Monday, February 27, 2012


Wow, was I tired yesterday! Having a 5-year-old around can be exhausting. My niece is cute and smart and lovable and amazing, but she is also a ball of energy, and as the most novel person in the room I was getting a lot of her attention. She wanted to be carried and bounced around and photographed, and I complied on all counts as much as possible. She, my brother and his wife all went back home late yesterday afternoon, and after a relaxing glass of red wine (because I need those antioxidants for health reasons, of course) I went to bed at about 9:30!

It was great to see them, though. I don't often have a chance to spend much time with my brother -- he has his family and his job in Jacksonville, and our visits are often condensed to a few days a year when there are always lots of other people around. This time we took a long walk together and got caught up, just the two of us, which I think we badly needed. Hopefully we can do that kind of thing more in the future.

Families are such strange animals. It's amazing how different people can be, even when they spring from the same genetic material.

Today I'm just running some errands for my mom and visiting my college pal, known to the blog world as "e."

I went running a few days ago and struggled to complete a two-mile circuit of my neighborhood. I couldn't believe how hard it was -- I was gasping and wheezing and had to walk part of the way. This morning I did the same run and had no trouble at all. The difference? Temperature! I did that first run at 4 p.m., and I thought it would be cool enough because it was past the heat of the day -- but I nearly died. This morning I went at 7 a.m., and I can verify that's definitely the way to go!

(Photo: The croton in our front garden. It's one of my old houseplants -- when I moved to New York 12 years ago I put it in the ground, where it has prospered!)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Feb. 22, 1982

You should hear all the things that happened to me today! I walked down to the post office to mail a package, but when I got there, I found out I was a dime short. Not wanting to walk the two miles back home again and not accomplish anything, I went out to find a soda pop bottle with a 10-cent refund on it. I finally scrunged up an old R.C. bottle and took it to the Majic Market, where they informed me that it was too dirty to turn in. I was ready to yell, but I just left and hunted around until I found a "clean" Mountain Dew bottle. Having finally obtained my dime, I walked back to the post office and got my cans off.

Cans? Yep. You see, since I last wrote in here a lot has happened -- namely my want ad has appeared in the BCCA want ad bulletin and my Tropicals are all gone -- all my good ones anyway. I didn't trade them hard, just 1/1 for currents. I've already mailed four packages and sent five letters. I haven't had any replies yet, though. It'll be a while before my cans come.


I wrote that almost exactly 30 years ago in one of my childhood journals, and doesn't it make me sound like an especially old man? Walking miles to the post office and scrounging around for money-back bottles? Good grief. My whole family had a good laugh when I read this out loud yesterday.

I was 15 at the time, and in the middle of my beer-can-collecting phase (which makes for some mind-numbing journal content). The BCCA was the Beer Can Collectors of America, and we members traded cans by mail. "Tropicals" were Tropical Ale, an old brand manufactured around Tampa in the early 1960s -- the cans were desirable because they were old and very regional. Occasionally I'd find them in the woods, clean them up and trade them to other collectors. But I wasn't being demanding -- I traded one Tropical Ale for one current beer can I didn't have, rather than multiples. As I recall, many of them weren't in very good condition. A steel can doesn't last long in the woods in Florida's damp environment!

The journals are a hoot -- as I mentioned the other day, my brother has been storing them for me, and he brought them down from his house in Jacksonville this weekend. I haven't read them in years.

(Photo: This sandhill crane is already sitting on her nest not far from our house. We think this bird is a little demented. My mom said she persisted in sitting on her nest last year even after it was destroyed by a predator. I wonder if she really has eggs, or is just being hopeful?)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mom at the Lake

Here's my mom in her native environment -- standing on the dock watching birds. She loves keeping an eye on the ducks, cormorants, anhingas, herons and other waterbirds out on the lake. The other day there were ducks on the water and she asked me what kind they were -- as if I would know. I said, "Black speck ducks." Because that's all I could see -- black specks on the water.

My brother and his family arrived last night for a weekend visit. My little niece is standing next to me at the moment with a sheet over her head, loudly proclaiming, "I'm a wizard!"

Ah, family life.

We're all going to my dad's house this afternoon for a visit.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Beginning

I've been doing what I always do when I spend time at my mom's house -- going through a lot of old stuff, digging up memories. I left a few items here when Dave and I moved to England last summer, because we weren't sure at that point whether we'd be staying. Now that we know we'll be in London for a while, I'm deciding which of those items to take back with me. (I left room in my suitcase for just this purpose!)

