Thursday, June 30, 2016

Jesus Christ Superstar

Dave, being a school band director, is a big fan of Drum Corps International, which is basically an organization of competitive marching bands. Every summer DCI groups compete against each other with carefully arranged and choreographed field shows, like half-time shows on steroids. Dave, in fact, used to perform with a DCI group, the Madison Scouts.

This year, Madison's show is based on the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," and Dave has been watching their performances over and over on his computer. So I've been hearing that familiar Superstar music seeping out from his headphones. (I used to have the soundtrack from the 1973 movie, so I know it well.)

Turns out, he'd never seen the film. So last night we rented it, and had a great time watching. I had forgotten how deeply '70s-groovy it is. (If you doubt me, watch here, and wait until about the 1 minute mark.)

Otherwise, I can't say we did much yesterday. Dave went to the fishmonger and made a terrific fish stew for dinner; I stayed on the couch, reading.

Our hawkweed, or fox-and-cubs, is making its annual appearance. We've decided not to mow certain areas of the back garden this summer (did I mention this already?) to encourage wildflowers and grasses. This is growing in one of our protected zones.

We've reached out to our landlord to renew our lease -- once again, it's time. We haven't heard back from her yet so of course I'm having all sorts of nightmares about getting evicted, but presumably she'll want to keep us on. We've been just about the best tenants she could want. (We did recently request a new oven and stove, but even the engineer for the management company agreed our existing ones are old and ought to go.)

Also, we've almost completed the transition to our new bank account, thus avoiding the extortionate fees our existing account will incur beginning July 31 -- £20 per month for people with our level of savings. (Insane!) All I have to do now is close our current account, which I plan to do today.

(Top photo: Laundry lines in Pimlico, on Tuesday.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cosmos: Before and After

Dave and I went to Waitrose yesterday morning to pick up some tarragon. While there, we looked over their selection of houseplants. This pathetic example sagged forlornly on a top shelf, baking in direct sun.

"I have to save it," I told Dave.

He thought I was crazy, but I took it in to the cashier. The plant, a white cosmos, was originally priced at £10, reduced to £4.99. I got it for £1.50.

Dave rolled his eyes, and the cashier nodded in agreement: "I think it's awful," he said.

We brought the plant home. I put a stake in the pot and tied up the saggy, broken branches as best I could. Then we plunged the whole pot into a bucket of water and left it there overnight.

This morning, our cosmos is looking much perkier. It remains to be seen how well it will do long-term, but we're off to a good start, don't you think?

I just can't stand to see a neglected plant in a supermarket (where, let's face it, employees are often not trained in the care of houseplants). Stores must love suckers like me.

I went on an outing to the Tate Britain yesterday to see an exhibit called "Painting with Light," about the relationship between photography and other forms of art in the Victorian era. It focused generally on photographers inspiring painters, and vice versa. It's always mind-blowing to see photos from 100 to 150 years ago and more. A lost world!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Another Mystery Slide

Remember those discarded slides I found outside my neighbor's house a few weeks ago? Well, here's another one.

In addition to the box of slides from Sardinia, selections from which I posted earlier, I grabbed six or seven loose slides. They'd been soaked by rain and I wasn't sure they would survive, but I brought them home and air-dried them, and this is one of them.

They seemed to depict the National Railway Museum in Shildon and environs, taken in the late 1980s. So my best guess is that this is an industrial site somewhere south of Durham. I have no idea exactly what it is, though. Any guesses?

Thanks to Mr. Pudding for correctly solving one of our garden mysteries by identifying yesterday's flower as lychnis chalcedonica, also known by about a hundred common names including Maltese cross, Jerusalem cross, common rose campion, flower of Constantinople, London pride and tears of Christ. (No shortage of imagination in naming plants!)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Que Sera Sera

There's all kinds of crazy talk over here regarding Brexit -- maybe we'll hold another referendum, or maybe the Scots will save us from ourselves and somehow block our exit from the EU. I just don't know what to think. I walked around stewing about it for a while yesterday, and then realized I can do nothing. So I've decided to simply let events unfold.

