Sunday, March 31, 2013

Death and Taxes

This was the scene on Latimer Road when I walked Olga yesterday morning. It was another to-do-list kind of day. I got some pants altered and deposited a check -- a check I earned by actually selling a photo! Yes, someone paid me for this picture, for use on a postcard promoting this event. It wasn't much but I was happy to get it! My first commercial photography sale.

I spent much of the morning reading my Richard Brautigan biography, in the shadows of the avocado plant and geraniums on our living room windowsill. This chapter is about Brautigan's attendance at the legendary Rolling Stones concert in December 1969 at Altamont, where the Hell's Angels security staff stabbed to death a gun-wielding audience member.

Speaking of vibe-killing, I did my income taxes the other day. I still file my taxes in the states, though withholding for British taxes is taken from my income here. International taxes are a nightmare, even for one who makes as little as I do (and believe me, it's very little). I hope I did them correctly. I'm going to have to follow up and do some research to make sure.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


While wandering in Camberwell on Thursday I came across this awesome art project on Blucher (neeiiighh!) Road. (If you know the movie "Young Frankenstein," you'll get that joke.)

Aren't these great? Apparently they are the result of a youth art project led by artist Jai Moody on behalf of something called Groundwork London. Here's the backstory.

I wish I'd taken a few more shots of the figures in the middle, but you get the idea.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Look At This

We're on Spring Break! Woo hoo! I have a few last tasks to complete today and then I can set aside the job for a couple of weeks.

I won't be entirely free of work, because I have another project hanging over my head. Remember last year when I spent some time developing content for a journalism-related web site at the behest of my former boss? Well, that web site now needs editing. My former boss and I have discussed this several times since December, but I haven't done a lick of work on it yet. So I really need to buckle down and apply myself.

There's always something, you know?

Yesterday's adventure with Doggy Day Care worked out well for both Olga and me. I dropped her off about 8:30 in the morning -- apparently a bit too early by their standards, but oh well -- and I picked her up at 4:30 in the afternoon. In the interim she got to hang out with the other dogs and go on a couple of long walks. Reportedly she socialized well.

I, meanwhile, got the heck out of here and went down to south London for a long photo walk from Elephant & Castle through Camberwell to Brixton. This was a new route for me and though I didn't get any shots that completely knocked my socks off, I got several that I really like, which you will no doubt see in coming days.

I had a slight confrontation with a whacked-out guy in Camberwell when I was taking a photo and he wandered in front of my lens. He accused me of taking his picture, and though it's true I do take pictures of people all the time, I (fortunately) had not taken his. He demanded to see, and I showed him my most recent images, but he remained unconvinced and said I was hiding it. "You're wrong, mate. You're wrong!" he said, and then wandered off. Like I said, whacked out. I'm pretty sure chemicals were involved.

I'm slightly less than midway through my 800-page biography of Richard Brautigan. (This book weighs 3.75 pounds. Yes, I weighed it.) We're already up to 1969, and I'm wondering where it can possibly go from here, considering that he's done all his best writing already and he died in 1984. I guess the second half will be more about coping with literary fame (and a subsequent slump).

Dave and I rented "The Paperboy" last night, with Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman. Not terrible, but a little too sweaty and bodily-fluids-obsessed. I read the book years ago and the plot came back to me as we watched. It supposedly takes place in Florida, but I could tell right away (being a Florida native) that it wasn't really filmed there. And sure enough, it was filmed in Louisiana. One swamp does not look just like any other, people.

(Photos: Top, a garage under a rail line in Brixton. Middle and bottom, two little items I found on the sidewalk while walking Olga.)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sticks and Stones

Well, the marriage-rights debate in front of the Supreme Court has been fascinating to watch. I for one am happy it's over, so I can change my Facebook profile pic back to my actual photo instead of that red equality sign.

If you want an interesting experience, read the comments on The New York Times coverage of the hearings. Because it's the Times, which -- let's be honest -- attracts a generally more knowledgeable readership than some other media outlets, the comments are literate and mostly free from the Bible-thumping silliness that pervades other comment forums. There are both pro and con arguments, by both religious and non-religious people, but they're easier to understand and, frankly, respect.

