Monday, July 4, 2022

Missing No More

Remember how I said our garden was mysteriously devoid of squirrels this year? Well, at least one has managed to find its way back to our walnut tree, which as you can see is laden with nuts. I took this Saturday morning, and I'm hoping he comes back and brings his friends. (Yes, I am actually hoping for more squirrels! Remind me of this when they tear up our plants.)

Dave and I have also talked about an apparent lack of butterflies this year, I think because it's been so cool. (It's 55º F, or 13º C, as I'm writing this post at 6:59 a.m.) But yesterday our garden was visited by this one, a comma. We've had a handful of butterflies but I expected more.

In the afternoon Olga and I walked to the cemetery. I was looking for the spotted burnets but they aren't around yet. Sometimes they appear in later July.

However, something else was around...

...the turaco! I hadn't heard it since March and I was afraid it had moved on to greener pastures. I heard it calling and followed its croaky squawk (trailed by a bewildered Olga) to a clump of trees just outside the cemetery boundaries, in the back garden of some adjacent flats. I couldn't see it at all, though. That's the shortest video in the world because right after I got there it called once and then stopped. At least we know it's still alive.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Pride in London

Yesterday was London's LGBTQIA+ Pride parade -- a big one, because it's the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in 1972 and it's the first Pride event since the pandemic. Although I've gone to Pride pretty consistently over the years, first in New York and then here, I was on the fence about going yesterday. For one thing -- and it's a completely ridiculous reason -- I had a dentist's appointment right in the middle of the afternoon. Also, crowds!

But in the end the dentist didn't take long (no cavities!) so I decided to hop on the tube and go down to Westminster and see what's what.

Of course there were the usual characters, all dressed up and dragged out for the day, many having disembarked from parade floats.

But there were lots of everyday people too, checking out the scene and celebrating the right for everyone to be who they are.

As usual, a celebration was held in Trafalgar Square during and after the march. Sadiq Khan, London's mayor, is up there on the stage and on the blue screen to the left.

This was the scene looking down Whitehall toward the houses of Parliament.

No wonder people were standing on lampposts! I caught a glimpse of the parade itself, but I mostly just wandered among all the people on the street.

This guy had possibly the most creative costume I saw all day. It was composed entirely of inflatable birds. And I'm pretty sure that's all he was wearing.

A lot of people question why Pride parades always bring out such extreme costumes. It's even been argued that they detract from the message. But when you've been told all your life that what you are, and what you feel inside, is wrong, you want to push back hard against that shaming. I think that's why so many people put so much effort into being flamboyant. Plus, it's all a big show, and the gays love costumes!

Ultimately, I'm so glad I went, even though I was only there for a little more than an hour. It was plenty of time to walk around, get lots of great photos and enjoy the positive energy. Happy Pride!

Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Bong Glass and Other Oddities

It's time again for another collection of random pictures from my iPhone. I took this one for my brother, who's a VW van enthusiast, although I keep forgetting to send it to him. I kind of like these little planters, but I'm not sure I'd pay £18 for one.

An artful coffee cup, well-placed in a rubbish bin.

A discarded mask I found on the street. It's very William Morris.

A cleverly-named barber shop down near the tube station.

The windows on the tube are curved in such a way that if you're sitting in a certain position, your upper reflection meets your lower one and you become a set of conjoined twins!

As long as we're blogging pictures of me wearing my silly monkey shirt, here's one that shows me in Belgium with that ridiculous bong-shaped glass I mentioned. The waiter told me to hold it that way. Does it even fit in a dishwasher?!

Another picture from Belgium -- a bicycle pannier decorated with dog noses.

A set of coffee cups from a shop window in Brussels, featuring various French terms of endearment (?) including chicken, sausage, ugly and doe. I'm sure some of these are double-entendres -- "ma chatte" seems like it should mean "my cat," but Google actually translates it to "my pussy." Perhaps "saucisse" for sausage has a similar double meaning. I guess I don't need to translate "lazy ass."

And finally, a sticker from Brussels, with a sentiment we can all appreciate.

Friday, July 1, 2022


I didn't get out of bed until 8 a.m. this morning, which is unheard of for me! I think I might have a little sinus infection going on. The last two evenings I've been having very painful headaches right behind my eyes, and I am not a headache person. It just feels inflamed and kind of warm. I don't have a fever so I'm taking a wait-and-see approach.