I'm along for the ride. Or, as my brother said when I hauled him around Morocco one memorably arduous vacation, "I am luggage."

I'm taking inspiration from one of Western society's greatest living philosophers, Doris Day.

Here's my far more important burning question for the day -- what kind of flower is this? It's now blooming in our garden. We bought it last year from a garden shop where it was unlabeled and no one knew its name.

On our walk Saturday morning, Olga and I came across this inspiring (and colorful) bit of cardboard on a sidewalk bench. I thought maybe they were song lyrics, but Googling only turned up a few references -- one an Instagram photo from Camden and one a Facebook post by a German fitness instructor. Who, coincidentally, appears to have recently traveled in London.

So, in a nutshell, authorship is uncertain.

I'm going to take more life lessons from my carefree dog, who yesterday wore herself out running and rolling in the high summer grass on Hampstead Heath. Faced with Brexit, I choose joie de vivre!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

LGBT Pride

Yesterday was the annual LGBT Pride Parade in London. I went with my coworker Chris, and had a great time capturing the energy and diversity of the day (which fortunately wasn't too rainy, despite forecasts to the contrary).

There were ecstatic people on floats...

...and colorful people in the crowds.

There were people of all religions...

...and all ages.

There were interesting shoes.

There was a pro-Europe subtext, sometimes subtle...

...and sometimes not.

And there were always interesting fashion choices...

...and beauty in many forms.

Chris and I spent several hours watching and walking the parade route, before adjourning to pubs in Soho for a couple of pints. A terrific day!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Post-Brexit Blues

I promise not to go on and on about Brexit. Frankly, we're all still trying to figure out exactly what it means.

But I am depressed about it. It's as if the ground has shifted beneath my feet. I suddenly have the sense that Britain -- or England, at least -- is not the globally-oriented, international nation that I believed it to be.

For the past five years I've enjoyed thinking of myself as an immigrant to Europe. I suppose I still am -- geography doesn't change, after all, and I can still be in Paris in two hours on the Eurostar. But Britain suddenly feels smaller, and, yes, less hospitable. Brexit seems to have revealed something threatening in the national mood, and the mood in many nations with similar movements.

As David Axelrod told The New York Times, "There’s a fundamental issue that all developed economies have to confront, which is that globalization and technological changes have meant millions of people have seen their jobs marginalized and wages decline. And so lots of folks want to turn the clock back and make America, or their country, great again."

(Fortunately, the gist of that article is that a win for Brexit doesn't necessarily mean a win in the USA for Trump.)

I'm all in favor of the worker. But turning back the clock to an idealized period of earlier greatness, when huge segments of society -- and the globe as a whole -- were in fact marginalized or invisible, sends shudders through me. Those earlier periods were great only if you were white and straight and generally male, and stuck to your assigned gender roles.

It's as if I'm swimming, and a dark shadow has suddenly appeared beneath me, looming and unidentifiable. It could prove to be nothing, or it could prove mightily dangerous.

I wonder what Brexit will mean for all the people I interact with every day -- the young Polish woman in my French class, or the Portuguese cafeteria workers at school, or the Czechs at the cash register at Costa. If this vote makes me feel uncomfortable, imagine what they're thinking!

Oh well. On to other news.

The trash-can rebellion yesterday proved something of a non-event. I went next door and spoke to Mrs. Kravitz, and told her that our upstairs neighbors had bought new rubbish bins, which we now needed to put in our alleyway. As a result I would have to move her bins to her own alleyway. She tried to talk me out of it -- "the alley is yours, not theirs," she said, adding that she'd called our landlord to make sure that was true. (!) Regardless, I told her, we share a single house with our upstairs neighbors, and they're more entitled to the alley than she is, when she has her own alley that she simply wants to keep clear for aesthetic reasons.

