Monday, June 30, 2014

Im Nebel, by Google

In 1982, when I was studying German in high school, I attended a conference in Orlando where I competed in poetry recitation. It seems unbelievable now, when I can barely speak a word of German, but I actually won a medal reciting Hermann Hesse's poem "Im Nebel," or "In Fog."

Here it is in its original German:

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Einsam ist jeder Busch und Stein,
Kein Baum sieht den anderen,
Jeder ist allein.

Voll von Freunden war mir die Welt,
Als noch mein Leben licht war,
Nun, da der Nebel fällt,
Ist keiner mehr sichtbar. 

Wahrlich, keiner ist weise,
Der nicht das Dunkel kennt,
Das unentrinnbar und leise
Von allen ihn trennt. 

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Leben ist einsam sein.
Kein Mensch kennt den anderen,
Jeder ist allein. 

It's one of those typically Germanic poems about existential crisis and cosmic loneliness, and sort of the opposite of John Donne's "No Man is an Island." Here is an English translation.

I had a great time at that convention. I went with about six other students and two chaperones, and we stayed at the now-defunct Court of Flags hotel near Disney World. I had a low-key crush on one of my fellow attendees, so that made the trip interesting, and I also remember talking enthusiastically with the other kids about Carpenters songs in the car on the way home. Ah, youth and naiveté!

After years passed and my memory dimmed, I gradually found myself uncertain which poem I had recited, or even who had written it. I knew it had something to do with walking in the fog. With the dawn of the Internet I was able to do some searching and figure it out. Now, when I reread the German stanzas, I remember well the words, sounds and cadences. (Probably couldn't recite them again, though!)

Just for fun, I plugged the German version of "Im Nebel" into Google Translate to see how well the program would cope. Not quite poetic -- what would Hermann Hesse think?! -- but comprehensible, more or less:

Strange to wander in the fog! 
Lonely bush, a stone, 
No tree looks the other, 
Everyone is alone. 

Was full of friends me the world, 
When my life was still light, 
Now that the mist falls, 
Is no longer visible. 

Truly, no one is wise, 
Does not know the dark, 
The inescapable and quietly 
Separated from others him. 

Strange to wander in the fog! 
Life is to be lonely. 
No man knows the other, 
Everyone is alone.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dinosaur Pavilion

This year's temporary summer pavilion just opened at the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens. Designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, it looks like a huge fiberglass UFO that landed on some rocks. Or maybe a gigantic dinosaur egg.

As you can see, Olga seized an opportunity to roll enthusiastically on the pavilion's lawn, beneath the withering gaze of a gallery employee. She's definitely not allowed inside the pavilion, where there's a cafe. Maybe she's not allowed on the lawn either? Oh well. We didn't know.

Dave and I went to the wedding of our friends Pete and Laura yesterday near Whitehall, just a few blocks from Big Ben and Westminster Palace -- and coincidentally, near the terminus of this year's Gay Pride parade! So in the few hours between the understated, secular ceremony -- where sunflowers in glass bottles lined the aisle -- and the mushroom risotto at dinner, we were treated to passing glimpses of pride-variety fabulousness. (I specifically remember a shirtless guy in a gold-sequined top hat, feathery collar and Speedo.) Unfortunately I didn't get to take any Gay Pride photos this year, as I didn't drag my camera bag to the wedding. Besides, it poured rain for much of the afternoon. All the more reason to stay inside and drink champagne!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Night Jungle

I got up about 2 a.m. on Friday morning to get a drink of water and I was struck by the streetlights throwing shadows on our walls. Maybe I was impressed because in this summertime land of eternal daylight it's been a while since I've seen the house in darkness!

It looks very jungly, doesn't it? Funny how our few houseplants replicate themselves over and over in different layered shadows.

It was really difficult to take these photos. The house was so dark the auto-focus on the camera wouldn't work, so I had to focus manually -- which was hard because I could barely see the edges of the shadows through the viewfinder. (No snide comments about my eyes. It was 2 a.m., people.) I "guesstimated" and made some long exposures, and overall the pics turned out OK, don't you think?