It didn't slow me down yesterday, though, as I managed to complete the three tasks I set out for myself -- cut back "the monster," the neighbor's rose that overhangs our patio; mow the lawn; and finish "A Gentleman in Moscow."

I didn't take as much off the monster as needs to be taken off, but it's a start. I'm trying to be careful because in theory there could still be nesting birds, though I haven't seen any ongoing nesting activity and it seems baby birds are pretty much fledged by now. At least the plants on the patio can now get more light.

As for "A Gentleman in Moscow," I just did not like this book. I found it sort of inherently dull; reading its 460-plus pages was like trudging through the deep snows of Mother Russia. (I'm guessing here, having never been to Mother Russia.) I especially disliked the last few lines, and I can't say why without spoilers, but they seemed wildly implausible. I know some of you enjoyed it so I'm accepting that I may be in the minority here.

(Top photo: Olga with some colorful graffiti, last weekend.)

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Silent Spring

Our red dahlia bloomed while I was in Bruges. I came back to find it in full flower, the first dahlia of the season. There are buds on almost all the others, so we'll have plenty of blossoms soon.

Also blooming now is our acanthus, which has sent up a bizarre multi-branched flower spike shaped like a saguaro cactus. I've never seen it do that before.

The buddleia by the birdbath is full of big clusters of flowers that look like pink sponges. Hopefully we'll see some butterflies soon, if it ever warms up out there -- it's 57º F (about 14º C) this morning!

And finally, the purple Amistad sage is blooming as well. It's been blooming for a while, actually, but the blossoms are fuller and more mature now. Don't those little stamens (or whatever) look like forked snake tongues?

Dave and I have noticed a peculiar phenomenon this spring -- an almost complete lack of squirrels. Normally our walnut tree would be full of them, all gnawing and dropping nut shrapnel on the ground, and they'd be racing through the treetops at the back of the property. I've recently seen only one, last week. Right now the tree, though laden with nuts the size of golf balls, is completely squirrel-less. I have a bad feeling that something has happened to them all.

If I had to guess, I'd say that a neighbor who was freaked out by the same presence of rats that we've noticed in our garden put out poison and killed the squirrels. That's just conjecture on my part, but I don't know where else they'd be. Then again, I haven't seen any dead ones either.

I spent yesterday getting my life back in order after my trip -- doing laundry, vacuuming the house, going to the cleaners, that kind of thing. I also caught up on almost all my blog reading, which took the better part of the afternoon! I don't know how I got so behind on blogs. Today I'm hoping to finally finish off "A Gentleman in Moscow," but we'll see.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

From Bruges to Brussels to London

I woke up early yesterday morning in Bruges and went for another walk, this time to the Bonifacius Bridge, which I'd seen on the previous day's walking tour. For some reason this bridge is considered a particularly scenic spot, and it is perpetually mobbed with people. I got there early enough to catch it without any crowds, which made for some nice pictures -- although I preferred the one above of surrounding buildings taken while standing on the bridge itself.

Then I went back to the hotel, got cleaned up, had breakfast and checked out. I left my bag at reception and walked to the Groeninge Museum, to see its remarkable collection of Flemish art.

The collection spans a wide range of time, from the Middle Ages to the modern era, and includes artists such as Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Pieter Bruegel I, Hieronymus Bosch and others. Here's one of my favorite paintings -- "The River Lys at Astene (The Thistles)," by Emile Claus, from around 1885.

And check out this woman, who was in a huge crowd depicted in Bruegel's "The Sermon of St. John the Baptist," from the early 1600's:

She was way ahead of her time! (Though, as Dave said when I showed him this picture, "She's wearing it below her nose.") She was the only one in the entire painting in a mask. I wonder if she's a baker or miller or someone who worked around a lot of dust. Maybe that's a sack of flour on her back?

Anyway, I was happy I had a chance to see the museum. I walked back to the main square for a final cup of coffee, and then made my way to the train station.

Let's call this "Self-portrait with Swans." There was no way to take the picture and stay invisible, so why not embrace the reflection?

