Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pride, Briefly

After Dave and I went to see "The Book of Mormon" yesterday -- which, by the way, is brilliant and hysterical and all the things you'd expect, including a little bit shocking, in a good way -- I took a quick walk through Soho to take in the Pride festivities.

Holy cow, was it packed. When I went last year, I was able to take photos in the street and walk around without too much trouble. This time, I could barely move!

As I recall, though, I went earlier in the day last year -- early afternoon, probably -- and this time I didn't arrive until after 5 p.m. The parade was pretty much over by then and everyone was just having a good time.

There were lots of interestingly-clad people, as always, including this nod to Americana (above).

Many of the revelers experimented with fun, adventurous street fashion.

Of course, there were plenty of people in drag.

Needless to say, those are not female feet. The shoes look a bit ill-fitting, don't they? I wouldn't want to have to stumble around in those all afternoon, especially if I'd been drinking.

Still, despite the trying footwear, everyone seemed to be having fun. Happy Pride!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Market and Mormon

Dave and I did make it to Borough Market yesterday. I brought the camera, but I only saw a handful of interesting people.

I could probably have photographed myself, though, because I wore the new red pants! And boy are they red.

Olga is not at all sure she likes them.

We wandered around the market for a while -- we bought a couple of unusual bottles of wine and some potted chives -- and then we went to the West End to buy tickets for a show.

Almost a year ago, when I first started working at the school, I was given a couple of theater ticket vouchers worth £40 as a "new employee" gift. They've been sitting on a table in our guest room ever since. Meanwhile, Dave and I have wanted to see "The Book of Mormon," the ridiculously popular show by the creators of South Park, since we lived in New Jersey. So yesterday we got motivated, grabbed the vouchers and went to the box office, intending to buy tickets for a month or two from now. (It's playing in both London and New York.)

Well, the theater surprised us by saying a few tickets had just been released for today's matinee. So Dave and I grabbed them. We're off to "The Book of Mormon" today!

That's going to be interesting, because it's also Pride day in London, and I want to try to catch some of those festivities. And we have a dinner planned tonight with some coworkers from the school. So suddenly there's quite a bit going on. I need to keep all this in mind the next time I complain that Dave works too much and I'm trapped by dog-care duty!

Speaking of which, Olga is not feeling well this morning. Sticks, I'm guessing. She's lying on the floor and not eating. She'll probably hack up the offending items soon enough. Ah, canine life.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Cops Arrive

After waiting almost a week to hear from my family (!) I can now report with certainty that I have a new niece. One of my main purposes for my trip to Florida is to meet her, so I'm glad to know she's here and healthy! She was born June 22, and is named Kate. The family expands!

I've been badgering Dave to go out on the town with me, since we only have a few more days together before I leave, so I think today we're going to go to Borough Market, a huge open-air food market south of the river in Southwark. (I've been there a couple of times before, but it's been about a year.) I've been frustrated because he's had to continue to work even after the conclusion of school -- preparing for next year, choosing music and organizing instruments, that kind of thing -- and I'm still pulling most of the weight caring for Olga. We're going to work on helping each other balance things a little better. Life is all about balance, right?

Oh -- we had a bit of excitement last night. Someone knocked on our door about 9 p.m. when Dave and I were watching TV. Dave opened the door, and a young guy was standing in the hall, breathless. Our neighbor also opened his door, which made us think the young guy had knocked there too. He said he "had a problem" and asked to come in. Dave, with Olga and I standing behind him, sensibly said no, and our neighbor also closed his door again. So the young guy ran upstairs and we heard him in the fire evacuation hall that leads to the next stairway. About two minutes later, two police officers came huffing and puffing up the stairs, and we heard them in the fire hall, clearly in pursuit!

Eventually a police car and about six officers were swarming around our parking area, and I believe I heard them say they caught the guy. I went downstairs to talk to some neighbors who were clustered to watch the commotion, but nobody knew what was going on. I'll have to ask around today.

(Photo: Standing out in Denmark Hill, south London.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

We're Getting Things Done Around Here

The little paper fox that I found posted on Portobello Road soon after we moved here has weathered pretty severely in the past two years. But he's still hanging on!

So, yes, DOMA is unconstitutional. Our society continues to bend with the arc of the moral universe, towards justice, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I'm happy but I also feel a little numb. We'd all read that there was a good chance this ruling would come about, and after all, it makes so much sense. There is no justifiable reason to deny marriage to one subset of the population. I guess I'm numb because to me, it just seems so obvious.

