Wednesday, August 31, 2016
These are our tomatoes. We have one bush -- which I'm told by a British friend I must call a "tomAHto plAHnt," and not a "tomAYto bush" in my American way. It's growing in a big pot on the patio. We were optimistic about this bush because it set several clusters of fruit and seems vibrant, and, well, bushy. We've had no signs of blight or yellowing or anything like that.
But we're a bit concerned because the fruit isn't ripening. Day after day, week after week, it's still hard and green. We water it like crazy, but overall the summer temperatures have been fairly cool, and that seems to have slowed our tomAHto development. Supposedly we're going to have a warm week and I hope that pushes them over the edge.
And these are our blackberries, or were when I took this picture on Aug. 24 -- they don't look this good anymore. They're fading, coming to the end of their season. Most of these black ones I ate, though I left some for birds.
I met an old friend, Greg, for lunch yesterday near Baker Street. I haven't seen him for at least ten years. We worked together about 20 years ago at a newspaper in Florida, and it was good to see him and catch up on his life in Oregon, where he lives now. He says Portland is a strange town -- the TV show "Portlandia" come to life. People with unusual facial hair riding unicycles to work -- that kind of thing. You can buy "scented toast" at restaurants. Esoteric! I had fancy mac n' cheese for lunch, which seemed a bit hipsterish, in the spirit of the conversation.
I'm rethinking my decision not to continue my French classes. I still have time to sign up, and I think I may do so. The thing is, once you've invested time and money in learning a language, you don't want to lose it -- so you're on the hook for more lessons. I promise I won't complain if I re-enroll! (Well, not too much.)
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
One of the little annoyances that goes with living in London is the constant surge of flyers, restaurant menus and advertising circulars through our letterbox. Every day we come home to find a pile of paper just inside the front door, and we dutifully pick it all up and throw it all away. I'm not sure I've ever received something through the letterbox that I've found useful.
It's not stuff delivered by the mail carrier. It's delivered instead by guys with backpacks full of circulars, going door-to-door. People put stickers and signs on their letterboxes saying "No Junk Mail" but I doubt that they do any good. Besides, this isn't quite mail.
Anyway, a few days ago we got a little card from a person professing to be a "doctor," and it was pretty entertaining: "From birth a gifted spiritual healer and advisor -- I can help solve all your worries regarding bringing back loved ones. If your loved one, husband or wife walks out on you, I can help the most powerful spell to bring him or her back immediately."
The "doctor" also promised help with business issues, exams, addiction and "voodoo, black magic and jadoo problems."
A consultation cost £10.
It might be the most entertaining junk mail I've had in a while. But I threw it away with all the rest.
I took Olga on our West Heath walk yesterday afternoon. We spent three hours out and about, photographing the autumnal seed pods of the cow parsley and, in Olga's case, taking a swim:
Once again, proving her Teflon nature, the dog shook off every bit of dirt and water after her romp in that pond. By the time we got home, she was dry and white as snow. She's sound asleep this morning, still recovering from her antics.
Dave and I finished "Stranger Things" on Netflix. We loved it. We're now starting Season 5 of "Orange is the New Black," which Dave thinks has jumped the shark -- we'll see. We also watched two episodes of "Bojack Horseman," which I'd never seen before, and I laughed until I cried! We'll definitely be coming back to that one.
Monday, August 29, 2016
My finger injury seems to be healing well. I haven't come down with gangrene. The possibility of tetanus crossed my mind, but then I went digging around in my medical records and found that I was diligent enough to note on my Peace Corps-issued World Health Organization vaccination card that I got a tetanus shot in November 2008. So it ought to still be effective. I hope.
I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday, despite a forecast that called for rain. It seemed pretty sunny, so we set out. But then, of course, it rained intermittently all through our walk. The normally fussy Olga didn't seem to mind -- once she was damp she just rolled with it.
We found these balloons along the way, but I didn't take one. I'm sure I'm not the target demographic for whoever was giving them out!
I've just started a book called "Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad." It's an acclaimed book for young adults, and I like it so far. Reading about the Russian Revolution put me in the mood to watch "Doctor Zhivago," which despite being a sprawling and somewhat stuffy epic remains one of my favorite movies, so Dave and I did that yesterday afternoon. (Dave, as I was inserting the DVD: "Isn't this movie like four hours long?" Me: "Yes." I was just being difficult -- it's really three hours and 20 minutes long.)
