Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Strong Lines, Bright Colors

Yesterday I went to see the Patrick Caulfield exhibit at the Tate. Remember how I saw his headstone in Highgate Cemetery? That was the first I'd heard of him, but I'm glad there just happens to be a museum show now featuring his work. It's great stuff! Colorful, with strong, simplified lines and interesting perspectives and awareness of light.

For example, there's his painting Happy Hour, which defines major objects within the painting -- a bar, a roofline, an awning -- with colorful patches of light and shadow. The objects themselves are barely outlined at all.

In Window at Night, a window seen from the outside glows with light from a hanging lamp, a hint of a houseplant on the windowsill beneath. It imparts the same sense of mystery and curiosity we often feel (well, I do, anyway) when walking past someone's window on the street. I love the simplicity and slightly skewed, upward-looking perspective.

And how about the large, muted painting called Dining Recess? That lamp hangs in the center like a sun -- and again, the perspective is interesting, not straight-on but looking into the alcove slightly from the side.

The exhibit page highlights a few more of his paintings. I also like Café Interior: Afternoon -- the raking light and bright colors are terrific.

I'm glad that a visit to a cemetery introduced me to this artist!

It was also great to get away to an art museum. I love art museums -- the white walls, shiny bare floors, the austerity. That kind of simplicity and minimalism has long appealed to me -- you can see it in the decor of my old apartment in New York, though obviously not taken to that extreme.

I remember buying several decorating magazines in the 1990s featuring apartments that were ridiculously bare -- maybe a high-end mattress on a polished concrete floor and some carefully color-coordinated clothes hanging in the closet, and that's it. Is an apartment like that really liveable? I wonder what it looks like today, 15 years later? Probably full of Legos.

I remember buying an issue of Elle Decor (how gay is that?) featuring a guy whose apartment was bare except for bookshelves -- he said he only cared about information. I wonder where he is now, with the advent of the Internet? He could be living in a cupboard!

(Photo: Reading near the Archway tube station, North London.)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Parrots and Found Drawings

On the day I found myself in Highgate Cemetery, I'd originally set out walking in Islington in order to find this wall. Pretty great, isn't it? You can't quite tell but the two parrots on the left are carrying sound equipment -- a boombox and a microphone. "Cally Fest" is a reference to an annual street party along Caledonian Road, for which the mural, by Masai, was presumably painted.

Not a lot has been happening around here. Dave and I went to get massages yesterday, which was the high point of the day. I haven't had a professional massage in about six months, I think, so I was due.

Then Dave made vegetable soup and homemade rye bread for dinner. The bread didn't really turn out as he had hoped -- it was a little too dense -- but it was a valiant first effort and we ate it nonetheless. That's my motto when experimenting with food: Eat your mistakes.

I found these little pencil drawings lying near a sidewalk trash can when I walked Olga yesterday morning. I couldn't resist picking them up and scanning them. Dave says I find the strangest things when I walk. You just have to keep your eyes open, you know? Besides, these weren't as strange as the man I saw the other day at King's Cross, wearing a crown made entirely of pornography.

Last night we watched "Clear and Present Danger," with Harrison Ford, as well as "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," which was pretty much the iconic movie for anyone in my age group when we were back in high school. It does capture the early '80s particularly well -- the cars, the malls, the music, the fashion. Sean Penn and "Mr. Hand" make me laugh every time.

We're trying to figure out what we're going to do for the last weekend in August, when the Notting Hill Carnival is in town. We definitely do not want to stay in our apartment. Too much noise! We're thinking about going to the Cotswolds with the dog, but since the Cotswolds is a region of scattered villages, touring there may be a bit dicey without a car. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Sad Occurrence

Remember Mr. Styles, whose graffiti I've encountered several times at Latimer Road? He has another piece up now, which Olga and I found on our walk the other day. It's always nice when I'm out with the dog and we see something fun and interesting.

This morning, on the other hand, we had a very upsetting experience. We came across not one but two dead foxes in the street a few blocks from our flat, apparently killed by cars. They looked relatively young. My guess is they were going through bags of garbage awaiting collection on the sidewalk when something surprised them and they ran into the road. I've seen foxes in that area in the mornings, and I assume these two were some of the same animals I'd seen. Someone had spread flowers over the bodies, including some artificial blooms that appear to have been taken from the Karma Kab.

