miami-Dade had 224 murders in 2010, in a county with a population of 2.5 million people. (And that was during a period when crime rates hit a 40-year low statewide!) New York City had 329 murders in a population of 8.1 million.

London, with nearly the same number of people as New York, had 137 murders in the 12 months leading up to February 2011.

Gun crime here is just not that common. Handguns and automatic weapons are banned outright in England. Hunting weapons like shotguns and rifles are tightly controlled. We certainly have lots of urban problems -- gangs, poverty, drugs, robberies and the like -- but criminals seem to favor knives, and knives just aren't as lethal.

Gun nuts are certainly present in Europe -- witness this week's shocking shooting at the Jewish school in Toulouse, and the massacre in Norway last summer. But those incidents are so exceptional.

The NRA will argue that the Constitution protects the American right to keep and bear arms under any circumstances -- never mind that additional language about raising a militia. They've shown time and again that they're extremists, bent on protecting the availability of machine guns, automatic weapons and others that serve no justifiable public purpose.

The simple fact is, the more guns that are present in any given room, the more likely it is that someone will get shot.

(Photos: Faces found during my walk on Saturday.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Saint's Car

Here's my prize acquisition from Sunday's antiques show at Alexandra Palace -- a tiny version of Simon Templar's car from "The Saint," the '60s TV show starring Roger Moore.

I have long loved "The Saint," mainly for its euro-groovy fashions and sense of glamor. (The plots sometimes don't make much sense.) Growing up in Florida, I used to watch it in reruns on weekday mornings whenever I was home from school. I still record it on our DVR here in London and inflict it upon Dave occasionally.

"The Saint" chronicles the adventures of Templar (played by Moore), a suave sort of spy hero who works independently to right wrongs and bring about justice. The character was originally the creation of an author named Leslie Charteris, but I'm guessing that today more people know him from television than from books. The series ran from 1962-69 and led to Moore becoming James Bond in the Bond movies of the '70s.

Wandering among the crowded tables at the antiques show, I felt a surge of excitement the minute I saw that famous saintly logo on a toy car squeezed amid other metallic detritus.

The car, a Volvo 1800 by Corgi Toys, was badly battered, and the guy selling it wanted a ridiculous amount of money (£15, or about $24). I talked him down a few pounds, but still wound up paying $20.

As I was admiring my purchase on a quiet staircase a few moments later, some guy wandered past, looked at the car and exclaimed "Simon Templar!" We got into a conversation about the well-worn toy, and when he learned I'd paid £13, he scoffed. "Why, you could get a brand new one in a box for that kind of money!" he said.

I'm not sure that's true. This one, on eBay, is $50, and this one is £99, or $156! (Then again, this one, which looks a little more like mine, is £1.50.)

Besides, I don't want a new one in a box. I want one with some character, one that's been played with and used. I certainly got that here.

I think Simon must have parked it in a tough neighborhood, because its two front tires are missing.

But Simon himself -- or a plastic approximation thereof -- is still in the driver's seat! Something tells me if he were life-sized he'd be quite hellish and terrifying.

Here's a web page that gives some more history about the toy, produced between 1965-68.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Antiques Show

This is where I was yesterday -- an antiques show at Alexandra Palace in North London. Alexandra Palace isn't a real palace, in the sense that anyone from the royal family lived there. It's a big public auditorium dating from the Victorian era, situated on a hill with a sweeping view of London.

Our neighbors across the hall initiated the outing -- they intended to go and invited me and Dave to tag along. Dave wasn't back from Aberdeen yet, though, so I went on my own. It was fun to spend time with the neighbors, Chris and Linda, and get to know them a little better. Chris is a retired journalist and Linda worked in TV production, so they're both intrigued with the history of Alexandra Palace, which was once used as a broadcasting base for the BBC.

