Monday, October 31, 2016

Fog Dog

Yesterday we were shrouded in mist. The sky was milky and opaque; trees hulked in the gray distance like elephants. It was very Halloween-ish weather.

Olga explored the back garden in the morning and then we walked to the Heath. With our vision obscured and sound muffled, I could understand why this time of year developed a spectral aspect. Everything seemed a bit creepy. If ever there was a time to meet a disembodied spirit on the path, this was it.

That didn't happen, though. (Apologies to those of you who wanted a ghost story.)

Instead, I found a perfectly good terra cotta flowerpot lying on its side under a tree, still half full of potting soil. There was no plant -- unless it was the ghost of a plant -- and how it got to Hampstead Heath I have no idea. I picked it up and brought it home, and put a real-life plant in it.

I did finish "Swamplandia!" yesterday, which coincidentally featured some supernatural elements. I was lamenting a week or two ago that I hadn't chosen a specific Halloween read this year, but in fact, I did without knowing! I liked it in the end, once I applied myself.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


OK, yesterday was AMAZING. A full Saturday with nothing to do! The spaciousness of an unplanned, unscripted day -- well, it's something to revel in.

I took Olga on a long walk around the neighborhood, where we enjoyed the autumnal sights. The creeper vines along the trash path were blazing brilliant orange, and the path itself looked cleaner than usual. Apparently there was a public cleanup effort not too long ago. (Also, I've learned this is officially called the "Black Path," bordered as it is by black walls -- a slightly more dignified-sounding name than mine.)

This house has some terrific Chinese lantern plants growing out front. (I could not for the life of me figure out how to take this picture without including the recycling bin!)

We also found some colorful advertisements in the window of a shuttered cafe near Fortune Green:

We had a good walk.

Then I read two New Yorkers and about 75 pages in my book, which I hope to finish today. I did laundry and repotted that orchid I found on someone's trash pile last week -- I'm not sure it's going to make it, because the roots don't look too healthy, but we'll see.

Finally, last night, as an early birthday celebration, Dave took me out to a hotel bar purported to have the best martinis in London. (My actual birthday is this coming Wednesday.) It was quite a glam place, with low lighting and stylish music. The table next to us kept ordering drinks that came in weird glowing boxes or mounted on what looked like very expensive toy Transformers. I stuck with the more traditional gin martini with olives, accompanied by snack plates of spiced tuna tartare and avocado tacos, and tête de moine cheese, fig and walnut. Dave teases me when I drink martinis -- he says I get chatty. We spent the evening pondering travel plans for next year. Sri Lanka? Brazil? South Africa? We'll see what the budget permits!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Staying Home

This is going to be me today -- reading and relaxing. I am not going to French. I'm seizing the day and taking it easy, because it's almost my 50th birthday and I deserve it! I want to lie around the house and catch up on all my reading and some other small tasks. At the moment I'm still in bed with Olga, who also shows no sign of wanting to go anywhere.

I've got some New Yorkers to finish, as well as "Swamplandia!" I like that book, but it's weighing on me because I've been carrying it around so long. I want to move on to something else. Thus the sustained push to finish it. Sometimes even a good book can become a burden, you know?

Yesterday morning I discovered that some squirrel had excavated a strip mine in my newly potted fig tree. Seriously, I don't know what this animal was trying to do, but it seemed to want to go to China. I replaced all the dirt and the stone chips I'd (fruitlessly) put on top to discourage digging. Then I put some large shards of pottery on top of the stone chips. Get through that, you little bastard!

Remember my colleague with the wandering ballot? He happily reported yesterday that his ballot, after lingering in Kentucky for a while, made it to its destination in New Hampshire. I'm sure he's voting for Hills, so that's a good thing.

I spent yesterday weeding more library books. I almost finished the entire fiction section, and filled up a whole cart. I should clarify that I am not throwing all these books away -- I'm just taking stock of which ones need a little push, with a special display or something. I've already got a bunch of them on shelves near the front entrance, to give them more visibility. Only a minority -- many old, yellowed trade paperbacks that were donated years and years ago -- will be immediately given to charity or recycled, depending on their condition.