I took pictures but they're depressing, so I'll spare you.

Yesterday Olga and I took a long walk through Maida Vale, all the way over to Edgware Road, which is farther than we've ever gone in that direction. It was a beautiful day, sunny and cool. Oddly, the more I walk this dog, the more energized she gets. I thought she'd be exhausted last night but she was bouncier than ever. She likes rolling around on the bed in the guest room, which I'm trying to avoid so I don't have to repeatedly wash the duvet cover.

Last night Dave and I watched "Kiss of the Spider Woman," which I hadn't seen in, oh, probably 25 years. It's a good movie. I have a dim memory of struggling to stay awake while watching it with friends in college!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Into Late Summer

Olga and I went for a walk in Kensington Gardens yesterday, where the trees are still green and verdant. But there are definitely signs that we are already slipping into late summer, and will soon be standing on the doorstep of autumn.

The thistles have gone all fluffy, with big clumps of airy seeds drifting in the wind. I saw one drifting in the Notting Hill Gate tube station last night -- probably not a great place to settle down and try to grow, but I was impressed by its ability to travel so far. Dave said his mom used to call such airborne seeds "back-to-school snowflakes."

Here's an interesting critter I found on the thistles -- a type of moth known as a six-spot burnet. (At least, I think it's a six-spot. There's also a five-spot burnet, the difference between them seeming pretty subtle -- just one spot! -- to a non-entomologist like me.)

The caterpillars that were feasting on our horseradish seem to have either slowed down or died. The plant is holding its own. Also, one of my readers asked whether any of Pat's children survived, and the answer, as far as I can tell, is no -- at least not on our balcony. We are Pat-less this year.

Dave and I went out last night to Pierre Koffmann's eponymous restaurant in Knightsbridge for an anniversary dinner. It's been three years since we had our civil union back in New Jersey, in what already seems like another lifetime! Our actual anniversary date was the 21st, but we've been dragging out our celebrations, to tell you the truth. Every time we want to do something special we say, "Well, it's for our anniversary!" Last night the restaurant brought us a special plate of petits-fours with "Happy Anniversary" written on the rim in chocolate. I suppose it's time to consider the occasion properly commemorated -- which doesn't mean we can't come up with other reasons to celebrate each and every day.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

At the Grave of Karl Marx

I went walking yesterday in Camden and Islington, in North London, and found myself quite by accident in the neighborhood of Highgate Cemetery. You know I'm into old cemeteries (remember Brompton and Kensal Green?) and I've always meant to visit Highgate. So I took a quick self-guided tour.

The cemetery has plenty of graves from the Victorian era and earlier, including many headstones that are pretty much overrun with ivy or otherwise illegible. Some of the more peculiar or noteworthy ones are highlighted for visitors on a map handed out at the gate.

There's the grave of Ann Jewson Crisp, which bears a portrait of her faithful dog, Emperor. The stone doesn't make clear whether Emperor is buried alongside her, but there's a note on the side -- almost as an afterthought -- that says, oh yeah, her husband is there, too!

Tom Wakefield was a school headmaster -- which is probably why he considered himself a mother.

Patrick Caulfield, a pop artist, exhibits a sense of humor with his gravestone. (Coincidentally, there's a show of his work at the Tate at the moment.)

Pianist Harry Thornton died in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic at the age of 35.

Douglas Adams wrote "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and other books. Apparently bringing him a pen or pencil is the thing to do. Someone also brought a possibly handmade postcard saying "Greetings from Earth."

Anna Mahler was the daughter of composer Gustav.

George Eliot, who famously transgendered herself when she came up with her nom de plume, wrote "Middlemarch," which I read several years ago, as well as "Adam Bede" and other books.

Malcolm McLaren was a famous punk music impresario and manager of the Sex Pistols. He teamed up with Vivienne Westwood to nurture punk fashion in London in the 1980s. It seems fitting that some anarchical fan has scrawled graffiti on his grave.

And finally, "Workers of All Lands Unite," it's Karl Marx himself. Probably the most famous headstone at Highgate, it comes with a huge sort of Communistic bust. Far better to be here than embalmed and displayed for decades like Lenin.