My friends in California are thrilled at the apparent functional demise of Proposition 8, as well. It is a good day for common sense.

This still doesn't immediately affect Dave and I -- the UK has yet to pass gay marriage, though there is movement in that direction. Even then, what will we do? We're already civil unioned, so we've declared the legal and emotional commitment. I suppose we may go ahead and marry, just to make everything clear and final -- unless existing civil unions automatically become marriages? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I got Barcelona ironed out. I mentioned yesterday what a nightmare looking for a flight turned out to be. Booking a hotel was drama, too! I went through a long process of browsing through hotels until I found one I liked, and when I prepaid the room -- BOOM -- suddenly none were available! Geez! So I found a second hotel, but then I had to walk the dog and my reservation timed out. Finally, after a third try, I set us up successfully.

We also ordered a patform bed, so sleeping on the mattress on the floor is coming to an end. (It's being delivered Saturday!) We signed a new lease. And I finally received by mail order a pair of cranberry pants -- though they turned out to be more Santa Claus red than cranberry. I can live with that. Ho ho ho!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Swans, Bugs and Birthday Details

We were back at the canal yesterday, where Olga checked out the swans -- from a safe distance. If she got any closer those swans would kick her butt.

We also saw yellow irises growing along the canal banks and blue dragonflies buzzing through the grass. While you're enjoying photos of those, I'll tell you about Dave's birthday.

I took him to Heston Blumenthal's restaurant Dinner, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge. If you're like me before I moved to London, you probably haven't heard of Heston Blumenthal. But here in England he's quite the celebrity chef, known especially for molecular gastronomy. Dinner features dishes drawn from historic English recipes that are hundreds of years old.

I went the adventurous route and had an appetizer of nettle porridge with frogs' legs -- I felt a little guilty when I thought of all the slick little green tree frogs that clamber all over my family's house in Florida -- and an entree of spiced pigeon. Dave had an appetizer called Meat Fruit, a paté made to look almost exactly like a shiny tangerine, and a main dish of veal sweetbreads with asparagus. (More power to him. I am not a sweetbreads fan.)

We both had a dessert called a Tipsy Cake, which was basically booze-infused brioche served with baked pineapple. Fab!

Anyway, we liked the restaurant a lot. We'd definitely go back.

Yesterday we looked into ordering a bed -- we've been sleeping on our mattress on the floor, which I like, with my minimalist tendencies, but Dave finds a little too collegiate and unsettled. We also used Dave's Le Creuset gift certificate to buy a couple of pieces of birthday cookware.

I looked into buying tickets for Barcelona in August, and I swear, I have never had such a struggle with travel web sites. I must be coming down with Alzheimer's. I'm usually fairly computer-savvy, but I could not set the parameters of my search to exclude certain airports and ridiculously early-morning flights, and allow it to let me choose an outbound flight separate from an inbound one. We could only choose both at once, in pairs. Anyway, it's a boring story, but it drove me crazy and we still haven't bought tickets. Today, hopefully.

(Photos: The aforementioned swans, iris and dragonfly, along with some kind of toy ball floating in the canal, disturbingly colonized by houseflies -- mainly on the eyebrow. Weird!)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Art on Our Street!

I photograph street art fairly frequently, but it's not often I find it on our street. Yesterday, though, on the way to Hyde Park with Olga, I discovered that someone converted a streetside tree stump into a chair.

Olga was intrigued.

But not intrigued enough to delay her trip to the park, where she had a great time chasing her Kong toy, rolling in the grass and enjoying the view of Kensington Palace.

Then, on the way home, we found more art -- a painting on canvas that had been rolled up, folded in half and put out with someone's trash. Curious to see what it looked like, I brought it home and unrolled it. Wouldn't you have done the same?

I kind of like it, but I'm not sure we'll keep it. How much would it cost to re-stretch the canvas and put it back on a frame? Probably more than I'd care to invest.

Oh, and Dave hates it. There is that.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Denmark Hill

Yesterday I was determined to get out of the house and do some photography, despite our big swirly weather pattern and spatters of rain. I took the train down to Denmark Hill, in south London, and walked south into Dulwich.

For some reason I wasn't exactly brimming over with energy, and I called it quits after about four miles. But I did find some interesting stuff, including several big murals recently painted for a local arts festival.

And also, parked on the street, the best van ever! Do you remember Spider Pig, from The Simpsons Movie?