(Photo: Hampstead Heath, last weekend.)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Art Opening in Shoreditch

Dave and I went to Shoreditch last night for the opening of the Art Below exhibit that includes my portrait. We didn't stay long -- just enough to say hi to Martin, the artist, and a few other people we knew there. I must admit, the novelty of seeing the portrait on display is starting to wear off. I told Dave I may be officially done with it now -- if and when it gets shown again, I may let it do so without me.

I have to let it go, right? It has to grow up and make its own way in the world. Go to college, earn a living. I can't support it forever.

It was fun to wander among the artworks, though. There seemed to be a running theme of reproducing well-known or iconic figures in more modern or "edgy" environments. There was a version of "Girl with a Pearl Earring," by Vermeer, in which the girl sported Prada sunglasses. There was a version of the famous portrait of Che Guevara in which he wore a pink beret with a flower -- "Gay Chevara," it was called. And the Queen was shown in several contexts, including an x-ray image of a head wearing a crown.

And then there was this Queen, which was not part of the show. We found her (him?) on a door on the street outside.

Ah, London.

Otherwise, I spent the day in the library weeding books. For example, we have ancient copies of the second and fourth books of Frank Herbert's "Dune" series. But we don't have the first book, which is pretty much the main one. So I'm discarding the old ones and buying a fresh copy of the first one. If people want more in the series, we'll consider it when the situation arises. They aren't checked out often. (Some of that older generation of science fiction just doesn't seem to appeal to kids today -- Robert Heinlein, Ben Bova, Ursula K. Leguin, Arthur C. Clarke. We have them all, but they aren't frequently read. Asimov and Bradbury manage to hold their own.)

I'm also compiling a list of books we need to promote more, and hopefully we can get some of them noticed. Part of the problem -- and I know I've said this before -- is that older kids just don't seem to read books. Maybe they're too busy online. (I sound like such an old man!) We have tons of middle school kids checking out materials but when they hit ninth grade or so, those checkouts slow to a trickle.

(Top photo: The Duck Truck, in Shoreditch. We didn't eat there -- it was closed. We just liked the look of it!)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Web Wandering with Marilyn

I've just been down an Internet rabbit hole, reading about whether a dress auctioned in 2011 for more than $5 million was really the same dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch." How did I stumble onto this article? I was looking for a certain Marilyn-inspired artwork, prompted by a post on Facebook. I never did find the artwork. In fact, I may have made it up.

Sometimes wandering around the Web leads us to strange places. It's an interesting bit of Hollywood controversy, though.

And it's a good thing I have that to mention, because otherwise I have nothing. Yesterday was pretty uneventful. While walking home from work, I finished an excellent podcast called "In the Dark," about the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling in Minnesota in 1989. I'm kind of liking this walking-and-listening-to-podcasts thing -- it's a good way to get exercise, save money on the tube and stay entertained! I'm about to start the second season of "Serial," about Bowe Bergdahl and his disappearance from his Army post in Afghanistan.

Today and tomorrow are parent-teacher conference days, which means library traffic will be significantly down. I hope to finish weeding and reorganizing the fiction section, a project I began several weeks ago.

(Photo: Hornsey Road, North London.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wandering Ballots

The other day, a colleague of mine posted a crazy story to Facebook. He mailed his absentee ballot for the U.S. presidential election from England to New Hampshire on Oct. 15. He sent it with a tracking number, so he could keep an eye on it. It landed in New York City on Oct. 17, and then, mysteriously, it went to a Postal Service processing facility in Hazelwood, Missouri. From there it's gone through facilities in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and Lexington. Last he heard, on Oct. 24, it was back in Louisville. He Tweeted the USPS to ask what the heck was going on, but it doesn't look like he's had any sort of response.

It's clearly marked "absentee ballot enclosed," so you have to wonder if someone with a political axe to grind didn't make it go awry -- based on the fact that it's an absentee ballot, which I think statistically favors one party over another, or on the fact that it was going to New Hampshire, a traditionally conservative state.

The whole story made me a little paranoid. When I mailed my ballot in September I didn't put any tracking on it, because I figured I wouldn't be able to do anything if it went missing. Tracking its progress through the mail just seemed like a way to torment myself.

