Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sitting Down, Journals and Joni

Yesterday the weather was "soft," as the Irish allegedly say, with mist that eventually turned into a gentle rain. I took Olga on our West Heath walk before the rain really got going, and she seemed to enjoy it, but she did this peculiar thing that she does sometimes when it's rainy or damp -- she sat down.

She did it over and over, in between chasing squirrels and running after her Kong and her tennis ball. Whenever the action paused, she'd take a seat. This is a dog who almost never sits down while on a walk.

I am at a loss to explain this behavior, unless she's just keeping her rear end warm. It's very strange.

When we weren't walking I was transcribing my journals and reading my Joni biography. The journals continue to be pretty darned entertaining. I'm at a point in the fall of 2000 when things were ending with a longtime friend/love interest, who I memorably described in one entry as unfeeling and "a styrofoam cut-out of a man." I was also casually dating a 22-year-old Bosnian Muslim and angsting over a fling with a Brazilian bank employee who helped me set up my new account in Manhattan. (He went on to become a friend.) Let's just say it was an eventful period.

The Joni book is fascinating. Initially, as I read it, I lamented leading such a tame life compared to La Joni, but in rereading those journals I see things weren't so tame after all! Memory can be quite selective.

The book takes a fine-grained approach to her albums and songs, explaining the genesis of many of them and recounting certain memorable lyrics. I'm learning a lot I didn't know. For example, I'd never heard that the song "Hejira," from the 1976 album of the same name, alludes to Camus:

I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones

Apparently Camus, in his notebooks, wrote: "What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country...we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. This is the most obvious benefit of travel. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being."

I love both his description of travel, which strikes me as absolutely truthful, and Joni's adaptation of it.

It's going to be interesting to see how the book maintains its momentum, now that I'm finishing the part of her life when she did most of her best known (certainly to me) work. At this point she's recorded and released "Hejira" and she's moving on to records that I just never really clicked with. At some point I owned them all -- "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" and "Mingus" and "Wild Things Run Fast," but they never really spoke to me.

Also, the book motivated me last night to rent "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's movie documenting the final concert by The Band in 1976. Joni appears in the film, and I managed to hang on until those parts -- but I have to say, and I know this is sacrilege in the music world, that I didn't enjoy the movie at all. In fact I turned it off after Joni sang "Coyote." I'm generally not a blues fan or a country fan and The Band, for all their undoubtedly excellent musicianship, are heavy on bluesy stuff -- at least, to my uneducated ear. They're just not my thing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Autumnal iPhone Photos

Here's another collection of random pictures from my phone. I confess that I'm using the phone camera more and more -- many of the pictures in my recent blog posts have been from the phone. It's just so much easier to carry than the big camera.

Someone lined up some horse chestnuts (or "conkers," as the British call them) atop this tombstone in the cemetery. They always look so shiny and clean, like jewels lying among the leaf litter on the forest floor.

I found this scrap of gift wrap lying on the sidewalk on my way to work. Yes, those are penises. As Dave said, "At least it's multicultural!"

Tube Ad of the Week! "Dave" is, improbably, the name of a TV Channel in Britain.

We have a bust of Andrew Mellon, our library's benefactor, in an alcove at work. Someone put this stocking cap on his head, and we've left it there. He probably gets cold just sitting in the corner looking dignified, poor guy.

The fig tree has gone entirely yellow for autumn. Soon the leaves will fall and I'll tuck it into the shed for a few months of hibernation.

Speaking of autumn leaves, I'm always amazed at how big the leaves of the London plane trees get. (I've blogged a similar shot before, I admit it.)

Some colorful spilled oil on the roadway, coordinating with a passerby's umbrella.

Finally, Olga and I found this huge headboard while walking the other day. Someone just left it (precariously) standing upright on the sidewalk. When I walked by yesterday, it had been moved and was leaning against a nearby fence. It looks like really nice wood. I hope someone claims it! (We do not need a headboard.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fallen Leaves and Drinking Games

This is what our garden looks like now. We've pretty much just let it go -- we saw Mrs. Kravitz out weeding and raking a few days ago, and she said something like, "What happened to your garden?!" We told her that in the fall, we let nature take its course.

