Thursday, August 31, 2017

Gnawing, and Princess Di

Don't you wonder what's in that wooden box they're loading into the car?

Whatever it is, I bet it bites.

Speaking of which, at around 4 a.m. this morning, I woke up to the sound of something chewing. It seemed rodent-like, and at first I thought it was in the house. But I got up and walked around and couldn't locate the source of the noise, which continued unabated despite my movement -- which made me think it probably wasn't inside after all.

After dawn, I realized I'd heard a squirrel trying to chew its way into the metal peanut feeder on the fence outside our bedroom window. I haven't closely inspected the feeder yet but a flap seems to be hanging off the bottom -- it may have been damaged. At least there wasn't a critter indoors!

Add that experience to a variety of weird dreams I've been having over the past few nights. The night before last I dreamed I was in a dark motel room, and among my luggage was a framed picture of Audrey Hepburn, which I planned to put on the bedside table while watching "Breakfast at Tiffany's." I don't know why I felt the need to go to a dark motel room to do this, unless I was also going to dress like her.

So today is the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? I was at a journalism convention in Chicago -- I remember walking with a friend from our downtown hotel to the nearby Sun-Times building late that night to pick up a stack of papers fresh off the loading dock. We distributed them back at the convention, and the next day a lot of people vanished, called back to work. It was such surreal, unexpected news. I remember thinking there would be a backlash against the media, and (naively) that we'd have to rethink our relentless focus on celebrity coverage and reliance on paparazzi.

I liked Diana well enough, but I was never a huge fan, and I didn't entirely understand the outpouring of grief that followed her death -- or the vilification of the other members of the royal family and the Queen. But I never pass Kensington Palace now without envisioning that huge mountain of flowers piled outside the gate.

(Photo: Rainham, East London.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lobelia Deliciosa

In all the excitement over the weekend, between discovering marijuana growing wild on my street and walking 10 miles across the marshes of East London, I neglected to mention that Olga and I took a walk to the Clitterhouse Playing Fields on Sunday morning. She still seemed a little drained from our Heath outing the day before and she wasn't super-energetic. She preferred lying around in the shade (above).

It's probably the most tedious thing in the world for you to be shown pictures of my dog day in and day out. Sorry about that, but what can I say? She is what's going on around here.

The images coming out of Houston are so remarkable I can hardly believe it. It really is like Hurricane Katrina all over again. Did you see the picture of the elderly women in the nursing home, sitting in waist-high water? It was so mind-blowing I thought surely it had been Photoshopped -- but no, apparently, it was the real deal. I have relatives in western Louisiana and I'm worried about them -- the storm may head that way, apparently.

Our problems in London are minuscule by comparison -- and here's an example.

Several months ago Dave bought a lobelia for the garden, partly because many gardening websites say lobelia is resistant to slugs. Well, you can see how well that went. Our lobelia was like a delicate appetizer, or perhaps a hearty main course, for the voracious slugs we have around here. We put pellets around it and I bet I collected 30 dead slugs over a period of days, and yet still they came, and still they munched.

A few nights ago I went out in the yard with a flashlight to do something or other -- probably to retrieve Olga's Kong -- and I found four fat slugs dangling like ripe bananas from the lobelia's stripped stems. (There were dozens more in the grass. I have literally never seen so many slugs. Maybe something about the weather and the dampness and the temperature...?)

So we moved the lobelia to a pot and now it's up on the patio table, where it's hopefully out of the slugs' reach. And we've learned to take reports of plants' slug resistance with a grain of salt!

I finally got the last of my library preparations done yesterday, just as students began arriving for their first day. I schlepped our hammer and pliers to school so I could move some shelves, allowing me to finally re-shelve all the graphic novels in their new location. (This won't mean much to you, but trust me -- I'm glad it's over.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Upminster, Rainham and Purfleet

Several years ago I learned about something called the London Outer Orbital Path, or LOOP. It's a circular walking path that surrounds London in its outer suburbs -- a 150-mile journey divided into 24 walkable sections.

I've had it in the back of my mind that I might try walking the LOOP. While lying in bed Sunday evening, I decided somewhat impulsively that there's no time like the present. So Monday morning I set out.

I figured any section made a good beginning, and I've always been curious about Upminster, in far east London, at the end of the District tube line. So I decided to head out that way and do the Upminster Bridge to Rainham section of the LOOP.