Now I'm going to be walking around humming "Lara's Theme" all day, and remembering my old music box.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Early yesterday morning, Olga and I walked to Fortune Green, and of course we didn't bring her Kong toy, because we never carry the Kong on our first walk of the day. Olga apparently forgot this tidbit of her routine, because when we got there she demanded (with loud repeated barking) THROW THE KONG THROW THE KONG THROW THE KONG!!! I kept holding my empty hands up, saying, "I don't have it!" But she wasn't taking no for an answer.
Fortunately, there's an apple tree at Fortune Green, and some apples had fallen on the ground. So I chucked an apple across the park and discovered that Olga, in a pinch, will chase vaguely ball-shaped pieces of fruit. She wouldn't bring them back to me, but that's fine. (Surprisingly she didn't eat them, either, even though she loves pieces of apple if I'm eating one. I guess it's all about imitating my modeled behavior!)
We also found a gold bar, left out quite generously for someone to take. Or, rather, a ceramic coin bank shaped like a gold bar. I did not take it.
For lunch, Dave and I went down to Charlton, in South London, where our friends Mike and Sally live. We met them, their adult daughter, and our coworker Anna -- who, coincidentally, moved in just a few doors away from Mike and Sally about two years back -- at The White Swan, a local pub. I had a salmon cake and drank very modestly.
Then we came home and, while cleaning up the garden, I managed to cut the tip of my left middle finger with a pair of rose clippers. (In England they're known as secateurs, and they're sharp as heck!) It was just carelessness on my part -- and I swear it had nothing to do with having a beer at the pub, because by this time it was two hours later -- but the cut was fairly deep and I briefly bled a scary amount. After washing my hands, I stanched the bleeding with pressure. Let me just testify that pressure really does work! It's amazing how quickly the blood stopped flowing.
Unfortunately it's affected the dexterity of my typing, but I'm managing. At least I can make do with just a Band-Aid -- or a "plaster," as the British hilariously call them -- and I don't need one of these:
That's Finnegan, the greyhound/lab mix who belongs to my Florida friends John and Sue. Poor Finnegan got nipped at doggy day care the other day and had to wear the "cone of shame," as Sue called it, to prevent him from licking his wound. (After she e-mailed me this picture, I told her, "It's more like a petunia of shame!")
(Top photo: In Charlton, yesterday.)
Saturday, August 27, 2016
I experienced the weirdest collision of political worlds, watching Donald Trump and Nigel Farage together on the same stage in Mississippi. My nightmare! What the heck is Nigel doing campaigning for Trump? Why does he care who wins the U.S. presidential election?
Basically, I think, it's payback for the Democrats. Farage was miffed when Obama came to the U.K. and urged voters not to support Brexit. Now he's returning the favor by talking down Hillary Clinton and trying to bolster Trump.
Admittedly, there are similarities in the messages of the Trump and Farage -- primarily concerns about immigration. "Just as Trump has done in this country, Farage and his party appealed to deep-rooted racism and xenophobia, and made limiting immigration a central issue," wrote John Cassidy in The New Yorker. It was also interesting to hear Farage speak against corporate interests, especially since I don't see Trump as exactly anti-establishment in the business sense. If anything, he represents corporate interests, doesn't he? He's a multimillionaire property developer. Farage, for that matter, is a commodities trader. They're faux populists. But whatever.
It's a very strange year in politics.
On a lighter note, we're about to have a three-day weekend here. This is the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival, which, needless to say, Dave and I are not going near -- having had our fill when we lived in Notting Hill. We're opting for a quiet weekend, especially after Thursday's bacchanal.
We've just jumped onto the "Stranger Things" bandwagon on Netflix. We're two episodes in, and we love it so far!
(Photo: Last night I was about to go to bed when I noticed the light from the bedroom windows spilling out onto the patio.)
Friday, August 26, 2016
Yesterday turned into a bit of a boozy whirlwind.
