Wednesday, November 30, 2016

George Harrison Canal Boat

As we were coming back in a taxi from the train station on Sunday, Dave and I rode along the canal in Maida Vale and I spotted this interesting houseboat. I never walk along the south side of the canal -- I'm always on the north side, for some reason -- so maybe that's why I'd never seen it before. Anyway, I went back the next day on my lunch break for a closer look.

It turns out to be a little homage to George Harrison. On the back, next to the Hindu god Hanuman, are lyrics including "All you need is love" and "While my guitar gently weeps."

It's a really unusual houseboat -- not long and narrow like most canal boats. And those windows! Does it even have an engine?

Monday was a beautiful day, so I walked farther and found this gilded chaise longue atop someone else's boat. A novel way to store and/or transport fancy furniture!

And nearby, a pink flamingo frolicked in a very tiny houseboat garden.

I have been having a crazy couple of days at work. I came home looking like the trolls again last night (at least in my mind)! Just crazy, crazy busy.

I did solve one major library mystery. For a couple of weeks now, our copy of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" has repeatedly migrated from the German history shelf into the art corner. I kept finding it on the art shelf and putting it back where it belonged, only to find it in art again later. I figured some kid was reading it and leaving it back there, and I'd never been able to figure out who. But yesterday I caught him red-handed moving the book. Turns out he wasn't reading it at all -- just playing tricks on me. Busted!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


You may think, from the title, that this post is about Internet trolls. But no, it's about actual trolls -- the toy kind, with the wild hair. Remember them, from the '70s? I guess they're still around, because while Olga and I were walking yesterday morning, we came across this blue-haired guy lying on the ground.

Olga gave him a sniff but didn't seem otherwise interested. I set him up on a planter where whoever dropped him will hopefully see him more easily.

Nearby, we found his Cousin It-like friend. I put him on the planter, too.

As I often say, you never know what you'll find while walking the dog.

I had an incredibly busy day yesterday. Tons of stuff coming back to the library after the break, and tons of people stopping by my desk to chat. I'm one of those very public people at school, always sitting out in the open, and I consider it part of my job to make time for people who stop by to talk. Consequently I felt like I was getting pulled all day in this direction or that. I was frazzled by the time I got home. If I had hair, I would have looked like one of those trolls.

I haven't mentioned politics lately, but of course that's at the back of my mind, too -- my lingering sense of dread regarding our world leadership. I don't know about you, but I have friends who have been seriously incapacitated by the American election. A couple of my colleagues can barely function. They're prone to crying in the hallways.

My personal coping mechanism is to clearly recognize what I can and cannot do and/or change. The election outcome is awful, but under the American system, Donald Trump is (almost certainly, despite recount efforts) the legitimate winner. Lots and lots of Americans wanted him -- a winning assortment of Americans, under our system. There is nothing for those of us on the losing side of history to do but bite the bullet and live with him, and respect, if not the candidate himself, then the wishes of our fellow countrymen and -women. That's democracy, right?

People say we can't normalize him, but the fact is, we have to -- to some degree, if only just to move on with our lives. We don't have to roll over completely. We can guard against the darker impulses that helped fuel his rise -- the racism, the xenophobia. I'm seriously weighing some Christmas donations to organizations that will fight for causes I believe in, now possibly under threat. That's something I can do.

Meanwhile, as I've written before, I'm also trying to remain open-minded. We really don't know much about how all this will unfold. I'm trying to make room for the possibility that it won't be terrible. The system itself is built to protect us from an inept leader. I'm not sure it's healthy to prematurely expect or anticipate disaster.

Admittedly, I do shudder every time Donald Trump issues another tweet. (I don't use Twitter, but I do read about his tweets in the paper.)

And hey, look at that -- this post did turn out to be about an Internet troll!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Death of a Tennis Ball

One last Copenhagen photo. This is from a cafe where we had breakfast yesterday, overlooking a public square and the Stork Fountain. (Our guidebook says the birds on the fountain are actually herons, but whatever.) The sun was shining brilliantly and I was sorry to leave, but Olga awaited!