But I went to the web page for the supervisor of elections in my district, and found that I could see the status of my ballot. And yes, it got there, about a week after I mailed it. I suppose there's no guarantee it's actually been counted, as opposed to being discarded for some obscure paperwork technicality -- like the fact that I used Scotch tape to seal the privacy sleeve. (Is that allowed? I have no idea.) Anyway, there are limits to reasonable paranoia! Right?

(Photo: Oak leaves on Hampstead Heath, Sunday.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Eye of the iPhone

Remember when I got my new phone about a month ago, and I decided I was going to try to do more with iPhone photography?

Well, I haven't. Not a lot, anyway.

But I have been using the phone on occasions when I don't have my big camera with me. I was initially underwhelmed with the results when looking at them on the phone itself. But now, having put them in my computer, I don't think they're too bad.

I've found that I can edit the photos, just as I would my camera shots. I can lighten shadows and correct perspectives. Not bad for a phone!

And then, because people have no originality:

I found both of those within a few days of each other. We as a society really need a new culturally agreed upon dust message!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Egg and Petula

I took the dog to Hampstead Heath yesterday, where things were looking very autumnal. Olga had a long romp and managed to get in a fight with another dog. I didn't see what happened exactly, because I was taking a photo at the time, but suddenly there was lots of growling at my feet and Olga was wrestling with a black spaniel, chomping on its ear. The fracas lasted a micro-second and there was no blood, thankfully. I suspect the spaniel got too close to the Kong.

And that was just one of about a hundred things I did -- little things that have been nagging at me for weeks. I glued the broken doorsill in the bathroom, and replaced the molding at the base of the bathtub. I descaled the kitchen kettle -- something that I never had to do in America, where electric kettles are not "a thing," but that's essential here in London where the mineral-laden water tends to leave behind white deposits. I trimmed the garden and collected a full bag of garden waste. I did laundry. I filed a bunch of paperwork. I tried to replace a bulb in our floor lamp that dramatically exploded a few nights ago, but the new bulb doesn't work, which makes me think the lamp itself is on the fritz. I organized and archived all my recent photos.

It was good to get so much done. I did not read a word of "Swamplandia!" I think I am destined to be reading this book forever.

I got a birthday card from my mom in Florida, and on the front -- a fox! So appropriate, given the vulpine denizens of our London garden. (Of course, there are foxes in swampy Florida too -- but still. It seems like a very British card.)

Oh, and you might like this brief video. Remember how my portrait is going to be in an art exhibit, and is on display in the Regent's Park tube station to drum up publicity? The video introduces some of the artists in the upcoming show, including my colleague Martin, who did the portrait. And remember how I said I wanted to see the poster before it got damaged or graffitied? Well, sure enough, someone has graffitied it. They wrote "EGG" on my forehead. I'm trying not to take it personally. (In elementary school I was widely teased with the moniker "egghead," and the fact that as a nearly 50-year-old I am still cursed with that name ought to be amusing, I suppose. But I find it weirdly hurtful! My inner six-year-old is alive and well.)

Finally, last night Dave and I sent to see Petula Clark perform at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. I bought tickets several weeks ago when I saw an ad in the paper -- I had to seize the opportunity to hear "Downtown" live! Dave barely knows who she is, but he had fun too. She did not disappoint. Despite the fact that she is 83 years old (!) she still has the voice, and she performed a full two-hour show -- including most of her '60s hits, numerous new songs and versions of The Beatles' "Blackbird" and "With One Look" from the musical "Sunset Boulevard." Apparently Tony Hatch, who wrote many of those old hits, was in the audience too -- I wouldn't know him if I fell over him. The crowd seemed to be mostly people 10 or 15 years older than me, with a smattering of young gay couples thrown in. (Petula's songs were used in the late '90s as the soundtrack for the movie "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," which helped cement her in the minds of a younger generation of gay men.) Anyway, it was a fun night!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crouch End

At last! I finally got to take a photo walk. The weather cooperated and I wasn't dismayed by the prospect of carrying my French books. (I tucked them in my camera bag -- they stuck out but it wasn't too awkward.)