The path follows the course of the Ingrebourne River, a narrow tributary of the Thames. That's a marshy area of the Ingrebourne in the top photo, but that's about as big as I ever saw it get. For most of its length it seemed to be about four inches deep.

There was lots of wildlife along the way -- butterflies and spiders and birds and wildflowers.

There were also leftover World War II fortifications, like this pillbox made of blast-resistant concrete. This area used to be a Royal Air Force airfield.

I followed the path four miles to Rainham, and feeling energetic, I decided to keep going. So I did another LOOP section, the five miles from Rainham to Purfleet.

This part of the path took me through an industrial area surrounded by marshes, and south to the bank of the Thames. I passed some abandoned concrete barges, which were used to fortify the harbour at Normandy in preparation for the D-Day landings and subsequently for flood defense along the riverbank. Standing near the barges is a sculpture called "The Diver" by John Kaufman.

I found this abandoned toy ball near a bench overlooking the river. Litter is no stranger to this area, with lots of plastic bottles washed up along the shore, and indeed the path circles a landfill. There were also lots of shiny, sharp glass-like rocks on the riverbank -- like greenish or brownish chunks of obsidian, but not that heavy. I couldn't figure out what the heck they were. Melted glass or plastic? It gave the entire riverbank a sparkly sheen.

I saw plenty of seagulls and starlings and red admiral butterflies on the buddleia blooming along the trail. Several gigantic windmills churned on the horizon, cranking out electrical power.

Near the end of the walk I passed this mysterious structure. I'm told it was part of an old military firing range.

By the time I got to Purfleet, I was seriously dragging, and I had stupidly neglected to put on any sunscreen before setting out. (I know! I know!) I was happy to get coffee and red velvet cake at the RSPB visitor's centre overlooking the marshes before climbing aboard a London-bound train.

The entire walk took about six hours, including a brief look around Upminster at the beginning, and a sandwich break at a Tesco in Rainham. Surprisingly, I didn't get that sunburned -- I love this country! I will merely look weathered and outdoorsy when I go back to work this morning.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pocket Park, with Pot

This little pocket park -- if you can call it that -- sits at the top of our street, where it meets West End Lane. There are a couple of trees and a bench, and occasionally I see someone resting there, but honestly it's not a very useful space. It mostly seems to gather rubbish.

The other day Olga and I were walking by and I happened to glance down at the small plant growing at the base of the right-hand tree, behind the bench...

...and I was like, "WAIT a minute! Is that what I think it is?!"

And I think it is. But I am no expert -- it could just be some kind of hemp, I suppose. As of this writing, it's still there. We'll see how long it lasts!

Meanwhile, I found this graffiti near the athletic fields behind the cemetery, not too far away. It's a theme!

I personally haven't smoked pot in decades -- I remember doing it once in the mid-'90s, and before that, a few times in college in the '80s. I liked the buzz OK, but I never enjoyed inhaling that pungent smoke. It just isn't my thing. I'd much rather have a martini.

As I understand it, cannabis, both medical and not, is illegal in the UK. So that's one plant I will not be rescuing!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sunny Saturday, with Lemonade Bottle

I mentioned yesterday that the garden is showing hints of autumn, but I don't mean to rush things. We're still enjoying summer, for sure! Yesterday we had a sunny, warm day and I took Olga to the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension. She had a great time running through -- and lying in -- the long summer grass.

She also seized the opportunity to go wading in the ponds on Sandy Heath. I was proud of myself for remembering to exchange a tennis ball for her Kong before she got in the water -- thus sparing me the need to wade in and retrieve a sunken toy. Tennis balls float!

While walking along one of the paths I found yet another unusual bottle. I brought it home and cleaned it up...

It's from "R W & S White Ld" and apparently was a lemonade or mineral water bottle. From what I've read online, I'm guessing it's about a hundred years old. R. White's is still a brand of lemonade in the UK (long since purchased by some corporation or other). Back in the '70s they had a popular and famous TV commercial called "I'm A Secret Lemonade Drinker" composed and sung by Elvis Costello's father! The things you learn while Googling...