Dave and I had a conversation about the vegetarian thing. He offered to start making me vegetarian meals, but it seems unreasonable to expect him to constantly make me one thing and himself another. So I suggested a middle path -- more vegetarian meals for both of us, and less meat (for me) on meat days. We're going to try cooking veg all next week, I think. Woo hoo! Dave once again confirms his awesomeness.

My sinus infection has waned greatly -- I haven't had pain for the last two days. Go, doxycycline!

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Universe Buys Us a Bottle of Wine

Dave was walking home from the grocery store on Wednesday afternoon, carrying several plastic bags, when the bottom of one of the bags burst and a bottle of white wine crashed to the pavement. "Our clearer bags are just as strong as our old bags but use less plastic," proclaimed a message in a variety of creative fonts on the side of the Tesco bag. Clearly that's not always very strong.

Fortunately, the wine was the only casualty. But we both lamented its loss.

Fast forward to yesterday morning, when -- with real estate brokers preparing to descend on our apartment with prospective buyers -- Dave and I decided to take Olga to the park. We set out, planning to eat lunch at The Lido Cafe on the Serpentine. The sky was sunny and Olga, as usual, was amped.

We walked past a concrete wall near Bayswater Road and there, at the level of Olga's nose, someone had left a plastic bag full of pennies. It was about the size of two fists. Clearly someone was cleaning out their coin jar or junk drawer and didn't want to be bothered counting small change.

Now, my rule in life is to never pass up a penny -- much less a whole bag of them. You never know when you'll need one and they do add up. So I picked them up and put them in my camera bag, and lugged them through the park for the next couple of hours. (Surprisingly heavy!)

After we had lunch and exhausted the dog, I brought the pennies home, making a trip to the bank to pick up some coin rolls. (Turns out in the UK the banks don't use rolls but small plastic bags. So I got some of those.) I sat down at the dining room table with my hoard and sorted, counted and bagged the coins.

Our take: £6.61, or about $11.25. Not too shabby, and just about the price of our broken bottle of wine. I told Dave the Universe was repaying us for that injustice!

As a side bonus, I also got a couple of Euro pennies, an American penny and a few odd coins from Turkey, Georgia and the Czech Republic. Pennies are silly -- in the USA, in the UK and in Europe -- and should be abolished on all fronts. But as long as they're legal tender, I say put them to use. It makes no sense to throw them out.

(Photo: Carey Street, behind the Royal Courts of Justice, on June 13.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Eating Animals

Olga and I managed to drag ourselves back to the park yesterday morning, sinus headache and all. We saw quite a variety of insects, including this Tiffany-brooch-like longhorn beetle and a red admiral similar to the one I saw last year in Spain. Olga ran and ran while I finished Jonathan Safran Foer's book "Eating Animals," about the ethics of farming and vegetarianism.

It was a good book, similar to numerous other books that have been popular in recent years, like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Fast Food Nation," pointing out the evils of industrial agriculture and slaughter. Foer's position is that eating any animals is morally wrong given the pervasiveness of factory farms in the United States. There's no way to avoid eating meat that comes from cruelty unless you avoid meat altogether, he says.

As you know, I lean vegetarian, although I was only strictly vegetarian for a time back in the early '90s. For about 20 years I didn't eat red meat or cook any meat at home, until I met Dave. These days I usually go vegetarian when I make my own eating choices, which means limiting my intake of meat, chicken or fish to about once a day. Living with Dave -- a proud and enthusiastic carnivore who always cooks dinner -- it's not realistic to imagine I can do much more.

I've written about this before -- my struggle to figure out my ethical role in a system of unnecessary animal cruelty. If I can't eliminate meat from my diet altogether, minimizing my intake seems like the next best option. (I'm not quite as all-or-nothing as Safran Foer, recognizing that I have to make allowances for other people. I already feel guilty for being such a Debbie Downer when Dave whips up lamb shanks or some similar dish that makes me blanch. I eat them but I don't hide my ambivalence very well.)