I got on the train and headed back to Brussels, where I still had several hours to kill before catching the Eurostar back to London. I walked into the old part of town for some quick sightseeing. Brussels is undergoing several huge construction projects, particularly along the Avenue de Stalingrad, and there were huge bleachers either being set up or dismantled for some event in the Grand Place -- so there was a lot of chaos. But at least this time I didn't get assaulted.

I said hello to the Manneken Pis, the fountain of the pissing cherub that is the Mona Lisa of Brussels. (In other words, the city's must-see attraction.)

I spotted Tintin and his dog Snowy (or Milou in French) overlooking the city from this high rooftop. The author of the Tintin comics, Hergé, was from Brussels.

By this time I had about an hour before my train left, so I hoofed it back to the station, went through passport control and security and spent my last Euros on a bottle of Belgian beer for Dave. The trip was uneventful and I was back in our garden with Dave and Olga by about 5:30 p.m.

A bit of Brussels sidewalk philosophy! I'm awake now, but I sure slept like a log last night.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Rain, the Park and Other Things

Another busy day out and about in Bruges! I started yesterday with an early morning walk to Queen Astrid Park, near my hotel. Queen Astrid was a Swede who married the king of Belgium and then died young in a car accident in 1935. Belgium marked the occasion by issuing stamps bearing her portrait, familiar to any collector for their unusual black borders. When I saw that there was a park named for her I had to go check it out.

It was a good time to wander with the camera because the streets were quiet, and normally popular picture spots, like the one above, weren't thronged with people. Apparently this area was featured in the movie "In Bruges," which I saw years ago but don't really remember. Maybe I'll rent it when I get back home.

I kept walking for a while, venturing north of the Augustijnenrei, or Augustine canal. That area seemed to get less touristy and I found some unusual antique shops, like the one with this little settee in the window. If I'm reading that tag right, it's hand-embroidered and made in Mexico. I can't make out the price, but I have nowhere to put it anyway!

I went back to my room, and I have to pause here to show you the ridiculous journey I need to make to get between my room and the hotel's front door. This place has the weirdest architecture:

I think the building has been expanded several times. It needs colored lines on the floor like a hospital.

Anyway, back out on the street again, I met up with my former co-worker Venisha and a small group of fellow tourists for a "free" walking tour (not really free because of course we tipped the guide), which took a couple of hours. It was quite interesting and we saw a lot of sights.

Here we all are at the Beguinage, or Begijnhof, a sort of group home for unmarried women.

After a lunch featuring a savory Belgian waffle, Venisha and I went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the home of a holy relic -- allegedly a vial of Christ's blood, brought back to Europe during the Crusades. I didn't get near the relic itself, which looked like a rather intimidating affair. People were visiting it one by one, praying and crossing themselves, and it was presided over by a serious-looking robed woman. I stayed back and just appreciated the colorful interior of the church. Apparently the organ was getting a tune-up.

In the afternoon I did climb to the top of the Belfort, the bell tower on the main square. Here's the view looking downward. It wasn't a terribly arduous climb but the stairs are very narrow and wind upward in a very tight spiral. While I was up there the bells rang (as they do every 15 minutes), so here's what that sounded like:

Yes, it's a two-video day here at Shadows & Light! Can you stand it?! I can't identify that music but the carillon does occasionally play recognizable pop tunes, which is pretty fun.

It rained in the late afternoon, so Venisha and I retreated to our respective accommodations before meeting up again in the evening. We had a beer just off the main square and then she left to pack for her departure today while I went for another drink and dinner on my own. I settled into a busy bar overlooking the scenic spot in the second photo above and ordered a Chimay Blue.

That waiter was running like crazy. As I paid my bill I told him, "You're the hardest working waiter in Belgium!" He laughed and said, "Am I?!" And then, of course, immediately ran off to serve someone else.

It was about this time that I began to think mildly drunken thoughts, about the fact that as a kid in Florida I dreamed of going to other countries -- even the Bahamas seemed wildly exotic. And now here I was, sitting on the banks of a canal in Flanders.

I wandered down the road a bit to a place with actual food. I sat eating my Flemish beef stew and frites, watching the swallows swoop and dive in the sky overhead with the sunset glinting off their wings, and hearing ABBA's "Thank You For The Music" echoing out of the carillon at the Belfort, and every so often a cute guy would wander past, and I actually teared up a bit thinking: You know, life is pretty darn wonderful.