Though there are many other interesting headstones, and many more people of note in British culture and history, these were the only ones I readily knew.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sweet Bird of Youth

I took Olga to Kensington Gardens yesterday, where we had a long walk and a romp with her Kong toy (or what's left of it -- she's gnawed it down to a mere stub of its former self). The grass that a month ago was long, lush and green has turned into brown straw. That doesn't stop Olga from rolling around in it joyously.

Last night, Dave and I went to see "Sweet Bird of Youth" at The Old Vic, starring Kim Cattrall of "Sex and the City" fame. It's a suitably melodramatic Tennessee Williams play, filled with unsavory Southern caricatures -- a slavering redneck political boss; a drifting, wraith-like damaged girl; vengeful good ol' boys. It's a good production about the relentless forward march of time, and the need to move forward with it, rather than get consumed by the past. Both Cattrall and her leading man, Seth Numrich, did a great job. We especially liked the set, a weathered, columned Tara-like facade with drifting curtains.

I woke up depressed this morning, after a night of strange, tumbled dreams about my family and friends in the states. (I blame Tennessee Williams!) Nothing very specific or alarming happened in the dreams; I just feel like I'm missing so many people, and maybe I'm not keeping up with everyone like I should be. I've become so lazy and passive about staying in touch. I browse Facebook and "like" other people's posts, and occasionally post things of my own -- mostly dog pictures, lately -- which I assume (probably wrongly) that all my friends see. But it's been ages since I've written a substantive e-mail to anyone, much less a letter. Maybe I need to make more of an effort. I don't want to be consumed by the past, or relive it, but at the same time I want to maintain continuity in my life!

(Photo: A woman reads in a grove of plane trees in Kensington Gardens, yesterday.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

George, and Peak Oil

I wish I had something to say today! I spent yesterday reading and walking Olga -- we went over to Latimer Road, a popular graffiti spot, and even though my enthusiasm for graffiti photography has lately dwindled, I did find a couple of interesting pieces to shoot.

So the royal baby is named George! That seems like a good name. It's been six decades since we've had a blue-blooded George lying around.

Last night we watched a documentary called "A Crude Awakening" about Peak Oil. Now that is a scary scenario. The movie suggests that we are now at the peak of planetary oil production, which will begin to diminish as reserves are tapped out -- and that nothing, no other available energy source, can possibly deliver the inexpensive power upon which we have come to depend. The result will be food scarcity and disruptions to manufacturing, shipping and travel. I've read about all these scenarios before, of course, and actually the movie is already seven years old. Nonetheless, I got to thinking about what Dave and I would do in a situation like that, living in a two-bedroom flat with no arable land in an urban area. I suspect we would eat Olga, for starters.

(Photo: Carpets and beds for sale in Woolwich, on Sunday.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Canalside Caterpillar

I came across another interesting creepy-crawly a few days ago while walking Olga along the Grand Union Canal. Turns out this is the caterpillar of the cinnabar moth, snacking on its favorite food, ragwort. It wasn't exactly trying to conceal itself, and apparently the caterpillar picks up enough substances from the ragwort to make it an unappealing meal for predators -- hence the bright warning colors.

We finally got to see "World War Z" yesterday, more than three weeks after we initially planned to go. It was worth the wait -- a nail-biter from beginning to end! My only complaint is that we once again managed to inadvertently go to the super-expensive cinema at the Westfield shopping center. The online listings never make clear whether a movie at Westfield is showing in the normal cinemas or the swanky ones, so you don't know until you get there, and I hate that -- because tickets for two at the swanky cinema are £32, or about $50. For a movie! I think I need to return to my previous policy of boycotting those Westfield cinemas entirely.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Return from Sin City

Things are finally getting back to normal around here. Dave got back to London last night after an 11-hour flight from Las Vegas, a city he proclaimed horrible and vapid while simultaneously speaking in awed terms about the size of his hotel suite. ("It was bigger than our flat!" he said, over and over.)

He was there for a work-related conference, so most of his time was taken up with that. He didn't lose all our money on the one-armed bandits or any other games -- in fact, I don't think he even attempted to play.