I am honestly baffled by some of the opposition. One poster said "lefty liberals hate conservatives and traditional marriage with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns," and see this as a chance to outrage conservatives "by destroying their most cherished traditions and families." How advocates of same-sex marriage are destroying anything is a mystery to me. I simply do not get it. And to allege that our actions are driven by hatred is just, well, paranoid.

The United States is such an interesting country. The streak of conservative extremism is fascinating. I think it goes right back to the Pilgrims. I guess all countries have their far-right contingents, but in the U.S. they seem to have mainstreamed themselves quite well.

Anyway, enough of that. If you're like me, you've been buried in this public debate for days now and you'd just as soon think about something else for a while.

So let's talk about Olga. Doesn't the pattern on her back look like the face of a skull?

Last night I was lying in bed when I heard the unmistakable sounds of retching. Sure enough, Olga had been sick -- and what came up was kindling. She'd swallowed enough sticks to light a small fire. My guess is this happened over a period of days, especially when we were in the park on Tuesday (when I let her off the leash and she ran free and played with other dogs to her heart's content). Hopefully that's out of her system now!

Today she goes to Doggy Day Care, and I get a blessed day of freedom from dog-walking. And the sun is even out! Photography, here I come!

(Top photo: Islington, last Thursday.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

All Her Favorite Fruit

From our kitchen, we have this view of our neighbors' window, and yesterday when I saw their exotic assortment of melons, apples and pineapples I thought of the poetic "All Her Favorite Fruit," one of my favorite Camper Van Beethoven songs. I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since. I remember seeing Camper Van Beethoven perform it in concert in 1989 -- 24 years ago! Holy smokes.

I drive alone, home from work
And I always think of her 
Late at night I call her 
But I never say a word 
And I can see her squeeze the phone between her chin and shoulder 
And I can almost smell her breath faint with a sweet scent of decay 

She serves him mashed potatoes 
And she serves him peppered steak, with corn 
Pulls her dress up over her head 
Lets it fall to the floor 
And does she ever whisper in his ear all her favorite fruit 
And all the most exotic places they are cultivated 

And I'd like to take her there, rather than this train 
And if I weren't a civil servant, I'd have a place in the colonies 
We'd play croquet behind white-washed walls and drink our tea at four 
Within intervention's distance of the embassy 
The midday air grows thicker with the heat 
And drifts towards the line of trees 
Where negroes blink their eyes; they sink into siesta 
And we are rotting like a fruit underneath a rusting roof 
We dream our dreams and sing our songs of the fecundity 
Of life and love
Of life and love
Of life and love

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Balmy Baltic Breezes

I've been wanting to photograph this grocery near our flat for some time. Aren't those great awnings? Yesterday I finally got around to hauling my camera over there. My fingers could barely work the buttons they were so freaking cold.

The forecast today calls for a high of 35ºF. According to the news, our deep freeze is due to "easterly winds from Scandinavia," which sounds a lot more exotic than it feels.

I sorted out a few things with the dog yesterday. I got her the kennel cough vaccine, and I also bought a pet insurance plan -- something I never thought I would do. The kennel requires it, though. So now Olga has health insurance, something that many citizens of my own country don't enjoy.

The world is insane.

I was reading an article recently about the proliferation of real animal fur in garments that purport to be made of faux fur. Apparently real fur is being farmed on such a scale in China (from an animal known as a raccoon dog) that it is cheaper than the fake stuff. We're wearing some dogs, and insuring others! Crazy!

Monday, March 25, 2013


This cab is frequently parked in our neighborhood. I love the eye-catching graphics. It all seems very '80s, like the cover of an Elvis Costello album.

I wasn't familiar with Aldo, but now that I look online I see it's a shoe company. I'm showing my age here, but when I hear that name I don't think shoes. I think wine.

Dave got back from Belgium last night, just in time to collapse into bed. And of course this morning he's off to work. Ah, the grind resumes! I am so looking forward to Spring Break, which begins on Friday. We'll be off for two weeks, and part of that time we'll be in Paris, where I'll be confronting all my fears about trying to speak French again.