I probably do need to rake those leaves at some point.

Wasn't the news from Australia encouraging? I'm so happy marriage equality passed there by referendum, and by such a solid margin!

On the other hand, I've been reading about the college students around the USA who have died recently from alcohol poisoning. I was just talking to my boss about this the other day -- she was saying that some students at the school where we work have needed hospital treatment because they've had too much to drink at parties. Maybe I'm naive (likely) but I never heard of this phenomenon when I was in school. I mean, people got drunk, sure, but I didn't know anyone who had to have their stomach pumped or who suffered any long-term effects.

The students in my dorm, in college, turned drunkenness into a game. We had a weekly "puke award" that hung on the door of whichever resident of our floor got the drunkest at the weekend. This was not only sanctioned by the RA, I think he might have started it. Can you imagine such a thing happening now? (For the record, I never won the "puke award.")

My boss said that in our day, we drank with mixers, but she thinks kids today (particularly girls) don't like to use much mixer because they're worried about extra calories. So they wind up drinking much stronger drinks. And fraternities, in particular, seem to use drinking as a rite of initiation that often goes wrong.

Anyway, I'm glad high school and college are behind me!

Apropos of nothing, the other day I was walking down the street past a woman and a little girl, and the girl, seeing a pigeon, started crowing at it like a rooster. "Cock-a-doodle-DOO!!" she yelled at the pigeon, over and over. The mother said, "Dear, that's not a chicken." But the girl just kept right on crowing.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Florida Project

Dave and I actually went to see a movie last night. I know! Shocker! We save our rare cinema experiences for films we really, really want to see, and for me, that included Sean Baker's new movie "The Florida Project."

You all know I grew up in Central Florida and lived there until I was 33. So I know the state like the back of my hand, and having worked there as a journalist I'm familiar with the moths-to-a-flame quality it seems to have on people who are down and out, trying to start again, trying to scrape together a life with meager resources. "The Florida Project" is about a struggling single mom and her daughter living in a purple motel in the shadow of Disney World.

The film seemed a bit aimless at the beginning, but once I adjusted to its pace and its incredible sense of reality -- I felt like I was spying on the activities of real people, rather than watching anything scripted -- it came together. And the performances are terrific. I was awed. It wasn't a happy story, but it felt real and honest and, as I said, although my own experience of Florida was secure and comfortable, I've seen people living that way. The movie captures Florida's tawdriness and absurdity -- and even in that tortured theme-park landscape, its beauty -- really well, too.

We saw it at the Everyman Baker Street cinema, which has this groovy mural of some '60s models on the stairway. (I later learned, via the interwebs -- God bless Google! -- that it's an image from a 1966 French film called "Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?" The actual photo includes a light bulb in front of all the models' faces, which makes the placement of the chandelier at right especially appropriate.) And there's also a groovy mural of the Beatles in the lobby seating area (top). It's a refreshing change from the Sherlock Holmes motif adopted by every other business on Baker Street.

We had dinner there -- a bunless hot dog for Dave, because he's being gluten-free these days, and a pizza margherita for me, with two lemonades and some popcorn. The downside -- the price for dinner and tickets was £58 (about $76)! I just can't get over how much movies cost in London.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mid-Week News

Well, I've been having a busy couple of days. We had an author come and speak in the library on Monday night about her new book, which I just read. It was an interesting talk and it made me appreciate the book even more. (In fact, I bought her other novel, too.) I've rethought my criticism from the other day -- the story has stayed with me and I've thought about it a lot, so obviously I was more invested in it than I realized!

The act of writing a novel -- conceiving a storyline big enough to sustain a book, inventing believable characters, piecing it all together,  and then ripping it apart again at the behest of an editor, and rewriting it sometimes several times  -- still boggles my mind. I don't know how people do it.

Anyway, Dave and I went to dinner beforehand with my coworkers, and that was fun, too.

