Friday, July 31, 2015

Thoughts on Cecil and '70s Fashion

Poor Cecil the lion. If anything good comes out of that story, it's a heightened awareness of the fact that big-game hunting continues. I fundamentally do not understand why anyone would gain enjoyment from shooting a huge, noble, potentially endangered animal that humans can't even eat. Trophy hunting is an utterly alien concept to me.

I read an article in The Guardian in which a hunter defended big-game hunting as a bedrock human impulse -- a nod to our inner natures as predators. But in the wild, no animal hunts and kills just for the fun of it. They hunt for food. Not the same thing!

If anything, I hope this incident prompts changes in hunting laws. Hunters shouldn't be able to pay any price to hunt rhinoceros or other trophy animals. Why don't those guys just buy cameras and take photos?

And I'm impressed at the universal outrage that Cecil's killing prompted. The vast, vast majority of people see that it's wrong.

Even Newt Gingrich, for God's sake! I don't think I've ever agreed with Newt Gringrich about anything. other news...

Photo scanning continues around here. I plowed through stacks of family photos yesterday and a photo album and file folders. I set up a private Flickr account for my mom and put everything there, so not only can she access it, but my brother and I can too.

We looked through a folder full of childhood drawings by my brother and me. Here are some drawings I did as a kid. My mom used to stack up household magazines, like "Better Homes and Gardens," as well as Sears and J.C. Penney catalogs, for me to use in art projects. I'm sure I was inspired by those. I think I missed out on a career in fashion illustration!

(Top photo: These leaf-hoppers (I think?) like our pine cone lilies!)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chihuahua-Free Zone

Oh, brother! Those chihuahuas! I forgot how relentless those little monsters can be. I thought I made some progress with them yesterday, encouraging them to sit in my lap and allow themselves to be petted. Which they would do, only to jump down to engage with some distraction, return, look at me as if they'd never seen me before in their tiny lives, and start barking all over again!

It's actually not even the barking that bothers me, so much as the snarling. And the pulling on my clothing. My dad keeps trying to convince me that they're harmlessly nipping, but there's a visceral human reaction to an animal coming at you, growling, with teeth bared. You can't help but be a little tense!

They remind me of piranhas, roiling the water around a leg of lamb until all that's left is a stripped bone.

Anyway, I'll continue to work on them when I go back to my dad's house in a few days. For now, I'm at my mom's, which is a chihuahua-free-zone.

I'm trying to help her with some more photo scanning, one of my main occupations when I spend time here. She has mountains of pictures that we're trying to whittle down to a manageable stockpile and organize in some way. We have so many, in stacks and envelopes and tucked haphazardly in albums,  that we can't even look at them. A common family problem, I'm sure.

You may remember that my mom is selling our family home. At least, in theory. It's been on the market since April but we've seen no real activity. No one has come to view it. Mom says that's partly because the realtor is being very selective about showing only to buyers who have financing, but still -- doesn't it seem like somebody should have come through by now? I think it's very strange and last night had a talk with mom about whether she needs to change realtors, or enlist more help.

(Photo: A water vending machine in Lutz, near my dad's house.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In the Jungle

Here I am in the subtropical land of incessant rain. Apparently the area north of Tampa has seen so much recent rainfall that there's flooding in some neighborhoods -- the Anclote River is running so high that there's an inch or two of water in nearby homes. At my dad's house, we just have big brown murky puddles and some seriously jungle-ish vegetation.

My flight was uneventful, except for one small glitch -- I showed up at the airport a day early! I got to the check-in counter and the agent couldn't find my reservation. I pulled it up on my computer and noticed that although my saved itinerary gave July 28 as my departure date, the e-mailed confirmation said July 29. How this happened, I have no idea. I probably saved the itinerary before buying the ticket, and shifted the time period before I hit "purchase." In any case I felt like a dolt, and I shrank at the prospect of taking the train and the tube all the way back home only to do it all again the next day. Fortunately, British Airways was able to squeeze me onto that day's flight (for a fee, of course).