(In other words, she wants us to store her trash on our property because it looks, well, like trash.)

"I'm very hurt," she said.

"I'm sorry," I said, and moved her bins to her alley.

So that's that. We no longer have to manage Mrs. Kravitz's trash. I probably should have done this long ago, when we first moved in, rather than continue the arrangement she struck with the previous tenant. Which is how we got here in the first place.

(Photo: The lawns surrounding Kenwood, on Tuesday.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Well, This Should Be Interesting

So we're "Brexiting." Does anyone know what that will really mean? I sure don't, although I don't think it will affect Dave and me in any immediate sense. The school where we work pre-exists the European Union and the Common Market, so there has long been a need for international education in London, and I don't suppose that will go away. Fingers crossed!

I woke this morning with the sense that Britain was probably going to Remain. The news reports last night indicated the country was leaning in that direction. But then I looked at the news, and while I wasn't shocked, exactly, I was sorry to see that right-wing xenophobia won the day.

Or, as The New York Times eloquently put it, "the power of anti-elite, populist and nationalist sentiment at a time of economic and cultural dislocation."

As I told Dave, I hope this doesn't foreshadow how Americans will vote in November. Brexit is the British version of Donald Trump. The forces and impulses behind the two movements are the same.

So, now is the time for questions. Foremost in my mind is how Scotland is going to handle this news. While England was virtually all pink or red (Leave) on the map of voting returns -- with the exception of some urban centers and counties near London -- Scotland was entirely blue (Remain). This sets up an issue that could drive a renewed movement for Scottish independence. Northern Ireland may also seek to leave the UK rather than build a fortified border with Ireland, and that will be interesting.

Meanwhile, France probably won't be all that interested in continuing to accommodate UK-bound migrants in Calais, and I wonder if more people will desperately try to boat themselves across the English channel -- with potentially disastrous consequences.

What a freaking mess.

In other news, I've just been talking to the upstairs neighbor about our trash cans. We're having our own private political rebellion -- today we're going to move Mrs. Kravitz's cans into her alleyway and liberate our alleyway for our own trash. If you think Northern Ireland is a sticky wicket, watch how this plays out!

(Photo: West Hampstead, this week.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit with Wildflowers

Finally, Brexit day is here. Whichever way today's referendum turns out, I'll be glad to have it over with. (You all know how I feel.) It's pouring rain this morning and I hope that doesn't keep too many voters from the polls.

The New York Times did an excellent article the other day on divisions between family members over staying in or leaving the EU. I thought it highlighted the generational differences quite well. That article came to mind when I saw these two signs in the windows of a house on our street -- though they're probably neighbors in a house that's been turned into flats, rather than family members. I wonder if they have lively debates, or if they just don't talk about it?

Incidentally, to date, this is the only "leave" window sign I've seen, and it appeared just a few days ago. "Remain" signs, by contrast, have been all over our neighborhood for weeks. I'm not sure how representative we are of the national electorate, though.

In other news, our wildflowers are positively overflowing the pot where they've grown from last year's seed. For some reason, none of the blue cornflowers seem to have re-seeded. We got plenty of poppies and those yellow guys, though.

Also, one of the mysterious poppies that appeared in our front garden bloomed yesterday. Nice! We have seven or eight of them, and I'm guessing they're all going to be this pink-purple color. I'm still vague on whether they're actual opium poppies, but our Russian upstairs neighbor took one look and said they'd be illegal in her country -- so that may be an indication. (Ornamental opium poppies are apparently not illegal in the UK, and several of our neighbors have the same kind.)

Yesterday was Dave's birthday, so last night we went to dinner at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, which we've wanted to try for a while. We both had the tasting menu with wine pairings, as usual, and it was fabulous!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Ticking off another box on my list of things to do, Dave and I went to Kenwood yesterday. Kenwood is an historic house containing an art collection, and standing amid 74 acres of lawns and woods on the north side of Hampstead Heath.