Perhaps we can make some smarter shopping decisions, though that will take research. And what about eggs? What about dairy? They're farm products that carry a heavy burden of cruelty, but I've always eaten them.

At some point regulators have to step up and prevent the worst abuses, but under the current system in the U.S. that's not happening. Farming has been subjected to the same Wall Street pressures facing most industries -- privatized health care, privatized correctional facilities, journalism, you name it -- putting profits ahead of ethics. And the underlying problem -- which Safran Foer did not mention in his book -- is one I rail against all the time, overpopulation. Factory farming is surely a direct result of having to economically feed millions and millions of mouths -- far more than were eating farm products a century ago, back in the days of lower-yield family farms.

Anyway, I do think about this issue a lot. I really struggle with it. I just don't see how I can go back to vegetarianism myself, though I certainly would if it were up to me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Railroad Spike

On Sunday night, as I was on the tube coming home from meeting my friend Lorien, I began to notice a slight ache in my face. In my upper teeth and gums, specifically, on the left side. I'd been to the dentist several months earlier, so it seemed unlikely I was having a dental problem -- I thought maybe I was getting a canker sore.

By Monday I was in full-fledged pain, but the cause still wasn't evident. I couldn't even really locate the pain. It seemed to be beneath my cheekbone, but was it my upper jaw, or my sinuses? Hard to tell. I sat around the house clutching the side of my face and moaning, popping largely ineffective aspirin, until Dave said, "Why don't you go to the doctor?"

So I did, yesterday morning, and the conclusion is that I have a sinus infection. It's probably related to that mild cold I had a few weeks ago. The doctor tried to talk me into going home and breathing steam a couple of times a day to relieve the congestion, but he gave me a prescription for doxycycline if the steam didn't work. In true American fashion I went straight to the pharmacy and got the doxycycline. I was in pain, and while I didn't have a fever, I felt shaky and tired. I wanted drugs, not steam treatments.

I did manage to take Olga to the park yesterday morning, and today I feel better. The pain no longer feels like John Henry pounding a spike into my cheekbone. It's more of a dull, unpleasant ache -- like that incipient canker sore I thought was on the way, or a headache that hasn't quite mustered itself to full strength.

The packing materials for our move arrived on Monday, and the guest bedroom is now full of boxes, blank newsprint and bubble wrap. The mover, a man-with-a-van named Danny who was recommended to us by someone at work, dropped it all off and talked to us about packing. Did you know there's a proper way to use bubble wrap -- with the bubbles facing inward, pressed directly against the object, rather than outward? It was news to me.

Anyway, I packed several boxes, but I don't want to do too much yet because we're still almost two weeks away from our move. A little each day seems like a sensible approach.

(Photo: Notting Hill, on June 11.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Someone has planted a big patch of poppies on the lawn downstairs from our flat. When I walked over to check them out on Saturday morning, they were positively humming with bees.

I tried to photograph the bees in action, but it's hard to get a good shot of an erratically flying bee. I took about a hundred photos (it seemed) and these three are the best shots.

I've never heard of bees making honey from poppies, but they were certainly into the pollen. Would poppy honey have narcotic properties? Hmmm...

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Birthday, and Biafra

Yesterday was Dave's birthday, but because we celebrated with our £700 glass of cognac at The Waterside Inn a week ago, we kept things low-key. I convinced Dave to walk with me and Olga to Wormwood Scrubs in the morning, and you'd have thought we'd gone on the Bataan Death March, the way everybody (including me!) collapsed when we got home. I don't know why it was so much more tiring than any of my outings to the Scrubs. Yesterday was our warmest day so far this year, but the high was just 75ºF. Hardly torture!