Anyway, the bottle has now joined my little collection on our kitchen windowsill, and Olga has been bathed, and we're ready to start a new day!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Garden Flowers

Today, a couple of random shots from the garden, which is changing day-to-day. The lush summery foliage and flowers are giving way to a more autumnal look. We've still got plenty of blooms -- the loosestrife is still hanging on, and one of our hollyhocks just bloomed for the first time, finally pushing out some big, fluffy pink blossoms after looking fairly inactive all summer. About two weeks ago the passionflower (above) still had some flowers beside its bright orange fruit.

The Japanese anemone is blooming, too. Dave says he associates this flower with the beginning of school, which is pretty much the right timetable. And some of the roses put out a second (or third?) flush of blooms.

The hydrangeas, though, are just beginning to fade. They looked OK in this shot, but they've since grown more mottled and rusty. The red-hot-pokers are pretty much gone, and the sunny yellow inulas are finished. We occasionally get another flower from the nasturtiums, but they're lanky and tired.

I was super-busy at work this week, getting things set up for the kids. I got everything done except successfully moving the graphic novels -- we're putting them on a new set of shelves, and I had to wait until the maintenance crews anchored the shelves to the wall, which took a while. They finally got it done yesterday and I began re-shelving the books, but I didn't have the tools I needed to move the shelves up and down within the bookcases, so I had to stop. I'll deal with it Tuesday.

Monday is a holiday. Woo hoo! This is the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival, and as always, Dave and I are happy that we no longer live on the parade route!

I'm thinking about my friends in Texas, who have Hurricane Harvey bearing down on them. Stay safe! And did you see the story about how the push to remove Confederate monuments is now spreading to statues of others, including Columbus in the middle of New York's Columbus Circle and former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo? This is exactly what worries me -- that slippery slope! Where does it stop? What historical figure can't be found wanting in some way?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Grocery Psychology

The neighbor's gigantic rose bush -- the one that overhangs our patio and that we've dubbed "the monster" -- is already putting out new shoots since its radical trim job a few weeks ago. It will never be defeated!

So, I'm curious about something. When it comes to grocery shopping, do you believe in shopping ahead of time, and stocking up? Or do you shop little by little, each day or every other day?

I ask because Dave and I are diametrically opposed on this point. I tend to be a frequent shopper, especially for fresh items like produce. Dave, however, is a stocking-up kind of guy, and he does nearly all of our shopping. Consequently, our pantry and our fridge are sometimes so full that I can't tell what the heck we have in there, and I have to wage a concerted effort to convince him to eat what we already have before we buy more.

This week, I've been insistent that we eat down our leftovers. When Mike and Sally came over last Sunday, we'd planned to have two other guests as well, but they cancelled at the last minute -- so we were left with an abundance of sandwich fixings and salad and some other stuff. That's been dinner each night this week, and we're still not through it all.

Dave also likes Ocado, which allows online grocery shopping for delivery. He gets on there and orders immense quantities of non-perishable items. Everything in our pantry drawer is buried under a dozen packages of biscuits, and there are 10 jars of mixed nuts stacked on the counter. In the bathroom we've got about 20 bags of razors and two dozen sticks of deodorant.

I shouldn't complain, because God knows it's better to have too much than too little. I should also be happy that Dave does the shopping, because buying groceries is truly one of my least favorite tasks. But I'd also like to be able to move around in the house.

Of course, frequent shopping is easier in an urban area. I understand how someone who lives in a rural location would have to buy more at one go. But we pass at least three grocery stores and a produce market every day just walking home from the tube!

Anyway, it's an ongoing discussion.

I'd like to think there's a deeper psychological tendency buried in this issue. It seems like stocking-up types would be cautious preparers, and daily shoppers the devil-may-care, spontaneous ones. But I am typically far more cautious than Dave is, I think. So much for that theory!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fly Butt

For some reason, flies like to settle in sunny spots on the leaves of the hostas by our garden bench. As I was watching them the other day it occurred to me that I know virtually nothing about flies -- the different types and all their features. Look at this one's bright red eyes, for example!

We think of houseflies monolithically, and incorrectly, as just one insect. Don't we?

Here's a greenish-blue one, the type I might call a bluebottle, though I have no idea whether that's really correct. Seems like these are the ones I most often find, dead and dessicated, on our indoor windowsills. I always feel so bad for flies that get trapped inside and I liberate them whenever I can (and when it's not too late). Poor things.