While we were standing in line to get lunch, a woman in front of us began exclaiming about something in the window. "I thought it was hanging in the tree!" she said. When we got to where she'd been standing we saw what she meant -- a reflection of Alexandra Palace's huge rose window. (A man standing near us nonetheless began quietly mocking her as a "madwoman.")

I bought a few small items, one of which I'll write about tomorrow -- but I went mainly for the outing. The view from Alexandra Palace is indeed impressive. Here's the central London skyline through some of the metalwork supporting a lamp post.

It reminds me of the view from Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, which isn't too far away.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Strange Saturday

This week has been a little odd. Dave has been in Aberdeen since Wednesday on a school trip, so I've been kicking around the house by myself. I worked several days on that web-site-building job for my former boss. It can be a little scary to work from home on such a focused task -- you can easily find yourself hunched over the computer in your pajamas at 4 p.m.! So I made sure to get dressed and out for a walk or a run each day.

Yesterday I went down to the former site of the Occupy camp at St. Paul's Cathedral. The camp was cleared while I was in Florida and I wanted to see what the site looked like -- and sure enough, the plaza is now big and blank, with no trace of tents or Occupiers. There wasn't even really anything to photograph.

So I began wandering through nearby neighborhoods, and I found this little squirrel stencil (above), pleading for his 15 minutes of fame. I'm not sure this counts as a street art blog, but I thought I'd indulge him anyway. (And yes, I'm aware that he's apparently been vomited upon. Sorry about that.)

I found the Occupiers at Finsbury Square, not far from St. Paul's, where they seem to have relocated. They had a satellite camp there already, and now the square looks quite, well, occupied. (I still didn't take any photos, though. I guess I wasn't in the mood for global activism.)

Finally I walked over toward Shoreditch, where I found this very strange car behind a building. It appeared to be full of soil or hay or something, and resembled a huge planter. I didn't look too closely. (Has anyone checked to make sure there's not a body under there?)

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Remember our brilliantly blooming red amaryllis? Well, as you can see, the blooms have faded and the stalks have been pruned away. They are now big, jubilant green plants, giving a sort of tropical air to our kitchen windowsill.

Three of them are, that is. One of our bulbs just seems to barely get by. It did manage to squeak out two stalks of undersized blossoms, and now it's struggling to grow even a single leaf. We've named this plant Toby. I have no idea why -- none of the others have names. I guess we think he needs some extra encouragement.

In between our amaryllis you'll see these little cans. We bought these kits in Amsterdam -- each consists of a can containing a piece of fibrous wool, a dry disk of peat and some seeds. The idea is, you soak the peat in water, dampen the wool, put the seeds on top of the wool at the bottom of the can, and cover everything with peat. Ideally, the seeds will grow. We'll see what happens. (I'm skeptical that a seed will grow upward through three inches of peat, but I followed the planting instructions to the letter, so I will keep you posted.)

Besides the poppies, the cans are incubating seeds of bird of paradise, Venus flytrap, passionflower, and a type of succulent known as living stones.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Street Portraits

I took, for me, a huge leap forward this week while walking around Portobello Road with my camera. I asked two complete strangers for a picture!

This may not seem all that major, especially to blog pals like Kim who never hesitate to approach and photograph strangers, but I'm not that outgoing. Despite my background as a newspaper reporter, I'm skittish about asking people for a photo. If I had the backing of a news organization -- and I were being paid -- that would be one thing. But when it's just me, by my lonesome, I'm more wary. I suppose I'm worried that they'll react negatively or even angrily.

In this case, though, both agreed without hesitation -- which should probably tell me something, right? I liked the girl with her quirky outfit, and the man sitting with his two black pugs. I wish I'd had the girl turn her head a bit so we could better see the flower in her hair, and I wish I'd crouched down to take the man more straight-on rather than while towering above him. But oh well.

The teacher of the photography classes I took in January said we shouldn't ask people before taking a photo because they will "pose." Even if they try not to pose, they'll look stiffer and more self-aware.