Thank god I was a day early and not a day late!

I read on the plane all the way to Florida, finishing "The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace," about a brilliant, economically disadvantaged kid from Newark who managed to graduate from Yale with a degree in molecular biology. Unfortunately he was never quite able to extricate himself from the drug-dealing culture of his hometown, and he floundered, directionless, after graduation, eventually with tragic consequences. The book was written by his Yale roommate with the cooperation of family and many friends, and it's riveting.

The food on the flight was OK, although I got a square of moldy cheddar. The date on the package said Sept. 12, but if they'd waited until then to serve that thing it would have looked like a cube of astroturf! I trimmed off the mold and ate it anyway. I'm no ninny.

(Photo: Our neighbor's boat. I don't think he takes it out much!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back to the Homeland

I'm all packed up and ready to fly, more or less! Packing for Florida really isn't that difficult. As I said yesterday, shorts and t-shirts -- and nothing bulky. No surfboards or water skis for me!

Dave and I went to hear Holst's "The Planets" last night at the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall. It was preceded by two other pieces, both odd, discordant and sort of spacey. One consisted of chirping and trilling violins that brought to mind jungle birds or stridulating insects. Or maybe aliens? I think whoever programmed the evening was going for an extra-terrestrial vibe.

The mealworms in our bird feeder have been a huge success. We see far fewer pigeons and many more birds of interest -- tits, finches, and our local spotted woodpecker, who keeps coming back for more. He thinks he's found the best tree ever.

I'll be sorry to leave the garden for the next few weeks because there's a lot going on -- but I'm sure Dave will keep me in the loop via text message and e-mail. And Olga won't be getting to the Heath nearly as much in my absence, because Dave just doesn't enjoy walking her that far -- but we have her dog-walker coming back five days a week now, so that will help.

Coming to you next from North America!

(Photo: Near Golborne Road, July 10.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Sopping, Snoozy Sunday

Yesterday was another daylong soaker. We were so unmotivated by the drizzly weather that we stayed inside reading and watching movies. I finished "The Whites," which I really liked -- but why Richard Price had to have both his name and his nom-de-plume on the cover is a mystery to me. Isn't the whole point of a nom-de-plume to keep the author's identity secret? So "Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt" really doesn't do the trick, and seems a tad pretentious.

Having said that -- excellent book, and recommended if you like noir crime novels.

We also had a friend over for brunch, and initially Dave intended to cook. But like Yeats's falcon in its ever-widening spiral, our ambitious plans lost their center. We considered going to a nearby French bistro, and then staying in entirely and ordering takeaway Lebanese -- which is what we did. Mere anarchy loosed upon our brunch.

The mimosas probably contributed to our lack of motivation! We still have a boatload of champagne from our garden party several weeks ago. I don't know how we're ever going to drink it all. There's a magnum in our smallish European refrigerator, and apparently once you've chilled your champagne you don't want to let it go to room temperature again -- and of course once you've opened it you have to drink it all. So we're stuck with that huge bottle hogging our fridge space, until we have enough people around to help us polish it off. At one point we couldn't even close the door easily. With only three of us, we did not open the magnum yesterday.

I was interviewed by Time Out London for a piece on Bleeding London -- and specifically about my accordions photo, which they are said to be reprinting. I don't think the article is out yet, at least not as far as I can tell. Also, the BBC News Magazine used some of my pictures of the now-demolished Carlton Tavern, which was exciting, even though the pictures themselves are pretty straightforward. (Interesting article, too.)

Today I've got to pack for Florida! Shorts and t-shirts, I'm thinking!

(Photo: Harrow Road, west London.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Purple and Gold

When I was growing up in Florida, purple and gold meant fall to me -- the goldenrod, the blazing stars, the pine lilies.

Here, they're summer colors. Olga and I found a few examples while walking yesterday on Hampstead Heath Extension.