Some of you asked about my health after my medical appointments from a few weeks ago. As far as I know, I'm fine. My blood tests showed only slightly elevated cholesterol, which I always have, and I never heard anything about the X-ray so I'm assuming that was clear, too. (The doctor said they'd call me "straight away" if anything looked suspicious.) Meanwhile, my cough has subsided, which is the best indication that all is well.

I haven't been walking to work enough over the past week, mostly because the weather has been cold and/or miserable. But I walked home last night and I'm going to do my best to keep it up -- especially since we had a faculty/staff appreciation event at school yesterday that involved literally tables-full of baked goods. (The parents bake for us, which is a nice gesture.) Gotta walk off those brownies!

(Photo: A barber shop in Ewell, south London. I wonder if they have to take Homer Simpson into the shop every night? And isn't it weird that a barber uses a figure of a bald man to promote his business?)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Our Morning Walk, For Posterity

Just when you thought it was safe -- more Olga-cam!

This video, made with our GoPro camera, shows a normal morning walk around our neighborhood. We leave the house, walk around the corner to busy Finchley Road, and then walk down an adjacent street, through a housing estate, along a pedestrian path to the high street, and then back home again.

Along the way we encounter various piles of trash (there are perpetually piles of trash lying around -- one of the curses of living in a big city, I suppose), we see two guys pushing a car onto a flatbed truck, we spar with a cat beneath a door, we drink from a dog bowl outside a bakery, we chase pigeons outside Tesco, we think about going into Sainsbury's, and we look for our nemesis through a hole in a gate.

Do you think you can stand the excitement?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Muddy Scrubs

After a whirlwind round of housecleaning and laundry, I took Olga back to Wormwood Scrubs late yesterday morning. She was more excited to get outside than I've ever seen her -- she was whimpering on the train and she wanted to run all the way from the train station to the Scrubs. I don't know what got into her, except that she stayed inside all the previous day while I was out walking across South London in the rain. Maybe she'd just built up a head of steam.

Look at her hiding behind that tree! You'd never know she was there, would you?

The Scrubs were really beautiful yesterday -- still very autumnal, though the trees have lost most of their leaves and we're definitely moving into winter mode.

At one point, while exploring some trails in the northwest corner of the park, I came across an area behind some thick brambles where there were several piles of shoes. Men's shoes, women's shoes, trainers, work boots and sandals -- a full assortment. It looked like they'd been brought in bags and dumped. I couldn't tell if someone lived back in there, or they'd been stolen, or both -- but it creeped me out, to be honest.

I could have used some new shoes by the time that walk was over, though. It sure is muddy out there at this time of year! (Or, as I put it to Dave, showing my age: "Holy mud bog, Batman!")

Someone definitely needed a bath when we got back home. And Olga did, too.

Last night we finally watched "Grace and Frankie" on Netflix. In fact, we watched three episodes. It's not at all what I expected -- I thought it would be much more sit-com like (I guess I'm thinking of "Kate and Allie" and "Will and Grace" and all those other sorts of shows). "Grace and Frankie" seems more sophisticated and we really like it so far.

We need some new things to watch on TV. We've finished "Stranger Things 2," and we're caught up on the new "Star Trek." We were watching "Designated Survivor" but that show, in its second season, seems to have run off the rails a bit. We're still working our way through "The Sopranos" and I'm still watching "The Wire" when Dave's gone to bed (defying conventional wisdom, he doesn't particularly like it).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Banstead Downs to Berrylands

I completed most of two more segments of the LOOP walk yesterday. It wasn't the best day for walking -- gray and rainy -- but I had to seize the moment because the train station where the walk began, at Banstead, doesn't have service on Sundays. So it was Saturday or nothing, and because I have some busy weekends coming up, it was pretty much now or December.

I began walking on Banstead Downs, where I had to navigate a golf course (the golfers were out yesterday too, despite the rain, and one of their balls landed worryingly close to me) before walking through a suburban neighborhood to Nonsuch Park (above).