Traveling home was unremarkable, which is probably a good thing. When we got to the Copenhagen airport, I had a bunch of random Danish change in my pocket, enough to buy a bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine at the duty-free shop. We were going to give it to our dog-sitter, but by the time we got home she was already gone.

Olga was thrilled to see us, but her Kong toy was missing. I'm guessing she took it on a walk and dropped it somewhere, which she is prone to do -- you gotta keep an eye on her at all times! A lesson for the dog-sitter. Fortunately, thanks to my former boss Susan -- who brought a Kong to Olga on her recent visit -- we had a spare.

Meanwhile, in her excitement at our arrival, Olga demolished a tennis ball on the living room rug. Scraps of rubber and damp green fuzz everywhere!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cold in Christiania

Yesterday Dave and I bought a ticket for those city tour buses, so we could more easily access distant parts of Copenhagen. Our first outing was to the "free city" of Christiania, which operates as its own little island of self-governance within Copenhagen proper. It's a hippie community that is traditionally soft on mild drugs and known for its street art.

There were some interesting murals, but the wind and chilly temperatures were biting and we didn't linger too long outside. We adjourned to a cafe for a big mug of hot coffee, and it's a good thing we did because when we went out to catch the bus again, it took its sweet time arriving.

Dave and I stood on the sidewalk for almost an hour. Even using a nearby wall as a windbreak, I was chilled to the bone by the time that damn bus arrived!

When we got back to central Copenhagen, Dave retreated to the hotel to soothe his hypothermia. I got on the next tour bus for another destination -- the Carlsberg brewery, where I wanted to see the famous elephant gate.

The brewery is a huge complex surrounded by construction, and it took me a while to find the gate, but I eventually got there. Then I took a long walk northward to Nørrebro. As long as I'm moving I don't get cold, and I had a great time walking amid the swirling leaves, listening to Astrud Gilberto on my iTunes.

I found a very peculiar building that made me think of Ms. Moon, because it had chickens protruding from the walls.

I ended my walk with a beer at Pussy Galore's Flying Circus, one of at least two bars in Copenhagen named after Bond girls (in this case, with a bit of Monty Python thrown in). I managed to hit both of them in the same day -- the other, Honey Ryder, is located in our hotel, and Dave and I went there before dinner!

We ate last night at Restaurant Kokkeriet, which was fabulous. Today, back to London, where Olga has cuddled right up to her dog-sitter. I've seen photographic evidence. She apparently doesn't miss us at all!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Harbor Cruise

Dave and I set out walking yesterday and wound up taking a spur-of-the-moment harbor cruise from Nyhavn (above). We went on one of the flat little boats like the one at right, which are built to glide beneath Copenhagen's numerous incredibly low bridges.

It was an interesting experience -- and cold, at least on the outdoor deck! For one thing, it gave us a fast-track route to the famous Little Mermaid sculpture on the harbor. We only saw her from the back,  surrounded by her usual retinue of tourists, but that's enough for me.

And we saw some interesting architecture, from Copenhagen's ultra-modern opera house... the more traditional Marmorkirken, or Marble Church, which was started in 1749 and then took about 150 years to finish. (I shot this after we got off the boat and walked to Amalienborg Palace, home of the Danish royal family.)

This guy was entertaining the passers-by on the canal in Nyhavn. It's not often you see a busking clarinetist, is it?

Dave and I ate an insane amount yesterday. After the boat tour we had lunch, the traditional smørrebrød, a kind of open-faced sandwich -- or, in our case, four open-faced sandwiches. (We didn't quite understand the menu.) They were topped with pickled herring, paté, sliced beef and shrimp with dill sauce -- with more Tuborg Christmas beer and aquavit, it made quite a lunch!