Speaking of Paris, we're boarding the dog while we're gone, and one of the requirements of the canine boarding house is that she be vaccinated for kennel cough. I thought she'd received that vaccine with the rest of her shots, as I assured the boarding house proprietor -- but when I looked yesterday at her vaccination card I was surprised to see kennel cough wasn't included. So I have to get her to the vet this week.

I had a mini-Wim Wenders film festival this weekend: "Paris, Texas" on Saturday and "Wings of Desire" on Sunday. I'd never seen either one, though I've heard people talk about them for years. To be honest, I didn't love them. I found them both a bit tedious. I can appreciate the poetry of "Wings of Desire," which is visually quite beautiful. "Paris, Texas" was beautiful as well -- just overlong, and I wanted to tell the characters to GET TO THE POINT. I think I'm losing patience in my middle years.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Amaryllis 2

Our first amaryllis blooms are already withering away, becoming dried and dessicated. They remind me of those skirts Stevie Nicks used to wear, the ones that looked like they were made out of sheer scarves.

The blooms are still full of pollen and nectar, doing their best to procreate. Unfortunately for them, I've seen no errant bees in our flat.

While these blooms are withering, we still have more. Another plant is in full bloom now, and has a second flower stalk to boot; two more plants have buds that should bloom within the next week or so.

Sharing the kitchen windowsill with the amaryllis is this small glass heart, which I found a couple of weeks ago while walking Olga, partly buried in the dirt at the base of a street tree. It's a bit weathered but still in pretty good shape. Wonder what the story is there?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jackie is Just Speedin' Away

The weather this morning is, well, atrocious. Damp snow swirling in all directions. When I took the dog out this morning and walked east on Westbourne Grove, it was right in my face. So when I got to the end of the row of glitzy shops at Ledbury Road I turned around and walked west...and it was right in my face. I could not win. Olga didn't seem to mind it as much because it's snow, as opposed to rain, and she just shakes it off. But we came home anyway.

Last night I went to a film at the Victoria & Albert Museum called "Superstar in a Housedress," about the short life and career of Andy Warhol drag queen Jackie Curtis. I remember Jackie from the film "Flesh," and honestly, his presence and Joe Dallesandro's beauty are the two most memorable things about the movie. (Here is a brief clip of Jackie sitting with Joe, feeling up Geri Miller's breasts. Ah, the '60s.)

Apparently he was known for his own drag style, involving ripped pantyhose and stained, tattered cocktail gowns, and was just as likely to turn up dressed as a man a la James Dean. Hence the lyrics to that Lou Reed song we all know.

It got me thinking about fame and early death. Why is it that dying is the surest way to cement one's celebrity? Would anyone have made a movie about Jackie Curtis if he had not died of a heroin overdose in 1985? Maybe there are similar films about other Warhol stars who didn't die, I don't know -- and granted, Curtis seems more accomplished than many in that circle. But it also seems certain that our cultural reverence for Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, for example, would be less if they had lived and merely grown older like the rest of us. Is it just that dying young suggests they really weren't ordinary, that they lived an alternate, and perhaps more fascinating, reality?

(Photo: Vacant shopfronts in Islington on Thursday.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Knobby Knuckle Mystery, Part 2

Some of you may remember my journey to the strangely named QEQM building at St. Mary's Hospital a few weeks ago, when I tried to have an ultrasound on my painful index finger joint. They sent me away to return at an appointed time, and that appointed time was yesterday. So I finally got my ultrasound, as well as an x-ray.

What I did not get, at least not yet, is a conclusive answer about what's making my finger hurt. The doctor wasn't convinced he could feel any sort of lump -- as I can -- and the ultrasound, at least, didn't show anything obvious. I didn't get the x-ray results; I have to return to my doctor in a week or so for those.

As I said before, I'm not worried about it. I'm just having it checked out so when they have to amputate my finger in a year's time, people won't say, "If only you'd gone to the doctor sooner."

After my QEQM adventure, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was out of the house and away from the dog, and I took a photo walk up through Islington, a borough of north-central London. I got some good shots, and it was nice to be out and about and footloose and fancy-free (whatever that means). When I came home I found that Olga had eaten the mail and pulled up the hallway rug -- or at least, the underlying sticky mats that held the rug in place. Those mats are in the trash now. And we move on.