Here's that fly's butt. I've never taken a close look at a fly's butt, and you probably haven't either, so now's your chance! Don't say I never did anything for you.

Dave and I are managing to eke our way through this week's activities at school, but it's not easy! Having to leave home at the same time (roughly 7:30 a.m.) means I have to get up and get in the shower straight away -- before coffee or blogging or anything else. I typically enjoy a more leisurely morning routine, so I'll be glad when it resumes next week (I normally don't have to leave for work until about 8:45 a.m.).

I came home yesterday afternoon to find that an animal had strewn the contents of one of our neighbor's trash bags all over our back garden. It apparently carried the bag into the garden and tore it open. So I got to clean that up. Wild Kingdom!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

iPhone Photo Parade

Today, a few photos from the ol' iPhone...first, one I took several weeks ago of Olga during our morning walk. When the sun is out we get good shadows on this short stretch of sidewalk! (Or "pavement," for you Brits.)

We have an apple tree, of sorts, in our back garden. I say "of sorts" because it's a twiggy, misshapen, not-terribly-attractive tree. In fact Dave has been campaigning to cut it down, but I've been resisting the idea. First of all, it doesn't belong to us, and second, it blooms in the spring and the flowers -- even on those twiggy branches -- look nice. Besides, when apples finally appear, the squirrels love them! We have no idea what these apples taste like -- they never get big enough for us to eat before they're devoured by the arboreal rodents.

This garden statue, which sits on the wall of a neighbor down the street, has no less than four snails on it. (One of them is beneath the paws and may be difficult to see.) Grody to the max, as Moon Unit Zappa might have said back in 1982.

Remember how I mentioned Olga's nemesis, the cat that lurks behind the gate down the street? Well, here's another nemesis -- the cat behind the patio door on one of our walking routes. Every time we go by, if the weather is decent, that cat sticks its paw beneath the door and Olga growls and lunges. It actually scratched Olga's nose one day. Olga bled, but she didn't seem to feel a thing.

A creatively painted (or grouted?) house number in West Hampstead.

Sorry for the unattractive subject matter, but you know how I'm always complaining about the litterbug on the next street? The one who dumps the bags of meat wrappers? Well, this is what I'm dealing with. (This example is actually relatively mild, because only one of the bags is torn open. Sometimes they all are.) Yesterday I wrote a letter to Camden Council's waste contractor, complete with photo evidence. Hopefully it will result in some enforcement against the dumper.

A promotional Porsche in our neighborhood. I love a good martini, but I'd rather drink it than drive it.

And on a somewhat related note, an advertisement in the tube that I've found entertaining. You probably can't read the text, but it's written in a sort of Franglish. "Bonjour eyeballs!"

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Well, this is as close as we got to yesterday's eclipse -- watching it on the news. It didn't affect us at all here in London, and in fact even if it had passed directly overhead we wouldn't have seen it, because it was pretty cloudy.

But The New York Times has a feature that allows us to experience eclipse totality virtually, which is pretty cool. You can get to that by clicking here if, like me, you live in a non-eclipse zone.

My friend Liz was at her parents' house in South Carolina. "Their town was on the total black-out line," Liz wrote. "We lucked out with perfect weather. It started to get darker, the bugs were loud singing and we saw the diamond as the full eclipse ended. Too cool."

She sent some pictures of the little crescent-shaped shadows thrown by the eclipsed sun:

How wild is that? Somehow, in all this eclipse talk, I missed any word that it would change shadows. That blows my mind.

Anyway, as I said, none of that here in England.

Instead, Dave and I had a placid evening, sitting at home watching "The Sopranos." Now that we've finished "Mad Men" we needed a new series, and I've never seen "The Sopranos." So we're taking that on. The downside -- we have to buy it through Amazon, and there are six seasons, so it's a considerable expense! Probably worth it for my overall cultural edification, though.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Wayward Pint Glass

Although my first day back at school was last week, today is the first day for most staff and faculty. This week's orientation and planning meetings, divisional retreats and other events run roughly 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. So Dave and I are competing for bathroom time and trying to get out  the door roughly at the same moment. I'll be happy when the kids are back (next week) and I slip into my later schedule of roughly 9 to 5 -- that lets him get ready and leave ahead of me.