After class yesterday I took the tube up to Finsbury Park in North London, and walked northward to Crouch End. I'd never explored this area before. Above is the cafe where I had lunch -- a vegetarian English breakfast, actually. The lady with the cane sat at a nearby table -- her name is Mary, and the proprietor kept making rhymes with her name like "Mary Mary strawberry."

She must be a regular to put up with that!

From Crouch Hill the Alexandra Palace, or Ally Pally as it's fondly known, can be seen in the distance. You may remember I went there for a couple of antiques shows several years ago.

It's that time of year! And here's evidence that the Halloween phenomenon is growing in Britain. Our local Waitrose grocery store is also selling pumpkins specifically labeled for Halloween.

The Socialist Workers Party has a refreshing take on the refugee situation.

And finally, here's Emirates Stadium, where the Arsenal football team plays. There was a game yesterday (Dave says I should say "match" rather than "game") and it was fun to walk near the stadium, hearing the crowd's cheers wash over the surrounding neighborhoods like waves. By this time I was no longer in Crouch End, but more to the south in Islington. I caught the tube home from there. A fun day out!

Saturday, October 22, 2016


More evidence of our autumnal garden. I discarded our yellowed tomato plant -- after a final harvest of six pinkish tomatoes, which I hope will become red on the windowsill -- and a few other flowers past their peak. These marigolds are still hanging around, but probably not for long. Dave has set his sights on them.

I did repot the foundling fig tree in its new home, and I cut it way, way back. It's now pretty much a stump, about 18 inches high, with two side shoots. I tried to envision the shape of the future tree and work with that. I don't want to show it to you, though, because it looks fairly awful. If it survives I'll post a picture of it when it begins greening out again.

Also, I found an orchid on someone's trash pile while walking Olga yesterday. It's not in great shape -- it looks like it got knocked over, maybe, and it's loose in its pot -- but I'm hoping it will come around. We now have three orchids, two of them rescues. I'm becoming a plant hoarder!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Kitchen Windowsill

Remember the orchid we got in June 2015 from my retiring coworker? (I'm sure you don't, but here's a link.) It looked fantastic for a long time, but slowly the old blooms have been fading. In fact I cut off one of its two flower stalks not long ago, after all the blossoms fell off. I expected an eventually flowerless plant.

Several weeks ago, though, it sent up a new flower stalk. Ta-da! New blossoms! (The old ones are on the stalk in back.)

This is a huge triumph for me. I've never owned an orchid that I was able to get to bloom again. People say growing orchids isn't hard, and I guess that's true, once you get the gist of watering them (frequent watering, very good drainage). This one usually lives in the bathroom, where it gets good humidity, but we recently moved it to the kitchen because the bathroom radiator is so effective we feared it would roast the flowers.

Also on the kitchen windowsill: Dave recently learned it's possible to grow new lettuce leaves by putting the cut-off end of a head of baby gem lettuce in a glass of water. We're trying it, and by golly, it works! I can't imagine we'll get more than a teaspoon of salad from this venture, but it's kind of amusing.

That green thing, by the way, is something I found on Hampstead Heath. We think it's an old glass drawer pull, or maybe a bottle stopper.

In other news, I think my solar keratosis has returned. That's the tiny scaly patch on my forehead that comes from spending too much time in the sun. I went to the doctor about it last summer, and got some medicine that I was supposed to apply for two months. I stopped after about a month because I could no longer find the spot. But it seems to have come back, so now I'm using the medicine again. This time I suppose I should keep going for the full two-month period. Sigh.

Finally, did you hear about the handsome chai walla in Pakistan who has a new career as a model, thanks to an observant photographer?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

No Debate Here

We didn't watch last night's presidential debate, but I'm glad to read that it went more or less as one might expect. No massive revelations or sudden bursts of intelligence from the Republican candidate.

Oh, Donald. You are so finished.

Here's the current New York Times prediction:

This election has turned into such a ridiculous display I can't see how anyone, anyone, could still be stumping for Trump. His "very, very" inarticulate statements don't even make sense. And yet I have at least two Facebook friends, both from high school, who continue to post pro-Trump, anti-Hillary stuff. One of them is a woman. One was in the Navy. Neither went to college.

