Sunday, March 31, 2024

The World Comes to Life


The news made it sound like the weather was going to be horrible this weekend, but yesterday defied those predictions and turned out to be spectacular. (Friday was supposed to be rainy too, and it wasn't, at least not here.)

Olga and I spent the morning out on the lawn, me reading and Olga snoozing in the sun. Critters were coming to life all around us -- I saw hoverflies for the first time this year, and the forget-me-nots were alive with bees. The cloud of gnats that in summer seems to perpetually linger outside the back door, over the sunniest corner of our patio, is there once again. They like that spot, for some reason.

Hoverfly on dandelion

Daisies on the lawn

I did some vacuuming and tidied up a few more potted plants. Then I got really motivated and began cleaning windows! We have a lot of them, but I did all the ones overlooking the garden and patio, inside and out.

I wouldn't say it was fun, exactly, but I put my iTunes on, and with the help of the Doobie Brothers and John Denver I got absorbed in the work.

They look pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

I haven't done the ones at the front of the house yet. They're a problem because I have to stand amid a thicket of shrubbery to clean them.

Of course it's going to rain this week but as I always say, if you wait for dry weather to do something in England, you'll never do it. I think it had already been a couple of years since I cleaned them last. They were faintly spattered with paint and cement from the Russians' balcony project, and that was a year and a half ago.

Dave and I were looking at our tulips on Friday morning. "We should bring those inside," he said, gesturing at a couple of the flowers. Rather than wait for them to become slug bait, we did just that. (Although slugs don't seem to eat the tulips with the same enthusiasm they find for the daffodils.)

Happy Easter, if Easter is a thing for you!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

More About the Shed

Look at this beautiful creature that I found in the garden yesterday. It's a rose chafer beetle. I was repotting some plants when I noticed it among the detritus from one of the pots, as shiny as a piece of jewelry. It was completely motionless, with all its legs tucked up, and I thought it was dead. I brought it inside to rinse off so I could take a picture of it, and soon after I doused it with cool water it came to life in my hand. A miracle!

I took my photos and put it back in the garden beneath one of the rose bushes. Sorry, Mr. Beetle. Go back to sleep.

This is what we woke to yesterday morning. That's the garden shed I've been talking about, and as you can see, the asphalt roof roll slid off entirely at some point during the previous night. Dave and I did hear a weird thump and wondered what it was, and this must have been it.

We managed to hoist it back onto the roof of the shed -- and let me tell you, that thing is heavy. It's also very scratchy and I have some skin wounds to prove it. We nailed it into place rather haphazardly just as a temporary fix.

We reported the situation to the landlords and to the management company, and we're hoping they'll send someone around to fix it properly. If not, we'll need a handyman to come and help me get it into place. Dave really can't be maneuvering a sheet of asphalt shingle, having recently had hernia surgery, and I can't do it myself.

Can you see that dark strip on the wall above the shed roof? That's where we used to have a piece of wood or flashing or something, which is now gone. I'm beginning to think it's been gone for years. Amazingly, considering how many pictures I take, I have almost none of the shed -- but I did find one here from 2016. It's hard to tell, but the flashing may have been missing even then, and the asphalt roof was already loose around the edges. Clearly this situation has been developing for ages.

OK, I'll stop talking about the shed now -- I promise!

As I said, I repotted some plants yesterday -- a hydrangea, a masterwort, a foxglove. We have a couple more foxgloves I'd like to get in the ground sometime this week, and a few more pot plants that need work. The pot above, for example, contains some thistles that need rejuvenation -- but I want to continue enjoying that tulip first.

Dave and I also took Olga to the cemetery for a walk. She gamely chased her ball and barked and carried on. I found a bright pink football that had come over the cemetery wall from the adjacent athletic fields. I threw it back because it was pristine, and if Olga had gotten hold of it, she'd have demolished it. She looked briefly betrayed but fortunately dogs have extremely short memories for things like that.

Friday, March 29, 2024

I Take It All Back

I have to backtrack on my elaborately woven fantasy about the Russians climbing around on our garden shed. I spoke to Mrs. Russia yesterday and I believe we worked out what happened.

Not wanting to accuse her directly, I began by asking her if she'd had workers over, and explained the condition of the shed roof and that I thought someone had been standing or climbing on it. She said she hadn't, and was visibly alarmed at the possibility that someone might have scaled the shed in an effort to access her terrace.