I only had to pull out the umbrella a couple of times, so that wasn't so bad. And when I was ready to come home, I found a bus in Dulwich that took me all the way back up to the West End, where I caught the tube. I got my favorite seat on the bus -- on the top deck, in the very front. Riding there is a little like flying! So I got a scenic ride through the city as a bonus.

Last night Dave and I watched "The Life of Pi." As much as I loved the book, I'd been reluctant to see the movie -- I already knew the story, and I didn't really want to watch a depiction of animals suffering in a life raft. But it was actually a beautiful film. Dave dismissed it as "too preachy," but I like the way it makes us think about confronting the darker parts of ourselves; Ang Lee should be pleased.

(Top Photo: A string curtain (I think?) outside a pub in Denmark Hill.)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strange Flora

Olga and I found this very autumnal leaf while walking yesterday. I guess nature sheds and renews all the time, doesn't it? You wouldn't believe the trouble I went through to photograph it -- bringing it home, putting it in bright indirect light, turning it so the shiny leaf surface produced no glare, setting the exposure and aperture so I could get everything in focus with my macro lens. I'm still not sure I succeeded, but c'est la vie.

Yesterday was Dave's 45th birthday -- I keep forgetting he's younger than me! We had a modest celebration. Dave cooked up Escoffier Quenelles -- his greatest pleasure is to cook something unusual and French, and he'd never made these before -- and I gave him some swanky, colorful socks from Paul Smith and a gift certificate to the Le Creuset store around the corner. We're also going to dinner tomorrow night at a place the identity of which I cannot yet reveal.

While walking this morning, Olga and I came across this strange vegetative creature atop a parking meter. God only knows what it originally held. (Well, I suppose it originally held watermelon, but what later preparation, I mean.) Maybe it's left over from a little neighborhood street fair that Olga and I encountered yesterday. We checked it out, but the weather was gray and it didn't look like anyone was doing a booming business. I felt sorry for the lonely woman at the frozen yogurt stand.

Temperatures are in the 50s at the moment, and yesterday BBC weather showed a huge, swirling, ragged vortex of storms sitting on top of the British isles. It looked like a hurricane, but the weather is nowhere near that severe. Just intermittently rainy and gray. So there's not a lot of getting out and about.

I'm beginning to doubt my ability to read a book. I'm on Nadine Gordimer's "A Sport of Nature," about a young woman growing up in South Africa, and I am not finding it riveting. I love reading, but I have had the hardest time with the last several books I've chosen. Maybe I need to be more selective, or just read stuff that's more fun and less challenging. I honestly can't remember the last time I read a real page-turner, and I love that feeling -- when you're so into a book you literally cannot put it down.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Joni Mitchell

Yesterday I finally had a chance to watch the lengthy Joni Mitchell interview that's been making the rounds on Facebook. It's fascinating! As much of a Joni fan as I am, I don't think I've ever seen a single long interview with her -- only snippets and clips and edited footage in documentaries. The discussion ranges widely, from Joni's lack of internet use (she calls the online world something like "a pathetic little community," though I can't remember her exact words) to her health, her painting and her feelings about fame and celebrity. She does not pretend to have a small ego, but she also doesn't seem inordinately overblown -- she's rightfully secure in her accomplishments. She looks great for 70, and she smokes at least three cigarettes on camera.

If you're a Joni fan, it's worth watching. It's almost two hours long, so settle in when you have some time to invest.

I also came across some interesting videos on YouTube of Joni songs I'd never heard before -- these filmed for Canadian television in the summer of 1966, when Joni was still a lithe young folk singer inexplicably traipsing through the Canadian countryside carrying a guitar case and a handbag. I like the person Joni is now, but I also find security and comfort in seeing the young Joni as I still picture her in my mind's eye. Funny how that is.

(Photo: Self-portrait with barber shop! If you look closely you can see me in the round mirror.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Protests and New Clothes

Yes, there's a cat sleeping in that planter.

The world seems to be going crazy at the moment, doesn't it? Not only do we have the madness of civil war in Syria and muslim sectarian bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have rampaging Buddhist monks in Myanmar, violent protests in Turkey and huge numbers of people swarming the streets in Brazil. It seems like such protests are often triggered by a small thing, like a bus fare increase or the taking of a public park, but that's not really what they're about. People are pissed off. As the New York Times pointed out, the protests relate more closely to the Occupy movement -- general anger about inequities in resource allocation and decision-making.

If I were part of the one percent, I would be taking notice. No one is secure when resources are concentrated among the few at the top of the ladder.