We're not gambling people, which I suppose is a good thing. I've done it once or twice, notably when I was playing with someone else's money, and to me it's just boring. In England we have lots of streetside betting shops, where you can go in and place bets on horses or cars, or probably (until yesterday) the gender and name of the royal baby. They look like sad, smoky places full of unshaven old men. But then, I'm not big on games in general. I could be talked into playing Hearts or Spades or even Canasta, but I'd prefer a good book any day.

Speaking of which, I'm reading one of the Mapp & Lucia books by E. F. Benson, about fictional British villagers in the 1920s, and it's a hoot. I love the way this guy writes. Sample sentence: "She had a melancholy, wistful little face; her head was inclined with a backward slope on her neck, and her mouth was invariably a little open showing long front teeth, so that she looked rather like a roast hare sent up to table with its head on."

I don't know whether or not Benson was gay, but the books seem very gay, filled with swanning, gossipy women, and fussy men who sit around polishing their Louis XIV figurines. W.H. Auden and Noel Coward were said to be fans, if that's any indication.

I went to Tesco the other day for some groceries, and brought along two shopping bags to carry them home. One was a bright orange bag from the Le Creuset store. As I was checking out, the cashier -- a middle-aged Filipino woman -- exclaimed about the bag, and how she loved Le Creuset cookware. Well, my groceries all fit into the other bag, so I told her she could have the Le Creuset one if she wanted it. You would have thought I'd given her a thousand dollars. She thanked me effusively and kissed my hand -- twice!! -- which was pretty embarrassing. Meanwhile, all the other customers gave me hateful looks for holding up the line.

I haven't yet paid any attention to the royal baby, though I hear he is a he. That's about all I know at this point. I keep imagining Will and Kate, going through the private emotional thrill of becoming parents, all while the entire world watches.

(Photos: Top, a street in Woolwich, on Monday. Bottom, someone has added some detail, and a curious message, to our neighborhood giraffe.)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Eltham Palace

I went with our friends Sally and Mike yesterday to Eltham Palace, the former home of the millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld and before that a royal residence dating back to the 1300s. It's owned by the English Trust and has been open to the public since 1999.

The Courtaulds, philanthropists and members of a wealthy family of textile industrialists, erected a house on the property southeast of London in the 1930s, incorporating the ruins of the former royal palace. Their portion of the house is decorated in sleek Art Deco style -- unfortunately, photography isn't allowed inside, so you'll have to imagine it or check out the Eltham Palace web site. The royal great hall and the bridge over the palace moat date back to the 15th century.

Most of my photos were taken in the gardens, which incorporate medieval walls in their design.

There were magnolias, ladybugs and allium blossoms that had gone to seed and reminded me of Fourth of July fireworks.

The moat was full of immense carp and water lilies. There's the bridge from the 1400s that I mentioned above.

After the palace, we went into Woolwich for a pub lunch and then walked around that area a bit before I had to zoom home to take care of Olga. It was fun to get out of town and see something new!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Return of the Cabbage Whites

The cabbage white butterflies, or more precisely their larvae, have returned to our horseradish plant. They're really doing a number on it, too.

Dave and I had planned to make a salad with some of the leaves, like we did last summer. But now I'm thinking we might leave them to the bugs. I don't know exactly how many caterpillars we have, but there are at least four.

Some are green, like this one.

And some have black stripes, like this one. They may be variants of the same species -- I'm not sure.

At least we're early in the season and they ought to proceed through their life cycle in time to enjoy some summer flight, unlike our laggard butterfly from last fall.

An added bonus, and another excuse for leaving the plant alone -- a larval ladybug!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Voice of an Ancestor

