Sunday, June 30, 2024

A Meow From the Past

I'm not packed, but I'm pre-packed. I have all my stuff laid out on the dining room table so I can at least see it all in one place. I just have to get it all into a bag. I am doing my best to pack light and in fact I've seriously considered not taking my big camera. I'm using my phone more and more nowadays and I'm pretty happy with the results. But I also know that would mean no close-ups of birds or insects without my big zoom lens, and less satisfactory landscapes with the telescoping effect of the phone lens.

So, yeah, I'll probably take the big camera, even though it's a freaking boat anchor.

I am not, however, taking my creaky old computer. I can use Dave's. And I'm going to limit myself to one pair of shoes. I may squeeze in my sandals if I have room.

Mrs. Kravitz wanted to borrow my hedge trimmer the other day, so I opened up the garden shed to get it and noticed this little footprint in the concrete. I don't know how I've never seen it before. Someone's pet, ages ago. A cat, I think.

It reminds me of the dog footprints in the floor of the my old apartment building in New York. Pets, immortalized!

Our own pet is seeming less and less immortal. She's been positively crazy the last few days. She's become very hesitant about eating food from her bowl -- she wants us to hand-feed her. She seems hungry and she eats readily, but only when we hold the bowl or (as Dave discovered) elevate it and sit with her. We think it has something to do with her arthritis and the position of her head when she bends down, but then, she bends to sniff on the sidewalk with no hesitation at all. So who knows.

And then last night she got up in the middle of the night and came out to the couch. I have no idea why. I gave her half a paracetamol with some leftover chicken, thinking she might be achy, but the obvious possibility is that she has some anxiety because she can tell we're about to travel.

I feel terrible leaving her for two weeks. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Our sage is blooming. This is one of the patio plants I had to put up on a chair to keep it away from slugs and snails, and it worked well enough that we got a flower. I'm calling that a victory!

Yesterday Mr. Russia pressure-washed the front steps and the parking area in front of our house (half of which belongs to the neighbor). He rented a pressure-washer and asked again to use our hose and water supply, and we said yes, but I forgot how much of a project it is. Like last time, he was out there for hours, cutting and trimming vegetation and blasting away every speck of stray sediment. Now we can perform surgery on our front steps, if necessary.

I will be posting late (possibly very late) tomorrow, coming to you (insha'allah) from Buenos Aires!

(Top photo: Hollyhocks in Hanwell on Wednesday.)

Saturday, June 29, 2024

A Rose-Picking Parakeet

We looked out in the back garden a couple of nights ago and this parakeet was sitting on top of one of our rose bushes, casually pulling apart the flowers. He/she was quite brazen, and didn't move even when I went outside to take her/his picture. I began wondering if something was wrong. Maybe (s)he was caught in the bush somehow? But the bird did finally fly off as I got closer, so who knows. Can parakeets get drunk on rose blossoms?

When I wrote yesterday's post I hadn't even looked at the results of the presidential debate the night before. Now I have, and I join the rest of America in wondering how it's possible that these two guys are our best (and really our only) options for president? How did we get to this ridiculous place? It's like having a choice between a wadded-up paper bag and a turd.

Having said that, though, there's obviously more to the presidency than just one man. A LOT more. There is no question in the world that I'm still voting for Biden (who I envision as the paper bag in the above scenario, in case that wasn't clear), because I'm electing not only Biden but also everyone around him. All THOSE people will make a huge difference for the country. I cannot tolerate another four years of Stephen Miller, Michael Flynn and Betsy de Vos, or their equivalents.

And Biden, for all his shortcomings, is still a far better leader than Trump. No question. Apparently Trump's lies and bluster did put off some undecided voters, according to interviews afterwards.

What a mess. I still fault the Democratic party for not being firm with Biden that he should not run for a second term. And I fault Biden for insisting that he could. He has been a capable president but he IS too old to run again. They're BOTH too old. After all, it's not only their age and abilities now that matter, it's their age and abilities for the next four years.