When we got home, Dave and Olga promptly took a long afternoon nap. I finished the novel I've been reading, "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, about the Biafran civil war in Nigeria in the late '60s. It was a very effective book -- I cared about the characters and learned a lot about the background of the conflict. I realized that I still have a Biafran bank note that I got at a Florida flea market back in the '80s:

Kind of a random thing to be hauling around for 25 years, right? You can see the "Half of a Yellow Sun" from the book's title, the symbol of breakaway Biafra, behind the palm tree on the bank note.

Dave had intended to cook a special dinner last night. (I know, I should be doing it for him, given that it was his birthday -- but it would be a curse rather than a gift for him to eat my cooking!) He was so worn out that he deferred the dinner until Tuesday night. We had leftovers instead.

Then I raced off to see another old friend from the Peace Corps, Lorien, who was passing through town. This is turning into quite a common occurrence, isn't it? It's great to have the opportunity to reconnect with people, but I kept this short -- just a single pint at a pub near London Bridge (across town!) and back home again. Dave and I finished the evening with special cupcakes I picked up from a schmancy bakery on Portobello Road -- a place I've been meaning to try, and since we're on the verge of moving away from this neighborhood, it was pretty much now or never.

(Photo: Walking an obstinate dog near Barbican Centre, London.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Roa's Flea

The street artist Roa has put up a new piece in London, a huge flea on the side of a building. Tons of people have already photographed it close up, so I opted for a longer view, from about two blocks away.

I took this on Friday, when I went to Shoreditch to catch up on some street art. Another piece I'd hoped to see, a Thierry Noir mural at the Museum of London, was already gone. Oh well.

We've been having an amazing streak of sunny weather. Yesterday was beautiful, clear and warm, and Olga and I spent the morning exploring Hyde Park. From the looks of the sky at the moment, today will be more of the same. We're actually experiencing a surfeit of sunlight -- it's light when the dog wakes me up at 5 a.m., it's light when I go to bed at 10 p.m. I haven't seen a dark sky in weeks!

We had another real estate viewing yesterday. It was market day on Portobello Road, so the prospective buyer got to see things in full swing. Unfortunately there were also about five shady-looking guys lounging around on the lawn in front of our building. The buyer, a woman, kept asking us, "Is it safe here?" I couldn't figure out why she was so concerned until I realized those guys were out front. I don't know if they even live here. I'd never seen them before. Yesterday evening I went out and filled a bag with liquor and soda bottles and potato chip wrappers that they'd left strewn on the grass.

As the folks on Sesame Street used to sing: "These are the people in your neighborhood..."

Some of you have asked for photos of our new place. Don't worry -- when we move, you'll get plenty! I actually haven't taken any yet, and we haven't been back since we signed the paperwork.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


I was just telling Dave the other day that I hadn't yet seen many butterflies this year. And then I took Olga to Wormwood Scrubs on Thursday, and we saw quite a few! This small tortoiseshell caught my eye, sitting with its wings spread on a blackberry bush...

And not far away was this comma, also on a blackberry.

In fact, the blackberries seemed very popular with butterflies, like this large skipper.

This meadow brown, however, kept to the grass.

And here's a gratuitous ladybug, just because!

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Rainforest Metaphor, and the News

I'm slowly hacking my way through the jungle of tasks that seems to have sprouted around me, flourishing and winding together like tropical foliage. Like lianas, those wrist-thick vines that Tarzan used to swing on. I have been feeling bound up in stuff to do.

For a couple of months, Dave and I have been meaning to get a handyman to the apartment to address a couple of problems -- a minor leak in the bathtub faucet, a wonky light switch, a shower that's missing a piece. We scheduled him and he came yesterday, but as it turned out he completed only one of the repairs -- the light switch, which, granted, seemed like the most potentially hazardous problem. He couldn't fix the tub leak without turning off the water, and none of us could figure out how to do that -- if there's a main water valve in this apartment I don't know where it is. And we couldn't find a suitable replacement piece for the shower. It seems kind of optional anyway.

At least the bathroom light works now.