Have I mentioned that I'm taking off for Florida in just two days? The immediacy surprises even me. This trip has been planned for a while, but I was startled when I woke up this morning and realized I'm leaving the day after tomorrow! Holy cow. Fortunately I don't have much to do to prepare.

Dave and I watched the TV movie pilot for "Fantasy Island" last night. I vividly remember watching it when it first aired in January 1977, and I even remember parts of the plot. But I hadn't seen it in, oh, 35 years at least. I found it on YouTube but the posted movie turned out to be flawed, so I bought it on British iTunes -- where, by the way, the picture quality was much better and well worth the £1 and change that it cost. It was a hoot to watch! Bill Bixby, Carol Lynley, Eleanor Parker, Sandra Dee, Peter Lawford, Victoria Principal and a host of other actors...a real nostalgia trip. Interestingly, although I remember loving the pilot, I was never a fan of the series itself. Between Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize, the schtick was a bit heavy to endure every week.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sun and Rain, This and That

We're having a midsummer chilly spell. It rained all day yesterday and the temperatures were in the high 50's. Thank goodness Olga's dog-walker showed up -- even though he wasn't technically scheduled -- so I could spend the day pretty much on the couch. It was fabulous.

(I'm posting this sunny photo of a nearby pub, taken several weeks ago, as an antidote to the chill.)

I did get some productive stuff done in the morning. I managed all the refuse for our household and those of our neighbors, as I wrote yesterday -- and the rubbish men did pick it all up, thank goodness. You just never know with those guys. Sometimes they leave things behind and sometimes they come through.

I also worked on bagging up some yard waste that we've been piling up at the back of the garden. We don't want a super-manicured garden -- we want to leave some places for bugs and critters to live. But that pile of old cuttings, twigs and branches was getting out of hand. It will be collected next week by the yard waste recycling people.

The downside of working in the yard, for me, is that I always get attacked by nasty little gnat-like insects that leave red, itchy welts on my skin. They never seem to bite Dave -- or if they do, they don't leave marks -- but they feast on me. It only happens when I thrash around in leaves, weeding or, in this case, bagging up brush. My arms are a red lumpy mess.

I've been meaning to post this photo of some hollyhocks growing on a street where I regularly walk Olga. Aren't they impressive? As tall as I am! They came up like this last year, too.

Finally, Dave and I watched several movies -- "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything" (it was "British scientist biopic" night, apparently) as well as the original "La Cage Aux Folles," which Dave had never seen. He loves "The Birdcage," so I wanted him to see the original European movie on which it was based -- and even I never realized how closely the two are linked. The dialogue is almost line-for-line. "The Birdcage" always rankled me -- the idea that a young man in 1996 would ask his gay parents to upend their lives and hide their relationship from his fiancée's family annoys me to death. But the original was made in the 1970s, and back then, that plot seems more defensible.

I finally got a decent shot of the woodpecker that comes to our yard. We replaced the bird seed in our feeder with dried mealworms, because the seed was attracting so many huge, flapping pigeons that the other birds weren't coming around. Apparently pigeons don't like mealworms. But woodpeckers do!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Olga's Kong Crisis

Dave was throwing Olga's Kong toy in the back garden the other day when it bounced over the fence into the next-door neighbor's yard. In the past, when this has happened, we've been able to reach over the fence with a weird three-pronged garden tool from our shed and retrieve it. (The only thing that three-pronged tool has been good for.)

But this time, the Kong was so far out in the neighbor's garden that we couldn't begin to reach it. So we knocked on her door, and of course she was away. We knocked again, hours later, and she was still away. Turns out she must be on vacation or something, because she hasn't been home in days.

Olga, meanwhile, acted as if we had stolen her puppies. She'd repeatedly stand at the fence, looking at us as if to say, "I know it's over there! Please go get it!" She moped around the house and went from room to room, as if willing the Kong -- her best friend, her only possession, her signal that fun is about to be had -- to appear.