Seriously, it fascinates me. I just don't understand. And there's no doubt they represent a swathe of the U.S. electorate. Fortunately, it appears to be a losing swathe.

Here in England, we're having our own political dramas. The U.K. has finally decided to begin accepting unaccompanied minors from "The Jungle," the migrant camp in Calais, France. About 28 of them have arrived so far, and some critics have questioned whether they're really minors. Granted, some of them look older -- and coming from places where record-keeping is probably pretty lax, they don't exactly have birth certificates. I doubt even some of them know their age for certain. Then again, they've been living in harsh circumstances, and as all of us know, sometimes certain photos, certain angles, just make people look older. Does it really matter? They supposedly have family members in the U.K. already, and holding them in limbo in France serves no one's needs.

We never did figure out what was going on with that helicopter yesterday morning. My boss, who lives not too far away, heard it too and went to Twitter for answers -- but could only find tweets from people saying, "Hey, what's that helicopter up there for?" Not very helpful!

(Photo: Olga near a big brush bin just outside Golders Green Park, on Saturday.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Helicopter

I stopped by Homebase after work yesterday and bought a big terra cotta flowerpot for our convalescent fig tree, along with some potting soil, a pruning saw and some other odds and ends. What I didn't fully consider was how I was going to get it all home. I was on foot, and struggling with the big, heavy flowerpot -- until memories of Africa came to me and I hoisted the pot onto my head. Then I didn't have any trouble at all. I probably looked pretty funny walking up Finchley Road, though. Some street photographer needed to seize that moment.

Dave was working last night, once again, so I had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner and watched "Chinatown," an old favorite which I haven't seen in years.

This morning I woke at 5:30 a.m. (after a good night's sleep, thank god!) to hear a helicopter circling over our neighborhood. I went out into the back garden to check it out, and it was definitely a police chopper with flashing lights -- and then I thought, "Well, gee, maybe I shouldn't be outside!" So who knows what that was about. I tried to check out the news websites but there's no mention of anything.

Life in the city!

(Photo: A lost mitten, Hampstead Heath.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Fig Tree

I just had a terrible night's sleep. I woke up around 2:30 a.m. and I couldn't get to sleep again -- not soundly, anyway. For one thing, the covers were in disarray, with the bedspread sliding to the floor beneath the blanket, which was pulled up way too high, and the sheet was in a wad somewhere beneath it all. If it had just been me in the bed, I'd have gotten up and remade the whole thing.

Also, the dog's face was jammed into my stomach so firmly that I could feel her eyes twitching. I could have moved her, I suppose, but she weighs 40-plus pounds. And you know how even the smallest tasks seem monumental in the middle of the night.

When I finally did drift into a doze, somewhere around 5 a.m., I had very weird dreams. I dreamed that Dave was buying shrimp from a man who brought it to our back door. I said to him, "We have a walled garden. How is that man getting shrimp to the back of the house?" No answer. Par for the course in my dreams, which are not great on plot resolution.

In other news, see that dead-looking plant? It's a fig tree. I found it, in much livelier condition, while walking the dog about a week ago. It was leaning against the public recycling bins near West End Green, and even had a helpful paper label attached to one of its branches: FIG TREE. Clearly someone expected it to be adopted.

I brought it home, marveling that such a big tree could grow in such a tiny pot. But then I realized the pot once had roots growing out the bottom, and those roots were cut when the tree was moved. Which is why it promptly withered away.

I considered throwing it out, but it smells so nice. Fig trees have the sweetest, most amazing aroma. They remind me of Morocco. Besides, they're vigorous growers, and I'm thinking we may be able to save it.

Dave and I have debated what to do. I think we're going to put it in a bigger pot against the wall in the photo -- it's a southern exposure and definitely the sunniest, warmest part of our garden. I hope the tree has enough roots to keep the wood alive until it can recover from its shock and regrow some leaves. We may prune it way back so it won't have to support so much growth right away. For the time being, we've moved it to a shadier spot at the back of the garden -- our plant ICU.