When I was back home in Florida, my dad gave me a copy of a letter his grandmother had written to one of his cousins back in the 1950s. She grew up near the border between Arkansas and Missouri. Any time I start to think my day-to-day life is demanding, I'm going to read this letter.
Nov. 11, 1955 
This is Veteran's Day formilly known as Armistice Day, and I will write a little scetch of my long happy life as I remember: I was born about two miles from here where Gussie Dent now live. My father was drowned in Eleven Point River. When I was 2 1/2 years old. And I came very near being drowned. Mother died when I was about 5 years old. I was reard by my grandparents who was very poor. but honest people. I was almost grown before I had a dime I could call my own. I lived in a log house all my life. and went to school in a one room log house. with homemade benches to sit on. Of course I dident learn much in books as I dident get to go but very little. but I did learn to work at home. here is some of the kind of work I did. I carried water more than a half mile up a steep hill every day. cut sprouts many times with a grub hoe. plowed and rode blind horses and mules. Sawed timber for ties, boards, rails and wood. built fence. and cleared land. helped make ropes. Sheard sheep. and took care of them. carded and spun wool thread for socks and shalls. Picked geese & ducks for fethers to make pillows. made quilts. wove carpets. painted houses. papered rooms. choped wood. hauled hay. and helped build 2 houses. hunted rabbits and traped quail in the snow. and walked four miles sometimes twice a day to church. Was baptised when Seventeen years old. Married when twenty two. And blessed with five wonderful children. ten grandchildren, & seven great grandchildren and a loving companion. What more could I wish. Only that I had done more good. 
From Grandma, age 75 to Howard, 16
(Photo: A bakery and hair salon (?) near Tottenham Court Road, London.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Moon, The Park and Other Things

We're going through a fairly hot, dry spell. It's actually pleasant, with temperatures in the high 80s, and a blue dome of sky unbroken by clouds. Olga and I went to Kensington Gardens yesterday -- we sat beneath a tree, where she happily gnawed on her Kong toy as I watched a parade of people pass G.F. Watts's "Physical Energy" statue, dedicated to colonial conqueror Cecil Rhodes.

I also watched a ladybug -- or ladybird, as the British would call it -- crawling through the grass. This was a two-spot ladybug, which is very common in Britain and Europe, and not a disruptive interloper like the harlequin ladybug I found in our flat a couple of years ago.

After I brought Olga home and grabbed some lunch, I went to the National Portrait Gallery to the see the exhibit of BP Portrait Award winners. Dave and I went to this annual show a few years ago and we loved it, so I was eager to return, and I wasn't disappointed. The variety of portraits and styles was fascinating.

Then I wandered around Soho for a short time, taking photos and enjoying the afternoon. I grabbed coffee at a cafe where I sat next to two guys who were strenuously discussing a movie project. It seemed like one guy kept trying to convince the other guy to think about filming for television, rather than a cinema release. There was also something about "Nicole" and her schedule. Not that I was eavesdropping or anything.

Finally, last night I rented "Wings," a silent movie I have wanted to see for decades. It was the first movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture, in 1929, and for a long time it wasn't available on VHS or DVD. Apparently for some time it was even believed to be lost entirely. Fortunately it was recently remastered and is now available on DVD and through iTunes. I expected it to be dated and stilted, despite the presence of "it girl" Clara Bow, but it's actually exciting and very watchable. It's even got some fleeting nudity, salty language (if you can lip-read) and perhaps the most romantic death scene featuring two men that I have ever seen.

After the movie, just as I was going to bed, I noticed the moon -- one benefit of clear skies!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Settling In, With Flames

My internal clock is slowly getting back to normal after a couple of days of jet-lag. I tried very hard not to go to sleep early on Tuesday, and managed to stay up until my normal bedtime even though I got no sleep on the plane. Yesterday I kept my usual schedule too, avoiding naps and off-hours sleeping. I had trouble falling asleep last night, but I'm getting there.

My flight back to London was uneventful, except that I was on a plane with a bunch of nervous fliers. As we were lined up on the jetway waiting to board the plane in Tampa, a man walking in front of me seemed strangely slumped. He kept shooting sidelong glances at his female traveling partner. When we got to the door of the plane, the woman confessed to the flight attendants that her friend was nervous. The attendants smilingly whisked him away, perhaps so that if he started screaming he wouldn't freak out the rest of us. Then, sitting in my seat, I overheard a middle-aged woman tell another passenger that the small dog in her lap -- a little white mop-head of a thing -- was meant to calm her fear of flying. The other passenger asked how that worked, and I didn't hear the answer, but apparently the woman was taking no chances because she also admitted she was medicated.