Well, first I had work. Which, of course, wasn't boozy at all. I had a fairly uneventful day and in the afternoon went to the first rehearsal of the faculty/staff choir, which performs briefly every year at the school's opening assembly. This year we're singing "With a Little Help from My Friends," which in many ways is the perfect song for us -- everyone knows it, more or less, and it's not very complicated. But then there's that line about "getting high," which has caused some consternation. We've debated changing it. Personally, I think we should leave it alone -- the kids won't necessarily hear it, because our elocution isn't that precise, and you can get high in a non-chemical sense, right?
(Of course, this was The Beatles in the '60s. I'm sure it's meant in a chemical sense. But still.)
Then I went to a pub for a special afternoon happy hour with the coworkers on my team -- I had a pint with them and we talked about urgent pertinent issues, like whether we should change the word "high" in the Beatles song.
Then I met up with Dave and some different co-workers and we went to Pop-Kon, which is a pop-up restaurant being run on a limited basis by one of our friends, who's a chef. He rented a church in Notting Hill (with a kitchen!) and produced a tasting menu featuring scallops, pork belly and quail's egg, all cooked with a special unifying theme. (I don't want to reveal the theme in case it's a trade secret!)
Anyway, the food was fabulous, and eating in the vestibule of a church was interesting. I was at a table for four and we each brought a bottle of wine, and by the end of our five-course meal those four bottles of wine were gone. Where they went, I do not know, but I imagine we're all moving a little more slowly today.
You could say I got high with a little help from my friends. In a chemical sense.
(Top photo: Blowing bubbles near St. Paul's Cathedral. The artwork is a little cartoon I snipped from The New Yorker, just because I thought it was cute -- that could be me and Dave, although they both have hair and we haven't fired up our grill even once this summer. The post's title is taken from another song.)
Thursday, August 25, 2016
This was the scene in one of the hallways at school yesterday. I didn't have my camera so I snapped it with my ancient iPhone, which, amazingly, still takes reasonably acceptable pictures.
Downloading that one photo meant plugging my iPhone into my computer, which I hadn't done for months and months. Here's another photo that popped up, from July 1. I have no idea why I took this. I guess I was amused by the Star Wars pasta. (Which, according to the shelf label, is supposed to be Scooby Doo pasta. Shelf labels are always wrong in Tesco. Why is that?)
Oh, and it's a picture of me! This is from our garden cam, which at the time was sitting on the floor in the living room, having been brought inside for routine maintenance. I appear to be walking past with my lunch. Hello!
I know I've been heralding the end of summer, but suddenly we're having a heat wave! It got into the high 80s (F) yesterday. Fortunately I have air conditioning at school so I didn't feel the brunt of it, but when I got home in the afternoon a lot of the plants were looking a bit wilty. More of the same for the rest of the week, apparently!
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
This rather disturbing face belongs to Billy Fury, or rather a mural of Billy Fury, in West Hampstead. Recently, some vandal painted out his eyes. Now he looks like zombie Billy Fury.
Fury was an early rock star, kind of a British Elvis Presley. I don't recall ever hearing of him before I moved to London, but in England he's still a well-known name. There's a statue of him in Liverpool (I overheard a tourist misidentify it as Elvis) and the path along the railroad tracks where the above mural is located has been named Billy Fury Way. It's kind of a skanky path. I wouldn't want it named after me.
This week has so far been taken up with our normal beginning-of-school training and meetings. I went to child protection training and data security training on Monday and our big all-staff motivational assembly yesterday. Main lesson learned in data security training: DO NOT ABANDON PRIVATE STUDENT DATA IN AN UNLOCKED BAG IN A PUB. (This isn't much of a risk for me, since I don't often handle and certainly don't carry around private student data.)
Today I finally resume my normal work schedule, going in at 9:15 and staying until 5:15, which I'm happy about -- more time to walk Olga in the morning!
Last night Dave and I went to Royal Albert Hall with some friends to hear the BBC Orchestra perform pieces by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. We were sitting in a box -- courtesy of one of the families at school -- just two boxes away from the royal box seats! I didn't recognize anyone in the royal seats, though. If there were any royals there they must be quite low on the totem pole.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Even though summer seems to be winding down, the garden is still going strong. Our hollyhocks have finally bloomed -- well, one of them, anyway -- with big ruffly flowers reminiscent of carnations. Not at all what I expected. Dave said he knew it was a double, but to me it looks more like a quadruple!