Thus endeth my political analysis for the day.

I actually ordered some new clothes yesterday -- shock! I've been talking about it for months, and finally I got online and replaced the tattered khakis and jeans that I've had since I lived in Manhattan. They were at least four years old, some more than that, and they looked it. Now I can dress appropriately when work resumes this fall. I still need to get some new socks and other small things. I'm thinking I might do that when I go to Florida in less than two weeks. (Where does the time go?)

Is it ironic that I'm grousing about wealthy one-percenters and then talking about buying new clothes? I suppose I'm not doing that badly, personally. I have a job and some savings. But I also don't face the economic pressures of a lot of the dwindling middle-class, like raising and educating children, and I still doubt that Dave and I will ever be in a position to buy a home in London. My new pants don't change the fact that the system is broken.

Maybe I need to stop reading the news and spend my time like that cat.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My New Obsession

I've told you about the online game "GeoGuessr," which plunks you down somewhere in the world using Google Street View, and you have to figure out where you are. I have become quite a GeoGuessr perfectionist.

When I first began playing I was happy to get the country correct. Now I am doing my best to get the exact location, which I've learned can be done if you're willing to click around until you get enough clues, like street signs. (I'm making up my own rules, but I think reading signs is fair game. I do not get on Google separately and look things up.) Sometimes it takes quite a bit of clicking. I can make a game last a couple of hours.

Each game consists of five rounds, and just this week I reached my all-time high score of 31,281 points, by hitting all five rounds within a few kilometers.

The map normally shows the distance between your guess (red pin) and the correct answer (green pin), but the pins overlap in these five cases. Pretty darn good, if I do say so myself!

The downside of the game is that it seems to be limited geographically. I've never had a question from China, India, the Middle East, Oceania outside Australia, southeast Asia, or anywhere in Africa aside from South Africa or Botswana. I guess it can only go where Google has sent cameras.

It will also occasionally throw a curve ball, by putting you in the middle of a 360-degree image that you can't move around in. If there are no remarkable features, you just have to wing it. Both times I got one of those, I didn't even get the continent right. (One was underwater!)

Still, there's nothing like the challenge you feel when you're plunked down on a rural farm or forest road, with no visible buildings or signs, and you have to figure out where the heck you are. An added degree of despair sets in if you eventually find a sign and it's in cyrillic!

In other news:

-- I tried an experiment with Olga yesterday. I let her walk me. She set the pace and the direction. I was curious to see where she'd want to go, and wouldn't you know, she took me right to the canal. She really does love the canal.

-- Little London Observationist is blogging some of my street portraits, along with those from other London photographers. You can see part 1 here.

(Photo: Green Lanes, on Saturday.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I am officially done with work until mid-August. Whew! I went in to school yesterday and turned in my computer and the substitute-request cell phone, and I must say it's great to be back down to just one phone -- my battered old iPhone, which almost never rings. (The only person who ever calls me on it is Dave, and we're more likely to text.)

It's also great to have my workspace cleared from the dining room table, and have the computer cord off the floor so I don't have to wrestle it aside while vacuuming, and have all the accessory wires and the lock and the dongle (whatever that's for) out of the drawer in the spare room. Begone!

The breakfast meeting was fun yesterday morning, but I was suddenly aware of my middle-agedness -- I had to hold the menu far, far from my face to focus on it, and I had trouble hearing over the clatter of dishes and hiss of the espresso machine. I'm not sure it's time for a hearing aid yet, but I probably should get an eye exam. It's far down on my list, after some new clothes.

We also had an all-school meeting and a luncheon, and I finally got back home to Olga at 3 p.m. or so. She was fine, but she'd eaten the mail after it came through the mail slot -- including a birthday card for Dave from my dad and stepmother -- and she was raring to go outside. We took a long walk so she could blow off steam.

Dave and I rented "The Guilt Trip," with Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen, last night. It was a cute movie that required very little analysis or critical thinking -- perfect after a tiring day!

It's amazing how long our daylight lasts now, on the cusp of the summer solstice. When we went to bed at 10:30 p.m., there was still a tinge of sunset, and this morning I woke up briefly at 3:48 a.m. with light in the sky and the birds singing.

(Photo: A colorful wall of student artwork at school.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Have A Breakfast Meeting I don't have time to write much! I have to be at a cafe near school in a few hours for an end-of-the-year gathering with my new coworkers.