People like Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell should have also stepped aside before their last elections. There is no shame in "aging out" and although we all live longer, healthier lives than ever before, there still comes a time when our faculties are not what they were. Remember Strom Thurmond? He was barely alive in his last term. OK, that was years ago, but still -- the problem of lawmakers hanging on too long persists.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- we need some new blood in American politics in the worst way.

And here in England, we have Nigel Farage making a comeback. Don't even get me started on that. He's every bit as awful as Donald Trump. Here's a weird little fact about British politics -- MPs, or Members of Parliament, do not need to live in their districts, which are known as constituencies. Farage, for example, is running for Parliament in a constituency in east Essex, on the North Sea. He does not live there, but he also doesn't need to.

Why would people want to elect a representative who doesn't live in their area? Good question. To me residency seems a sensible demand. I always thought it was a requirement in the USA, but now I'm reading that Congressional candidates legally only need to live in the state they seek to represent. They typically DO live in their district, though, and in fact it can create a backlash if they're found to be living elsewhere.

Anyway, on to more fun topics.

We're preparing for our flight to South America tomorrow night. I went to the pharmacy yesterday to pick up some odds and ends -- sunblock, paracetamol, Covid test kits. (God forbid!) It still doesn't quite seem real to me. We watched the James Bond movie "Moonraker" last night, a movie I saw about a thousand times when I was a kid, because part of it takes place in Rio on the cable car to Sugarloaf, which Dave and I are planning to ride ourselves. It all seems surreal.

I also watched a hilariously dreadful '70s disaster drama called "Horror at 37,000 Feet," with William Shatner, Chuck Connors and Buddy Ebsen, among others. How I've never seen this movie, being an aficionado of '70s disaster films, I'm not sure. Oh, for the days when all you needed to make a movie were some down-on-their-luck former TV stars, some styrofoam sets and a fog machine!

Friday, June 28, 2024

Surfing in Our Backyard Wilderness

Olga just saw a fox trot past the back door, and now she's on red alert, peering out the glass. She's just waiting for me to let her out, but I'm trying to give the fox a chance to escape first. I don't doubt a fox would win in a showdown with ancient Olga but I'd rather not see it happen.

Yesterday was a lot of lazing around home. We had Dave's co-worker Lisa over for lunch, along with her new baby. It's been a long time since Olga has seen a small infant, so that was an interesting encounter to watch -- mostly just a sniff and then disinterest on Olga's part. "That thing has no treats!"

Dave made cold vichysoisse, chicken jardiniere (basically chicken with roasted vegetables, I think), and lemon posset for dessert. We served the dessert in our martini glasses, which have been sadly neglected of late, since I've basically sworn off martinis in deference to my periodically dodgy stomach.

Here was Olga during lunch, sunning herself right in the middle of the grass pathway that runs from the front portion of our lawn, through the teasels to the back. The teasels are quite jungly now and as you can see in the top photo, they're getting ready to bloom.

I polished off another issue of The New Yorker, this one containing a profile of a legendary surfer by William Finnegan, one of my favorite writers for the magazine. He wrote a book about his own surfing life a couple of years ago that I absolutely loved, even though I've never surfed myself and know very little about it. In this most recent article, I once again marveled at his ability to write using all the surfing lingo, in a way that left me, a non-surfing reader, feeling like I understood it:
Jock used to own Sunset. He surfed it twice this size with matchless style -- taking off behind the peak, back-dooring the tallest part of a huge wave, side-slipping in the barrel. Could he surf it now, in these conditions, on an 8'0"? I'm not sure. He obviously wasn't inspired to try. The beatings are fairly heavy, I can attest. I'm pleased to have survived.
I also worked on my latest Patricia Cornwell novel, "Unnatural Death," which I'm liking. It's a good summer read.

Speaking of foxes, here's the latest compilation of interesting footage from our Garden Cam. You'll see some flirtatious birds chasing each other, a few neighborhood cats (one with a blingy collar), an industriously digging squirrel, and a fox marking its territory on a flower pot. I put that pot overtop the spot where I buried the baby starling that Olga mortally wounded, to keep her and anyone else from digging it up. (Remind me never to use that flower pot indoors!)