He may have a point -- I love this photo, taken in Hyde Park on Wednesday, because the subjects were so natural. They had no idea I was taking their picture. But then, is it creepy to slink around secretly taking pictures of strangers?

I suppose there's no absolute answer. Sometimes it's fine to ask, and sometimes, asking would destroy the moment.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

'Parading' with Ringo Starr

Several weeks ago I was surprised to learn that scenes from the Beatles movie "A Hard Day's Night" were filmed near our flat! Being a die-hard Beatles fan, I was eager to see the locations in real life. This week I finally had a chance to see how they've aged in the nearly 50 years (!) since that film was made.

First, I ordered a DVD of the movie, which I mysteriously did not already own. Dave and I watched it on Saturday, an effort for which poor Dave -- not a fan of the Beatles or their silly film hijinks -- deserves a special award for patience.

The scene in question begins when Ringo, at the urging of Paul's "very clean" grandfather, decides to go "parading" rather than practice for an upcoming show. Parading entailed taking his camera for a walk on Lancaster Road (top). Returning to the same spot, I found things looked very similar to the way they looked in the '60s -- the houses behind Ringo still stand on the adjacent block.

Ringo walks casually until he is spotted by two female fans, who briefly chase him west on Lancaster Road.

The street today also looks similar. It's hard to see the houses because of all the unfortunate scaffolding (is the entire block under renovation?) but that little wall near the sidewalk looks pretty much the same.

Ringo ducks into a second-hand shop on the corner to buy a disguise.

The shop, at 20 All Saints Road, today sells curtains and blinds. It looks decidedly more upscale than it used to.

When Ringo emerges from the shop, he tests his rather flimsy disguise on a woman walking by. She tells him to get lost. He walks north on All Saints Road, happy that the disguise -- which looks to be not much more than a hat and coat -- apparently works.

All Saints Road today looks quite a bit different. The blocks near the shop are similar, but the area farther down the street was evidently torn down and redeveloped into more modern housing after "A Hard Day's Night" was filmed. Today there's a small park at the end of the road called Tavistock Gardens. It was once so downtrodden and seedy that it was known locally as "Dog Shit Park," but it was redeveloped and reopened in 2001. When I visited on my walk, it seemed pleasant, and people were sitting out and reading -- some with their dogs. (Presumably they were tidied up after.)

For information about other filming locations for "A Hard Day's Night," check out this site.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

London Spring

We're having an incredibly mild week here in London. The sun is out, the temperatures are pleasant and the sidewalks are crowded with people soaking it all in. We've opened up the windows to air out the flat, and I've been able to run in a t-shirt, which always adds such an incredible feeling of freedom to my runs -- not being layered up in sweatshirts and stuff.

We're also seeing lots of blooming things. Rings of daffodils have raised their heads around the trees in our courtyard, and I've passed boxes full of tiny purple hyacinths beneath budding pink magnolia trees. It's such a relief, when spring finally arrives. It's like being able to exhale and unclench after holding your breath and tensing your muscles for weeks on end.

As I said, people are really taking advantage of the weather. I was out on Portobello Road the day before yesterday and the cafes were full in mid-afternoon.

I've been able to do some walking and photography the last two days, but today I'll be staying inside to work on a project for my former boss. I hope to get a run in, at least!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cafe Colon, Tangier

With a whip-flick
His wrist and hand flash:
The die clatters glassy
As a marble or pebble.
Everyone grumbles.
Circled and staring
Like nurses or surgeons
Intent on a patient,
These men fetch and pitch
Without pause,

The air cool and humid,
The flies languid.
The high yellowed ceiling
Is a grimy sky
Embossed with dusty circles,
Clouds or eyes. Pillars of
Mirrors hold everything up,
Wearing a nicotine film
Of talk and murky time.

The ceiling rattles back
Each clatter of the die.

Smoke spirals up
In small whirlwind storms
Spun on warm thermals
Of voices and closeness.

Slapping down,
Cards clap like hands.