There was some kind of foot race going on in the park, with a lot of cheering and people running a path that seemed to circle a field. Apparently the park is known for its "Park Runs," and I suppose this was one.

Nonsuch Park is home to Nonsuch Palace, or what's left of it -- which is, precisely, nothing. Henry VIII began building Nonsuch Palace in 1538, and it was supposed to be without equal in Europe. But he died nine years later, before its completion, and it passed through several owners, apparently growing less and less grand with every passing year. Finally, in the late 1600s, it was torn down and sold off piecemeal for building materials, to pay off the gambling debts of Lady Castlemaine.

There are stone markers along a path in the park showing the former position of the palace and the floor plan. The area was excavated by archaeologists in 1959.

Henry VIII also had a banqueting house in the park -- somewhere in the area of this raised platform, now planted with trees. I'm not sure whether this is an actual remnant of the banqueting house or something else entirely.

Anyway, from here the path passed out of Nonsuch Park and into the town of Ewell, where I walked along the high street and eventually stopped for lunch.

I ate at a cafe in the extremely groovy Bourne Hall Museum and Library, which opened in 1970 and looks vaguely like Space Mountain at Disney World. I was there, eating my cheese-and-onion toastie, just in time for a local official wearing a gold chain of office to show up and pose for some pictures with uniformed flag-bearers and volunteers manning a table for the Poppy Appeal. Yesterday was Remembrance Day, and I wore my own poppy all through my walk.

The path led out of Bourne Park and along the Hogsmill River, which apparently was used by painter John Everett Millais as the site for Ophelia's untimely drowning in his famous painting. The path followed the river and although by this time it had mostly stopped raining, the going was muddy and occasionally difficult.

At one point, I'd been slogging along and came to a bridge I was supposed to cross, only to find...

...this unwelcome surprise. So I had to double back and cross at a point farther upstream, then walk down the other side of the river. (I happened to pass another group of LOOP walkers on the way, so I warned them about the bridge being out, saving them the same slog.)

The path continued on through woods and beside athletic fields through the community of Old Malden. At one point the map gave me a choice of walking through a neighborhood or continuing along the river -- and I tried to continue along the river, but if there was any path to do so I couldn't find it. I wound up hoofing it through the neighborhood.

Some parts of the river showed an obvious degree of human impact. There are four balls in that trash!

Anyway, this LOOP segment continued onward all the way to Kingston, but I bailed a bit early in Berrylands, where there was a train station. I was muddy and exhausted, and I'd strayed off the path at one point (the map said "cross the wooden footbridge," and I did so, but it turned out to be the wrong wooden footbridge) so I wound up walking a bit farther than expected. I'll go back to Berrylands -- where happily, I believe there is train service on Sundays -- and pick up the path another day!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Leaf Outtakes

I mentioned not too long ago that I had embarked on a weeklong project to post "A Leaf A Day" to Facebook. That only meant seven leaf photos, so it wasn't any kind of huge undertaking, but it did require some attentiveness on my part as I was walking the dog every morning. Not surprisingly, I wound up with more leaf photos than I could use.

Here are a some of the pictures that didn't make the cut.

First of all, I did use the top photo -- it was my "finale," actually, the last shot of the series. But when I took it, I was doubtful about putting my hand in the photo. None of the other leaf pictures featured anything other than a leaf lying on a plain surface. Including my hand seemed inconsistent.

So I took some shots of just the sumac leaf (which, incidentally, I picked from a large, colorful sumac outside a church on Finchley Road). In the end, though, they seemed too plain. I liked the shot with my hand much better -- for one thing, it gave a sense of scale to the large leaf. So I went with it.

Here are some other perfectly good leaves that I just didn't have room for.

And finally, a leaf on an instantly recognizable background...

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mums and a Lemur

Olga and I found these very impressive chrysanthemums on one of our recent walks. At a time when the petunias are thinning and the nasturtium leaves fading to dull yellow, the mums are looking like fireworks! These made me want to get some, too, but I haven't been ambitious enough to stop by Homebase.