The ragwort is at its peak, if not a bit past. The bees love it. I have never been so happy that I left a "weed" behind to grow. I don't understand why gardeners don't plant ragwort -- it's beautiful!
(If it proliferates wildly next year maybe I'll have my answer.)
Another of our "weeds," the asters, are beginning to bloom. I just recently heard that these are known as Michaelmas daisies, for the feast of St. Michael at the end of September. I guess that's their peak blooming time. They are quite weedy and tend to spread like crazy, but we try to confine them to one area of the garden and their light purple blossoms are always welcome.
On Sunday I spotted a lone ladybird larva on our inula. It's only the second one I've seen this summer. Seems a bit late in the season -- I hope it can mature through all its stages before cold weather arrives!
Monday, August 22, 2016
I mentioned a couple of months ago that we took down our squirrel feeder and moved the daily dose of squirrel food -- bird seed and peanuts -- to a saucer in the back of the garden. This (above) is exactly why. When we put the food out every morning, it gets mobbed by pigeons. They don't eat the whole peanuts, so there's still something left for the squirrels, but it really is more of a pigeon-feeding scheme than anything else.
We put it in the back of the garden in an effort to be sensitive to the upstairs neighbors, who had put pigeon spikes on their balcony railing in a vain effort to keep the pigeons away. They never said anything to us but I'm sure they weren't thrilled having them all flapping around so close to the house. Apparently the move made them happy, because they took the spikes down afterwards.
I think Dave and I do need to re-evaluate our bird feeders. These days, almost all we get -- in addition to the pigeons -- are mobs of starlings and one or two noisy magpies. And mice on the peanut feeder. (Although, to be fair, I haven't seen the mice for a while. They may have moved on.)
Smaller, more interesting birds, like tits, seem to pop in only when the bigger ones aren't around -- and the bigger ones seem to be around more and more.
Several months ago we switched to mealworms in one of the hanging feeders, and suet balls in the other. The starlings, in particular, love both. We could go back to seed, which seemed to attract a greater variety of birds -- but we had pigeon problems then, too. A coworker suggested that we get a Niger thistle feeder, which is good for goldfinches.
Or maybe we should just roll with it, admit we live in a city and we're going to get scruffy urban birds!
Sunday, August 21, 2016
It was supposed to rain yesterday, and we briefly got a little spattering, but it wasn't much -- certainly not by English standards. So what I'd expected to be a leisurely day indoors turned into a long outdoor walk with Olga on Hampstead Heath.
We found some interesting stuff, like pearls of rain on grass blades...
...and more discarded shards of china. You can see the manufacturer's stamps on the piece on the left -- it's Ridgway china, which was manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent until the mid-20th century. The diamond-shaped mark is known as a "kite mark" and in the Victorian era, it indicated specifics about each piece's manufacture, like date and batch number. (Unfortunately this mark is broken so the details aren't all there.)
I picked up these shards and added them to my collection.
Olga and I also discovered patches of orange crocosmia, a common garden flower, on the Heath. I didn't know it grew wild, but apparently it can be an invasive species. At least it's pretty! (Olga was retrieving her Kong toy from that muddy ditch.)
Although it wasn't very rainy yesterday, it was super-windy. This guy was flying one of those high-performance speed kites on Parliament Hill. I was scared to get near him, that thing was moving so fast. Then he sat down for a brief moment and the kite crashed seconds later.
By the end of our walk, Olga was worn out, and happy to find the shade of this tree. As I write this, the following morning, she's still asleep at the foot of our bed!
Last night, Dave and I went to dinner with our friends Chris and Linda, the Brexiteers. We had another lively conversation about Brexit and -- from my perspective -- how short-sighted and damaging the vote to leave the EU was. I think we'll probably never stop debating this issue!
At one point, Chris was talking about the possibility that former Prime Minister Tony Blair could face judicial proceedings in The Hague as a result of the British participation in the Iraq war. And I said, "In an international court of justice! Imagine that!"
"Touché," he replied.
I was proud of myself.
Fortunately Chris, like me, is an old journalist and we can debate the issues without taking it all too personally. We both agreed that having a newsroom background helps in that regard!
Saturday, August 20, 2016
It's so easy to fall into a black hole on the Internet.