I have a little box of childhood awards, for example, and Dave's mom put together some photo albums of his family which she gave us just as we prepared to move. We'd already shipped our belongings and we had to carry all our clothes with us, so the photo albums were temporarily left behind. I'll take those back.

I also asked my brother to bring me my childhood journals, which are at his house. I don't know if I ever mentioned how I began keeping a journal -- as I recall, I was inspired by a neighborhood girl who had a diary. I asked for one too, and my parents indulged me with a three-year diary that came complete with a lock and key. I never wrote anything particularly personal in it -- I was 10 at that point! -- so the key was purely ornamental.

I went from that diary to small notebooks in the sixth grade, and unfortunately, those journals and the diary are now gone. But I still have my journals from seventh grade onwards, mostly because my brother saved them. They might make some entertaining future blog posts!

(Photo: Mysterious graffiti on the street near my mom's house. Did they know I was coming?)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wild Florida

After nearly ten hours in the air, during which I watched "On Golden Pond" and "Notes from a Scandal" and read about 250 pages in my current paperback, I landed in Florida late yesterday afternoon.

It's good to be back in a place where I can wear shorts and a t-shirt and not feel cold, even though it's kind of gray and damp -- not unlike England in that respect.

So far, I've just been hanging out with my mom, walking around the yard and through our neighborhood. I do have errands to run and things to accomplish while I'm here, but I'm taking it slow. I need to recover from that plane ride. (Doesn't ten hours seem like an awfully long time to cross the Atlantic? I heard another passenger speculating that the airline had slowed its airspeed to save fuel -- he said the flight used to be about an hour shorter, which is more consistent with what I remember.)

The flight went smoothly, aside from the young Scottish guy who broke into his private stash of whiskey and then stood directly behind my seat, drunkenly chatting up a young blonde American woman, for what seemed like hours. Finally the airline stewards told him to go sit down, reprimanded him for drinking his own booze (which apparently isn't allowed) and began plying him with coffee.

I'm ready for some quiet time!

(Photos: A freshwater mussel shell on my mom's dock, down by the lake; mushrooms growing in the yard; ferns on a swamp maple near the driveway.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Creature Feature

Did you watch Creature Feature on your local television station as a kid?

Growing up in Tampa, I often watched Creature Feature on Saturday afternoons. It was a matinee-style show featuring old horror or monster movies from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s, hosted by a guy who called himself Dr. Paul Bearer. It introduced me to Japanese cinema staples like Godzilla and Mothra, British films with Christopher Lee playing Dracula, and American classics starring Bela Lugosi and others. It was great to spend Saturday with friends, a bowl of popcorn and, as Dr. Paul Bearer would say, a "horrible ol' movie."

I originally thought we had the only Creature Feature in the country, but it turns out the name and format were used by many television stations. The one in Tampa vanished from the airwaves after Dr. Paul Bearer died in the mid-'90s.

I thought of Creature Feature last night because Dave and I watched "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," which I don't think I had ever seen. (It would have been perfect for Creature Feature, but if it ever turned up there, I either missed it or forgot. It was a really fun movie, and the creature's costume was pretty darn great for 1954.) Anyway, Dave said he watched Creature Feature as a child as well, on his local TV station in Detroit.

All of which leads me to a somewhat unrelated postscript: Remember when some actors and cameramen invaded my office in New Jersey to film a movie? Well, that movie, now titled "At The Jersey Shore," is out making the rounds. A trailer is available on YouTube and it's apparently showing at a film festival in New York. It's not a horror film, but it might be horrible. I'd love to see it, just to see if I'm visible in the background, but I guess that won't happen unless it becomes available online!

(Photo: Pigeons LOVE to roost on this church window, down the street from our flat. It faces south, and I suppose it gets good sunlight and shelters the birds from cold northerly winds!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Street trees in London look perfectly normal in the summer. But when the leaves fall, look out! They suddenly become strange, stumpy aliens!

Many of the trees on London streets are regularly pruned by "pollarding," or drastically cutting back the upper growth. Pollarding controls the size of trees that would otherwise grow too large for a streetscape, such as these London plane trees on Bassett Road, not far from our neighborhood. It also supposedly helps prevent falling branches and other debris, particularly in storms -- or so I've read.