We had a pretty nice weekend, though once again somewhat chilly. Sally and Mike came over yesterday for lunch -- we put out some sandwich stuff and salads, and sat in the garden nibbling. Ideally I'd have liked for it to be a bit warmer, but it wasn't unpleasant at all. As Mike said, "We're British, remember?" We wound up talking, as we so often do, about sixties television -- after we exhausted our rage at the current political climate on both sides of the Atlantic.

This has been the chilliest August I've ever experienced. Just lots of gray, rainy sweatshirt weather. I feel like we had about a month of real summer in June, and from there it went to hell.

Remember how I'm on an anti-litter campaign against the person dumping bags of meat wrappers on the next street over? It happened again yesterday -- I rounded the corner with Olga and there were about six bags of bloody rubbish torn open and spread across the street. (Olga, of course, was lunging forward in a desperate bid to eat/roll in it.) So once again I reported it to the council. I keep waiting for them to take action against (i.e. fine/arrest/otherwise penalize) the dumper, but if they have, it hasn't helped. Maybe this will just be our new normal -- the dumper dumping, me complaining about it, Olga lunging hungrily.

About two weeks ago, someone left a pub glass sitting on a garden wall a few doors down -- obviously someone who carried it away from a pub and abandoned it when they finished their pint en route. (Happens all the time.) I passed that glass every morning and no one ever did a thing about it. Finally, on Saturday, I brought it home, ran it through the dishwasher and returned it to the pub. Am I becoming the neighborhood busybody?

(Photo: A tattoo shop in Kilburn. Why does the fox look so fierce?)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lone Tree Squirrel

We stuck close to home yesterday. I finished "Player Piano" in the morning -- I enjoyed that book a lot! -- and then mowed the lawn and vacuumed the house. Things are now about as tidy as they ever get around here.

In the afternoon, Olga and I took a walk to Fortune Green and the cemetery. The rugby fields next to the cemetery have been stripped completely bare and are littered with construction equipment. I have no idea what's going on there.


(Isn't it funny how you can have a lone tree standing in a field, quite a distance from any other tree, next to a footpath bordered by an inhospitable, spiky metal fence -- and by golly, there will be a squirrel in it?)

I've tried to come up with something pithy to say about all the demonstrations and Trump and everything else in the news, but honestly, I'd rather not go there. I am glad that most of the weekend's demonstrations seemed to come off more or less peacefully.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Revisiting the Carlton Tavern

You may remember the Carlton Tavern, which I've written about before. It's the historic 1920s pub in Kilburn that was demolished by developers one morning in 2015 -- without permission and without notification to anyone.

The pub, one of the few buildings in that area to survive the Blitz, had been due to receive historic designation. But the developers had other plans for the site -- they wanted to build apartments there -- so they moved in backhoes before anyone could object.

Westminster Council was so incensed that they ordered the developer, who is based in Israel, to rebuild the pub brick by brick. Appeals by the developer failed, and work supposedly began in July. As I understand it, they have a year to rebuild.

I've said all along that I'd believe it when I see it, and I don't see it yet. From the street, the site looks pretty much the same. But apparently the reconstruction includes sifting through the rubble to retrieve significant architectural features, like the remains of the lettered tiles that decorated the facade. So it may be a matter of time.

When I visited, I did hear scraping sounds from behind the wall -- but it literally sounded like one or two guys with shovels. Whatever is happening, it seems to be happening very slowly.

Still, at least there's progress. If the reconstruction goes through, this will be a significant victory for preservationists and a loud and clear message to other property owners that there are consequences to defying local regulations.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Happy Hour

It's a quiet morning, with rain coming down outside and Olga lying next to me on the couch, softly snoring. She's definitely not clamoring to go for her walk.

Caffeine, a la today's photo, is exactly what I need. (And believe me, I'm having it now.) I went out to a pub with my work colleagues last night, and let me just say, I may not be at my most effective at work today. It was a good bonding opportunity, but at the expense of some valuable brain and liver cells.

Work-wise the day went well. I was shocked at the amount of construction and renovation work going on at the school when I visited a few weeks ago, and the library was a wreck. Workers were digging around in the ceiling, running cables for something or other. So I'm glad to see they were able to pull everything together on schedule and we have a clean space in which to operate once again.