We've arranged for a mover to help us relocate, and we've scheduled an official hand-off meeting to collect our keys on July 8. We'll get our packing materials next Monday so we can start boxing things up.

I bought a ticket to Florida for the end of July, so I finally have that trip on the calendar. And I had to do some little stuff, like get a tube refund for a fare we paid twice by mistake (long story) and get Dave's birthday package from his mom redelivered. Meanwhile, real estate agents continue to traipse through our apartment. Yesterday I had one show up while I was eating lunch -- I just sat placidly at the table and ate my lasagna while he and a potential buyer hovered over me discussing the attributes of the kitchen.

Some interesting stuff in the news lately:

-- Did you see that Ultra Violet, one of Andy Warhol's protégées at the Factory, died several days ago? I had no idea that later in life she repudiated her wild years with Andy and even joined the Mormons. Good grief.

-- You probably saw the story about the 89-year-old Philadelphia man who's being prosecuted for war crimes at Auschwitz. I have mixed feelings about this. No one can deny that the Nazis perpetrated heinous atrocities, but honestly, at this point, does it do any good to harass a few remaining individuals in the final years of their lives for deeds that they may or may not have done? We aren't talking about architects of policy here. We're talking about foot soldiers, people who were teenagers at the time, and putting someone that elderly on trial essentially gives them a life sentence by default. I just wonder if anything good can come of this prosecution.

-- You may have seen that Tony Blair came out with some bizarre remarks about the newest insurgency in Iraq, declaring that the instability in that country isn't a result of western intervention 12 years ago. He sees it as symptomatic of a more widespread convulsion of change that manifested itself in the Arab Spring. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, responded with a withering criticism that was a joy to read. Many people in Britain are still furious with Blair for supporting George W. Bush and the Iraq war, and they see Blair's essay (rightfully, I think) as a feeble attempt to whitewash his own reputation.

(Photo: A back patio off Portobello Road, June 1.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Nine Pictures I'm Not Keeping

I mentioned that I'm cleaning out my photo albums. Through a combination of scanning and discarding, I have reduced my photo collection to nine albums, which is about half what I had before.

Even back in the days of film I was kind of a shutterbug. I wonder sometimes what made me take certain photos -- and why do I need to save prints of them? Here's a little tour of some questionable shots.

Above, a "No Dogs" sign at the base of a tree in New York after a snowstorm (about 2003).

Car-washing (or maybe dog-washing) towels hanging on the clothesline in my brother's back yard (about 2004).

A pay phone and advertising posters in New York (2002).

A random pumpkin field near Greenport, Long Island (2001).

My Easter eggs (2003).

Bourbon Street in New Orleans (1999).

The graves of Frederick the Great's 11 dogs, at Sans Souci Palace, Potsdam, Germany (1997). For some time I've been thinking this was the grave of a horse, but when I looked it up that's not the case at all. Either I misunderstood when I visited or the animals mutated in my memory!

My foot on the dashboard of my car (1998). Do not try this at home, especially while driving.

A hospital sign in Prague (2003). I was probably interested in the stickers, but they're not really very interesting as stickers go.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Scenes from a Mall

Yesterday Dave and I had to go down to Croydon, in far south London, to get our UK visas renewed. This is the official government permit that allows us to live and work here, so it's a big deal. We had an 8:25 a.m. appointment and we left home at 6 a.m. to give ourselves plenty of time to make the rail and tube connections, walk to the visa center and go through security.

The process went smoothly, and after we submitted all our paperwork we had about an hour to wait until we got everything back and learned whether or not we'd been approved. So, to kill some time, we went to the mall.

Yes, there is a mall in Croydon, and it comes with all the blandness of malls everywhere. Especially in the early morning when not much is open.

First, we went to Starbucks, from whence the top photo comes. What you probably can't really appreciate is just how filthy that furniture was.

Not far away was a dry fountain featuring several misshapen, green-patinaed lions.

Dave waited at Starbucks while I wandered around with my iPhone camera. (No, that is not Dave. That's an old guy who was sitting to our right. That is Dave's briefcase on the bench nearby, though.)