The trees at the side of our apartment complex were re-pruned just a month or two ago, and all the thin, twiggy growth at the top of the pollard knobs was removed. The trees were left looking like bony, skeletal hands. I can't imagine how strange they're going to look when the leaves come out again in the spring.

The nature-lover in me wishes the trees could be left alone to grow into their natural state. But I can see how that might be a problem in a relatively cramped urban environment. Pollarding is popular all over Europe, and I used to see it in Morocco, too. Some people actually like the look.

I have a few more photos of London's pollarded trees here and here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Heidi, Yeti

Thanks to my brother, who correctly identified this woman. It's supermodel and "Project Runway" host Heidi Klum. I never would have figured that out.

Between getting settled in after Amsterdam and preparing for Florida, I went out for a walk yesterday to take some photos. We had a beautiful clear, sunny day, and I figured I'd better seize the opportunity! I got some good shots.

The one above is from Amsterdam -- a Tibetan restaurant advertising "Foods from the land of Yeti," which cracks me up. Dave and I are reflected in the window!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Impermanence and Mrs. West

I woke in the wee hours this morning, as I sometimes do, and got up to get myself some water. I checked my computer while I was up -- why, I'm not sure. And on Facebook I discovered the shocking news that one of my favorite high-school teachers, a woman who undoubtedly had a huge influence on my life, had died.

I was so sorry to read it. Mrs. West was both an English and drama teacher. She's the teacher who inspired me to visit Stonehenge, and she's the one who helped me gain a tremendous amount of confidence in high school by participating in drama. I think she recognized something unique in me and the value of her support was immeasurable.

She wouldn't have been young, of course, so I guess her death isn't all that shocking. But I had stayed in touch with her, on and off, over the years, yet was unaware that her health had apparently grown precarious.

Then I got the second shock of the morning -- a friend from the Zendo I attended in New York is gravely ill. I'm still not sure what the story is there -- because I'm now something of an inactive member, I haven't been privy to the circulating news about her condition. But I sent her a message and I'll be sure to follow up.

All of which is a reminder of the impermanence of our lives. We don't like to think about these things -- we just coast along, getting up every morning and making coffee, doing laundry, reading books, taking an occasional trip. But our time is so limited, and so valuable, and our ties to each other so important.

I'm glad I'm going back to Florida in a few days to visit my family. I think the universe is telling me to get on that plane.

(Photos: Buddhas on sale at the Albert Cuyp Market in Amsterdam.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Amsterdam in Photos

We made it back to London yesterday and now I can upload my photos, so here's a selection to give you a little sense of our trip.

When we first arrived in Amsterdam, it was cold. The canals were iced over and walking around was a brisk business. Of course, that didn't stop us. David Beckham was touting his underwear line from many of the advertising kiosks.

On our first full day, which coincidentally was Valentine's Day, we found this terrific wall of street art around the corner from our hotel. You gotta love that big, anatomically-correct heart! Whoever paints them gets up all over the city -- we saw several hearts during our stay. I never ceased to be intrigued by all the street art.

Some of it was a little bizarre...

But no matter what it was a lot of fun.

We saw some of the smallest cars I have ever laid eyes on. Dave stood next to one little truck and, at 6'4", he towered over it. I liked this one with its cheery paint job.

It seemed like most people got around with bicycles, though. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life. In fact, you had to stay on your toes and make sure you weren't walking in the bike lanes -- which to the untrained pedestrian are not always clearly marked. The bicyclists zip around at a pretty good clip.

Near Amsterdam's central rail station, there's a multi-story parking structure just for bicycles, more than 10,000 of which are parked near the station each day. Thousands more of them end up in the canals, only to be fished out by special teams of workers whose job it is to preserve the navigability of the waterways. (This according to our canal tour guide.)

The coffee shops are everywhere, some more subtle than others. This one pretty much comes right out and says it. Apparently the palm tree is code for marijuana, because of the vague resemblance of a pot leaf to a palm tree. Several of the shops had palms on their signs, giving the town -- despite the icy conditions -- a weird undercurrent of tropical fantasy.

For those who would rather indulge in private, grow kits were available at the city flower market. Given all this easy pot availability, I wondered whether the passengers on our flight would be subjected to any tighter customs scrutiny when we re-entered the UK. Nope -- we were treated like everybody else.