The dog was such an emotional wreck that we decided to order another one and have it sent for next-day delivery. It arrived last night, and she eagerly snatched it out of my hand. Now she has her security blanket and all is once again right with the world. (We'll get her old one back, too, when the neighbor returns from Ibiza or Tenerife or wherever the heck she is.)

In other news, today is garbage day, and I am hoping against hope that the rubbish guys actually pick up the trash this week. Last week they left all our recycling behind. This morning I pulled all the bins out of the alley next to our house and lined them up on the curb so they couldn't miss them. I think one of the neighbors has thrown some stuff in the recycling that may not be recyclable, and I hope that's not why the garbage guys have avoided it -- because the neighbor will never fix it by herself and I, as the default garbage maintenance person for all three of our households, will wind up having to move everything to the garbage bin.

Suburban drama! Sigh...

(Photo: The view from the cafe in City Hall, a few weeks ago. The palm trees are a temporary, summertime addition!)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters

Yesterday we achieved the last of my English summer travel goals. We walked a small portion of the South Downs Way, a cross-country trail, from the town of Eastbourne on the Sussex Coast. We saw Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, tremendous sheer cliffs of white chalk that drop straight down to the ocean.

I was very impressed with Dave for agreeing to do this walk with me. He's not crazy about walking or hiking, but he stuck it out!

We thought about bringing Olga, but it would have meant a lot of time on a train and keeping her on a leash during the walk (for reasons that will become clear). So we left her at home.

We started by taking the train an hour and a half to Eastbourne. We missed one train and then had a bit of drama with a reluctant ticket machine at Victoria Station and missed the next one too, so we had to hang around almost an hour, getting a later start than I had hoped. But that didn't matter. We were on no timetable.

Eastbourne seemed like a quiet mid-sized seaside town, bright white in the sunlight. Weirdly, it reminded me of old Miami Beach, back before it went all pastel and neon in the '80s. We walked to the oceanfront and turned westward.

Beachy Head was our first stop. The tallest chalk cliff in Britain, it drops 531 feet to the sea below, where a lighthouse was built out in the water to make its location clear to ships. It was a bit of a climb to get from town up to the top of Beachy Head, but manageable and well worth it for the views.

Apparently the name Beachy Head has nothing to do with beaches, although there is a small beach below the cliff. Instead it's an Anglicization of Beau Chef, its medieval French name.

Beachy Head has a reputation as a popular suicide spot. The edge of the cliff is dotted with memorial crosses and we saw a chaplain walking in the area. They routinely patrol to try to stop jumpers.

Perversely, I was reminded of the "This Man is About to Die" scene from "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life." (Link warnings: Gratuitous nudity! Objectification of women! In short, typical Monty Python.)

After Beachy Head we continued west, passing another lighthouse. We got a clear view of the Seven Sisters, a procession of white cliffs stretching from the village of Birling Gap westward to Seaford Head in the distance.

Incidentally, as you can see, there's not much in the way of barriers atop these cliffs. You can walk right up to the edge, though signs warn against getting too close -- the chalk cliffs continually erode and crumble, and the wind is fierce. There were a few areas with small, low fences and signs warning of erosion, and we respected them!

We ended our walk at Birling Gap, though the South Downs Way continues another hundred miles to Winchester. We caught a bus back to Eastbourne, where we took the train home.

From the train we had a nice view of the "Long Man of Wilmington," a figure carved into a hill. The figure's origins are murky. It was once thought to be from the Iron Age, but some believe it to be much newer -- as recent as the 17th century.

We got home, ordered Chinese food and rested our weary bones!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thistles, Blackberries and Donald Trump

We've moved into a new mini-season in the garden. The roses have finished their first flush and the pink persicaria are gone, and in their place so much more has bloomed -- the loosestrife, the butterfly bushes, the hydrangeas.

Our globe thistles sent up spiny round flowers weeks ago, and we thought, "Well, those aren't very impressive." Then one of the globes covered itself in tiny purple flowerets, and we were more impressed. As were the bees.