I've read more about the Michelle Shocked situation that so distressed me earlier this week. An audio recording of the disastrous portion of her performance has been posted online, and listening to it is a profoundly uncomfortable experience. But I'm glad I did, because I've decided she really is mentally unwell, and whatever apparently homophobic things she said arise from a desperately conflicted person in thrall to some extremist theology (and possibly lacking necessary medication). I've decided to forgive her. I really don't think she meant to be hateful.

(Photo: Speaking of hateful, Mr. All Sorts definitely did not want his photo taken. But I wasn't going to pass up that wonderful shopfront, complete with ladder to hold the parking space out front. Him flipping me off makes it all the better!)

Thursday, March 21, 2013


This graffiti appeared overnight near our flat. It's not particularly artful, but I kind of like it. What DO you feel? Not always the easiest question to answer.

And the skull -- is it a reminder of death? A reminder to feel while we still can?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Surprisingly, it was still there this morning. I thought sure the graffiti patrol or the building owner would have cleaned it up by now. Graffiti doesn't last long in this neighborhood as a rule.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

iPhone Photo Dump

I finally got around to downloading the photos from my work iPhone (which, yes, between you and me, I occasionally use for personal snapshots when another camera isn't handy). Here are a few taken during the last several weeks.

Above, naptime for Olga!

This wild Porsche was parked a few blocks from our flat. (By the way, I'm told that English people do not routinely say "blocks." I have probably branded myself a New Yorker here many times by using that term.)

This is one of Olga's favorite tricks -- balancing precariously on the back of the couch to look out the window (and every once in a while growl at squirrels and pigeons).

Oh my.

This must have been a misfire -- those are my legs on the right -- but where the heck was I? Albania? What language is on that other person's bag?

This poster has appeared in our elevator. I didn't even know we could get to the roof, but now, of course, I want to go up there. Probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us, though, since we already live on the top floor.

It's interesting that it uses the American spelling of "behavior." I wonder if spell-check is killing off traditional British spelling?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Michelle Shocked Broke My Heart

You know the folkie country alt-rock singer Michelle Shocked? She was most popular in the late '80s and early '90s with songs like "Anchorage" and "Come A Long Way," songs about shaking up the establishment and growing up a rebel in East Texas. I associate her with my Peace Corps years, because my friend Kevin mailed me mix tapes that became my soundtrack for Morocco, and they included her songs. It was sunny music for a sunny time in my life.

Anyway, you may have seen the news that Shocked went on an anti-gay tirade while performing Sunday at a nightclub in, of all places, San Francisco. Now, this is a woman whose career was propelled by prog-rock stations and who built a largely left-leaning audience. She once reportedly described herself as bisexual or at least sexually ambiguous, and she certainly had a huge gay following.

Apparently, since then, Michelle has found God. She has repudiated her status as a gay icon and now says she fears gay marriage will lead to the destruction of the country.

I can't tell you how heartbreaking I found this news. I'd already read somewhere that she had become religious, but why her newfound faith had to be accompanied by judgmental fire-and-brimstone bullshit I'm not sure. I love some Michelle Shocked songs. I am afraid I'll never be able to listen to them again. Instead of bringing to mind sunny Morocco, they'll conjure a shadow of condemnation.

It may be an overstatement to call her my generation's Anita Bryant, but her gigs are now being cancelled left and right and I suspect she'll have something in common with Anita in terms of a stalled career. (It was kind of stalled already.)

The whole episode got me thinking about why we all can't live with each other's differences. And that got me thinking about Facebook, a huge minefield of a topic. Have you ever been defriended on Facebook? It's happened to me a couple of times, and it can be a surprisingly hurtful experience. I'm not overtly political there, at least not often, partly because I know some of my friends are conservative and/or religious. (Well, OK, I did post that article yesterday about Richard O'Brien believing he's "70 percent man," complete with a photo of him in a dress...but that wasn't typical!) But even my moderate level of political and cultural engagement has proven too much for some people, and I hate that, even when they're people I haven't seen since grade school. Why doesn't friendship trump politics?