I spent the day checking in books and cataloging and updating all our magazines -- nothing very exciting. We've got some furniture rearranging to do as well, and lots of re-shelving. Don't you wish you were me?

(Photo: Kilburn High Road, on Wednesday.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Walking in Kilburn

Went for a walk yesterday morning through Kilburn, not too far from where we live. It was good to get out, get some exercise and take some photos. My goal was to go check on the rebuilding of the Carlton Tavern, which is supposedly underway. I'll update you more fully on that another time -- not that there's much very visibly going on at the site.

In the afternoon I had a massage, and it was one of the stranger massages I've ever received. The therapist used some devices -- a bamboo roller thing and a metal thing shaped a bit like a crescent -- and at times it felt like he was doing laundry on my back, using my ribs as a washboard. It was not a good feeling. I belatedly remembered having the same therapist last year and hurting then, too. I gotta stop going to that guy.

And now, I've got to get the heck out of here and go to work!

(Photo: Kilburn, yesterday.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Red Admiral

Thanks for all your comments on my post yesterday. It's an interesting discussion, isn't it?! Today, however, I have to stop thinking about equestrian statues of Robert E. Lee, at least momentarily.

(One final note: It belatedly occurred to me that another geographic location named for Lee is Lee County, in Florida. Not sure how I forgot that one, since it's part of my old stomping ground.)

Anyway, instead of the Confederacy, let's talk about butterflies.

This is a red admiral, which fluttered through our garden the other day. We've seen one come around three times, on different days. I have no idea if it's the same butterfly, obviously, but I suppose it could be.

Here it is on one of our buddleias, also known, appropriately enough, as a butterfly bush.

We also saw a speckled wood butterfly, like the one I photographed in the cemetery a few days ago, in our garden yesterday. So we're getting some interesting butterfly diversity this year!

I've spent the past two days pretty much at home. We had a tree surgeon come yesterday to give us an estimate on removing the problematic holly and trimming some other trees. We'll probably get that project underway soon. I haven't shown you a picture of the holly, but trust me when I say the decision to remove it isn't being made lightly. It's spindly and squeezed between two other, larger trees, and it's affecting their growth and the available sun in the garden. The landlord agrees that it can go.

I'm reading Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano," which you may remember features a book cover that I've found memorable. I bought a copy to finally read it -- and it's such an appropriate book for this moment in time. It's about a society where industrial efficiency has been perfected to such a degree that machines do everything, and huge numbers of people are essentially unemployed and purposeless. These are the same people who, in formerly industrial powerhouses like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, helped give us Donald Trump and our current political climate! So, yeah, even though it was written in the '50s, it's topical.

Anyway, I'm planning to take a walk today. I have to get out of the house. It's my last day of summer vacation -- work resumes tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Confederate Monuments

Let me just say right off the bat that this photo, taken in Hackney a couple of weeks ago, has nothing to do with the subject of today's post. I just liked the light and thought it was an interesting wall.

When I wrote about the outrageous events in Charlottesville the day before yesterday, I mentioned that I "have doubts about the wisdom of dismantling Confederate war memorials."

As I argued, "They're part of America's history, and rather than removing them we should be explaining them, and balancing their message with monuments that more accurately reflect our modern society and expectations."

I want to explore this issue a little further. I think my own perspective has evolved since I wrote those lines, and I want to explain why.

Let me say outright that I was born in the South, as many of you know, and I had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy and who owned slaves. But I've never fully identified as a "Southerner." To me, it's always been a dead issue -- the Civil War is over, and south is merely a direction on a compass. Neither I nor anyone in my immediate family have ever sympathized with the Southern cause, and I've never found it anything but absurd that some people believe the South "will rise again." I freely acknowledge that Southern culture is rooted in blood and barbarism, and I repudiate all of that.

What has made me uncomfortable is the idea of purging artworks (and statues are artworks) because they cause pain or discomfort to a group of people. This may seem cruel, given the circumstances, but it's a position I've long held regardless of the art. It seems positively Soviet to me to demolish statues because they don't convey the proper message.

(As a side note, I do not feel this way about the Confederate battle flag. A flag is an overtly political symbol, not an artistic one, and I was overjoyed when it was removed from the South Carolina capitol dome a couple of years ago. The Confederate flag has no place in current government, or, for that matter, in civil society.)