Our hawkweed is going strong. I found out another name for this flower is "fox and cubs," which is pretty adorable, isn't it?

Speaking of foxes, I haven't seen ours in weeks and weeks. But as I type, I hear one barking nearby. So they're still out there.

It's blackberry season again! I picked these yesterday from our bushes and ate them on my cereal.

When I went out this morning, I found this wonderful surprise amidst our wildflower seed patch -- a red poppy, like a swirling flamenco dancer. We're getting blue cornflowers and some kind of yellow daisyish things too.

Olga is unenthusiastic about it all.

Dave and I went to dinner last night at Fifteen, one of Jamie Oliver's restaurants, to celebrate our fifth anniversary. I can't believe it's only been five years since we civil-unioned in New Jersey. It seems like a lifetime ago! (I swear, I mean that in a positive way. So much has changed since then!) We had a great time and it's a nice restaurant -- and its profits support a charity that helps challenged young people get training and mentoring in restaurant work.

Also, a couple of nights ago, we watched a fascinating documentary, "You've Been Trumped," about Donald Trump's ultimately successful efforts to build a golf course on a patch of oceanfront land in Scotland. The film raises some interesting questions about Trump and the complicity of some local officials -- including the police force -- in making this development happen against the strong wishes of immediate neighbors, scientists and environmentalists. I'm not sure it's exactly even-handed, but it's definitely entertaining and revealing. His presidential candidacy isn't viable -- is it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The East Docklands

After checking out Robin Hood Gardens on Sunday, I walked eastward through the London Docklands, areas that a century ago and more were a hive of activity for ships and sailors from all over the world. Most of that shipping has gone away now, and the Docklands are full of industrial estates -- some shuttered -- and formerly industrial areas that have been redeveloped for residential and commercial use.

I crossed a bridge over the muddy mouth of the River Lea, which flows through East London and spills into the Thames...

...and walked through industrial areas (with some curious signage). I walked beneath the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that runs from Docklands to the O2 Dome. You may remember we rode this cable car several years ago.

Finally, I got to an obviously man-made sandy beach on a canal near Silvertown.

Paddleboarders were making their way up the canal past the Excel Centre, a massive convention and exhibition hall. I walked along the banks to Millennium Mills, a huge derelict flour mill that's being renovated into a tech center and housing.

Then I made my way down to the north bank of the River Thames, where a nice park overlooks the Thames Barrier, the flood-control devices that are meant to control extreme tides and save central London when necessary. (I wish I'd known about this park when I took my college friend's daughter Sarah to see the Thames Barrier years ago! We saw it from the south bank, where the amenities aren't nearly as nice.)

I bought lunch at a little cafe in the park and walked around a bit, enjoying the whir of crickets in the long wild grass and watching people play football and lie in the sun against the futuristic backdrop of the barrier.

Finally I made my way up and over the Connaught Bridge, which connects the Docks to the mainland -- and which, by the way, doesn't really have much of a sidewalk, at least not where I was walking. (Very unusual for pedestrian-minded London! Was I on the wrong side of the bridge? Maybe.) Great views over the Docklands and back toward Canary Wharf and central London.

I walked up through Plaistow and caught the tube for home. It was a great day out!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Robin Hood Gardens

Another day, another endangered modernist building!

When I was on the Bleeding London photo walk a couple of weeks ago, I talked to another walker who's familiar with some of London's brutalist architecture. We talked about Balfron and Trellick towers, and he asked me if I'd been to see Robin Hood Gardens before its demolition.

I'd heard about Robin Hood Gardens, but I hadn't had a chance to visit yet. He said he thought it was already being torn down, so I was afraid I'd missed my chance. But I did some research and found that it's still standing, so I went to visit yesterday.

Robin Hood Gardens is a council estate in East London completed in 1972, the work of husband-and-wife architects Alison and Peter Smithson. It consists of two long, slightly zigzagging buildings bracketing a large central courtyard with a hill. The buildings are of seven and 10 stories, and contain 213 apartments.