I then asked her about our bathroom window, and why she thought that it needed repair. Well, it turns out she was talking about her bathroom window, which they're about to have replaced. Somehow Dave misunderstood her and thought she meant ours. So that pretty much killed any evidence that she or her husband had been on our patio.

We brainstormed about how the roof would have been damaged, and we've agreed that it was probably the tree surgeons. They dragged all the branches and stuff that they trimmed away from our trees through that narrow alleyway past the shed. It's entirely possible that a branch caught the edge of the roofing and pulled it loose. It doesn't explain where the board that held it all in place went, unless the tree guys disposed of it -- which is possible. Maybe they didn't realize what it was.

It's certainly believable that I then never noticed the damage until now. It's not very obvious until one looks closely, which I did only because I noticed rainwater in the shed.

So, at any rate, I've come to believe that the Russians -- at least in this instance -- are blameless. I guess Dave and I will get out there some time in the next few days and try to secure the roof a little better.

In one positive development, Dave's Covid test was negative. In fact, I think he's improved. He stayed home from work yesterday and catching up on rest seemed to do him a lot of good. That trip to Berlin with his students took a lot out of him.

I had a pretty boring workday and then went for a drink afterwards with my co-workers. My former boss, who retired last year but who has been temporarily working in our Lower School library as a maternity replacement for another librarian, is soon really leaving. So we had a goodbye drink with her, and we'll probably have more when we come back from Spring Break...

...which begins NOW! No work/school for the next ten days!

(Photos: Top, reflections in a window in Swiss Cottage. Bottom, a blooming tree I pass on my walk to work, which my plant identifier app calls a bird cherry or hackberry (
Prunus padus).)

Thursday, March 28, 2024


I'm sure you've all seen the news about the bridge collapse in Baltimore. I'm certain I've driven across that bridge before -- I have a dim memory of doing so, maybe when I was moving up to New York from Florida in 2000, with two cats in my rental car. (What a drive that was!) The video of the collapse, while horrible, was fascinating to watch -- the speed with which the entire span came down once that left-hand pillar was struck. It shows the exquisite engineering and tension that goes into building any bridge.

Of course it reminded me of the collapse of the Sunshine Skyway in 1980, an event I remember well from my adolescence in Tampa. Unlike in Baltimore, there was virtually no warning when the Skyway was struck by a ship and many cars (and a Greyhound bus) went into the water. It might have been my first experience with a full-fledged local disaster. It came not long after a similarly traumatic collision between two ships and both stories monopolized the news for months.

We've had a minor engineering mishap of our own here at Chez Olga. The other day, Mrs. Russia mentioned to Dave that we should have our bathroom window re-framed because the wood is old and weathered. We wondered how she would even know that, given that they can't see the window from their flat. (It's not that weathered and we're leaving it alone.)

We have a small garden shed with a sloped roof at the side of the house, beneath the Russians' terrace. Well, yesterday I realized that the roof covering of the shed had slid downwards by about six inches, as if someone stood on it and pulled it loose. Now we're getting rainwater through the boards of the roof, and that waterproof covering -- made of the same material as asphalt shingles -- needs to be pulled back up and re-nailed. I suspect that either Mr. or Mrs. Russia, for some reason, climbed down from their terrace onto the shed, damaging it, and accessed our patio (and thus saw our bathroom window). And then they didn't say anything about the damage. Super-annoying!

So that will be my Spring Break -- fixing the shed.

To make things more interesting, Dave is sick. He has a cold or something -- he hasn't taken a Covid test yet but he says he's very achey so I think that's a possibility. So maybe THAT will be my Spring Break!

On a positive note, though, H&R Block finally managed to successfully submit our tax return. The tax professional in the USA sent it to a Block affiliate in England, who submitted it with no problem. I guess the foreign phone number is only a barrier when taxes are submitted domestically, which makes sense. "I wish I'd thought of this a week ago," the American tax pro messaged me. So do I!

I shifted the avocado outdoors yesterday. After five months indoors, it needed more light and more moisture. It's on the patio for now, but I may eventually move it out to the lawn. The angle of the photo makes that pot look smaller than it is -- the tree probably is root-bound but not that bad! We still need to figure out a long-term plan for it.

Temperatures got down to 40º F last night, which probably gave it a chill, but as long as we don't freeze again it will be fine. The weather is warming up after today so I don't think there's too much danger, though frost in April is certainly possible. If that happens we'll cover it and hope for the best.