I accept that I don't look at these statues in the same way a black person does. I get that. I've always seen them as historic symbols, and figures like Robert E. Lee, to me, are more tragic than heroic or menacing. There's a sadness that permeates those generals on horseback.

But I can see now that there's defiance, too. One of my friends, a white woman from Tennessee who was one of my editors, and who I very much respect -- and who grew up immersed in Southern lore and virtually surrounded by monuments to Confederate leaders -- pointed out on Facebook that most of the Confederate statues that permeate the South were erected about 50 or 60 years after the end of the war, during a time when the KKK was in resurgence and Lost Cause mythology was gaining traction. The statues were inherently political, indeed propaganda, from the beginning.

They were meant to drive home the message that the South was not dead -- that the ideals fought for in the Civil War were still alive in the hearts of many. And those ideals include deep-seated racism that views people as property.

So with the monuments' historical authenticity in question, we're left with artistic considerations. Obviously the artistry varies widely, but some of the monuments are impressive bronze statues by noteworthy sculptors. Well, the best place for controversial art is in a museum, where it can be placed in context and not forced upon people who don't want to see it -- people who justifiably feel pain, and a dark shadow of fear, when they encounter it. I've come to believe that New Orleans, which took down its Confederate monuments and (last I heard) plans to put them in a museum, has it right. Confederate statues should be removed from public display and put behind walls, where their true history can be made clear to people who choose to see them.

The best analogy I can think of here is Adolph Hitler. There are no Hitler statues in Germany, as far as I know, but there are surely Nazi artifacts in museums all over the world. And that's where they belong -- in a repository for dead artifacts of a dead past.

What I still struggle with is how monumental (no pun intended) this task will be. The South is positively stuffed with Confederate statues. There's one in every town, practically. In fact, many of the towns and counties themselves -- Jeff Davis County in Georgia, and Lee County in Mississippi, to name two just off the top of my head -- are named for Confederate leaders. Should they all be renamed?

What about the largest Confederate monument of all, Stone Mountain in Georgia? It's the South's own Mount Rushmore, with Lee, Davis and Jackson carved into a mountainside. What the heck do we do with that? (It's interesting to note that the U.S. Postal Service put out a stamp featuring Stone Mountain as recently as 1970!)

So, yes, it's a fraught topic. I'm still mulling it over. But it's time to remove the monuments from public squares and put them somewhere where they can be fully explained to viewers -- and by this I largely mean white viewers, because let's face it, we're the ones who really need to learn why their history is tainted and painful. Putting them behind walls drives home that they are elements of the past. They do not, and cannot, represent modern American thought, even in the South.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sunflowers, a Butterfly and Rocks

Olga and I like this stand of sunflowers on a street not far from our house. Well, I like them anyway. Olga looks a bit doubtful.

We had a quiet day yesterday -- lots of reading, and working in the garden and around the house. We took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery in the afternoon, where we saw...

...a new kind of butterfly, at least for me. It's a "speckled wood."

Dave found a lost football in the cemetery undergrowth, which backs up to an athletic field. No doubt the football got kicked over the wall ages ago. Olga was happy to have it and by the end of our walk she'd deflated it and torn off the spongy orange outer covering. We left it in a trash bin in the park.

The other day, when I posted a picture of our front window, someone asked about our little windowsill rock collection. I thought I'd give you a close-up. There is indeed a story behind each rock.

The top row, left to right, includes pieces of old pottery found on walks, a clay lizard my friend Sue gave me in 1995, and two rocks I've had since childhood -- an agate geode and an amethyst geode. (Like many boys, I went through a rock-collecting phase. I collected almost everything at one time or another.) The agate was given to me by a woman who worked for us at home and who helped raise me, a gentle southern grandmother type. The amethyst was given to me by a retired military colonel who lived in our neighborhood, and who collected rocks himself.

The bottom row, left to right, includes a fossilized scallop I found near Venice, Fla.; a smooth rock from the beach in Essaouira, Morocco; another smooth rock from a riverbed in the Draa Valley, in southern Morocco; a piece of smooth pink granite from the beach in Montauk, N.Y.; and a dark rock from Hampstead Heath.

Aren't you glad you asked?