By the end of our trip, the weather had warmed enough that the ice on the canals had largely cleared. There were still ice floes here and there, but the icy area in front of our hotel, which I showed you on our first day, was entirely open water by the time we left -- as was this area near the Albert Cuyp Market.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Last Day

We're departing Amsterdam this afternoon, after a terrific visit. Yesterday we spent the morning at the Van Gogh Museum and the afternoon on a boat tour of the canals. We finished off the day with dinner at a local restaurant called "Roots," where I had venison carpaccio and cod.

I've certainly been experimenting with food on this trip, from veal at De Kas to venison last night. I would normally never eat veal, but it was the one entree on the prix fixe menu that evening, and I figured, well, when in Rome...

One of my readers asked about the red light district. Yes, we visited -- you sort of have to, after all -- but I found it depressing. Maybe I'm imposing my own ideas about what it would be like to be a prostitute on the women involved, but when I look at them, standing in those glass boxes, I can't help but think they'd rather not be there.

I have enjoyed the open atmosphere of Amsterdam, though. It's certainly a gay-friendly city, and it's been nice to be able to show affection with Dave without wondering whether we're upsetting people or violating community standards!

We never did take advantage of a "coffee shop," at least not for anything other than coffee. I felt like I'd rather spend our short amount of time seeing the sights, the art and the culture than getting wasted. I'm just not 25 anymore, you know? But we got a sense of how it all works from visiting the coffee shop and watching everyone else. I do think the Dutch have it figured out pretty well. I'd like to see the states legalize cannabis, to help eliminate the criminal element and earn some tax revenue.

(Photo: Yesterday evening on one of the canals.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Vermeer, Barentsz and Frank

Sorry for the muddy photo. It's the only one I have to use at the moment, because I forgot to bring the cable to download my photos onto Dave's computer. Argh! So this is a picture I shot with his iPhone when we went to dinner Tuesday night.

Amsterdam has been terrific so far! We went to the Rijksmuseum yesterday, to gaze at the glowing Rembrandts and Vermeers. The museum is under a massive renovation but they still have the core of the collection on display -- except one of the Vermeers, "Woman Reading a Letter," which is out on temporary loan elsewhere. Oh well.

A fascinating exhibit at the Rijksmuseum displayed relics from the ill-fated expedition of Willem Barentsz to find a northern shipping passage to China in the late 1500s. He and his crew became trapped in Arctic ice near Novaya Zemlya, off the northern coast of Russia, and spent nine months there before they were able to escape. Barentsz himself died on the way back to Holland. They left behind tools, personal items and paperwork related to the expedition, including art engravings that were meant to be sold in China. The engravings were frozen into solid lumps over hundreds of years before being recovered in the late 1800s and painstakingly separated by conservators. Now they're on display in the museum. Amazing!

We've also been to the Anne Frank House, which was a remarkable and sad reminder of how quickly our allegedly civilized society can go wrong. It was sobering to walk through the rooms where she and her family lived in hiding, the rooms I read about so much as a kid when I read excerpts of her diary. I realized I've never read the entire diary, though, so I bought a copy in the bookstore.

We've had some great food along the way -- herring and mussels on Tuesday night at Lucius, and oysters, endive salads, veal, cheese and apple tarts last night at Restaurant De Kas. Not to mention wine. Whew!

So far we've steered clear of the "coffee shops," except to go into one and actually have coffee, which I'm sure is the squarest thing you could possibly do in a coffee shop.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


We've made it to Amsterdam, as you can see above. That's the view from our hotel room, which has been recently renovated and smells of new carpet and latex paint. I suppose that's a good thing, since it lessens the likelihood of bedbugs!

Actually, we're happy with the visit so far. We had some drama getting here yesterday when a bomb scare at the Amsterdam airport delayed our flight departure from London. We were concerned because we had tickets for a performance of the New York Philharmonic in Amsterdam last night. But as it turned out the plane took off just an hour or so late, and we got here with plenty of time to spare.

The concert, by the way, was amazing. It was held in the Concertgebouw, apparently a fairly legendary hall for classical performances, with unbelievable acoustics. It was definitely one of the best performances I've ever seen live. They did Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D with a guest violinist, Frank Peter Zimmermann, followed by Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Parts and Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe.