It makes sense that the children's play area would feature a pint-sized London tour bus.

And here's one of my stranger finds -- a rack of sweatshirts at Topman reading "St. Petersburg, Florida, 1989." I suppose this has retro appeal (for someone) but since I lived and worked near St. Petersburg in the late 1980s, I was a bit weirded out. It felt like a personal message!

Anyway, the good news is, our visas were approved so we remain in England with the Queen's permission.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Wallet Gets a Scare

Dave and I checked out of our little inn in Bray yesterday morning after a continental breakfast of strong coffee, flaky warm pastries, fruit compote and artisanal yogurt. We were sorry to go but had to zip back to London to relieve our dog-sitter!

I got quite a shock at checkout when the inn presented a bill for roughly £1,300. I thought, holy cow -- what on earth did we buy? Looking it over I realized the culprit was a glass of 1965 armagnac Dave ordered after dinner the night before. I specified something "not too expensive" to the waiter, who showed me a menu price of £54 for the glass. In the spirit of Dave's birthday I choked back my miserly instincts and said sure. Dave was shocked it cost even that much. Lo and behold, upon checkout, the price appeared on our bill as more than £700! That's right, more than $1,200. For a glass of brandy.

I explained to the woman at the desk that there's no way that price could be correct. She double-checked and said it seemed to be, but I firmly said no. (I'm guessing that's the price for the bottle?) I explained I'd been quoted a price of £54 by the waiter.

To her credit, she changed the price to the one I expected, and we paid. I mean, what do I look like, a freaking hedge fund manager?!

Aside from this minor snafu, The Waterside Inn was wonderful and we definitely plan to return.

I spent the afternoon continuing to clean out my photo albums. I have eliminated many books so far by throwing away substandard photos and scanning others. I'm saving prints only if they're good quality and they're favorite shots. It feels great to lighten this load!

(Photos: Two more shots from Bray. These are both hdr, which means they're composites of three separate exposures to capture a fuller range of light in the sky and in the light and dark areas.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Birthday Escape to Bray

Dave and I are on an overnight jaunt to Bray, a tiny village west of London that has gained some renown in the culinary world as the home of two Michelin-starred restaurants: The Fat Duck by chef Heston Blumenthal, and The Waterside Inn by chef Alain Roux. We're here for Dave's birthday, which is coming up in about a week.

We took the train from Paddington Station yesterday afternoon, having left Olga in the capable hands of a coworker who stayed over with her at our flat.

Bray is about as English as is possible, with rose-draped cottages and a fine pub where Dave and I had an afternoon pint. Wandering afterward, I came across St. Michael's, the village church (top) as well as a cricket game in progress at the local club.

Portions of the churchyard at St. Michael's have been allowed to grow wild, on the theory that the grass and bushes will help provide homes for critters. A local scout troop created an "insect hotel habitat" out of recycled materials, like a big layer cake of moldy carpets, wood and pinecones.

And indeed, there were bugs in residence.

While I was photographing the bugs and some nearby flowers and trees, an older man drove up and got out of his car. "If you like trees," he told me, "you should see the tulip tree at the front of the church. It's in flower now."

And here it is.

The old man told me how the Native Americans called the tulip tree the "canoe tree," because they could carve a 20-man canoe from its trunk. I have no idea whether that's true, but I was amused by the irony of this English villager telling me about Native Americans.

Dave and I had dinner at The Waterside Inn, in a glassy dining room with a panoramic view of the Thames, much narrower here than in London. The food was spectacular, of course, and after the meal we were able to simply climb the stairs and collapse into bed. Our room is so perfectly comfortable that it defies description. Safe to say that this morning, I slept a couple of hours past Olga's usual 5 a.m. wake-up call!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Early Morning Walks

As I said yesterday, Olga's been getting me up extra-early in the morning, given that we have lots of sunlight now. I always take her out first thing, and since it's so light, I've been bringing along the camera.