After lunch we walked to Rosenborg palace (lots of palaces around here) and then to the Rundetaarn, a tall, historic round tower with a sloping ramp. Supposedly there are great views from the top but we didn't ascend it, having walked quite a distance by that time. Dave, in particular, was ready for the hotel, so he headed back while I went on a brief exploration of the local park and some little side streets. I found a gay-themed store called Homoware, where I chatted with the proprietor and then felt like I should buy something -- so I picked up a pair of striped gym socks. I'm sure I'm supposed to wear them clubbing, but I'll probably wear them to walk the dog.

We ended the day with dinner at a nice seafood restaurant not far from our hotel. This time we did some advance research on the menu by translating it with Google Translate, but the results were questionable. One shrimp dish was translated as "hand-peeled travel in congestion."

Fortunately, the restaurant had a menu in English. I ate light!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Long Danish Night

Well, here we are in Copenhagen, where it is very....dark.

Seriously, as I write this, we've experienced only about an hour of daylight in Denmark. By the time we landed in mid-afternoon yesterday, the sun was on the wane, and by the time we'd taken the train into town, walked to our hotel and checked in, we were sliding into twilight.

But that's not a bad thing. Copenhagen is very lively at night!

After checking in, Dave and I went in search of a meal. Around the corner we found a comedy club that doubles, during the day, as a cafe. (Mercifully, no comedians performed while we were there. Stand-up comedy is one of my least favorite things in the entire world.)

We ordered tuna-and-fish-roe sandwiches, and I got one (OK, two) of Tuborg's special Christmas beers. The waitress put little Danish flags on the sandwiches to welcome us -- she said they're normally reserved for patrons celebrating birthdays.

The toilet in the men's room had a message printed in the bowl: "Aim like a SNIPER."

Then we walked around town a bit, window-shopping (scary saggy onesies, anyone?) and getting a feel for our neighborhood.

I took this photo specifically for my brother, who's big into biking. I doubt that he would attach a little bell to his handlebars, though. He's way too serious for that.

I told Dave that in London, it would say "Bicycle and die."

Our hotel is located about a block from Tivoli Gardens, a famous 173-year-old amusement park in central Copenhagen. I'm not sure we'll go there, but it's fun to peer up at the fanciful pagodas and domes and spires surrounded by roller coasters.

When we got back to the hotel, Dave promptly fell into a snooze and I spent some time reading and watching a movie ("Harold and Maude"). Today, I'm looking forward to seeing Denmark in daylight!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Last-Minute Floor Mopping

This picture shows our purple "Amistad" sage, which is just about the last flower blooming in our garden at this point. It even survived that frost we had a few weeks ago. It's a perennial but it will eventually die back, too.

Dave and I are off to Copenhagen this morning, and I still have to pack. I'm also racing around trying to get the house into shape for the dog-sitter. It's funny how you don't really see certain forms of dirt until you know someone else is coming over. Then you think, "My god, that dog has tracked a lot of garden mud onto this floor!"

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Day's Photos

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, we only work a half-day today and we have no students. It's just meetings and administrative stuff. Thanksgiving isn't a British thing, but since we're an American school we follow the American calendar!

Here are some random pictures of stuff I found interesting yesterday.

First, I love the little feline sign above the door on Anna's House. It's right near our flat and I'm sure I've walked past it a million times, but I didn't notice it until yesterday morning.

Last week, when I was walking home from work, I passed police cars surrounding what looked like a covered-up body on the pavement on Abbey Road. I have no idea what happened. I've tried to look up news coverage and can't find anything. But there are bouquets at the site now, left in memory of someone named Terry.

Our Christmas cactus at work is blooming profusely!

And finally, the occupants of a house I've photographed frequently on our street seem to have moved. They've been throwing away a lot of stuff and last week a van was out front, with removal men hauling boxes. I'm sorry to see the house change hands, because there was always an interesting assortment of stuff out front, including a bench, an old bicycle and two large cement lions. It made for good photos.

The lions, however, appear to be sticking around. They've moved a few doors down to another house -- perhaps they were gifts from the neighbors!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trends and Prehistoric Creatures

The Trends wine shop on Mill Lane, not far from our flat, closed several weeks ago. I always liked this place because of its abundance of signage, but I must admit I never bought wine there. (We patronized another, closer wine shop, and unfortunately it has now closed, too. We hear it will reopen under a new owner.)