We had dinner at a cute neighborhood restaurant where the proprietor, unbidden, brought us a candle for "more romance." And we finished off the night at a downstairs bar with a pint of local lager, Jupiler, which had me immediately ready for sleep.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Off to Amsterdam

Dave and I are taking to the wintry skies this morning to visit Amsterdam for the rest of the week. I'll try to blog from there, but I'm not taking my computer so posting may be spotty. In case you don't hear from me, enjoy your week!

(Photo: Outside Pizza Hut on Queensway, Feb. 1.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Snarling Woman

Who is the woman on this shirt?

It's not a trick question. I honestly don't know. The shirt is very popular (or at least ubiquitous) in the shops up and down Portobello Road. You can't see the whole image here, but the woman is standing in a pair of jeans with her naked back to the camera, flipping off the photographer.

Maybe it's no one famous -- just a catchy image -- but I immediately assumed it to be a celebrity. My first thought was one of the Spice Girls, but given their kid-friendly images, it seems unlikely that they would allow themselves to be photographed doing something quite so crass. (Even Scary Spice.)

Then I thought it might be Patsy Kensit, the erstwhile actress and wife of one of the Gallagher brothers from Oasis, since both she and they had reputations for bad public behavior. But I'm told by British friends that it isn't her.

So now I'm stumped. I like the way she snarls from between the brass-buttoned lapels of that jacket, though.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


When did it become so cool to be nerdy?

Dave and I are fans of the TV show "The Big Bang Theory." In case you don't know it -- although I'm not sure that's really possible -- the show is about four twentysomething physics researchers and their social and romantic exploits (or lack thereof). It's hilarious, smartly written and employs a lot of humor about science and math.

It got me thinking about studious, smart kids, and wondering whether their lot in life has improved since I was a student in the '70s and '80s. When I was in elementary and high school, it was not cool to be smart. In fact, intelligence and studious habits were cause for ridicule and condemnation. (I've written about this before.)

I grew up in an an outer suburb that was still largely rural and agricultural. Maybe the anti-academic attitudes that I perceived in many of my classmates came from that environment. I did have some geeky friends who I bonded with, but we formed our own little group of social outliers.

I have always believed that one of the reasons I didn't excel in school -- I was an average student -- was the social pressure not to excel. Although I had geeky friends, I wanted to be more widely accepted socially, and I tried not to stand out. What if I hadn't perceived that social pressure? What if I'd let my geek flag fly?

I think kids now have more freedom to do so, thanks to shows like "The Big Bang Theory" that make heroes of geeks. Is there a greater understanding these days that cool detachment is artificial and deadening -- that to engage with life you have to invest in something? That knowledge is empowering?

I dunno. I spend very little time around teenagers, but Dave seems to encounter many kids who are highly attuned to academics and learning -- at the very least, the need to score and perform well. I think braininess is more accepted these days.

(Photo: Shoreditch, last week.)

Friday, February 10, 2012


"I have come to see that our problem is that we don't know what happiness is. We confuse it with a life uncluttered by feelings of anxiety, rage, doubt, and sadness. But happiness is something entirely different. It's the ability to receive the pleasant without grasping and the unpleasant without condemning." -- Mark Epstein

(Photo: Spitalfields Markets, last Friday.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cable Conundrum

I am once again reminded why Cable TV companies have a reputation for horrible customer service.

We have Sky TV here in England. The account was opened years ago by our landlords, and they just left it on when they moved out and we moved in. Consequently the account is in one of their names.

Our TV has been on the fritz almost since the day we moved in. Our picture is sometimes broken and jumpy, as is the sound. Often our DVR recordings fail entirely, and we've missed a lot of shows we've wanted to watch. (I'm a fan of Laura Dern's show "Enlightened," but the recording fails almost every week -- it makes me crazy!)

Over the past few months I've contacted Sky a couple of times and we've tried some remedies -- rebooting the cable box, replacing the software, reformatting the recorder. But the problems persist. Recently we discovered that the coaxial connection in the back of the box is very loose, but we can't fix it ourselves, so I contacted Sky for service.

The problem is, they want an account password. The landlord gave me a password, but Sky says it's incorrect. The landlord says there is no other password. So we're left hanging with a broken TV that we apparently can't get repaired.

I tried this morning to call Sky again with background information about the account -- supplied by the landlord -- that might let me circumvent the dreaded password. But of course, Sky's systems are being "upgraded," so they can't access the account and order service today. I have to call again tomorrow.