Yesterday we had a lunch meeting with a consultant who talked about ways to bring technology to students. He said he's worked with a school that creates a public blog for every third-grader, using Blogger and their real names, where they immediately start posting articles, pictures and videos. The kids then blog throughout their school career -- and continue the blogs, if they like, when they graduate. We asked about the dangers of allowing such young kids an Internet presence, but he downplayed any risk. He said the kids are instructed on how not to post compromising information, and in any case, studies have shown online predators are virtually nonexistent.

I kept imagining how some members of my family would react to news that their children would be online with a blog at that age. I don't think it would go well. But this guy argued that in the end it's beneficial for the child to have a positive Internet presence -- when applying to colleges, for example. Colleges, he argued, are more likely to choose kids whose creativity they can gauge than those with no online presence at all.

I think third grade is a little young, but that's just me.

He also talked about social networking, and mentioned about a dozen networking sites that I've never even heard of. (I can't remember their names now! The Internet -- so much change, so quickly.) And he emphasized the importance of Twitter. That, he said, "is where the community is now."

Hmmm. I do not tweet. I am not a tweeter. I really don't want to start, either. Maybe I'll just leave that for the next generation. I'm sure I could bring more readers to my blog if I tweeted my entries -- but do I want hundreds or even thousands of people coming here? That might really change the tone of my blog and my blogging community.

(Photo: Portobello Road, yesterday. I've been trying to shoot that bedraggled mural for ages, but there's always a truck parked in front of it. Yesterday the truck had to move for the roadwork, and I had my chance!)

Monday, June 17, 2013


Here's one for the "what-not-to-name-your-business" photo file.

Dave and I stayed close to home yesterday. We toyed with the idea of going to a movie, but we couldn't find one we both want to see. We decided he could see "Superman" while I saw "The Great Gatsby," if we managed to find relatively synchronized showings -- and we did, but they were all the way over in Islington, and besides, what's the point of going to the movies with someone if you're going to sit in separate theaters? So we stayed home.

We did take Olga down to the canal and let her run loose. She loves the long grass that grows along the shore. She runs back and forth through it at top speed, then skids to a halt on her belly. It must feel ticklish and cool.

Speaking of which, we watched a show on TV last night in which British women were asked to design a new sex toy. I am not kidding. From a group of eight or so women, two were then chosen by the corporate sponsors to travel to China and see their devices manufactured. One of the winners came up with a vaguely heart-shaped "clitoral stimulator" and the other an expandable vibrator. Soon enough, the bright pink toys were rolling down an assembly line in Hong Kong, in front of banks of uniformed, blank-faced Chinese workers. (And what do they think, I wonder?)

Once again, I marvel at British television. It's not all "Downton Abbey"!

(Photo: Green Lanes, on Saturday.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013


I had a chance to go for a photo walk yesterday, starting in Islington, north London, and heading northward along Green Lanes to Wood Green (about 4.5 miles). Animals seemed to be the theme of the day.

First, I saw this heavyset little staffie sitting outside on a windowsill in Islington, watching the world go by. I got the impression this is a favorite perch.

Then I found this amazing fox art by Irony & Boe, who also painted a pigeon that Sally and I photographed in Hackney back in April.

So it was a good walk, and I got a few other shots I like, too. For the first time in months and months I am pretty much caught up on posting my photos -- everything is on Flickr (except yesterday's shots). I usually run a backlog of a couple of weeks. I need to get out more!

Last night we went to tea with Sally and Liz and their families. I must say, I'm not sure I understand tea, especially fancy tea. We all got suited up, went to the exceedingly posh Ritz Hotel in Mayfair, and had pots and pots of aromatic tea beneath the gilding and mirrors and an ornate skylight. There were tiny cucumber (or salmon, or ham, or cheese) sandwiches. There were scones with clotted cream and jam. There were cakes. But at the end of the day, you're still paying £45 for white bread and sugar and water. I suppose it's the experience that counts, but frankly, I'd rather go to a pub.

And actually, when tea was over, we did go to a pub, where we ran into a bevy of young women out for a night on the town. They were tottering about on towering high heels, squeezed into brightly-colored dresses as tight as sausage casings, with their hair piled in a carefully careless way. Young men were circling them like fruit flies. They were far more entertaining than anything we saw at the Ritz.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Post About Nothing

Why do I find papered-over windows on a storefront so intriguing and photogenic?