(Top photo: Colorful grape leaves in a mews near the West Hampstead tube station, yesterday.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sunday Business

I must be having problems with time management these days. Dave has been at school all weekend, recording auditions for students who are competing to get into honor band. So you'd think, with me at home by myself, that I could be getting a lot done.

And I guess I am -- I did laundry yesterday, read the newspaper (online), worked on my journal transcriptions for the first time in about a month, and finally started "Swamplandia!" (It looks promising, I'm happy to report.) I also walked Olga in the afternoon, when most of the day's rain had passed.

But there's still so much else! For example, blogs. I am so behind on blogs. Sorry, everybody. I will get there, I promise!

(By the way, a side note: If you've been reading my blog regularly and you keep one too, and I'm not already visiting your blog, would you please leave the link in your comments? Sometimes when I click a commenter's profile it just gives me a Google-Plus page with no link back to a blog, so I can't tell whether you have one or not.)

One thing I always try to do on the rare evenings when Dave is gone is watch a movie or TV show that I know he wouldn't want to see -- usually something old. Last night I dredged up two old TV movies that I remember from the late '70s -- "A Circle of Children" with Jane Alexander and "The Children of An Lac" with Shirley Jones. I remember watching both of them when I was a kid, and now they're on YouTube! So I watched the former, about a school for autistic and special-needs kids, and got halfway through the latter, about the evacuation of a Vietnamese orphanage during the Fall of Saigon. I'll finish it off tonight. Nostalgia overload.

I was supposed to Skype with my mom yesterday, but she couldn't get her computer to work. I haven't yet heard her first-hand account of the Hurricane Matthew drama! So I'm hoping we can come up with an alternate method of communication. Or that she'll get a new computer, which she sorely needs.

(Photo: A fallen leaf on Hampstead Heath Extension, on Saturday.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Yellow Bus

Once again, I got my butt to French class yesterday morning. Right up until I left the house I entertained notions of playing hooky -- I hadn't done my homework for a variety of stupid reasons, and I just didn't feel motivated. But I worked on it while I ate breakfast and I got enough done that I thought I could justifiably put in an appearance. I don't know why I fight myself about this every week.

(And then whine about it, which I'm sure you love.)

I was going to do a photo walk afterwards, but the weather looked dicey and I was carrying my books so I came home. Instead I put Olga on a lead and took her to Hampstead Heath, where she ran and ran after squirrels real and imaginary, working off a lot of accumulated energy.

Which is a good thing, because today's forecast calls for a 100% chance of rain. Photo- or dog-walking will probably be impossible.

Olga and I found a groovy VW bus on our walk. Olga even figured out a clever way to get herself into the picture:

Such an attention hog.

I was just reading the Times and marveling at Trump's latest attempts to get attention by inferring that Hillary Clinton was on drugs during the last presidential debate. The man is insane.

I do, however, approve of Cover Girl's recent move to hire a makeup-loving boy as its newest "face." The modern embrace of gender fluidity is a fabulous thing -- it more truly reflects us all as humans, and any time we break down lines and barriers we're moving toward that common humanity. (I'm sure some suits at the corporate level are more interested in developing the gigantic, untapped male makeup market! Being generally anti-makeup for everybody, I can't see it on myself, though. Or maybe just a little eyeliner?)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Dylan, Clowns and Bottle-Flipping

Yesterday I read a column about why Bob Dylan doesn't deserve the Nobel Prize. The gist of it was that Dylan's winning takes the prize away from real literature -- and besides, he's already got all his Grammys. His work isn't true literature because it's so deeply intertwined with his music, the columnist argued.

I don't buy it. I'm not a huge Dylan fan -- the only albums of his I've ever owned are his greatest hits compilations and "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," with that groovy cover shot of a boyish young Dylan walking down a snowy New York street with the seemingly adoring Suze Rotolo. Many of the ones that people mention as cultural touchstones, like "Blonde on Blonde" or "Nashville Skyline" or "Blood on the Tracks," I've never even heard. But come on -- Dylan is a poet. Of course he is.