It rained last night, so the tree got a good shower. It makes me happy to see water on the leaves. Nature as it should be.

Last night Dave slept all evening, so I didn't watch TV as we usually do. Instead I put on music. Remember how we had our Bose sound bar for the television repaired? Well, it doesn't work with our new TV but it sounds AMAZING when I play my iTunes over it using bluetooth.

If there's a happier, more fun song than Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science," I'm not sure what it is.

(Photos: Top, shadows on my walk home from work; Middle, shadows on our bedroom wall.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Greeks and Christians

Yesterday one of the fifth grade teachers, clad in a bedsheet toga, stopped in to the library. She was recruiting people to come and listen to her students give individual presentations about Ancient Greece. So I went over to the classroom pod, where the kids were each standing separately at their own desk or table. You'd approach a table, push a paper "button" and the kid would give their spiel about doric columns or Greek temples or, in one case, the Gordian Knot.

In most cases it was just a matter of listening and then asking the kid a question or two. But one girl focused on Ancient Greek clothing, and gave a long, mumbling description of tunics of varying lengths and styles for men and women. On top of the mumbling, she had an accent and there was a lot of noise in the room, and I was only getting about every tenth word. Then, at the end, she said, "And now for a quiz!" She turned her presentation sheet over and asked me a series of questions, none of which I could answer.

"Did you tell her why?" Dave said later, when I related this story. I admitted that no, I hadn't told her why. I'd just made a joke about it and sort of shrugged it off. But I guess there was a teachable moment there about speaking clearly (and maybe being considerate of the waning hearing of those of us on the upper end of the age spectrum).

This is why Dave is a teacher and I am not.

Several plastic tool boxes appeared mysteriously next to our garbage bins on Monday. I thought one of the workmen on one of the never-ending house renovation projects along our street might have dumped them. But then last night there was a power saw sitting out there too. I think Mr. Russia must be winnowing his no doubt vast (and noisy) collection of tools. Could this mean they're finished with their renovations? I doubt it.

Anyway, someone did take a few of the boxes, so that's good. I'm not sure what's happening with the saw or if it's still there.

Last night Dave and I watched "God + Country," the new documentary about the rise of Christian Nationalism in the United States. It features commentary by a variety of Christian theologians warning of the dangers and distortions of the extreme brand of Christianity we see among the MAGA crowd, particularly. It made some interesting points. One expert pointed out that Trump, with his love of ostentatious gilding and his spray-tanned and blow-dried appearance, is a lot like a televangelist -- in other words, the Bible-thumpers have seen his type before and they're familiar and comfortable with it. They're even familiar with his character flaws. I never really thought of that. They know that behavior model.

Another point -- observable but not explicitly stated -- is that many of the Christian Nationalist ministers and followers shown in the film had distinct southern accents, but many of the moderates did not. This made me think about the regional elements of this movement, and its echoes back to the North-South divisions that led to the Civil War. Not all southerners are MAGA, of course, but many MAGA folks are southern.

The film did describe how recent generations of evangelicals latched onto abortion as their principle cause. But it pointed out that the Roe vs. Wade court decision that legalized abortion came right in the middle of a series of decisions that strengthened civil rights laws -- and that those were, in fact, a huge part of what motivated many conservative evangelicals to become more political. In other words, they talked about abortion, but they also wanted to preserve segregation.

A very interesting film, and worth watching!

(Top photo: Our flowering quince in bloom. Bottom photo: Olga snoozing on Monday night.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Tulip Bulbs and Diaper Pins

Last week, for the first time that I can recall, we got a letter with a King Charles stamp on it. I'm sure these stamps aren't exactly new -- we rarely get stamped mail anymore, so I think I just haven't seen one until now. I have yet to see any money bearing Charles' image.

And since that's a rather random thing to start a post with, let's just make this a roundup of some other random recently collected photos!

This person says they "wanna be a artist."

I took this photo in Dublin -- a takeaway shop declaring its solidarity with Ukraine. I assume the shop's name is a portmanteau of Ireland's most famous brand of beer and the world's most famous fast-food restaurant.

This is part of the "Kids Painting Summer '78" mural on the Abbey Road railway bridge near the Alexandra Estate. The mural has suffered in the last ten years, having been tagged and overpainted in many areas, but this guy is still relatively unaffected. If I had to guess, I'd say he's a weightlifter. I'm not sure why there are two giant diaper pins on either side of him. (I'm showing my age by even thinking of them as diaper pins.)