Like the Pergola, it is a dog-free zone -- at least indoors, although leashed dogs can be walked on the grounds -- so I never go because I always have Olga when I'm on the Heath. Seeing Kenwood required a special trip.

The grounds, by landscape architect Humphry Repton, include ponds and a "sham bridge," which is exactly what it sounds like -- a false bridge over nothing.

We came across a woman feeding (and talking to) the ducks. I think this is some variety of mandarin duck. It looks like it rolled around on an artist's palette.

The house itself, primarily the work of Scottish architect Robert Adam, dates from the 1700s and belonged to the Earl of Mansfield and his family. It includes ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Zucchi, like this portrait of Bacchus.

And photography was allowed, which was a pleasant surprise for me! This room (above) is the colorful library, with walls and ceiling painted according to historical evidence. The original furnishings in the house were sold long ago, but some have been bought back and are on display.

Finally, there's an impressive art collection with works by Gainsborough, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Reynolds, Franz Hals and others. This is "View of Dordrecht" by Aelbert Cuyp, from the 1600s.

Here are Dave and I, reflected in one of the ornate gilt mirrors made by the same craftsmen who furnished Versailles. (Grainy and underexposed, but you get the idea.)

We also had brunch at the adjacent cafe (soggy Eggs Florentine for me -- squeeze your spinach, people!) and Dave bought some plants at the garden shop. All in all, a fun outing, and we combined it with a trip to the bank, where -- despite a widespread computer failure (naturally!) -- we were able to set up our new account.

Yesterday was the solstice, and I must say, all this sunlight is a little crazy. The official sunrise was 4:44 a.m., and the sunset was 9:23 p.m., but of course it was twilight for an hour or so before and after those times. I woke up with daylight and went to bed with daylight. More than four hours of nighttime would not be a bad thing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rainy Day

It rained steadily yesterday morning for several hours. Olga wouldn't go outside. I stayed on the couch, reading. It was fabulous.

The clothesline became a diamond necklace.

A few waterlogged pigeons sat patiently near the bird feeder, where they know breakfast appears every morning. They looked so forlorn I couldn't disappoint them, so I grabbed an umbrella and took them their meal as usual.

I'm reading a novel called "The Mandibles," about a family during a future financial collapse in the United States. We're talking a big financial collapse -- bigger than we've seen so far -- when only sad-looking cabbages are available in the grocery store and generations are forced to move in together. It's great so far, though a bit heavy in the lingo of banking and currency exchange.

(For years my mom has joked, in her apocalyptic way, that she, my brother and I and our families were all going to wind up living together. Now that she's sold our family home I'm not sure how that would work! We might all be in a tent somewhere.)

The hot coal behind my eye has cooled to a glowing ember. This is progress.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Foxglove on the Heath

The wild foxglove is blooming on Hampstead Heath just as it is next to our house. Olga and I found this patch during our walk on Saturday. We had a good, long outing, which is a good thing, because yesterday I didn't take her anywhere -- we stayed home and Dave and I worked a bit in the garden. (Olga didn't seem to mind. I think she was still tired from the day before.)

I'm trying to take it easy, to cool off this hot coal behind my eye. It seemed a little better yesterday, but then I was taking aspirin so it's hard to tell.

Meanwhile, we planted the new sunflowers, and moved a few other plants that weren't growing in quite the right place. We've decided to let the slightly sunken, rectangular patch of lawn immediately beneath the rose bushes -- an area that looks like it used to be a flower bed, now replanted with grass -- go a bit wild. We're going to stop mowing it and see what happens. This solves several problems, including how to protect the ragwort, fox-and-cubs and other wildflowers that grow there naturally. It should be great for insects and critters, but I predict Mrs. Kravitz will hate it. (And she won't hesitate to tell us!)