So is Joni Mitchell, or Bruce Springsteen. So are any number of other songwriters. The division between poetry and music seems like a soft line to me. Poetry is music, and vice versa. In fact, music may serve as modern poetry even more so than traditional poetic forms -- certainly in terms of accessibility and public appreciation.

Speaking of literature, you may have noticed that for a couple of weeks now my "What I'm Reading" box on the right side of this page has said that I'm reading "Swamplandia!," a Florida novel given to me by my friend Sue in Tampa. It's true that the novel is sitting on our end table, with my reading glasses on top. But the god's honest truth is that I haven't even looked at the first word. What with studying French and staying on top of the incessant flood of New Yorkers I haven't had time. My goal this weekend is to finally start that book.

I'm sure you've also heard about this bizarre clown fad -- people dressed as scary clowns trying to frighten other people in public, sometimes with weapons. It's been all over the headlines here in London, another one of those puzzling American cultural imports. (This one really is puzzling.) I told Dave if someone dressed as a clown ran at me with a knife I think I might laugh. Although I'm not sure.

Another fad that's been making the rounds is bottle-flipping. The kids in school do this all the time, and a recent article about how it drives adults crazy really resonated with me. I'm constantly telling them to knock it off in the library. I didn't even know what they were doing at first. Apparently it all took off with videos on YouTube, and I have to say, some of them are pretty amazing. I just don't want it going on around me, or the library books!

(Photo: A rather patriotic drug bag on Hampstead Heath, last weekend.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Seven Mile Grill

When I was growing up, my family subscribed to National Geographic magazine. Every month the familiar gold borders of the cover brightened up our coffee table and invited perusal of the photos within. (Occasionally the articles, but mostly the photos -- it's long been a photographer's magazine.)

In December 1984, when I was a freshman in college, the magazine published a photo essay by Bruce Dale about U.S. 1. Dale followed the length of the highway, from Maine to Key West, and photographed the people and places he encountered along the way.

Being a Floridian, I was immediately drawn to what he had to say about the Florida portion of his adventure. He photographed the famed iguana man of Key West and the Seven Mile Bridge, part of the so-called Overseas Highway that traverses the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys.

"Island hopping south from Key Largo to Key West, Route 1 begins its countdown," he wrote. "At mile marker 50, Seven Mile Bridge seems to head off into the open sea. Completed in 1982, it replaced a much narrower one, originally the old Flagler railroad bridge. Before hitting the north end of the bridge, I always fortified myself with a piece of Key lime pie from the Seven Mile Grill."

(I have this quote because I recently found a copy of the magazine in a dusty cabinet in our school library. Memories!)

The article launched my infatuation with the Seven Mile Grill, and also launched my plan to go to Key West for Spring Break that following year. My roommate and I made the trip, in March 1985, driving the Overseas Highway in my light blue, tank-heavy 1977 Pontiac Sunbird. We too stopped at the grill, in Marathon, for key lime pie. Kind of star-struck ("This place was in National Geographic!") I took a picture, above.

Over the years, I went there several more times, with multiple friends. We always sat at the bar and ate fried things and, of course, pie. In 2005, after I'd moved to New York and twenty years after my first visit, I photographed it again when I stopped with my friend Arne on our drive from Miami Beach to Key West. It hadn't changed much -- maybe it was a tad more attractive.

And unfortunately, that's the last time I've been able to go to the Seven Mile Grill, but only because I haven't driven the Overseas Highway since. The grill still exists today, as this Google Street View shot from 2015 demonstrates:

One of these days, I'll get back there.

I was moved to think about the ol' grill because my beloved souvenir t-shirt, which I bought on my visit with Arne, is on its last legs. I've worn it often for 11 years, and it's finally so thin, so stretched and so perforated with holes that it's only a matter of time before I have to throw it away.

Isn't it a great shirt? I once had a guy stop me on the street in New York and ask me where I'd gotten it.

" the Seven Mile Grill," I said.

"Oh, you mean it's a real place?" he said, his eyes wide. I guess he thought I'd picked it up at Urban Outfitters or something.