I think this is part of a really hideous shelving unit, but I'm not entirely sure.

A discarded tulip on someone's garden wall -- still quite beautiful, I thought.

More tulips on the housing estate where I often walk Olga. Looking good!

And finally, remember the newly-planted bulbs on West End Green that I photographed last fall, when they were protected with netting? The netting is gone and the bulbs have come up. I'm still not sure what they all are. Some are crocuses, both purple and white, but the leaves on many others look too broad and strappy to be crocuses. We'll see if they produce flowers.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Foxy Flowers*

Lots of bees out in the garden yesterday. I've seen one or two buzzing around in recent weeks, but suddenly more and more are appearing. I guess their hives are waking up, or they're emerging from their winter hidey-holes, just in time to feast on the nectar of the forget-me-nots...

...which are also coming out in force. Olga tried her best to bask in the sun, but it kept going behind clouds and then she'd get cold and come inside, and then when the sun re-emerged she'd want to go out again. Back and forth, back and forth.

So I took her to the cemetery to work off some energy and keep her from driving me crazy.

We found the anemones in bloom, always a welcome springtime sight.

Other than that, it was a quiet day. I read a lot of newspapers, both in print and online. I stumbled across this fascinating article about some people who moved into a mansion in Beverly Hills and basically squatted there, annoying the neighbors and making a mess. The chutzpah of some people!

I ordered the sequel novel to "Go and Catch a Flying Fish," which I found for sale online for not too much money, so maybe we'll have some more interesting vocabulary to banter about after that arrives. And I bought a new garden wildlife cam. Remember the videos I used to get of the foxes and other critters? Well, our old camera died, so I'm finally replacing it with what I hope will be a newer, better one.

Coincidentally, in the evening, we were sitting in the living room when Dave suddenly made a sound sort of like "HUP!" and pointed out the back door. There was a fox, standing right outside the glass. By the time I stood up and got my camera he/she had retreated to the back of the garden, but posed obligingly for a moment before slinking behind the shed and over the wall.

*A pretty good drag name!

Sunday, March 24, 2024

A Busy Saturday

This is the view from our living room window, looking over the patio and through a gap in the trees to our neighbor's garden. Her gigantic clematis is in full bloom now, a cloud of white. It also climbs up the wall between both our houses, but the Russians assiduously pick it away. They have a thing about vines.

So, remember our discussion yesterday about using the phrase "running over" to describe an unanswered phone? As in, "The phone's running over"? Well, I Googled it, and even Google seems unfamiliar with this usage. The only thing I got back was information about what to do if you've run over your phone with a car. I suspect it is an old-fashioned phrase and maybe a New England thing (since the author of the book where I read it was originally from Boston). We may never know.

I got a lot done yesterday, despite the fact that the weather couldn't decide what to do. We had blue sky, then a light rain rain, then more blue sky, then light rain. I spent the morning cleaning the windows in the bedroom and dining room -- not just the glass but the frames and windowsills and all the gewgaws on them. They get surprisingly dirty and cobwebby over the winter. I only did the inside -- I'm toying with hiring someone to do the outside of all our windows. I've never done that, but I really don't have the equipment to reach the dining room windows from the outside -- they're too buried in shrubbery.

And yes! I mowed the lawn! It still looks patchy at this time of year but it's thickening up. You can see that back left corner that we're leaving unmowed -- our own little meadow.

Mrs. Kravitz, who I haven't seen in ages, was out gardening as well. She had a friend (or employee?) mowing her lawn at the same time I was doing ours. God forbid Mrs. K -- who is younger than I am -- should push a mower.

One of my ongoing goals is to reduce the number of flowerpots we have sitting around. We really do have a ridiculous quantity, particularly when I pull the dahlias out of the shed (there are seven of them, if I remember correctly). That one sitting out in the middle of the lawn is basically empty, except for a dandelion and some forget-me-nots -- it's holding a space for the avocado tree, which sits there during the summer.

And then we had hail!

(Those are not the windows I cleaned -- hence the smudges, which are mostly rain and condensation on the glass.)

Remember how I said our daffodils were being devoured by slugs? This is what I mean. Honestly! As my former co-worker Tabatha used to say, "You gotta laugh to keep from cryin'."