This morning we set out shortly after 5 a.m. and passed the fabled Blue Door from the movie "Notting Hill," which in real life is rather prosaically situated next to a not-very-romantic (but posh!) nail salon. (The movie door is on the right.)

We checked in on our friend the street art fox, who is looking much flakier and weathered than he once did.

We also saw a real urban fox, warily watching us from afar. Of course I didn't have my long lens, so this picture is severely cropped and hence a bit grainy. Olga wanted to run after it in the worst way. We walked up to where it had been and she sniffed around, but the fox had vanished as thoroughly as a ghost.

The other day we came across an old Citroen that gave us an opportunity for a bit of reflection. (It also apparently gave Olga horse hooves.)

And here's the beast herself, facing into the sunrise one morning last week. The planter behind her is actually a watering trough for horses, from back in the day -- hence the motto.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Long Daylight Hours

Summer break has officially begun!

This is such a crazy time of year. The sun rises at a ridiculous hour (yesterday at 4:43 a.m., though the sky starts getting light long before that) and sets at an equally ridiculous time (9:19 p.m. yesterday, but again, the light lingers well past 10 p.m.)

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining about too much sunlight in London. But it can be hard to go to sleep when the sky is still so bright, and the gray morning light gets Olga's motor running way too early. We have heavy drapes in our bedroom but the light comes in around the edges and that's enough to tell her that it's time to get up. She starts furiously licking my hand, resting her head on me and wiggling around as much as possible. (Who knows what kind of window coverings we'll have in our new apartment?!)

I feel like I'm running a little bit of a sleep deficit, and I'm also still fighting my lingering cold. That hasn't stopped me from walking, though, and yesterday I went from the Barbican to Tottenham Court Road, passing St. Paul's Cathedral, which as you can see from the photo above was thronged with midday crowds. Don't you love that -- everyone out soaking up the beautiful weather? That picture makes me happy. It reminds me of "Where's Waldo?"

Work yesterday morning was just a matter of neatening up the library -- recycling newspapers, shelving last-minute returns, putting away temporary displays. It was satisfying to leave everything neat and orderly. (And thus is revealed once again the obsessive side of my personality.)

I feel like I learned a lot this year. I started out stern and demanding -- at least with the high schoolers -- focused on enforcing rules while simultaneously feeling inwardly terrified. I might have even been a bit of a jerk. As the year went on and I learned how to talk to the kids with a bit more ease, I eased up too, and by the end, we'd reached a better equilibrium. A few kids even asked me to sign their yearbooks! I'm actually looking forward to seeing them again in the fall and continuing to help them enjoy the library.

But first -- vacation!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lease Trouble

Our last student holdout came in and paid for her lost library book yesterday, which means we're ending the year with clean slate. Woo hoo! We technically weren't even open, but I wasn't about to turn her away. We still have a couple of staff members with some stuff out, but maybe I can resolve that today.

As for the German books, Jonathan had already flown to the used-book charity shop. But I salvaged a copy of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," a German translation of "James and the Giant Peach" and another children's book. So we still have at least a couple of German-language volumes, of different reading levels.

I got a distressing e-mail yesterday from the real estate agent handling the rental of our new apartment. Apparently our new landlord hadn't yet signed the lease and she has decided that she wants just a one-year lease, rather than a two-year. I find this super-annoying because we were encouraged by the leasing agent to offer a longer lease term, as a way to offer more security to the landlord, and she accepted our written offer of a two-year lease weeks ago. Why the abrupt change of heart? It seems very shady to me. I suspect she either wants to hike our rent at the end of the first year, or she's mulling a change to the building that might necessitate our removal after a year. The estate agent insists that's not true, but I can't imagine why else it would be so important for her to make this last-minute change.

But Dave and I talked about it and at the end of the day, our only other option would be to walk away and keep apartment-hunting -- and we don't want to do that. So we're signing a revised lease for just a year. *sigh*

(Photo: An alley of flowers in Dagenham, last month.)