Anyway, I will miss Trends Trends Trends.

As some of you know, I've been working on transcribing my old paper journals into blog form, in order to create a digital backup. The other day I transcribed an entry from my days living in Morocco, in the early '90s, in which I mentioned coming across a puddle full of strange creatures -- I described them as resembling small, pink horseshoe crabs. Apparently, they really repulsed me.

I never learned what these things were, but fortunately, I also drew a picture of them. Using that as a guide, I got online and did some research and found that they're called tadpole shrimp. They apparently live in seasonal bodies of water and their eggs encyst and live in the environment for up to 27 years before hatching when the conditions become right. I mean, that is freaking amazing, is it not? Nature is incredible. Anyway, I'm glad I solved this 22-year-old mystery!

Here's more of our modern London nature:

Mr. Fox, captured on our garden cam. Just a few hours earlier:

Olga and these foxes do a sort of continual pas-de-deux, taunting each other with their mere presence.

And speaking of French, I thought yesterday about whether I want to continue my classes and why they've become so hard for me. The classes themselves aren't that difficult, but I'm struggling with motivation. I think I've been somewhat frustrated by my slow progress, but I have no one but myself to blame -- after all I can barely bring myself to do my homework and I'm often distracted by other things. So I've decided to double down and work harder. I spent about an hour last night studying, including making some flash cards so I can finally learn my verb forms and stop sputtering tentative guesses, and I wrote a note to my teacher (in French! Using tenses!) in which I apologized for my absence and told him I would be back after Thanksgiving. (He doesn't care; it was more just an exercise for me.) And I'm going to sign up again in the spring, even if it kills me, and I apologize in advance for all the whining I'm going to do.

Je vais apprendre cette langue!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Taming the Monster

Well, Tor did show up yesterday, despite the rainy weather. We set him loose on the monstrous shrub next door, and he took care of the problem.

We went from this:

To this:

While I am normally a naturalistic gardner, preferring things growing somewhat wildly as opposed to super-manicured, that bush was getting way, way out of hand. We could barely even use the patio. We are so happy with Tor's trim job.

(Incidentally, I warned the neighbor's gardener we were going to cut it back to the fence, and he said it would be fine. It's apparently a notoriously vigorous plant. He says he trims the neighbor's side every two weeks.)

Tor also took care of some trimming elsewhere in the garden, and then I raked all the leaves from our walnut tree. Autumn clean-up: Check!

(Top photo: A leaf from our Japanese maple on a broken piece of garden pottery.)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Autumn Heath and Home Improvements

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday, where the autumn colors are starting to trend more toward brown. She and I weren't able to take a long walk last weekend, and she was bouncing off the walls yesterday morning, looking at me with expectant eyes. How could I say no?

But wait, you ask -- didn't I have French class yesterday morning? Well, yes, and I really did intend to go. I got dressed, ate breakfast, got my books together and walked to the tube station -- only to realize I'd forgotten my wallet, with my farecard in it. So there was nothing to do but walk back home, and by the time I did that, all enthusiasm for attending French (there wasn't much anyway) had subsided.

Taking Olga to the Heath seemed like a much better option.

And Olga agreed.

Meanwhile, this is going on in front of our house:

The water company came and dug up the street -- something about replacing a clamp on a leaking pipe or something like that. It doesn't really affect us much, but the work has blocked in the car of our upstairs neighbors. I hope they weren't planning to drive anywhere soon! Yesterday the labor crew came and filled in a lot of the hole, but there are still barricades and they say the work will be finished later this week.