Finally, Dave and I watched "Poor Things" on Amazon last night. This is the movie that won Emma Stone an Academy Award for best actress. It was without a doubt one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen. Very creative and visually intriguing, but also unpleasant -- at least I thought so. I can't say I loved it, but it wins points for originality.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Hunched Cat, Flying Fish

I passed this cat on my walk home last night, sitting in the (garden?) of an apartment building on Finchley Road. It steadfastly refused to look at me, even though I made the pss-pss-pss-pss sound that I learned in Morocco is guaranteed to draw a cat's attention. Maybe it was watching something through that fence. It looks to me like whoever runs that building needs to get a structural engineer in there stat, or at least some competent repair people.

It's chilly this morning, about 40º F. I'd like to mow the lawn this weekend, but we'll see if the weather cooperates. Here's what it looks like at the moment:

Maybe better than that (garden?) in the top photo, but only slightly. I think we'll continue to leave that area at the right unmowed, like we did last year -- there are about 25 teasels growing there which will be interesting in summer. (Not sure how the neighbors will feel about them!) See Olga patrolling her jungle, behind the tree at right?

Dave is back safely from Berlin. He came in about 10 p.m. last night, just in time to fill me in on the high points of his trip before collapsing into bed. Now he's about to go to school to help unload the truck containing the band's equipment and instruments. (Not alone -- there will be plenty of people helping, and in fact Dave still can't lift because of his recent hernia surgery so he'll be mostly pointing and giving directions. When he was released from the hospital he was told not to lift anything heavier than a half-full tea kettle, which we both thought was an amusingly British but strangely ambiguous description.)

Anyway, I've enjoyed my quiet time. Last night before he got home I watched "Condominium," a lengthy TV movie from the early '80s set in Florida that Dave would not enjoy but I consider more cinematic comfort food.

Speaking of nostalgia and Florida, here's the book I'm reading at the moment. Don't you love that cover? It's a young adult book from 1979 that takes place somewhere near Sarasota -- I picked it up in an antique store in Jacksonville last summer. Since the kids in the book are exactly my generation and their parents go through a divorce (like mine did), I thought it might be an interesting read -- and it is. Apparently there's a sequel which I might also buy if I can find a copy online.

My only stumbling block is that the characters talk like no one I ever knew. At one point, one of the girls says: "My mother's in a fantod because she can't find him." And I thought, "What the heck is a fantod?" I have never heard that word before in my life. (Dictionary: "FANTOD: n. informal, North American: a state or attack of uneasiness or unreasonableness.") It seems an unlikely word for a 13-year-old to use, though admittedly this girl wants to be a writer and thus has an impressive vocabulary.

The same character later says: "Well, they seem like normal desires to Amanda, and she hates him for immuring her in his castle." This just seems like trying too hard.

The mother, at one point, says: "I'm not your household helot, and I will not be doled out household expenses." (HELOT: n. A member of a class of serfs in ancient Sparta.) Another word I have never heard.

And the father says of a ringing phone: "Junie, the phone's running over." And the mother replies, "Let it run over. See if I care." This quirky expression is new to me. I wonder if it's a regional thing, though certainly not to Florida. Have any of you ever heard an unanswered phone described as "running over"?

Finally, another girl -- also 13 -- occasionally calls her younger brothers "honey" and even "darling," and that just does not ring true to me. Unless it's meant sarcastically, which it is not.

Anyway, I don't mean to run down the book. In fact, I'm enjoying it a lot, and those 13-year-old characters would be exactly my age now, so I feel a connection to the story, which is also all about growing up amid the birds and sea life of natural Florida. If anything, the peculiar language makes it more interesting.

Friday, March 22, 2024

A Monster and Houseplant Struggles

I took this surreal picture on my walk home a couple of days ago. I like the layers -- an underlying movie ad featuring a red-eyed monster, topped by a reflection of me and Finchley Road, topped by a tattered "Free Palestine" sticker.

I was going to say that it depicts the IRS coming after me because I am unable to file my taxes, but that joke seems like too much of a stretch. Seriously, though, H&R Block still can't seem to get the IRS to accept my return because I have an international phone number. My tax adviser says this is a "known issue" and she led me to believe this has more to do with their software than with the IRS -- but either way it's frustrating. I just want it done.

One of the perpetual annoyances of living overseas: It's often impossible to get American web sites to work because they want either a ten-digit phone number with a recognized area code or a ZIP code, and I have neither.