I have my doubts about whether repairing the coaxial cable will even solve the problem, because we checked the cable connections several weeks ago and they seemed fine. The jumpy signal, I believe, predates the loose cable. But at this point we can't even cancel the account, because we don't have that mythical password.

The moral of the story: While it may be initially convenient to assume someone else's cable TV account, it's worth it in the long run to create your own!

(Photo: Shoreditch, last Friday.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Eisenhower and the ELF

The other night I rented an excellent documentary called "If A Tree Falls: The Story of the Earth Liberation Front." It's been nominated for an Oscar, which I can understand -- it certainly was thought-provoking. The ELF, you may remember, burned down properties including a resort development, a lumber company, a company that butchered wild horses and part of an SUV dealership, all in the name of ecology. The film explores the government's branding of ELF activists as "terrorists" and what that means for the penalties they face.

It was a very balanced film, including perspectives from law enforcement and the owners of a targeted lumber company, for example, as well as the activists themselves. What's the border between legitimate protest and criminality? What constitutes terrorism? These are the kinds of issues it probes.

I must admit that although I don't condone the ELF or its methods, I often gave a silent cheer when I read about their exploits -- which sometimes were effective. They closed down that horse slaughterhouse entirely. I certainly agree with their sense of desperation about the planet and its resources.

The problem, though, once again, is that there are simply too many people. Burning down an SUV dealership or a ski lodge ultimately isn't going to make that much difference, because more and more people are around to demand SUVs and ski trips. (Not to mention food and water and other basic necessities.) What the human race has to do is curb its own reproduction, and until we're willing to do that, many of our environmental battles will come to naught.

In other news:

-- Our amaryllis blooms (pictured above) are already fading. I'm surprised! I thought they'd last longer. But Internet research tells me they last a week or so, and I guess that's about how long it's been.

-- I read that the family of Dwight Eisenhower is upset with the design for his planned memorial on the Washington Mall. My reaction wasn't to side with or against the design, but to think, "A memorial for Dwight Eisenhower?" I mean, nothing against the guy, but does every president get a monument? How soon before the Washington Mall is cluttered with too much statuary? The open green space is far more valuable than all that concrete.

(Photo: This is what you'd get if this photo and this photo had a baby.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Coot and Goose

Well, the snow is already gone, at least in our immediate neighborhood. But we're supposed to have more cold weather this week, and possibly more snow, from what I understand (having only briefly glanced at the newspaper headlines while in the grocery store yesterday). At least we're not getting hammered as badly as other parts of Europe. I see that parts of the Balkans are buried under six feet of snow!

To celebrate the brief respite, here are some pictures of waterbirds, which are no doubt happier when they can get in the water rather than standing on it. That's a coot up above.

And these are Egyptian geese, which I don't recall ever seeing before my walk along the Regent's Canal late last week. Apparently there are colonies of them in eastern England. Love the pink legs!

I'm helping my former boss with a project, so I actually have some work to do today. Yay! Income!

Monday, February 6, 2012


As I was running Saturday, I came up behind a man and two women who were walking abreast, blocking the sidewalk. "On your right! Excuse me!" I said -- probably louder than I had to, but it's hard to modulate your voice when you're gasping for air. As I passed them, the man reprimanded me with an added "Please!"

The British are definitely big on politeness. I thought afterwards about whether I'd been rude. I suppose I could have said "please," but I thought "excuse me" had me covered.

At least I didn't say, "Move the f*ck over, and don't block the sidewalk," which was my inner New Yorker's first thought.

(Photo: Notting Hill, on Jan. 23.)

Sunday, February 5, 2012


As our trusty meteorologists predicted, we had our first snowfall of the winter last night. Before I went to bed, I looked out the window and found that I couldn't see the tall buildings normally on the horizon through the falling shroud of white. This morning, the world looked thoroughly frozen and wintry.

The white snow contrasts nicely with the colorful houses across the street from our apartment. The snow is pretty wet, and the temperatures are supposed to climb above freezing today, so I don't think it will last long. Dave is happy about that -- he's supposed to fly back from Spain tomorrow, and snow-related flight delays would not be pretty.

A little farther afield, the Grand Union Canal is frozen over. It looks quite a bit chillier than it did a few months ago! That's Trellick Tower in the background. (I'm rethinking my earlier position that Trellick is London's Ugliest Building, but that's a subject for another post.)