Why do I care? I don't know.

I am willing to make room for Jesus-y people. I want to respect their beliefs and maintain a relationship with them. When they fail to show the same ability for me, I take it personally. And I even take it personally when it's a famous person whose songs I enjoy, whose version of Jean Ritchie's "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" still haunts me, and who I never met but somehow mistakenly, wrongly, felt that I knew.

(Photo: The Shard, seen from Bermondsey on Saturday afternoon.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

And Then It's Monday

Dave is back from Dubai, bearing tales of driving over sand dunes in SUVs and trying to survive in a hotel with no bar. His pictures and stories make me think my vision of what it's like is pretty close to correct -- shiny and glassy and a bit tacky, like a big mall. Or like Vegas with no gambling and no alcohol. He said there really is no urban grit. I couldn't stand that.

It's good to have him home. Last night we did take-away curry and watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of "Attack of the Giant Leeches." I have been on an MST3K kick ever since I watched "Eegah" last week. So far I've seen "Manos: The Hands of Fate," which was truly terrible, and "I Accuse My Parents," in which a young man contends with disinterested parents who drink too much and offer him no guidance. Of course, he winds up arrested for some crime or other, because isn't that what happens when you don't have a neat, nuclear family in the model of Ward Cleaver?

Yesterday was the epitome of London dreariness, a steady gray rain. I tried to take Olga out a couple of times, and she'd be vibrating with excitement until we walked out the door, at which point she would stop uncertainly in the drizzle and look up at me with an expression that said, "Make it STOP." And then we'd go back inside. The poor dog didn't get a decent walk until late afternoon.

I had several hours of work to do, anyway, so from my perspective, being locked up inside wasn't altogether a bad thing. I also made some headway in "Jubilee Hitchhiker," the huge biography of Richard Brautigan I am currently reading. I suspect I'll be working my way through this book for weeks. It's ironic that a writer known for spare, poetic work should inspire such a tome, but at least it's interesting.

(Photo: East Ham, on March 2.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reflections on 40

I went down to Bermondsey, south of the Thames, yesterday to see Judd Apatow's latest movie, "This is 40." Apparently it has come and gone from nearly every other London theater -- the only one I could find with an afternoon show was in Bermondsey. It gave me a good excuse for a quick photography walk in another neighborhood. Not that I ever need an excuse.

I didn't have a whole lot of time, though, and besides, it was raining. So after about half an hour I retreated into the theater and saw the movie, which I liked -- parts of it made me laugh out loud -- but which also seemed ultimately a bit long. Maybe that's because I didn't have much stress over turning 40. As a milestone, it really didn't faze me at all.

The movie did make me appreciate that I've kept my life simple. The couple in the film are about to lose their big house, the guy has started a record company that's floundering, they have two kids and an unexpected third on the way, the woman has a struggling shop that's mysteriously losing thousands through possible employee theft. I was sitting there thinking, "Wow, how great is it not dealing with any of that?!" I may have some struggling ambitions and a rambunctious dog, but my life with Dave is gravy by comparison.

Every time I think of taking a big step like going to graduate school or opening a photo gallery, I think, "Is it worth the risk? Is it worth the debt?" And the answer is always no. For better or worse, I am extremely averse to debt and risk, and usually decide that it's best to enjoy what I have. Does that keep me from moving forward? I don't think so -- I think it's far more likely I would just lose my shirt!

The important thing is to feel like I'm still growing, and for now, at 46, I do.

(Photo: The Time and Talents Settlement building in Bermondsey, a historically listed building that once housed an organization to benefit working women and girls.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Pop-Art Friday

Yesterday I went to the Tate Modern to see the Lichtenstein retrospective. It was somewhat surprising -- I had no idea Lichtenstein painted Chinese landscapes, or colorful comic-book tributes to artists like Picasso and Monet. His versions of Monet's Rouen Cathedral paintings are positively painful to look at, vibrating with little colorful dots. But they're interesting -- as are his paintings of simple, iconic advertising images like tires or glasses of fizzing Alka-Seltzer. They're so simple as to be almost abstract.