On a completely different topic, I was looking at my blog sidebar yesterday and reminiscing about departed bloggers, like Mage from "Postcards" and Miss Edna. And whatever happened to Wilma from Belize? I used to love her blog, with pictures from her tropical paradise. I saw Sarah from Circles of Rain not too long ago, so I know she's still around even though she's not blogging, and I see Robin on Facebook. I probably need to clean up some of those old blog links, but I don't want to remove connections to bloggers who have died -- that seems disrespectful, doesn't it?

I'm struggling with two of my Thanksgiving/Christmas cacti. This is one of them. See how the plant has rotted in the center, with dead stalks? There's also a dead fern in there, and a campanula that took root on its own. Anyway, this plant got root rot, and it was entirely my fault -- I didn't empty the saucer after watering, so it got repeatedly waterlogged. Yesterday I threw it out, after taking cuttings which I will try to root. (Frances, I'm sorry to say, this is the one you sent me. I swear I will save it!)

My salmon-colored cactus is also struggling. I have tried and tried to root segments from that plant and although they're not dead, they're also not prospering. I also repotted those cuttings yesterday.

Here's what I'm left with. Fingers crossed I can get these to take.

I also threw out an orchid yesterday -- this one -- because it was clearly dying. Never let it be said that I don't have some failures in the houseplant realm. I think winter is a tough time for plants here because it's so dark, and I probably need to reduce my watering more during that dormant phase. Live and learn!

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Spring Flowers

This is the view out to the patio from our jungly bedroom window. You can see our yellow forsythia blooming on the right, our red flowering quince (which is having a really good year) in the middle, and our tree fern on the left.

The forget-me-nots have started...

...and the snake's head fritillaria has one flower, and another on the way.

Our second round of daffodils, featuring the ones that look like lightly scrambled eggs, has emerged. Most of the blossoms have been demolished by slugs. We seem to have very active slugs this spring, probably because it's been so damp.

And finally the muscari, or grape hyacinths, have come out as well.

All of this seems slightly early, but apparently it really isn't. These flowers all appear in March in my earlier blog posts, too. I guess time is just flying by faster than I can fully appreciate it!

I am having headaches and face aches for some reason. When I was in Dublin I thought I might be coming down with a sinus infection, and I wonder if that's what's happening -- or if my body is fighting one off. I may actually resort to an aspirin or two today, which is pretty uncommon for me. I haven't seen any other sign of infection so who knows, but it would be typical for me to get one following a cold (you may remember I was sick a couple of weeks ago).

I finished "Yellowface" yesterday morning, which I loved. I'm not sure what my next book will be. It may seem that I am abusing my employer by reading at my desk, but I think it's actually my job to know books, particularly the ones in our collection -- so I can justify it by calling it work. (Blog-reading maybe not so much!) Yesterday was another slow day. I didn't hear from Dave at all. I really should text him this morning and make sure he's alive.

I came home and watched "Muriel's Wedding," which I've seen approximately six thousand times -- cinematic comfort food!

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Chicken Hospital

Yesterday was a dream of a day. I sat in the library almost all day reading quietly. There were very few kids around -- a handful of middle schoolers, but that's it. I caught up on responding to blog comments and also read Rebecca Kuang's novel "Yellowface." I nearly finished the entire book. I only have about 15 pages left.

People think this is what working in a library is like. Let me tell you, it is not -- except on very rare, very special days like yesterday. We always joke that school would be great if it weren't for the kids, and we really are joking, but yesterday drove that point home!

Dave got to Berlin OK. He sent me a video of the Victory Column taken from his bus window, but otherwise I haven't heard much -- which is typical on these school trips. He's got plenty to do without having to correspond with me.

My H&R Block tax advisor gave our income tax filing the all-clear and passed it along to the IRS. But the IRS rejected it -- something about my international phone number? Why this would be a problem I have no idea, given that I've had the same phone number for ten years. So I'm waiting to hear back on that. It's always something.

This very short video was sent to me by my friend Said, who I worked with in Morocco many years ago. He's Moroccan but he lives in the USA now. He went back to Morocco recently and revisited the town where we used to work and live, and found that the old hospital building is now closed. He made that video showing what it looks like. You can hear him exclaim, "Seriously?!" Which is pretty much my reaction too.