Not much to write about today. I had a very low-key day yesterday, walking the dog and finishing my book. There aren't even any details to bore you with! So please, carry on, and enjoy your weekend.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fragmentary Wisdom

Olga got her long walk yesterday, the one my bad planning denied her the day before. We walked not only along the canal but up into Queen's Park and Maida Vale. I was exhausted and starving by the time we got back home. Olga wasn't starving, because she ate innumerable bits of bread and other tasty morsels on the street. That's my girl!

I spent much of the day reading "A Garden of Sand," that distasteful book I mentioned a few weeks ago by Earl Thompson. I hated it so much I set it aside for a while, but now I'm plowing through, and this is a good example of a book that improves with time. The crude behavior of the characters -- the domestic violence, incest, binge drinking and cruelty -- continues apace. But I've become somewhat numb to the shock of all that, and the underlying struggle for survival -- these people really were starving at times -- has become the real message. I wouldn't recommend it, but I think I will finish it.

Did you see the article about the census revelation that more white people are dying that being born in the United States? I read the headline and thought, "Oh, lord, I'm sure this will set off the right-wing kooks." I wish we didn't even keep track of these ridiculous statistics. I mean, does it matter, really? What is white, anyway? A hundred years ago, an Italian, a Jew, an Arab may not have been considered white. Now they are. And anyone from Latin America is set aside as Hispanic, even if they're of European descent. The lines are blurry and arbitrary and, frankly, silly. (Anybody convinced of the supremacy of "white culture," whatever that is, need only read "A Garden of Sand" to see the other side of that coin!)

(Photos: Messages from the universe, found yesterday or the day before.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Yesterday morning I took Olga on a walk down by the canal, where she ran and frolicked as usual. I spent the time shooting some detail photos of the boats moored there.

We left the house at about 10:15 and I had to be at work at noon. So I don't know why I thought I had so much spare time. Suddenly I looked at my watch and it was 11 a.m. -- and I was half a mile from home, unshowered, no lunch, with a half-hour commute ahead of me. Panic!

I dragged Olga home (literally) and in a frenzy of activity managed to get myself to work only five minutes late.

I think my time management skills may have slipped a little since I've been working at home on a flexible schedule. It's funny how relentless going to work every day seems now! But my act will get together, don't worry. I've always been the punctual type.

Today, I don't have to work at the school, so Olga will get the longer, more leisurely walk that was denied her yesterday. In fact, though I have a couple of meetings next week, I am pretty much finished for the summer. I signed my contract for the new job yesterday. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Sigh of Relief

The last few tension-filled weeks of uncertainty seem to be easing at last. As you know, I've got a full-time job beginning in August, so that issue is resolved. And just yesterday evening we learned we won't have to move this summer -- we can stay in our apartment for at least one more year. Whew! When I heard that news, all I could do was walk around for about three hours saying, "Thank GOD!" I felt like all my muscles unclenched and I could relax for the first time in ages.

This means that Dave and I ought to be able to travel this summer after all. It might not be Turkey, as we had planned, given all the unrest there. We'll have to sort that out in the next week or two.

And of course, eventually we'll have to move, and Dave and I need to think more about our next step, so we can be better prepared when that day comes.

I'm trying to decide how I feel about the recent disclosures that the feds are monitoring our telephone and Internet traffic. (Well, I'm not sure they're monitoring mine, since I'm in England, but I imagine someone is!) I consider myself a civil libertarian, but this doesn't seem very treacherous -- at least not within the parameters of the program as I understand them, looking for data patterns as opposed to the content of individual communications. Are any of us naive enough to believe that no one is watching our electronic activities? I just assume that others can see what I do online.

What's most surprising to me is the background of the guy who leaked the information about the program. How can it be that someone who dropped out of high school -- and who apparently made an unlikely leap from security guard to computer techie -- is in such a position of power over classified secrets?

Oh, last night Dave did some Googling and we learned something about our sunburned avocado plant. Apparently when they're young, avocado plants do need protection from intense sunlight. Because the pits usually fall beneath mature trees, they get this protection in nature. When they're older they're better able to handle direct sun. So we've moved our poor scalded avocado back indoors.

And yes, we bought some sugar. My molasses experiment has come to an end.

(Photo: Trash in Chinatown, last week.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Remember the Karma Kab? A couple of days ago I took Olga out and there were both Karma Kabs, parked nose-to-tail on the street. I couldn't run back for the camera, though, because I had the dog, and by the time we got back from our walk they were gone. Oh well.

I tried to hire the Karma Kab to transport us to Dave's upcoming birthday dinner. But sadly the Kab is now only available for weddings and photo shoots -- not actual cab rides. My karma is apparently not very good!