For the record, I don't think anyone loves flying. Most of us are a little unnerved. But I have not yet had to resort to medication. (Well, except a gin & tonic, which I did order from the beverage cart -- and it was a darn good one too. I noticed everyone around me ordered juice. I attributed that to a fear that alcohol would conflict with their anti-anxiety drugs.)

I was home just long enough to see Dave for about four hours, and to go to lunch with him at a local restaurant. Then he was off on a plane to Las Vegas for a convention, handing off Olga care to me. Fortunately she is finished with all but one of her medications, so my Olga-related duties will be much less intense than his were during my absence.

We had a bit of excitement in the apartment complex on Tuesday night. While walking Olga I noticed a relatively large fire on a neighbor's balcony. I ran over and tried to figure out what was burning, but I couldn't really see past a sort of privacy barrier that blocked visibility through the railing. Other neighbors began to appear on their balconies, all curious and probably alarmed. Eventually I and three other people gained access to the neighbor's stairwell and knocked on the apartment door. It was answered by a rather blasé guy who informed us that the fire was just his barbecue grill.

"Well, the fire is too big," I told him. "It's dangerous." The others all nodded their assent. The neighbor then stood on his balcony next to the blazing grill, perhaps to show that someone was tending it, but when we heard sirens -- yes, someone called the fire department, and I swear it wasn't me -- he put it out and disappeared inside. I guess he broiled his steak in the oven.

Call me paranoid, but I didn't want us to be the next Lakanal House.

Yesterday, despite my jet-lag, I was able to meet with several friends from the U.S. who are passing through London. My friend Arne from D.C. is here with his sister and partner; we met at the British Museum and had lunch together. My friend Jennifer from New York is also here, on business, and we grabbed some beers in the evening. It was great to catch up with them. I can see this will be a pattern during my life with Dave in London -- catching up with friends during the summer travel season! Bring it on!

(Top photo: Shade-seekers on the portico of the British Museum, yesterday.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Renovation, or When The Stove Won't Fit

I mentioned a few days ago that my dad and stepmother have been consumed with the purchase and renovation of an old Florida Cracker house next door to their home. Well, here are some photos of the project, as requested.

First, to clarify: Florida Cracker is a style of architecture that usually involves wood construction, lots of good cross-ventilation and not a whole lot of extra ornamentation. ("Crackers" are native Floridians.) I don't remember the exact age of this house, but I'd guess it was built in the 1930s?

Here's the outside, seen from the street. The photo at the top is the view up to the house from the back yard, which includes frontage on a natural lake. There's also an old-fashioned flower garden off to the side, with Florida garden staples like wild poinsettias and shrimp plants, as well as a detached garage and shed and a number of mature oak, camphor and cypress trees, among others.

It's not a big house. Here's the living room. My dad and stepmother were really happy with the stain for the wood floors, and I gotta say it looks terrific.

The arch on the left, from the living to the dining room, existed when they bought the house a few years ago. (It was a long process.) The arch leading to the bathroom and two bedrooms, on the right, was added by the contractor to match the first.

In addition to insulating, rewiring, and putting new sheetrock on the interior walls, Dad and June (my stepmother) got granite countertops for the kitchen, as well as new appliances, cabinets, a tile floor and granite backsplash. Unfortunately, the stove is being recalcitrant and refuses to fit into its assigned slot in the granite counter. We're thinking the craftsmen will have to trim the countertop to get it to fit. It's only about an eighth of an inch off. I'm kind of glad I won't be around for that.

These are the super-groovy light fixtures in the kitchen. They're nothing fancy -- they're from Lowe's. But they're still cool.

You can kind of see the bathroom color scheme in the photo of the arches, above. Here's a closer look. Those tiles on the right are white as well -- they look pinkish because they were picking up reflections from the pink paper temporarily guarding the floors.

Here's the seam between the floors of the bathroom and the hallway, where the two spaces meet.

Finally, the lot itself is really amazing. Quite large, with the lakefront easily visible!

Dad and June also saved some of the original furniture, which they'll put back in when construction is finished. For now, they plan to use this house for guests. But frankly, they don't have huge numbers of visitors, so I wonder if they'll wind up renting it. I don't envision it being sold, at least not immediately. Dad and June are too proud of it!