Today we have a guy coming to trim the shrubbery in the back garden. It's more than we can handle, given our limited access to garden tools and ladders, and we haven't had it done since right after we moved in. This guy put a flyer through our letterbox several weeks ago offering his services as a tree trimmer, so we gave him a call. He barely speaks English -- he's Eastern European and looks so much like B-movie actor Tor Johnson that we call him "Tor," at least when he's not around. (He goes by Nick.) Anyway, it's supposed to be rainy this morning so he may not show, but I hope he does. We definitely need to whip things into shape in the garden. One of the neighbor's climbing rose bushes is tumbling over the patio fence like a tentacled B-movie monster, and Tor Johnson is just the man to defeat it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Bergdahl Report

Yesterday I finished Season 2 of the Serial podcast, this one about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier captured and held for five years by the Taliban after walking off his Army post in Afghanistan. On its face, it seems like a happy story -- a rare case of a U.S. captive being brought back alive from extremists in the Middle East. I remember when Bergdahl's recovery was announced by the White House. I was surprised we'd gotten him back.

But the story quickly got politicized, with critics of President Obama arguing over the prisoner swap that led to Bergdahl's release, and the circumstances of his initial disappearance. (I wrote sympathetically about him back then, too.) Bergdahl -- who apparently intended his disappearance as a protest against what he saw as dangerous Army leadership -- was labeled a deserter, maybe even a traitor, and there's still controversy about what should happen to him now that he's been brought back to the United States. He's due to be court-martialed for desertion.

I guess it makes sense to put him through some sort of judicial process, in order to sort out the circumstances of the case. But it seems to me that the guy has been punished enough. I mean, holy cow, five years in a series of dark hidey-holes in Pakistan? That surpasses any humane punishment the U.S. could inflict. I hope if he is found guilty of a crime, his sentence is suspended or he's given time served. He's done his time, don't you think?

It seems that people with a military background are particularly fierce about punishing Bergdahl. Some argue that he led to the deaths of other soldiers, though the Serial reporters could never really substantiate that charge. I have no military experience, nor does anyone in my family, so maybe that's why I tend to lean toward leniency. I just think, enough is enough. Let him move on with his life.

(Photo: Wimbledon, last weekend.)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Turkish in Shoreditch

Dave and I went to dinner last night with an old friend from New York -- a guy I know from the Zendo I used to attend. (If this sounds familiar it's because I went to dinner with a different Zendo friend about a month ago. So much to keep track of, I know.) Anyway, Jesse is in London for a computer programming conference and his partner Jennifer came along too, so I got to meet her. She's the author of the recently published "Seinfeldia," which looks pretty darn interesting for those of us who have lingering fascinations with marble rye, big salads and puffy shirts, but I haven't read it yet.

They're staying at an Air B-and-B near Brick Lane, and as we walked to dinner we found this wild piece of street art, which I couldn't resist.

We walked until we found a restaurant that looked good -- a Turkish place, in this case -- and settled in for some lively conversation about the election. I think Jesse was a little over it, actually, but it's such fertile ground for discussion we couldn't steer clear. (Sorry, Jesse!) In retrospect I wish I'd learned more about Jennifer's books (she did one about The Mary Tyler Moore Show too). I'm sure we could have bonded over classic TV.

Anyway, it was a fun evening despite the mortifying politics! At least we were all mortified in the same direction.

Speaking of mortification, I've been meaning to complain that our London retailers started their Christmas marketing right after Halloween. Is this happening in the states, too? The following Saturday, Nov. 5, I went to coffee with a friend before my French class and was shocked to find Christmas decals in the cafe windows and carols playing in the background. It's just wrong, people. In the states we have the barrier of Thanksgiving, which sort of kicks off the Christmas retailing season -- but here there is no such barrier so it begins absurdly early! I couldn't even begin to think about Christmas at the beginning of November.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Garden Cam

Time to check in on the garden cam! We've had it sitting out a couple of weeks, and here are some of the 900-plus photos we captured. (Yes, I know, the time and date are totally incorrect. I need to reset them.)

Hello, curious squirrel on a rainy day!

And hello, sneaky nocturnal fox.

Here I am, in my snazzy Missoni bathrobe, feeding the squirrels and birds in the backyard saucer. I bought that bathrobe with a birthday check from my dad when I lived in New York. Best bathrobe I ever owned.