I found the buildings very hard to photograph, partly because there were so many trees and other obstacles in the way. So forgive my wonky angles! Here's a satellite image from Google showing the plan of the estate:

Robin Hood Gardens is indeed slated to be demolished, though some preservationists and architects are working to save it. Architect Richard Rogers, in a recent appeal, called it "the most important social housing development from the post-war era in Britain."

The Smithsons drew on the concept of "streets in the sky" in developing the project. The two buildings parenthetically screen the courtyard from the surrounding city, creating an oasis amid one of London's busiest areas. (The entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel, which runs under the Thames, is just to the east.)

When I visited, I was surprised to find curtains in the windows and people evidently still living there. I'm not sure what the timetable is for demolition, but it doesn't seem like it's happening tomorrow.

From my standpoint as a layman, they're more difficult buildings to love than Balfron or Trellick, which are so immediately and obviously distinctive. The architectural appeal of Robin Hood Gardens is more subtle, and now we've also got to look past years of neglect by the local council.

But I do hope the push for preservation is successful. The architects who want to save the estate say the apartments are of a generous size and could be refurbished.

Also, the courtyard contains some quirky concrete sculptures. An urban Nessie!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Color Box

Olga and I sometimes pass this piece of playground equipment on our morning walks. (And what IS it? A clubhouse? A jungle gym? I don't even know.) At this time of year, the sun streams through those colored panels on the top and throws patches of colored light on the ground. It's a cool effect.

Olga the glow-dog!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

My To-Do List

So what's been going on around here this week, you ask?

Well, we had some people come and clean our oven -- which sounds hopelessly bourgeois, I know, but that oven was a disaster. Dave, with all of his meat roasting, had left his mark. Many marks. He called a cleaning service that advertised a special on ovens, and they came in with a metal tub and some mysterious solvents, and after much furious scrubbing about an hour later they left and the oven was sparkling clean. And I am not complaining at all, even though the first time we fired it up afterwards, it set off the smoke alarm and scared Olga half to death.

I am working my way down a long mental list of things I've been meaning to do. Yesterday I got online and bought some clothes for the upcoming school year, for example. I reserved a rental car to drive in Florida on my upcoming trip. I bought some books on Amazon, including a copy of the novel "Bleeding London," because it's about time I read it. I made a dinner reservation for our anniversary.

And I have been working, working, working on my pictures to get them ready for judging by the RPS. This has turned into quite an arduous undertaking, even though there's not really that much to do, because I'm having to learn Photoshop as I go. (I've talked about learning Photoshop for years, but as is usually the case, I put it off until now, when I finally have a reason to sit down and do it.) I'm also chafing at having to make some of these changes at all, based on the judges' recommendations at that recent advisory day, but that's just my own ego and obstinacy, I suppose. I signed up for judging in October, so I have plenty of time, but I want to get it all done before school begins -- which really means before I leave for Florida on the 28th.

Plus I've got several more library books to read, and a few more day trips to take! I've got to keep practicing my French! And I'm running out of summer!

Dave was laughing at me last night, because I was talking about how much I have to do, and he said, "Yeah, but you don't really have to do any of that!" Which is true. I could turn in the library books unread. I could not take the day trips. But I've set these goals, you know?

First-world problems...

(Photo: Wheelbarrows in the cemetery near Hampstead Parish Church.)

Friday, July 17, 2015

More Durham, and a Dogfight

My other objective in going to Durham was much more conventional -- to see the cathedral. The modern city of Durham is built around an imposing bluff above the River Wear, where a cathedral has stood since 1093. It's a distinctive building that preserves much of its Norman architecture.

Durham, as a buffer between England and Scotland, was a strategically important area back then, and it was ruled by a succession of Prince-Bishops who wielded both religious and secular authority.

As luck would have it, a huge service was going on when I visited, so I couldn't wander around the building as freely as I would have liked. But I could stand in the back and see the main part of the nave, which has unusual columns carved with geometric designs. (Photography wasn't allowed inside.) I could also walk through the Benedictine cloisters and around the palace green, between the cathedral and the adjacent castle.