I looked for a picture of it as it used to be, when I worked there in the early '90s, but I don't seem to have one. It was very neat and tidy with that beautiful shady courtyard full of palm trees. The sloppy cinderblock walls that you see when he pans to the right weren't there back then -- that was all part of the open arcade. Seeing it in such a ramshackle state, with chickens running around, is pretty sobering! I assume this means the community now has a newer, better hospital, which is a good thing, but still.

I titled the video "Sbeeta Afoulous" because sbeeta is Arabic for hospital and afoulous is Tashelhait Berber for chicken. So, "chicken hospital."

(Top photo: Swiss Cottage, late February. That store is closed now. In fact all the shopfronts in that building are closed -- maybe there's some larger renovation going on.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2024


It's time for my annual photo of Leon's "Ideas" sculpture surrounded by daffodils. I actually took this picture about three weeks ago, so the display may be somewhat faded by now. The yellow daffodils in our own garden are already mostly past their prime.

Dave set off this morning on his annual music tour with his band students. They're going to Berlin this year, and he had to leave home at 4:45 a.m. this morning. His departure was made more interesting when the car service he'd ordered ahead of time somehow failed to send a vehicle -- "we're working hard to find you a car," they texted -- so he bailed and called an Uber, which was here in about two minutes.

Dave's not the only one traveling this week. Nearly all of our high school teachers and students are off-campus on spring trips. So things will be quiet around the library, thank goodness. (Middle schoolers are still around so I'm not entirely without things to do.)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to some quiet time. I have some leftovers in the fridge and I'll queue up some old movies on the DVD player.

Those of you who asked about the removal of the books in Trinity College library's "Long Room" (see yesterday's post) may be interested in this article, which explains the rationale behind the restoration project. Apparently the books will be returned at some point.

Monday, March 18, 2024

More Dublin and Home Again

Well, I'm back home again, after probably the fastest vacation I've ever taken in my life! I made the most of yesterday, though, getting up early and walking back into town from my suburban jail cell hotel room. I spent an hour or so walking around the Temple Bar area, which is Dublin's center of nightlife. It was quieter in the morning, but the St. Patrick's Day decorations were up and there were more than a few costumed revelers about.

Many of the main streets were already blocked off for the big parade and there were barricades everywhere. These parade marchers were fortifying themselves at the neighborhood coffee shop.

I walked to the River Liffey, which flows through the center of Dublin, so I could check out the views.

Then I met up with my stepsister Jennifer, her husband Tony and their friends Steve (yes, two Steves on this trip) and Karen. We had breakfast and went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, a 1,200-year-old illuminated manuscript of the Gospels of the New Testament that's held in the library.

Funny moment: We walked all the way to the college and were approaching the door when Jennifer said to Karen, "You have the tickets, right?" And Karen said, "No! YOU were going to get the tickets!" So we actually had no tickets at all -- but fortunately, even on St. Patrick's Day, we didn't have any problem buying them on the spot.

The "Book of Kells Experience," as it's known, was really more than it needed to be -- I'd have been happy just seeing the book and leaving it at that. But there's a museum with huge displays and multimedia stuff going on. Gotta keep the digital kiddies entertained, I guess.

We also walked through the library's legendary "Long Room," which used to be lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves of antique and historic books. Most of the books have been removed now for conservation, but the building was still beautiful. The busts along the sides are renowned Irish and British writers, until recently all male.

The college campus was quite impressive, too.

Afterwards we found a bar for a final pint of Guinness (in my case). I was worried about getting out of town, given the massive crowds and street closures for the parade, but the hotel reserved me a cab and by golly, that cab was waiting at the appointed place at the appointed time. I was amazed!

I saw these two as I made my way to my car, doing their best to spread a Christian message amid all the drunken revelry and commercialism. I told them I liked their signs: "Simple and direct!"

I had a couple of hours at the airport before my 5:50 p.m. flight took off -- but that was fine, as it gave me a chance to edit my photos and relax a bit. I had a good sunset view of Dublin as the plane took off and turned to the east. Those are the Wicklow Mountains in the distance, south of the city.

And I had a good view of London as we flew in about 50 minutes later. That's Battersea Park at lower right, with the curve of the Thames and the brightly lit Albert Bridge. The dark rectangle in the center is Hyde Park, and the dark patches above that are Regents Park and Hampstead Heath. I do love a window seat!

It was great to sleep in my own bed last night, and Olga seems happy to have me home. Dave said she was a nervous wreck the whole time I was gone! Such a dramatic dog.