Olga survived yesterday morning, when Dave and I were both at work, just fine. In fact it was a challenging day for her all around, because we were both gone in the late afternoon, too -- Dave had a school dinner and I hosted a pub gathering for all the substitute teachers. That was a lot of fun -- meeting people I've spoken to throughout the year on the phone but never seen face-to-face. They never get a chance to hang out with each other, either, so I think it gave everyone an end-of-the-year boost.

This morning, when I made coffee, I was dismayed to find we're out of sugar. We're also out of honey. Have you ever had coffee sweetened with molasses? It's not my favorite, but it will do in a pinch.

(Photo: Soho, last week.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Room 237, and Burned Avocado

I'm testing some schedule changes this morning, to see how well they work for me and the dog. I'm going to work in the school library at 8 a.m. and coming home shortly after noon. This is during the time Olga usually gets her long daily walk, so it remains to be seen how well she will cope with being inside. Fingers crossed! (I only have a few work days this week, before summer break begins. Then I start the job for real in the fall.)

Dave and I rented an interesting movie the other night, "Room 237," exploring theories some fans have formed about Stanley Kubrick's film "The Shining," and all the hidden messages it may or may not contain. Some of it is fairly out there, like one guy who contends that Kubrick helped fake the footage of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, and then revealed that fact using visual codes in "The Shining." I think in the end the movie is not so much about "The Shining" as about the way humans process information and look for hidden patterns and subtexts.

Then we rented "The Shining" itself to watch for some of the coded messages. By the middle of the movie, though, I'd pretty much forgotten about them and was watching just for the movie's sake. I really like that film, as I do many Kubrick movies. I think a lot of the supposedly subliminal messages are merely honest accidents or continuity errors, while a few I'm sure are intentional symbolism -- like the scene in the kitchen where young Danny is talking with Dick Halloran, and a rack of knives is positioned over the boy's head. No question there's some foreshadowing there! I don't think it says much about the moon landing, though.

Remember our avocado seedling? The one I grew from a seed last year? I moved it from our sunny living room windowsill onto the balcony for the summer. And there it has developed what appears to be a serious case of leaf burn from the sunlight. Leaves that were once light green have turned reddish-brown, at least on the surface. (They don't look like they've died all the way through.)

How is it possible that my avocado, a genetically tropical tree, has been damaged by the intensity of sunlight in England? Window glass screens out some UV rays, but still -- I wouldn't expect them to be that intense here. Poor avocado! I hope it adjusts and bounces back once it's been outside a while.

(Photo: Holland Park, on Saturday.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Having just watched "Behind the Candelabra," the recent HBO movie about Liberace and his addled relationship with Scott Thorson, I had to share my own photo of my brush with Mr. Showmanship. I took this in 1983, when my dad and stepmother drove me and my brother through Las Vegas on a cross-country trip. We stopped at the MGM Grand Hotel for lunch, and there he was on the sign, Liberace, the headlining entertainer! We didn't see his show -- we were in town just long enough to eat our meal and buy a postcard -- but apparently I was still dazzled enough to want a picture.

That's not the MGM Grand in the background, by the way. That's The Dunes, another famous Vegas hotel, which was demolished in the mid-'90s to make way for one of the mega-resorts there now.

Did any of you watch "Behind the Candelabra"? It wasn't televised here in England -- Dave and I went to a movie theater to see it yesterday. It's very well done and well-acted, though as it's taken from Scott Thorson's book it's not exactly even-handed. I'd like to see Liberace's own version of the same events.

I remember seeing Liberace on TV shows in the '70s and early '80s and thinking him thoroughly bizarre. I got his campiness, but I never understood his appeal to the masses. Basically he knew he was a caricature, as he explains in this 1986 series of interviews on Good Morning America. It's hard to believe some of his fans were apparently ignorant of his homosexuality. Was anyone ever that naive?

Yesterday when I searched my blog to make sure I hadn't posted this photo before, I came across this entry from 2007 describing my very brief ownership of a t-shirt from the now-closed Liberace Museum. I'd totally forgotten about that!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

La Vie Bohéme

Last night I went to the opera! This is a rare event for me, not being much of an opera fan, but Dave took his AP Music students and I tagged along for the fun of it. Only when I got there did I remember that opera isn't that much fun.