Yes, it's a real place. With real key lime pie!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Ineffective Panda Oracle

I learned something really interesting yesterday. Apparently Bernie Sanders's brother lives in England, and is running for Parliament as the Green Party candidate from the Oxfordshire district most recently represented by David Cameron. (Now that Cameron's stepped down, they need someone else.)

Apparently Bernie recently endorsed his brother. Which made me wonder if the "Feel the Bern" message I found on the tree in Hampstead Heath, and posted yesterday, is actually connected to this election, rather than the U.S. presidential race?

We may never know. I asked the possessed panda in the picture above, abandoned on a park bench on my street, but he remained mute on the subject. Maybe I should have asked him in French. Or Chinese.

Speaking of French, yesterday I was practicing on Duolingo and I got caught in some kind of weird alternate reality where every sentence I was given to translate sounded just a little bit dirty:

"You want to see my vegetables."

"We want to taste the meat."

"I can be a bad boy."

Is it just me?

But anyway, back to politics -- The New Yorker recently featured an article about Trump voters in West Virginia, and what's motivating them. I found it refreshing, because the voters who were quoted were articulate and thoughtful. They're still wrong, at least from my perspective, but I could appreciate their reasons for wanting Trump. One man, a history professor, said he admired Teddy Roosevelt and thought Trump brought a modern version of Roosevelt's bluster and grand vision to the race. I can respect that while disagreeing with him. He's not just waving a flag and chanting a tired Fox News headline or a racist epithet.

I've been feeling a sense of inner calm about politics lately. For one thing, I've voted, so my role is finished. (And admittedly, it helps that my candidate appears to be ahead.) Even Brexit seems more inevitable now, more a matter of incremental coping. All the arguing, the Facebooking, doesn't really contribute much, does it? All we can do is our conscientious best. And I've done it. Now it's just a matter of being open to the result.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Bern

I found this tree on Hampstead Heath on Sunday. I can't believe the tentacles of the American presidential election have reached into my forest sanctuary, but here's the evidence. I'm not sure whether it was painted when Bernie was still a viable candidate, or more recently as a protest against Hillary.

In any case, it's probably not the best use of a tree. Even Bernie would agree to that, I feel certain.

And meanwhile, the blue in the bar graph on the home page of The New York Times just keeps going higher and higher:

A thing of beauty, isn't it? You can click here to see some of the calculations that go into that prediction.

Other than that, I don't have much for you today. Yesterday was busy, and I got out of the office briefly when I went to the bank for change and dropped off a local library book that got put in our returns box by mistake. I also walked to work listening to the ninth episode of the first season of the "Serial" podcast. I'm hooked!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Few Last Garden Flowers

Although the season has turned -- it was supposed to have gotten down to about 43º F last night -- we still have a few brave flowers blooming in the garden. We have one last inula blossom, on a plant with yellowing leaves and dead, brown seed heads.

(By the way, did I mention that I found a forest clearing full of inula near our hotel during our recent trip to Oxfordshire? I was surprised to find it growing wild, but I suspect the plants were garden escapees.)

The fox and cubs is still going strong, and looking very autumnal to boot. We didn't mow them this year, so our little patch has lasted longer than usual.

We have some yarrow that Dave transplanted -- it was near death in the spring, having been gnawed by slugs, but he put it in a pot against a warm wall and it has flourished.

We also have some persistent fruit, like our tomatoes, which have been slowly ripening. We've harvested about 12 so far, and we have several more that ought to reach the edible stage. (With 43º nights, we may need to bring them inside and ripen them on the windowsill.)

Dave hates these tomatoes. He says they taste like cotton. But the fact that we grew them allows me to overlook their shortcomings.

Our passion flower vine has also produced fruit, though I'm told they're not the kind of passion fruit that can be eaten. Apparently the ornamental flower and the edible fruit come from different types of vine. I'm not a big fan of passion fruit anyway.

In other news, last night, Dave and I watched the latest presidential debate. Trump sounded more prepared, though he still descended into absurdity with his threats of jail and special prosecutors. I think Hills did a great job maintaining a presidential tone. I was so impressed with the audience member who asked the final question, prompting the candidates to find something positive to say about each other. It changed the mood of the entire evening and, I think, enabled them to shake hands at the end. That gesture of civility went a long way.