The poor waterbirds were just standing around on the ice, looking hunched up and cold.

And the neighborhood was shuttered and quiet, at least when I was out before 10 a.m. The Portobello Juice Bar didn't look nearly as sunny and carefree as it did in August!

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The other night I was looking through my Flickr account, and I stumbled across several photos that made me think, "Why did I upload that?"

They weren't even old photos, some of them -- they'd just ceased to say or mean anything to me. Some were uploaded solely to share with friends on a short-term basis. So I've embarked on a project to clean out my Flickr. It won't make much difference -- I have more than 12,000 pictures there, and I'll probably only remove 100 or so. But it will make me feel better knowing that anyone browsing my photostream won't stumble onto stuff that I think, frankly, sucks.

So, yeah, that's what I'm doing today.

It's allowing me to recover from yesterday, when I walked around Shoreditch for a couple of hours in really cold weather. We're having our first serious cold snap of the winter, with temperatures in the high 20s when I woke up this morning. It's even supposed to snow tonight, which should be interesting!

I got some good photos yesterday, but my hands got so cold they burned. I need some of those fingerless gloves, so I can operate my camera in winter and still preserve the circulation in my fingers.

(Photo: Brick Lane, yesterday.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hunting Lions

I went to the British Museum yesterday, primarily to see the Elgin Marbles, those controversial pieces of the Parthenon that the British removed from Greece more than 200 years ago. (The Greeks want them back.)

But of course I wound up wandering around the museum checking out other interesting artifacts, and I was particularly struck by this Assyrian sculpture from 645-635 B.C. It depicts the king Ashurbanipal hunting lions -- skewering them with arrows as they are released into a confined arena.

"The hunt scenes, full of tension and realism, rank among the finest achievements of Assyrian art," read a placard posted beside the sculptures, which served as stone paneling in the king's palace at Nineveh.

Apparently after numerous years of ample rain, lions were especially plentiful in the hills around Nineveh at the time of Ashurbanipal. (This is according to the king's own records.) The lions terrorized the villagers, killed people and livestock, and reduced everyone to a state of mourning. As a result, the king -- as protector of his people -- faced the task of killing them. (In fact, I suspect he enjoyed the job -- the museum notes that Ashurbanipal was "exceptionally proud of his exploits as a sportsman.")

I don't dispute the artistic merit of the carvings, but how tragic! They show the animals in all their agony, dragging paralyzed limbs and vomiting blood. The poor lions, turned to pincushions in an enclosed space by an egomaniac king!

Elsewhere in the museum, I found the medieval British Tring Tiles, which depict an imagined childhood of Jesus. They show children teasing or taunting Jesus only to be struck dead, and other parents hiding their children so they won't play with Christ and meet a similar fate. Now that's an effective way to deal with a bully! Go, Jesus!

As for the Elgin Marbles, they weren't quite what I expected. They're mostly friezes, or wall-mounted carved murals, and I thought there would be more freestanding sculpture. (Alas, much of the sculpture on the Parthenon was blasted to pieces by a gunpowder explosion in the late 1600s, so the remaining freestanding pieces are mostly fragmentary.) While interesting and remarkable given their age, the marbles are badly damaged and worn. As for who should have custody, I take no position.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Dave is off to Spain today -- he's supervising a five-day trip with the other music teachers and the senior music students. They'll visit Madrid, Segovia and Toledo, and I'm jealous. I visited Madrid and Segovia, as well as the south of Spain, almost 20 years ago and loved it. The wine! The bread! The olives! But this time, there was no point in me tagging along -- he'll be working all day every day, and my presence would be more distraction than asset. (Especially given that this is his first trip with students at this school.)

Why not save our travel money for trips we can enjoy together, like our upcoming jaunt to Amsterdam? Makes sense to me.

I've mentioned that I'm sleeping much more soundly now than I did with our dogs, much as I miss them. Consequently, I'm having a lot of dreams. I think I rarely entered an extended REM state when the dogs were slammed up against me in bed, snorting and snuffling and moving around. Now, my god, it's like an endless surreal movie inside my head. My dreams never make much sense and in fact they often don't seem to have much of a plot -- one thing becomes another, people change into other people, locations shift. It's all very fluid. But I love the feeling of waking up from a dream and coming back to myself, and thinking, "Whoa."

(Photo: Portobello Road, last week. Apparently Lana Del Rey is a musician...?)