Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stevie Smith at a Birthday Party

Olga and I took our longest walk yet through Hyde Park yesterday. We walked all the way around the Serpentine, the long pond in the middle of the park, and that was after Olga ran and ran and played with her Kong. She had a great time.

The park is looking more and more autumnal, with yellow horse chestnut trees and tussocks of dry grass. We don't get extremely colorful autumns here -- the red Virginia creeper is about the most colorful anything ever gets -- but there's definitely a change.

Olga has become worryingly obsessed with chasing squirrels -- she constantly scans the ground under the trees and when she sees one, she's off like a shot. I don't think there's much chance she'll ever catch one, but I chatted with a woman yesterday who said her dog had caught two, and it wasn't pretty. Indeed, a short time later, I saw her dog launch an attack after stealthily maneuvering itself between a squirrel and the nearest tree. That squirrel was almost toast. Tourists were gasping.

We stopped at the Serpentine Gallery to see the Cloud Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, a temporary installation that serves as a cafe and a sort of interactive sculpture. It's made of interlocked white metal poles and transparent sheeting, and people can climb it. Olga, however, was more interested in looking for squirrels.

Also, the strangest thing happened. Last weekend, I saw a man drop some receipts and a £20 note on the sidewalk. I called out to him, picked up the papers and handed them back, thinking nothing of it. Dave joked that he should have given me a reward for returning his £20. (That's about $32).

Well, yesterday I found another £20 note, on the pavement surrounding the Serpentine, and this time no one was nearby. It is certainly not a common thing to find large bills lying on the ground in a populous place like London. Was the universe giving me my reward?

Last night -- well, this morning, actually -- I virtually attended the 50th birthday party of my friend Christopher in Los Angeles. Those of us who couldn't come in person attended via video chat, and we were asked to read something that reminded us of Christopher.

When I first met him 13 years ago, Christopher was living in the East Village in a magazine-cluttered apartment where he would periodically succumb to a literary mood and read aloud poetry by Elizabeth Bishop or Stevie Smith. So I checked out a book of Smith's poems from our school library and thought I'd find one to read.

The problem is, Smith writes lots of long, dour poems about God and death, with titles like "Thoughts About the Christian Doctrine of Eternal Hell," which doesn't exactly put one in a party mood. I did eventually find a few that were short and upbeat, and I read two of those.

For example, I read "The Hat," which seemed fitting for the birthday party of a friend who can now get gay-married in California:

I love my beautiful hat more than anything
And through my beautiful hat I see a wedding ring
The King will marry me and make me his own before all
And when I am married I shall wear my hat and walk on the palace wall.

Here's one I liked but did not read, called "Drugs Made Pauline Vague":

     Drugs made Pauline vague.
     She sat one day at the breakfast table
     Fingering in a baffled way
     The fronds of the maidenhair plant.

Was it the salt you were looking for dear?
Said Dulcie, exchanging a glance with the Brigadier.

     Chuff chuff Pauline what's the matter?
     Said the Brigadier to his wife
     Who did not even notice
     What a handsome couple they made.

See what I mean? Interesting, but not exactly party fare.

Anyway, I had to wake up at 2 a.m. to attend this party, so now lack of sleep is making me vague! I was going to take a photo walk today, but it's pouring rain so I'm not sure that will happen. I may have to stay inside and read more Stevie Smith.


  1. So, did they leave you on the computer facing the action so you could watch the party unfolding or did you just share and go? Interesting how we can do these things nowadays. It all still feels new but that is my age showing (Like your friend I have the big 5-0 coming in a few weeks).

    I also find it interesting to note what makes my dogs go nuts. Our collie, Guiness, was obsessed with squirrels (like Olga) but our Saint Bernard, Cal, is uninterested. Cal is taunted by cats. They practically tap on the window to get his attention and then stick out their tongues, knowing he cannot open the door and chase them. He whimpers and barks but when he is out for a walk, watch out kitty (no fear, he is on the leash).

  2. Gay-married. I love that term. The poem about the hat seems a perfect choice!

  3. Oh thank you, I had forgotten about Stevie Smith! I found her in the college trash, all ripped and torn one day, and much like finding a twenty pound note, it was like being rewarded by the universe! Good job on the note, by the way!
    poor squirrels- They do not have people to buy squirrel food at the grocery, they do not have toys to play with...or beds to cuddle in when the temperature drops- poor little rodents. My friend took her dog to the off lease area by the lake- he chased , and got the little bunny family living in the bushes there- shredded them- he was forever banned from the off leash park after that event. Trauma drama.

  4. I don't think I'll be having any kind of video party on MY 50th birthday in March. In fact except for approximately eleventy billion Facebook well wishes I expect it to be pretty low key :)

    I always LOVE your pictures of Olga. She's so photogenic...

  5. You! I love you, the way you think, what you see, how you spend your days.

  6. Nice photos! Can you email me when you get a chance? I've got a couple questions for you about your dog.

  7. Hi Shaye -- thanks for reading. How can I contact you? I don't see an e-mail address attached to your Google+ profile.