Here's another odd item I found a several days ago on one of my walks to work. When I first spied it on the sidewalk, I thought the animal was a raccoon. But looking more closely I realized that it's a lemur -- and when I turned over the heart, it said "Madagascar" on the other side. This freaked me out a little bit, because I've been to Madagascar. What are the odds I'd find a Madagascar souvenir lying on the sidewalk in London? I think I'll turn it into a little Christmas ornament for our tree.

Yes, we're actually getting a Christmas tree this year, believe it or not! For the first time in six years, Dave and I are staying in London for a Christmas on our own. Air fares are so insane and the experience of traveling at Christmas is so miserable, we decided against flying to the states. I'll probably go to Florida early next year to make up for it.

I got lots of Joni Mitchell reading done at work yesterday. And I stayed away from the newspapers. I'm not sure this is a permanent change -- having worked in journalism I don't think I could (or should) give up news entirely -- but it's a nice break.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Fridge Cleanup, and Dispiriting News

I made perhaps the most pathetic dinner in the world last night. We've had a million little tiny jars -- two containers of capers, plus mustard, créme fraîche, chutney and other stuff -- in the refrigerator for weeks and weeks, and I am about crazy trying to move it all around. So last night I made a watercress salad (with some watercress that had to be eaten, and I'm not sure why Dave even bought it because he won't eat it) and I added a container of pickled ginger that we got weeks ago when we ordered some sushi, and I made a peanut butter sandwich with a generous helping of grapefruit marmalade in order to use that up. And I threw away an ancient jar of chicken liver paté that, believe me, you wouldn't want to even look at, much less eat.

So I succeeded in reducing the fridge clutter, but Dave, seeing my culinary choices, decided he didn't even want to eat dinner. Which I then felt guilty about. (He'd wanted to get takeaway, but I argued that we had plenty of food in the house already.) There's still an egg in there with his name on it, and some tuna fish.

It's kind of a game to me -- open up the fridge and see what kind of meal I can whip up. It usually involves peanut butter, because that's the glue that holds many of my meals together. Left to my own devices, I still eat like a college student.

The news continues to be awfully bleak these days. I think I've become the most cynical person on the planet. The gun situation in the USA disgusts me and the "Paradise Papers" confirm what we've known all along -- that rich people hoard and conceal their wealth in order to avoid paying for a civil society. Even the Queen has offshore investments -- the person who's supposed to embody duty and service to country! The person in whose name taxes are collected! And then there's Brexit, which is grinding on and on toward an obviously grim conclusion, and I keep thinking, "Why are we doing this?!"

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, like Trump, just says whatever comes to his mind and winds up thwarting diplomacy and imperiling people's lives.

Maybe I really should just stop reading the newspaper.

On a positive note, I did finally finish that novel I had to read for work. So that's something. It was about an Iranian refugee family and it was well-written, but I felt a lack of dramatic tension -- there wasn't much pulling me through the story. Maybe I felt that way because it was basically assigned reading. Anyway, now I can move on to my Joni Mitchell biography, which hopefully will be more compelling!

Oh, and the council removed our extra recycling bin yesterday. Prompt and efficient!

(Photo: Croydon, on Sunday.)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Return to Sender

This is our West Hampstead tube station. I love the little waiting room with the curved glass wall, where that woman is sitting and applying her makeup. It's very deco, isn't it? I've never spent a moment of time in that waiting room -- I've never even stepped inside it -- but t's a nice architectural feature.

Yesterday was a busy day, but mostly routine. I had to call the local council office because, for some reason, an extra recycling bin has shown up in the alley beside our house. I swear, managing our trash bins is practically a full-time job. I suspect it's Mrs. Kravitz's and she doesn't want it anymore, so like any good neighbor (!) she's shoved it onto our property. We now have five bins, which is entirely too many, so I asked the council to take the extra one away. I'll put a sign on it so they know which one to take, and as fair warning to Mrs. Kravitz (or whoever owns/owned it) that it's about to disappear.