The production was "La Bohéme," performed by the English National Opera in a huge gilded hall known as the Coliseum. I can't fault any element of the production -- the singers were terrific, the sets amazing, the orchestra phenomenal. It being the ENO, the singers sang in English, which was a little odd. It made much of the dialogue seem quite banal: "The weather is dreadful." "Yes, the weather is dreadful." That kind of thing. Somehow in Italian it all sounds so romantic.

In every scene, I found myself thinking of "Rent," Jonathan Larson's musical based on "La Bohéme." I was equating characters, relating plot developments, comparing and contrasting. I'm going to dig out my "Rent" cast recording today -- I listened to it obsessively in the '90s, but not in recent years. I need a memory refresher.

The Coliseum itself is a bit of a problem. Maybe I'm just being typically American, wanting a cushy movie-multiplex recliner, but I found the seating miserable. The seats are made for people with much shorter thighs than me. I found myself sitting sort of sideways, and the whole seat felt like it was pitched forward -- like I was leaning toward the orchestra pit, three levels below.

Anyway, as we said after the show, thank god it wasn't Wagner.

I also had my first day of work yesterday! I think I'll get the gist of this job pretty readily. Yesterday wasn't really a typical day, because students are in exams and not hanging around the library. But some are checking out materials for the summer, so I helped with that and with shelving, learning where items are located. I'll work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as well. I'm doing half-days since we haven't yet settled dog care issues.

Speaking of which, Olga managed to swallow more sticks on her walk Thursday, and yesterday morning she was obviously in gastric distress. She managed to rid them from her system, and without going into too much detail I'll say there was blood involved -- and then when we went walking she tried to eat more sticks. A guy who had stopped to pet her told me, "Oh, you have to train her not to do that."

Yeah, thanks, buddy. *sigh*

(Photo: Noodles in Soho, last week.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Madison, Florida, 1987

That's me, in November, 1987, in a photo taken by my friend Suzanne. At the time, we were both college students at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and one of our favorite activities -- as I'm sure I've written here before -- was to hop into Suzanne's orange Volkswagen bug and take off on road trips around the state. On this particular occasion we were in Madison, Florida, a small town in the panhandle.

For some reason, I got to thinking about this photograph the other day. I wondered about the old Coke sign. (In my memory I'd changed it to a Sprite sign, I suppose because of the little sprite-like character.) Did it still exist?

As I've done in the past when I ponder such questions, I took to Google Street View to find out. I vaguely remembered the location of this drug store, and it didn't take me long to find it on Street View. (Madison's not very big!) It's now a florist -- and lo and behold, the sign is still there.

Of course, this is a crappy Google picture. I thought surely there must be some better ones floating around out there on the Interwebs. And yes, there are -- here and here for example.

Pretty cool, huh? I'm so glad the sign has been preserved.

Those road trips with Suzanne were always great adventures. We drove the smaller blue highways, listened to our mix tapes of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez and Elvis Costello, drank coffee and went thrift shopping in every small-town Goodwill and Salvation Army store we could find. And took pictures, of course. Pretty much a perfect way to spend time, as far as I'm concerned!

In August 2010 I posted another photo from this same road trip, along with some other old pictures taken from film negatives. I'm not likely to get back to Madison anytime soon -- it's not close to any part of Florida that I routinely visit -- so I'm glad the Interwebs could answer this question for me!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Marble Arch

Another beautiful spring day yesterday! Olga and I took a long walk up to Paddington in the morning, and then I returned in the afternoon to try to photograph the windows in Paddington Station. They're huge, arched windows with an attractive, ornate grillwork -- but ultimately I wasn't happy with any of my photos, and I was a little afraid that trying to take pictures in the train station would bring an unfavorable response from the security people. So instead I wandered down Edgware Road toward Marble Arch.

There I met Robert, who was collecting coins on the sidewalk and who was happy to have me take his photo. The woman just happened to wander into the frame at the last minute.

Marble Arch can be a bit down-at-heel. It's essentially a big traffic island in the middle of a swirling river of buses and cars. The park seems to attract those who are down on their luck, many with piles of baggage and apparently nowhere else to go. But as you can see from the photo at the top, that forlorn atmosphere was tempered yesterday by many Londoners out enjoying the day. The huge horse head sculpture is called "Still Water," by Nic Fiddian-Green.

Of course, there is an arch at Marble Arch -- designed in 1825 as an entrance to the courtyard at Buckingham Palace. It was moved in 1850 to its current location at the northeast corner of Hyde Park to make room for a palace expansion. I photographed it just as one of those kids lost a balloon!