Here are the pigeons that swoop in as soon as I step away, along with the big boss crows that try their best to hog all the food. (The vast majority of our garden cam pictures are of pigeons.)

Someone's random black cat made a pass through the garden, no doubt looking for all those pigeons and squirrels. It's looking toward the house, where Olga was probably going ballistic.

The magpies, quite snooty, prefer to keep their backs to the camera.

But the pigeons have no such pride.

Oh, hello again!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Hangnail

I took Olga to the vet yesterday morning before work. As I mentioned, she tore one of her dew claws Sunday while chasing her Kong toy. The claw bled a little, protruded from her leg at a weird angle and caused her enough pain that she would quiver while lying next to us on the couch.

The vet took one look at it and said, "That will have to come off." So I left Olga with him for the day, and he sedated her, removed the cracked claw (not the entire digit -- just the nail, which will grow back in time) and put a sort of bootie on her foot to protect the wound. He also gave her a round of antibiotics.

That sounds like a lot of drama for what's essentially a hangnail, but hey -- Olga is a dramatic dog!

When Dave picked her up yesterday afternoon, she was still a bit groggy from the sedative. She slept yesterday evening. This morning we'll remove the bootie and she should be good to go, though we cancelled her dog walk today so she could take it easy.

Meanwhile, on the political front, I find myself still wrestling to process last week's election. I've backed away from certain posts on Facebook and tried to limit my news intake to the essentials.

The reality of the situation hits me in waves. One minute I'll think, "Well, let's just see what happens. Don't jump to conclusions. Maybe this won't be so terrible." I'm trying to approach things with a Zen mind of openness. And then I'll wonder how a Democracy can function when voters are uninformed (or misinformed), in a society where news outlets that strive for objectivity (particularly newspapers) are dwindling in a bad business climate of shrinking ad revenue.

And I marvel at the degree of incivility Americans have come to tolerate in our society -- most notably from the new commander in chief. We used to demand respectability and basic politesse from our candidates. How did we get to this place, and where will it lead us?

It's all so surreal.

For the sake of diversion, Dave and I have been watching "The Crown" on Netflix, the new series about the first years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign. Did you know up to 12,000 people died from air pollution in London in a 1952 event known as "The Great Smog"? Let's hear it for modern clean-air legislation. Take note, Donald Trump!

(Photo: A car Olga and I found on our morning walk last Friday. I haven't seen it before or since.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Richmond Park

A few more photos from my walk Sunday through Wimbledon and Richmond. Above, a Wimbledon pub -- appropriately named, considering the local sport of note.

My mission for the day was to go to Richmond Park. It's the largest of the eight so-called Royal Parks, and includes forests, nature reserves and wildlife conservation areas as well as a golf course, hiking and biking trails and other activities.

It's best known for its herds of deer. This group was just hanging out in a field, grazing and wandering. People were getting pretty close to them -- closer than I felt comfortable getting, because they are wild animals, after all, with big antlers -- but the deer seemed accustomed to the attention.

After seeing the park, I walked through the town of Richmond, which sits on the Thames just south of Kew Gardens. There's a pretty park on bluffs overlooking the river, where I found some poor woman's bank debit card lying on the ground. I called the bank using the number on the card and asked them what I should do -- they told me to cut up the card and they'd cancel it and send the owner a replacement. So hopefully I kept someone from being defrauded.

Here's a view of the river from one of the bridges in town.

I was going to stay in Richmond for lunch, but despite the fact that it was about 2 p.m. and I'd hoofed it 7.5 miles, I wasn't that hungry. So I just took the tube home and ate there. All in all, a good, long walk on a beautiful (and rare, for this time of year) sunny day!

We're having a little drama at home this morning -- a few days ago Olga injured the dew claw on her left front foot while chasing her Kong toy. Last night it bled a little and now she seems to be in pain, so I'm taking her to the vet today. I think she may have a little infection going. I'll give you an update tomorrow!