We had a couple of letters show up in the mail to previous tenants of our address. They seemed like they could be bills or financial statements or something important, so I wrote "Return to Sender" on the envelopes, circled the recipient's name and wrote next to it, "Not at this address." Then I dropped them in a post box on the way to work. I'm not sure that really does anything, but I learned many years ago that's the way to deal with misdirected mail. Do you suppose the post office actually returns it?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Popeye and Handel

I came across this Popeye mural in Croydon on Sunday morning, across from the West Croydon bus station. I was waiting for a bus and having an interesting high culture/low culture experience, listening to Handel's Fire Music over the bus station's PA system and gazing at Popeye.

Is he knocking the vitamins out of that spinach? What's going on there?

We've had frosty mornings the last few days. I brought in the geraniums -- which badly need trimming -- but otherwise we're going to let our outdoor potted plants do their own thing for the winter. I'm tired of hauling them in and out and frankly some of them need to be culled anyway. Once the fig tree loses its leaves, I'm planning to tuck it into our shed, where it will overwinter. (Apparently it needs to go through a dormant period and shouldn't be brought completely indoors -- at least, that's what I read.)

Sunday was Bonfire Night, the peculiar British holiday that involves setting off fireworks and lighting fires to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to blow up Parliament in 1605. We'd been hearing pops and bangs from firecrackers for several nights, but on Sunday evening our neighbors set off real fireworks that flew up into the sky, showered colorful sparks over the adjacent gardens and flashed on the walls of our house like lightning. I sat on the living room floor and watched them through the windows. Olga, surprisingly, didn't seem fazed. She lay on the couch and half-opened her eyes at the particularly loud bangs, but otherwise took everything in stride.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs

I tackled another leg of the LOOP walk yesterday -- actually, two more sections, for a total of about 10.5 miles. I've been feeling much better in recent days, like my "post-viral syndrome" (or whatever it was) has departed. So I decided to go for it.

I started in Hamsey Green and walked westward, past a 200-year-old quarry at Riddlesdown (above). The quarry was in operation until 1967, and there are still huge stone blocks visible around its base.

I crossed Kenley Common -- becoming momentarily confused by a map direction to walk "diagonally across the field," which sent me straight into a fence -- and came to the Kenley Observatory. It looks like a collection of farm outbuildings and is situated at the corner of a horse farm, but it is, in fact, a working observatory with a telescope and everything.

From there the path led me to Happy Valley, a green, rolling area that in certain times of year is home to the Greater Yellow Rattle, a rare plant in the UK. (I didn't see any myself, not that I knew what to look for. I don't think it's the season for them.) The name "Happy Valley," ironically, made me think of that rather dark TV show Dave and I watched a few years ago of the same name.

The path led through a forest and up to Farthing Downs, a long ridgeline which offered dramatic views of London. I hiked past lazy cows and down into Coulsdon, where I had a vegetarian English breakfast at the Poppy Cafe in the park near the train station. (The name seemed appropriate, given that this is poppy-wearing season.)

I could have ended in Coulsdon, but that would have been a rather short-ish hike, so I kept going. I passed this historic old mile-marker underneath a railway bridge -- marking the distances to Westminster and to Brighton -- and wound through town and back onto the path alongside ancient hedgerows and even a cornfield.

I came to a lavender farm, where the fields would be brilliant purple at certain times of the year. These farms are magnets for tourists and photographers when they're in full bloom. Now, in November, they just look brown. (I have no idea why that phone booth is standing out in the field. I think it's just there for a bit of fun.)

Finally, as the sun began to sink and the light grew golden, I crossed Banstead Downs and a couple of golf fairways, where I had to keep an eye out for flying balls. (I did see some golfers, but fortunately they weren't moving in my direction.) I eventually came to Banstead rail station, the end of my journey.

Or it would have been, if I weren't walking on a Sunday -- because trains don't run from Banstead on Sundays. (I confess that I did have prior knowledge of this fact via the LOOP map.) So I had to schlep another third of a mile or so into the community of Banstead, where I caught a bus to Sutton and then a train home.