Then I popped into another show, "A Bigger Splash," which is centered around David Hockney's thusly-named painting of a Southern California swimming pool. The show supposedly explored the intersection between painting and action or performance, though honestly, about 90 percent of it was over my head. I mostly wanted to see the Hockney painting, even though I have a nagging feeling I've seen it before. (I used to have a poster of it over my bed back in the '80s, but I think I may have seen the real thing before, too.)

In other news: I've been adding to my collection of coal hole photos, and I created a set of them on Flickr. I won't inflict them all on you here, but if you're interested, check them out. Some of them are suprisingly beautiful!

I also noticed that the controversial pub-turned-Tesco has opened on North Pole Road. I didn't go in, but people were shopping there, so I suppose the neighborhood has decided to live with it and move on.

(Photos: Colorful phone equipment -- I think? -- boxes on sidewalks near the Tate.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Rioja Cure

My god, this has been a stressful work week. I never knew a part-time job could take so much out of me! I was exhausted all day yesterday, barely dragging myself through the streets of Notting Hill to walk Olga.

Last night I quickly resorted to a glass of Rioja, or two or three, with my lentil soup and peanut butter and enjoyed a really terrible movie -- the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of "Eegah," recommended via Facebook by some friends. It's basically about a caveman terrorizing homely Southern California youths in the early '60s. Sounds plausible, right?

I slept the sleep of the dead -- no caveman dreams -- and this morning I feel much better. Work stuff is basically straightened out, and yesterday I put in place the essentials for my spring break trip to Paris with Dave in early April. Hotel reservations, dog care and train tickets all finalized. Things are looking up around here!

The dog care bit was interesting -- I called a local dog care service and rather than take my reservation over the phone, they invited me to come by and see their facilities. They specified a time in the afternoon, and I walked over with Olga at the appropriate hour. Visitors are not allowed to knock or use the doorbell because it alarms the dogs, so I had to wave through the window to show them I was there -- and when I walked in with Olga, seven people (surrounded by an assortment of contented-looking dogs) all just sort of looked at me. So I explained who I was and came up with a few rudimentary questions, and then the woman who runs the place pressured me into buying a new leash and harness. Then I left. Very weird. I would have been happy with a phone reservation.

Besides, Olga won't even be staying at that house. She'll go to their country place outside London, where she can run around and cavort. I think it will be fun for her -- like summer camp!

(Photo: Spring flowers on a tree in Notting Hill, spotted on Olga's morning walk.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Snow Showers and Mozambique

Yesterday I walked over to Trellick Tower, every Londoner's favorite example of Communist-bloc architecture, on one of my regular graffiti-photography jaunts. I left Olga at home, because the last time I was at Trellick, the courtyard had been turned into a muddy mess by a construction project. (The courtyard is where all the graffiti is -- it's more or less a sanctioned art spot, from what I understand, so no one gets prosecuted for painting there.) The construction has progressed and conditions are better than they were, but I'm still glad Olga wasn't there to get her dainty white toes dirty.

There wasn't a whole lot in terms of new graffiti, probably because of all the bulldozing. So I came home, running some errands along the way. I also took Olga for two lengthy walks, and we were subjected to a few brief snow showers, which surprised me. It didn't seem cold enough for snow. And granted, it was the kind of snow that vanishes more or less immediately.

Trellick is the location of our friendly neighborhood Knife Bin, which I wrote about last fall.

Dave took off for Dubai yesterday, on a performance trip with some of his music students. It sounds very exotic, but this is de rigueur for the school where we work. Those kids are always off on a jaunt to some country or another. I didn't try to tag along to Dubai, although I've never been to the Arabian peninsula. I'm holding out for Romania in April (speaking of Communist-bloc architecture). Dave will be gone until Sunday, which means I'll be eating a lot of lentils and peanut butter. I don't mean this to sound bleak -- both are among my favorite foods.