This morning, a friend sent me a link about a photographer's project to shoot the mid-century motels of Wildwood, N.J. I went to the Wildwoods back in May 2011, shortly before Dave and I moved to London -- so then I also had to look at my own photos and then pictures from the same area by other photographers on Flickr.
That led me to numerous vintage pictures of the Jersey Shore and elsewhere. Before I knew it, I'd browsed away an hour of my life.
Not that that's a bad thing. There's a lot of interesting, sometimes bizarre photography out there. Years ago the same friend who sent me the Wildwood link introduced me to a fascinating blog called Internet K-Hole (now on Tumblr), a veritable gold mine of weird, vintage photos. (Be warned -- occasional nudity!) I can kill time there quite easily, though I always feel vaguely disturbed when I leave.
Around here, about the most disturbing thing you'll find is photos of wounded butterflies. I found this Jersey tiger moth on a sidewalk in Islington a few days ago, alive but not able to fly too well. I picked it up and put it on a bush next to the street. I imagine it's probably not with us any longer, but it was still beautiful. (You may remember one landed on our window a few years ago.)
It's the weekend! Yay! I know, I've only worked two days this week -- I can hardly plead exhaustion. But there's nothing like going back to work to make a person appreciate unstructured spare time.
Speaking of which, I think I'm not going to sign up for French class this fall. It just takes too much time away from my Saturday -- half the day! -- and besides, I feel like I'm not really learning to speak. Sitting in a classroom will only get me so far. I need to travel to some French-speaking locale and really use the language. First, I need to recharge my batteries. I'm still a bit fatigué!
(Top photo: Between Highbury and Shoreditch, on Tuesday.)
Friday, August 19, 2016
Leaves are an autumnal motif, and even though it's still the middle of August, it's seeming very autumnal around here. Summer break officially ended yesterday. I was back at school, checking in books and sorting through all the library's mail.
We got a mountain of magazines, as usual, which needed to be opened, cataloged and filed. So I worked mainly on that. One of our library subscriptions -- to Harper's -- has petered out for no apparent reason, so I'm trying to figure out what's going on there.
Overall, it's good to be back at work. I've missed the routine.
Of course, a standard question among my co-workers is, "How was your summer?" A tricky question for me, given Dave's recovery from major abdominal surgery and my dad's brain surgery and subsequent death. It's been a crazy three or four months.
But usually I just say, "Oh, it was fine!" I'm trying to spare them my negative experiences.
And truthfully, overall, the summer was fine. I had a good visit with both parents before Dad died, and I was able to squeeze in lots of fun activities and see many old friends.
My stepmother wrote yesterday and asked how I was doing with Dad's death. I told her the adjustment is a process, which is certainly true for both of us -- indeed, all of us in the family. Interestingly, I find that my chief emotion has been anger -- not rage, just a low-level simmering -- at the fact that Dad was such a heavy smoker for so many years. Not just a smoker, but a defiant smoker, insistent on the pleasure he received from his cigarettes -- which ruined his teeth, his lungs, and ultimately, his brain.
I just don't understand tobacco or smoking. I don't get why, when a person weighs health and family against a momentary, completely unnecessary, poisonous pleasure, they opt for the latter. Of course, I'm sure they don't frame the issue that way. They somehow think they'll be the one smoker who gets away with it, who doesn't get sick.
My view is probably simplistic. I've never comprehensively studied the psychology of addiction, and it's not really my place to scold. But it is a mystery to me.
Anyway, it's good to be back at work. Back in the groove. We still have another week or so before students return, but there's plenty to be done to get ready!
(Photos: Hawthorne leaves from our lawn, dropped by our neighbor's tree.)
Thursday, August 18, 2016
This is Dave Elvis. I crossed paths with Dave in Islington on Tuesday -- I saw him walking ahead of me, in his shiny gold jacket, and I thought, "I need a picture of that guy." He stopped at the bus shelter, and I asked him whether I could photograph him.
Sometimes I'm shy about asking someone for a photo, but when they're dressed like Dave Elvis, I figure they don't mind being noticed. You probably can't tell, but in addition to the gold, sequined jacket, Dave is wearing an Elvis Presley necktie and buttons.
Turns out, Dave performs Elvis songs. He broke into a rendition of "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You," and he sounded pretty good! He had the Elvis voice-warble down pat. We had a short chat about the pub where he sings karaoke, and Elvis movies -- Dave also serenaded me with a version of "Viva Las Vegas" loud enough to turn heads. He isn't at all shy about singing in public.