I'm finding that the biggest challenge on this LOOP walk is getting myself to and from the trail heads. Reaching Hamsey Green yesterday morning took me almost two hours from home -- two tube rides, a train to West Croydon, and then a 20-plus minute bus ride. It was after 10 a.m. by the time I got walking. Fortunately, I walk fast!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Yin and Yang

Yesterday was a bit rainy, and hence a day to do all the little things I have been meaning to do for ages.

First, I read more of my novel, "Refuge," about an Iranian family and the clash of cultures between the West and the Middle East. I think I mentioned that the author is coming to our school in about a week to discuss the book, so I want to be ready. I'm about two-thirds of the way through now.

I also hung some pictures in our front room, including two woodblock prints I found on the street in broken frames -- they're original art and quite nice, but someone clearly didn't want to mess with reframing them. So I took them to a frame shop and bought them new homes. (Why are frames so freaking expensive?!) They look great now, though.

That's one of them on the left -- a picture of some guys trimming street trees. It's very Londony, isn't it, with that line of terraced houses behind the workers? The other one depicts some guys in a sawmill. Clearly we have a wood theme going on here. (Because they're woodblock prints, perhaps?)

I did laundry. I took cuttings from our verbena to hopefully bring it through the winter. (I saw how to do this on a gardening show but I've never tried it myself; we'll see!) I registered on the website for our new health insurance plan, which will provide us with free cinema tickets if we jump through a few hoops each month in terms of maintaining our personal health. I'm still figuring out how all that works.

I took Olga to Fortune Green during a break in the rain, and we had a quick romp with the Kong and the fastest walk through the cemetery we've ever managed. (Apparently the cemetery closes at 4 p.m. now that it's getting dark earlier, so we had no time to linger.)

Finally, at my suggestion, Dave and I watched "The Graduate" for the umpteenth time -- the film that never, ever gets old. Earlier in the day, at Dave's suggestion, we watched "The Hunt for Red October," also for the umpteenth time. Yin and yang, folks -- that's what it's all about. Right?

(Top photo: Yin and yang graffiti I found on a recent LOOP walk.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Adventures in X-ray Technology

Well, I survived my hospital tests yesterday. Of course they took longer than expected, and I ran into not one but two people I know. Or I should say I saw them from afar -- because when you're at the hospital, you don't want to engage anyone from the outside world and have to explain why you're there. You know? I just kept my head down. If I'd had a scarf and sunglasses I'd have worn them too, like Patty Duke's character in "Valley of the Dolls": "I am merely traveling incognito."

I got to the hospital at about 9 a.m. and got to work at around noon. I guess that's not too terrible for both an X-ray and a blood draw. My X-ray technician, Sheldon, was an upbeat young guy who seemed mystified about whether my name, Stephen, should be pronounced "Steven" or "Steffen." I've been getting this all my life. "It's 'Steven,'" I told him.

Steve is so much easier for everyone.

He offered to show the X-ray to a radiologist right away, so I could get an answer about whether it detected anything suspicious, but for some reason I said no. I guess I was already settled on the fact that it would take a week to get a response, and I didn't want to have to hang around another half an hour waiting for the radiologist's verdict. I was already anxious about missing a morning of work. In hindsight it would have made sense to wait, but oh well.

In other news, I am so relieved that Bowe Bergdahl didn't get more prison time for walking off his base in Afghanistan. Having read a lot about his case and listened to the second season of the Serial podcast, which was devoted to it, I am convinced that he had maturity and mental health issues at the time that warrant a degree of leniency. Besides, the guy was already held prisoner and tortured for five years by the Taliban! Isn't that enough?! I think this verdict is just (although there are still questions about whether Bergdahl deserves his dishonorable discharge). Donald Trump is all outraged by it, and as far as I'm concerned that's even more evidence that it's the right decision.

(Photo: Flocks of pigeons on the roof outside the hospital entrance yesterday.)