I also had fun walking around the town itself. I found some quirky shopfronts, but overall it was sadly dominated by chain stores. (I must admit I contributed to the onslaught of the chains by going to Cafe Nero for lunch. What can I say? Sometimes you want something familiar.)

This statue of Neptune stands in the Durham Market square, a gift to the city in 1729 by a Parliament member. It's symbolic of an effort to improve navigation on the River Wear and link Durham to the North Sea.

Durham is a university town, and it seems quite cultivated overall.

After wandering for the afternoon, I caught the 5:39 train back to London. I was home around 9 p.m.

What I didn't mention yesterday, while describing my visit to the Apollo Pavilion, is that I witnessed a scary dogfight while I was there taking pictures. A woman walking a big yellow dog and a rough-looking man with a brindle staffy crossed paths, and I didn't see who started it, but soon enough those dogs were rolling around snarling. The staffy got ahold of the yellow dog's foreleg and would not let go. The yellow dog was yelping and the woman was screaming, "Get him off my dog! Get him off my dog!" But the man couldn't do much until the staffy relented. The woman ran off with her dog in tow, calling back to the man, "Your dog should be on a lead!" The man retorted, "He IS on a lead," while his panting staffy stood next to him, plainly not on a lead.

Anyway, it was scary. As a staffy owner I hate to see anything that perpetuates the image of staffies as badly behaved dogs, but that owner didn't look particularly responsible -- and after all, dog behavior is all about the owner, isn't it? (And there I was, camera out, and did I take any pictures of all this excitement? None! I was too transfixed. I would make a terrible photojournalist.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Apollo Pavilion

This is the structure I went up to Durham to see yesterday -- Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion, built in 1969 as a massive artistic centerpiece to the "new town" of Peterlee.

Named after the NASA mission that put men on the moon, the Apollo Pavilion was supposed to act as a sort of bridge over a stream and pond separating parts of the Peterlee neighborhood known, somewhat amusingly, as Sunny Blunts. Pasmore was already an established artist when he designed it, with work in museums around the world.

I don't remember how I first heard about this structure. I think I stumbled onto its Web site somehow. I bookmarked it in my computer and it's been there, month after month, nagging me from my bookmarks list, reminding me to go check it out.

I wasn't disappointed. The pavilion is an interesting mass of planes and angles that come together in a very pleasing way. On each end are murals of biomorphic forms taken from some of Pasmore's paintings, softening the hard edges.

You've got to admire the vision of the community planners who gave the green-light to the construction of this pavilion -- their desire to bring something unusual and artistic to a neighborhood that could otherwise have been just another big, bland housing estate.

Unfortunately, not long after it was constructed, the pavilion became something of a nuisance -- a magnet for "anti-social behavior," as they say in Britain. "It is not the fact that the sculpture is a monstrosity covered with graffiti that bothers us, it is the crowds of foul-mouthed louts who hang around it looking for trouble,” one neighborhood resident complained in 1980. A year later a local newspaper reported: "A costly manmade beauty spot in Peterlee has been reduced to a shabby, rubbish strewn no-go area."

The local council struggled with what to do. Some people wanted it removed entirely, and even Pasmore -- probably frustrated by the drama -- once said that "if the council can’t appreciate a modern work of art and are not prepared to keep it in a decent condition they should certainly blow it up.”

Fortunately, that didn't happen. The pavilion was covered with soil and ragged plantings for a while, but eventually they (and the graffiti) were cleaned away and a restoration in 2009 brought the pavilion back to its original appearance. It is now a listed structure of local historical and artistic significance.

Below the structure is this pillar, one of several in Peterlee designed by Pasmore. (As you can see, despite the restoration, that shallow pond is still none too clean! Can't someone put some carp in there to eat that algae?) As I was photographing, a guy walking past told me about several other similar pillars located nearby, and I went to find them.