I promised to send him the photo via Facebook (he has a Facebook page). Which I did when I got home.
Today I'm headed back to work! I got up at 5 a.m. to give myself plenty of time to get ready, because honestly, over the two months I've been on summer break, I've forgotten my morning timetable. Olga gamely got up with me, though she promptly fell asleep again on the couch.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Yesterday I took a photo walk through Islington and Shoreditch, with a goal of finding the Gainsborough Studios, where Alfred Hitchcock launched his career as a director way back in the 1920s. Today the property consists of apartment blocks around a courtyard featuring a huge bust of Hitch by sculptor Antony Donaldson.
Seeing this photo, Dave said he would have guessed the sculpture was of Buddha -- an apparently common mistake. Buddha usually doesn't look quite so downcast, though.
Hitchcock only worked in the neighborhood for a short time, before moving on to new digs in West London and then, of course, to Hollywood, where some of his biggest films were made. Still, the area is full of Hitchcock references.
Across the street in Shoreditch park, there's a metal disc called "Hitchcock's Reel." The park itself is a huge open space left over after German rockets flattened houses in the area during World War II.
I didn't go in this pub, but I would be tempted, despite the intermingling of Hitchcock films. (There's a neon "Bates Motel" sign in the window, and the screaming face of Janet Leigh is etched onto the glass!)
The last Hitchcock film I saw was "Rear Window," I'm pretty sure. Dave and I have it on DVD and watch it every now and then. I haven't seen any others in ages, and in fact I'm not a huge fan of some of his later ones. "The Birds" always struck me as a bit silly. Anyway, maybe it's time for a household Hitchcock film festival!
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Olga and I walked back to the cemetery yesterday morning so I could photograph this crazy bush that I saw the day before. Doesn't it look like a patchwork quilt?
The extra outing meant that Olga got three walks yesterday, which left her...
Dave and I, meanwhile, went to get celebratory end-of-summer massages. Woo hoo! My massage wasn't entirely pleasant -- the therapist was very firm, and it got a bit painful -- but I felt much better afterwards and I don't have residual soreness today.
In the afternoon I continued reading "The Art of Being Normal," a book that was selected at school as one of our faculty-staff summer reads. It's a novel about transgender teenagers, and it's pretty compelling.
Finally, last night, Dave and I finished off some documentaries that have been stacking up on our TV recorder -- one about grizzly bear attacks in Glacier National Park in 1967, one about the growth of Christianity under Roman emperor Constantine, and one about the death of King Tut. Which immediately sent me to YouTube to find this video. Whenever I think of King Tut, that's what comes to mind!
Monday, August 15, 2016
The other day, when I was coming home from the Tate Modern, I came across this scene in Paternoster Square, near St. Paul's -- crowds of people watching the Olympics on a huge monitor. Have you watched them at all this year? I haven't, but that's not unusual for me -- I've never been a big follower of the Olympics. I just get the highlights by reading the news.
I did see the interviews with the Irish rowing brothers that have been making the rounds. People are getting such a kick out of those two, their relaxed attitudes, their accents and vocabulary ("a bit of craic"). I must admit I only catch about every fifth word.
Apparently the games are going more smoothly than many people expected, despite the green water in the swimming pools. Preparing for the Olympics is always such chaos, throwing governments and citizens into a huge stew of frantic activity and public spending. It's kind of insane. And then the facilities are often left to deteriorate when the games are over. It seems like a ridiculous waste of money and energy for short-term enjoyment. But then what do I know?
Dave bought some dried pig's ears for Olga and she hasn't expressed the slightest bit of interest in them. So last night I put out the garden cam and set a pig's ear on the garden bench, thinking I'd attract the fox for some nocturnal photos. Nothing! The ear was still lying on the bench this morning. What's wrong with these pig ears?
Yesterday I took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery, but otherwise I spent the day reading and relaxing. I also Skyped with my mom in Florida. Our last weekend of summer vacation!
Sunday, August 14, 2016
I took Olga on our West Heath walk yesterday, for the first time in about a month and a half. I was gone for so much of July that my dog-walking duties fell by the wayside. I only took Olga to the main part of the Heath once last month, and we were long overdue for a visit to the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension.