My splint on the lupine blossom, by the way, was short-lived. On Sunday morning the flower was a collapsed, slimy mess, having been ravaged by another snail. I cut it off.

Then we came inside and watched "Witness" and "The Silence of the Lambs," neither of which I'd seen in many years. I e-mailed my dad to wish him happy Father's Day, but he's got so much on his plate health-wise that I'm not sure he's even reading his e-mail. Well, I'll see him in a couple of weeks.

It's raining again today, a light, drizzly, gray rain. Yesterday was moderately sunny, enough that I managed to do laundry and dry our sheets outside -- so much better than the dryer!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Notes from the Universe

This is a very strange cafe down the street. It used to have a name -- Monte Carlo, I think, or something like that. And then it became a nameless, signless shisha lounge, and despite looking completely abandoned, people would still magically appear some afternoons at tables in front and smoke hookahs. This went on for a surprisingly long time, and then even that activity stopped. Now there's a broken window at the side and it looks like it's for rent.

My cold has dissipated, but I've been left with a painful case of sinusitis, just above my left eye. Not to be too graphic, it feels like someone jammed a hot coal into my eye socket over the eyelid. I was sitting in French class yesterday morning, with no aspirin, and my eye was watering, and although I was supposed to be focusing on the pluperfect tense (or the plus-que-parfait, as it's known en Francaise), all I could think was, "Sacre bleu! Mon oeil!"

I came upon this not-entirely-coherent rant in a phone booth the other day. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't think "no borders" is going to be an effective argument to convince the Leavers to stay in the EU. In fact I'd say that's pretty much exactly what they fear.

The Brexit vote is Thursday. I'll be glad when it's over, although polls seem to suggest there's a very real chance the Remain side will lose. Did you hear about the Yorkshire lawmaker who was killed by a constituent, apparently over this very issue? Granted, the assailant appears to be a neo-Nazi nut, but tempers are running hot -- even among more stable people.

A few months ago, Olga and I came across his note from a hyper-conscientious driver. I've been meaning to post it but kept forgetting. You gotta applaud someone who goes to such great lengths to make things right. (From what I could tell, the car was fine.)

Have I mentioned that I bought my ticket to go back to Florida next month? I'll be there for two weeks in July, visiting family, beginning on the 5th. That is, if my sinuses don't implode.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Short Takes, with Weeds and Michael Moore

-- Dave and I bought a pair of big, bright sunflowers for the garden. We haven't planted them yet, but they're already soaking up whatever British sun is available on our patio table.

-- Our bank has recently informed us that they're going to begin charging us £20 a month in order to store our money. This has to do with the type of account we have, which is not really the account we need. (We set it up by telephone during a period of relative confusion while we were preparing to move from the states.) So now we're trying to open a more appropriate account. Nothing is simple, however. First we had a terrible time getting an appointment with a bank representative, and now we're having to present documentation that proves we live where we say we do. Apparently our lease is not sufficient, nor is a statement for Dave's student loan or my life insurance. They're demanding utility or council tax bills. But we pay all that online; we don't get bills by mail, and computer printouts of online statements are not allowed. AAAAAARGH!!!

-- We recently learned the identity of our back garden mystery plant. Dave sent a photo of it to an online gardening forum, where gardeners unceremoniously identified it as ragwort and advised us to get rid of it. "It's a weed," one said. But I looked it up, and while it is a weed, it is also the only food source for the cinnabar moth caterpillar, which I remembered seeing a few years ago on ragwort near the Grand Union Canal. So we're keeping it, in the hopes that a starving cinnabar moth will find it.

-- Along those lines, I weeded our front garden, and removed numerous wild thistles. I hated to kill them all outright, so I transplanted one to the "wilderness corner" of our back garden, where we have borage, campion, rosebay willow and a patch of unmown grass. It seems to have survived the transplant and the bees are looking forward to some thistle!