This one stands on a plaza in front of a local convenience store, where one resident told me he'd never noticed it despite living there all his life.

"What is that, then?" a woman asked me as I photographed it.

I told her it was an artwork by Pasmore. "I guess it could be anything you want it to be," I said. "To me it sort of looks like a clothespin."

I didn't succeed in finding the other two pillars that guy told me about, though I did briefly try, before catching the bus for the half-hour trip back to Durham.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Off to Durham

There hasn't been a whole lot to say the last few days. I've pretty much just been hanging around the house, doing daily housework  -- le ménage, as it's called in French, which makes me think of ménage-a-trois, but that's something else entirely -- and reading.

Today, though, I am off on my own little solo trip to Durham, in northern England, for one day only. I gently dissuaded Dave from going with me, because it's three hours each way by train and my goal is to see a 1969 architectural/artistic feature in a planned community -- which Dave would definitely not be into. So he's staying home, and I have no doubt he's happier about that.

Olga isn't coming with me, either. This is me, doing my own thing, indulging my quirky penchant for brutalist modern architecture. Woo hoo!

And yes, six hours on a train in a single day is a lot. (Not to mention an additional necessary bus trip to get to my destination!) But I have lots of New Yorkers and a Harpers to catch up on, and I used to do this years ago when I'd take day trips out to Montauk from New York City. (Also three hours each way.) So it's not as if there's no precedent. I'll report back tomorrow on how it goes!

(Photo: A guy doing walking meditation around a fountain in Regents Park, June 18.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Moroccan Cat Nap

About 21 years ago, I took this picture in Essaouira, on the Moroccan coast. I loved the cat curled up asleep on the fishing nets, and the man sleeping in a similar way behind it. But as it turned out, I had the camera set wrong -- and I was also standing way, way too far away from my subjects. So, frankly, it was kind of a sucky picture. I never did anything with it, and didn't even keep the print.

After I had my negatives scanned, I cropped the photo as it originally should have been taken, and I corrected the color a bit. It's still no prize-winner but now it's much better. I'm sure I could do even more with a higher-resolution scan. Isn't it great that modern technology allows us to give new life to screwed-up pictures from decades ago?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Flowers, Beer and a Florida Jam Pot

This post is going to be a crazy mishmash of random pictures. Just FYI.

First, our hawkweed. As you may recall, for the longest time I didn't know the name of this random plant growing in the middle of our lawn. Then our friend Sally identified it for us during our recent garden party. Now it's blooming again, and I've set some stakes in the lawn to protect the plant -- actually several of them -- so we don't mow them down. I really like them. I wish they were in a better location.

Also, as you may remember, several weeks ago I planted a mixture of wildflower seeds in some of our patio pots. The squirrels dug them up with a vengeance, but many still sprouted successfully. And now we have our first blossom -- a cornflower!

Dave and I bought this red-flowered plant at our peculiar neighborhood nursery and we haven't got the foggiest idea what it is. Any ideas? It blooms mostly in clusters, though this blossom is off by itself.

These little devils have reappeared again this year to devour our roses. I believe they're caterpillars from the large rose sawfly. I've been removing occasional infested leaves and dropping them into the recycling bag, and in some cases killing the caterpillars by hand (sorry, caterpillars!) and that seems to stop any serious denuding of our plants.

On the non-gardening front, a guest at our garden party brought this can of beer and then didn't drink it, so it's been knocking around our fridge ever since. Even though it's allegedly an American Pale Ale, it's apparently brewed in London, from what I can tell.

There was a time when, as a beer-can-collecting adolescent, I would have gone totally nuts about this can. I love it even now!

And finally, apropos of absolutely nothing, I want to share with you my best-ever yard sale find. I no longer have this wonderful little Florida souvenir jam pot, which I bought in the late '90s at a house in the neighborhood where I grew up. I sold it on eBay when I moved to New York City (and a tiny apartment) a few years later. But I still occasionally think about it. I do love tacky Floridiana.

See? I told you. A mishmash.