Olga wasted no time losing herself in the long summer grass.
We found some interesting rubbish. Apparently someone had a birthday. Maybe their gift was a new chair? I didn't see much wrong with the old one, honestly, except a few missing screws -- I considered taking it, but we were about a mile and a half from home and that would have been a long way to carry a chair.
A few days ago I was commiserating with a blog pal about the apparent lack of butterflies this year. I don't know whether it's the climate or what, but I've only seen cabbage whites and an occasional red admiral. Yesterday I saw this meadow brown flitting among the creeping thistle on Hampstead Heath Extension. It's nothing unusual -- "probably one of the most common and widespread of all butterflies," according to this source. But it's better than nothing!
We also haven't seen anything like the ladybird (or ladybug, in America) larvae and pupae that we got last year. I suspect that's because we didn't release boxes of Internet-purchased ladybirds into the garden as we did last spring. This year I've seen just one or two larvae and no pupae. Dave wanted to release more, but I argued against it because they all just fly away -- but now I'm thinking we should get some next spring.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Yesterday was an almost absurdly beautiful day. There literally wasn't a cloud in the sky, which in England is unheard of! The high temperature, according to the Weather Channel, was 80º F, but it seemed a bit cooler. Maybe in our back garden it was.
I spent the day reading, finishing the last of the seven library books I checked out for summer. When I borrowed them, I thought, "There's no way I'm going to get through all these." But I managed!
(For one thing, I didn't count on four transatlantic plane flights, which left me with plenty of hours to kill. But on the plus side, I was just notified today that I have reached Bronze level on my British Airways Executive Club membership, which is the first time in my life I have been able to accumulate enough frequent flier miles to amount to anything. Supposedly some little perks come with this level, like earlier boarding and being able to pick my seat for free.)
Anyway, this last library book was the most recent Cormoran Strike detective novel by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). I do love those books. Page-turners, all.
Remember that bottle of Pimm's that Dave photographed with Olga last week? Well, we've cracked it open and had a few Pimm's cocktails in the back garden. It seems like a nice way to end the summer. The taste of Pimm's is hard to describe -- it's a bit fruity and spicy, with a gin base, and traditionally mixed with lemon-lime soda and garnished with oranges, strawberries, mint and cucumber.
Last night we went to dinner with a friend from work, Colin, who lives nearby. We caught up on all our summer activities and some school gossip. Trying to get our brains into work mode, I guess! I'll be back at work next Thursday, and Dave next week as well.
Oh, and I belatedly realized that in all my Georgia O'Keeffe reminiscing yesterday, I forgot another of her exhibits that I saw -- a 2009 show of abstractions at the Whitney Museum, which I mentioned here. To be honest, I don't remember that show at all. If I hadn't written that I saw it, I would swear I didn't!
Friday, August 12, 2016
Yesterday I went to the Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective at the Tate Modern.
O'Keeffe is one of my favorite artists. I love her reliance on natural forms and brilliant color, and her mysterious aesthetic. She did indeed have an eye like no one else's. And this exhibit was not a disappointment -- I took my time and even rented an audio guide, which I almost never do, and I was there for two hours. I got a sore back from standing so long.
I first got interested in O'Keeffe when I was a child -- I had a game called "Masterpiece" in which players bid for paintings that could either turn out to be priceless or forgeries. The O'Keeffe painting featured in the game, "Cow's Skull with Calico Roses," fascinated me. Bones! What kid doesn't like bones? And what artist would paint them? I had to learn more!
When I was in high school, and I got my first job at McDonald's, I used one of my paychecks to buy a book of O'Keeffe's paintings, accompanied by text in her own words. She died just a few years later, in 1986 at the age of 98, and I saved her obituary from Time magazine. I still have it, laminated.
In 1987 my family went to a major O'Keeffe show at the National Gallery in Washington -- in fact I still have the flyer (above). I bought a poster of that painting, "Music, Pink and Blue No. 2," and it hung in my various apartments for about 15 years, until it got too faded.
In the early '90s, I read Roxana Robinson's biography of O'Keeffe, which taught me about her training, her early work as an art teacher (can you imagine having Georgia O'Keeffe as your art teacher?!) and her life with Alfred Stieglitz and their circle of artists -- John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove.