-- Also in our front garden, I found what I believe are opium poppies. I don't remember ever seeing them before. I wonder if they were previously concealed by the heavy brush (which you may remember we had cleared in January)? Perhaps they never bloomed because they were so heavily shaded. Anyway, this year, they're setting buds and we're looking forward to flowers.

-- On Thursday night Dave and I went to see Michael Moore's newest movie, "Where to Invade Next." In it, Moore travels the world to find countries that have more humane prisons, offer benefits like free higher education and elect more women, and then "steals" those ideas (among others) for the United States. We generally agree with Moore's world view, and we liked the movie a lot.

-- I moved our avocado tree outdoors on Thursday and hosed it down, and then brought it back inside. I found this cranefly lying on the floor in the corner nearby, and when I tried to catch it it flew immediately to the avocado. I don't know whether flies drink, but that's what it appeared to be doing from left-over water droplets on the avocado's leaves. The poor thing was probably dehydrated, being trapped in our house! It sat on that leaf for about an hour before disappearing, flying out the nearby open door.

-- And lastly, Dave planted some lupines in our garden, where they're unfortunately very popular with the snails and slugs. Getting them to bloom has been a challenge, but we finally coaxed one to produce a flower. Then yesterday morning I discovered that a snail had gnawed three quarters of the way through its stem during the night, leaving the flower slumped over with a broken neck. I rigged up a splint with a stick and some twine, and now at least it's upright again and seems to be surviving. Floral first aid!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hampstead Pergola

On the West Heath, where I so often walk Olga, is a large structure known as the Hampstead Pergola. "A magnificent Edwardian extravagance," as the City of London calls it, the pergola was built by Lord Leverhulme in 1904, after he acquired an adjacent mansion, and finished by 1925.

I've always been curious about the Pergola, but until this week I'd never been, because whenever I'm on the West Heath I have Olga with me. And Pergola Management are quite firm about their feelings for those of the canine persuasion:

So on Wednesday, when Olga went off with her dog-walker (who we've kept on for the summer, even though Dave and I aren't working, for complicated reasons that I'll explain sometime) I walked over to the Pergola.

The main structure is an elevated, colonnaded walkway, with beams overhead and roses and climbing vines planted along its length. It winds along the back of Lord Leverhulme's mansion (now subdivided into expensive apartments) and out into a formal garden with sloping lawns, a shallow pool (top photo) and beds of iris and foxglove.

I photographed some of the plants, like these bleeding hearts (which we have tried to grow without success in our own garden).

But I spent most of my time at the pond, where I went a little overboard trying to get just the right shot of one of the many pairs of damselflies. I shot 83 pictures of damselflies!

I know -- crazy. I deleted all but about ten of them.

Eventually I narrowed those down to a couple that made me happy.

And then the skies opened and it began to pour rain, so I caught the bus back toward home, the Hampstead Pergola no longer so mysterious in my mind!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sardinia 1988

Yesterday I picked up the scans of the discarded slides I rescued. There were 40 slides, in a small plastic box marked "Sardinia," each one dated July 1988 on the frame.

Most of them really were trash, it turns out -- or at least fairly uninteresting. But a handful were pretty nice.

Nearly all of them depict a single location, with a round, rock structure and what looks like a medieval church.

I did a bit of internet research and learned (without too much effort, surprisingly) that this is the Church of St. Sabina and an accompanying neolithic stone tower, called a "nuraghe." The tower dates from the Bronze Age.

And as our guest photographer faithfully recorded, you can climb up to the top! (Apparently this is still true, according to a review by a recent visitor.)

I thought these were pretty interesting pictures! They took me on an internet journey I would never have experienced otherwise. As I mentioned yesterday, I hate to see old (even just old-ish) photos discarded -- good photos are a beautiful slice of captured time, after all, and once lost they can never be reproduced. I was glad to salvage these.

Some of them even look like something I would have taken, don't you think?!