I've been catching up with some old movies: "The Goodbye Girl" on Tuesday, which was better than I remembered it; "Mozambique" yesterday, a cheesy British thriller from 1965 actually filmed in Africa; and "The Pumpkin Eater," which I've wanted to see for years but have never been able to rent. Just found it on iTunes this week and watched it last night. (A young Maggie Smith, and Anne Bancroft pregnant and drinking a beer! Ah, the early '60s! The depressing screenplay is by Harold Pinter, whose grave I saw last October at Kensal Green.)

"Mozambique" was filmed partly at Victoria Falls, which I visited while in Africa in 2006. I posted a trio of rather nondescript photos back then, during the era of my ultra-brief blog posts. (I was somewhat nervous about putting myself out there on a blog in those days, so I didn't write much. It took me years to realize it didn't matter because so few people read it!) Anyway, it was cool to see the town of Victoria Falls, the Falls themselves, and the Victoria Falls Hotel (where I had coffee with friends one morning during the worst hangover of my life) all in the movie. I remember sitting on the hotel terrace overlooking the iron-girder bridge that spans the gorge between Zimbabwe and Zambia -- in the film, that bridge plays a pivotal role in the peak scene. I wouldn't say it's a good movie, but it's not terrible.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


As I mentioned, one of our amaryllis plants has blossomed on our kitchen windowsill. 

So when it's too cold to go outside and take photos, it's time to break out the macro lens and focus on the houseplants! (It was 35º F when I walked Olga yesterday afternoon.)

The curve of this petal reminds me of Eero Saarinen's TWA building at Kennedy Airport.

And thankfully, we have more flowers coming! The other three plants still have buds. Looks like this one will be the next to bloom.

As you may remember, I struggled with how to care for these plants during the winter. Interestingly, the one that's blooming now is the only one that kept its leaves through the season, and the only one we kept watering because it still had foliage. The others lost their leaves, so we let them go dry and put two of them in a dark, cool room, as the experts recommend. But it seems letting them go dormant only slowed them down.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sidewalk Sno-Cones

Excuse my French, but merde! It is COLD out there this morning. I took Olga out at 5:30, as per usual, and there were little clumps and patches of snow on the sidewalk. Olga treated them like sno-cones, diving in and snapping them up. She loves snow. I am not such a fan, particularly in March.

This is turning out to be a nightmare week for finding substitute teachers. For some reason many of my subs are tied up doing other things. I came perilously close to not having any to fill a job today, and I still have a job to fill on Thursday and no one to take it. Ugh. I mean, why do people think they can have a life?!

One of our amaryllis plants is blooming brilliant red on our kitchen windowsill. The other three have buds in varying stages of development. A touch of the tropics in the middle of our Arctic blast!

(Photo: Street art near the Heygate estate, Elephant & Castle, London.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Heygate Estate

Yesterday I took the tube down to Elephant & Castle, in South London, to wander around the Heygate Estate, a sprawling housing complex from the 1970s closed by government officials and awaiting demolition. Heygate once housed more than 3,000 people, but it gradually developed a reputation for crime, with stairwells and walkways that one former resident described as a "mugger's paradise."

Critics say the architecture of Heygate is part of the problem, with vast, impersonal housing blocks in a Brutalist style. The buildings are also said to have asbestos and energy efficiency problems. The area is now part of a massive redevelopment plan, and nearly all the residents have moved out.

It was eerie to wander through the development. I was wary at first, hypersensitive to every noise and wondering if I'd encounter criminals or overly zealous security guards who would kick me out. (You can walk right into Heygate -- I didn't go anywhere I couldn't walk freely without climbing a barrier.) But then I saw two women with two small children exploring as well, and I relaxed.

Like all buildings awaiting demolition, Heygate has attracted the graffiti and street art crowd. That was one of my main purposes in visiting -- to document some of the street art. It looks like there's also a gardening project going on in the buildings' courtyards.

The redevelopment plan for Heygate and surrounding areas has been controversial, with some arguing that its reputation for crime was exaggerated to justify its demolition. A 2011 article in The Guardian explored some of these criticisms, and included interesting comments from the estate's architect, defending its design and the philosophy of public housing at the time.

Heygate is supposed to be torn down in phases. Part of it is already gone, demolished in early 2011. The next two phases will take place over a couple of years, with completion in 2015.