Then, in 1996, I went to New Mexico with my mom, and we went not only to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe but to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, where she lived. Her Abiquiu house wasn't open at the time -- apparently tours are available now, through the O'Keeffe museum -- and Ghost Ranch was a Presbyterian conference center where her house was off limits. But it was thrilling to see the landscape in which she worked. I took photos of the adobe church at Ranchos de Taos, which she painted, and the Pedernal, the flat-topped mountain that appears in many of her canvases.
I saw a smaller O'Keeffe show in Tampa in 2005, and I've seen many of the paintings from yesterday's show in other places. One of them, a New York abstraction, is usually housed at the art museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., where I've seen it multiple times. It's cool to see a painting again -- like visiting an old friend!
My favorites are still her bones -- immense skulls hovering over the landscape, or pelvis bones held aloft, the brilliant blue sky shining through. And I saw several paintings yesterday that I don't recall ever seeing before -- of kachina dolls, and autumn leaves.
Nowadays, when people think of O'Keeffe, they often think of sexualized, feminist or Freudian interpretations of her work -- suggestions that her abstractions of music or flowers were inspired by female anatomy. O'Keeffe herself denied that, and in fact the Tate show continually emphasizes her resistance to those ideas. Which is interesting, because she's not a prude (she posed nude for Stieglitz, after all, and his nudes are part of the show). She just genuinely didn't believe she was painting the female body.
Anyway, it was a great show. I had a terrific time.
(Photo: The riverfront plaza outside the Tate, yesterday.)
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Last night I had my follow-up appointment after my colonoscopy. It was just a 10-minute conversation in which the doctor confirmed that everything is fine, the tissue biopsies were normal and I don't have to go back for another five years or so. Why I had to pay £200 for that conversation I'm not sure -- rather than just accepting the "everything looked good" that I got from the doctor on the day of the procedure -- but at least the news was happy.
I nearly forgot the appointment entirely. I remembered with about an hour to spare just as Dave served dinner. I had to race through a plate of roast chicken and then race down to Baker Street on the tube, which did my digestion no favors, I'm sure.
I really do need to get another phone -- one that will keep my calendar so I don't forget theater performances and doctor's appointments and who knows what else. Lately, my phone has been doing this thing where it stops seeing the SIM card, and consequently stops working. I have to turn it off and turn it on again, and then it functions. For a day or two.
When it can't see the SIM card, it can't make or receive calls. And being able to call someone is probably the most basic requirement for a phone, right? I can do without Pokemon Go and a functioning map and Facebook and all that, but I do need to be able to make calls and send texts. (More expensive conversations!)
My iPhone is from 2009, and Dave's been trying to get me to buy a new one for ages. Methinks the time approacheth.
Can you believe Donald Trump? I promise not to go on a political rant, but his veiled suggestion that gun owners might be able to do something about Hillary Clinton and her Supreme Court nominees is truly beyond the pale. There are things you just don't joke about, especially in a country with a painful history of assassinations. The man is not presidential material.
(Photo: Mile End, in late July.)
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
In my absence, the garden has been flourishing under Dave's care. Some of the plants are huge!
Above is our cardoon, which must be about eight feet tall. The bees love it.
One of the inulas, next to our patio, is taller than I am. These plants have been a huge (literally) surprise for us. Dave put three of them in the ground a year or two ago and this is the first season they've really reached their potential. The leaves are as big as a shoebox.
The purple loosestrife is blooming brilliantly....
...as are the red-hot pokers and the persicaria. These persicaria, with red flowers, bloom later in the summer than our pink ones, which appear in the spring. The bees love them all.
The Japanese anemones are blooming. I told Dave I know it's almost time to go back to school when the anemones bloom.
Here are our cosmos -- including the white one I rescued back in June.
And finally, our ragwort -- the weed that appeared of its own volition in the middle of our rose garden -- is as tall as I am, topped by a mass of bright yellow flowers. (Still no caterpillars, though!) The roses are sending up new growth, too.
I haven't seen the garden foxes since my return, but I heard them barking and quarreling last night just before I fell into what might have been the best night's sleep of my life. I couldn't sleep right away, but about 11 p.m. I went unconscious until 7:45 this morning, Olga curled beside me. Terrific!