(July 2, 1993)

(Photo: The medina, Tangier, 1993)

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Tangier

From my journal of July 3, 1993:

My last morning in Tangier. It's early, about 5 a.m., and the sun has risen enough to give the sky only the slightest pale orange cast in the east. A moment ago it was brighter, but the colors are slowly slipping away. There's a line of heavy gray clouds below the sunrise like a row of frothy mountains -- and below those, the mountains themselves, smooth and lined with strata of white houses -- visible across the bay only as small pale blocks. The bayfront is lit by a curve of orange lights, and the water -- rippled by a cool brisk wind -- is slowly going from gray to green.

Picture all this as a sort of layer cake, visible through a forest of metal TV aerials, past the randomly intersecting right angles of the houses and rooftops before me. Everyone has laundry out, it seems -- almost perpetually. A red & black striped shirt, a polka-dot blouse, a beach towel, all flapping in the wind. Plants stand in rooftop containers of all types, looking a bit bedraggled by this constant Mediterranean wind, hunched, weedy and slightly gray in this light.

Every so often the metal door to Susan's stairwell swings slightly, emitting a sound remarkably like a foghorn or a ship's whistle -- not really as deep as a foghorn, I suppose. The other sounds are mostly birds -- lots of roosters and a constant background chatter from something else -- sparrows or something. They are noisy, whatever they are, and there are lots of them. Very dimly, I hear the hum of engines -- city sounds -- like a distant droning, unidentifiable -- an invisible motorboat down on the bay?

The wind is downright COLD. I am wrapped in my sheet, drinking coffee, but it's still got quite a bite to it.

Now a big gray cloud over my head has taken on an orange color -- gray with a flank of pale orange -- and man, this cloud is SAILING by -- unfurling, changing, splintering. Swallows are dodging and spinning in the sky, flapping frantically as if trying to escape something.

There are no people, not in rooftops or doorways -- Susan tells me Tangier is not an early morning town...

(Photos: Doorways in Tangier, 1993)

Sunday, March 11, 2012


While I was visiting my mom in Florida, I stumbled onto the negatives from a roll of film I shot in July 1993 in Tangier, Morocco, when I was in the Peace Corps. I'd had them printed at the time, but the prints were poor quality and when I culled my photos before returning to the states I threw them out. So I hadn't seen the images in years.

I brought the negatives back to England and had them reprinted. Voila -- some of my early street photography!

I remember the day well. I was visiting Tangier for an art opening, of all things. My friend Stacey, a painter, was showing watercolors at the American Legation. I stayed at the home of a fellow volunteer, Susan, and I still remember waking early in the morning and stepping out onto her rooftop terrace, overlooking the city. I watched the sun rise and listened to the chickens and traffic come to life.

During my visit, Stacey gave me a small tattoo of an infinity sign (∞) on the outer side of my right heel -- to this day, and probably for the rest of my life, my only tattoo. After she administered the tattoo with a sterilized basting needle -- ah, youth! -- we wandered in the medina, or old walled city. That's when I took these photos.

I really liked Stacey. She made a habit of dressing in pounds of heavy Berber silver jewelry, and she was decoratively tattooed herself. I lost touch with her after Peace Corps, but I still have a watercolor painting she did of one of my favorite spots in the village where I lived -- a twisted, shady argan tree near the tomb of a muslim holy man.

In Tangier I was fascinated by the tiny windows in the walls of some of the houses.

Unfortunately, I took only one photo that included people -- and it's way underexposed. Oh well.

I still remember this crazily tiled threshold. We called it the "M.C. Escher Memorial Doorstep."

And here's a solitary Tangier street cat, appearing content in a shady doorway.

Most travelers have a negative or at best neutral impression of Tangier. That's because they come from Spain on the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar and are besieged at the dock by young men seeking to make quick money as guides for tourists. (At least, that was the case in 1993.) It's no Fez or Marrakech, but Tangier is not without its charms.