Thursday, June 27, 2024

More Sheep

Remember when I went to see the sheep sculptures in Southall, a couple of months ago, and only found out afterwards that there were MORE sheep in a different green space nearby? Well, yesterday I set out to find that other group of sculpted sheep.

So it was back to Hanwell station, on what I'm sure was the warmest day of the year thus far (82º F in the afternoon -- or 28º C -- according to my iPhone). I walked to the canal and rather than walking along it, as I did last time, I crossed one of the locks and followed some paths into a large park-like area.

The grass was so high that the sheep weren't immediately visible, and I had to get out my phone and look at a satellite image of the area to figure out where they were. But ultimately I did find them.

It's a sheep family -- two adults and a lamb. You can see from the state of the grass how dry and warm it's been over the past week or two.

They're in better condition than the first ones I found, though the lamb's ears seem to be a bit gnawed.

And with that little adventure under my belt, I decided to pop into a local pub -- The Fox, pictured here -- for a hummus sandwich and a beer. I sat out in the beer garden reading a Patricia Cornwell mystery novel, until I realized I was hearing "I Want You Back" by the Jackson Five for the second time over the pub's sound system. That was my cue that I'd been there long enough.

It was warm but the weather was so nice and sunny that I decided to walk along Uxbridge Road to Ealing Broadway, a couple of miles away. Then I had some trouble with tube trains not running and it took me a while to get home via tube and bus, but no big deal -- fortified by a coffee from Starbucks in Notting Hill, I was back by late afternoon. I think I walked a little more than three miles, all told.

When Dave took his band students to Germany on music tour this spring, they gave him this champagne-shaped bottle of non-alcoholic "tropical partydrink" in gratitude. I'm sure it was sort of a joke. The students are his minions, in a way. Anyway, we've had this thing kicking around the house for a couple of months, so I decided to open it and see how it tasted -- basically, like carbonated apple juice. (Allegedly there was also pineapple and mango, hence the "tropical.") Not too terrible. We drank it all.

Oh, and I know you're curious about Olga's vet appointment yesterday morning. Basically, the vet said it was up to us whether to continue the dog-walker. She concurred that it might be too much activity for Olga at her age, but also agreed that the exercise would help her keep weight off, which helps her joints. So there's give and take. I think we'll keep up the walker at least for the next few weeks, while we're away, and then we'll monitor the situation. The vet also checked Olga over and trimmed her nails, and as far as we can see, she's in good health.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Evolving with Tracy Beaker

I've been stacking up some random photos for weeks, waiting for an opportunity to blog them. So let's make it happen!

First, I was amused by this woman's jacket (above). I love that there's a specific apartment number but no street address -- just "East Village," which of course is a whole neighborhood. Also, a four-digit apartment number seems very unlikely in that area, where everything is 5D or 3C or, maybe in a tall building, 22A.

Also, to be ridiculously nitpicky, who abbreviates New York City as capital N and lower-case yc?

OK, someone's homophobic. I get it. But why Smurfs?

This shelving unit was abandoned on a street corner -- the unsatisfactory (and illegal) way that many Londoners get rid of large, bulky items of trash. (Rather than paying the council to come and collect them.)

I think someone didn't put Tab A into Slot B?

I'm not sure what's going on here. If I had to guess I'd say someone had a dispute with their landlord. But it could be a dispute with a girlfriend/boyfriend, I suppose. In any case, it will be quite a cleanup.

This terra cotta panel adorns a fragment of wall in front of a house near the cemetery. It's very "mod," and unlike anything else in the neighborhood. Or even on that house.

An out-of-this-world sticker for some kind of music or dance event, found on one of my walks. "Trancey Beaker" amused me, because Tracy Beaker is a character in a children's book series by author Jacqueline Wilson. We have them in our school library. I felt pretty hip, getting that cultural reference.

I found this mysterious sign in Dagenham. I Googled to figure out what on earth it could mean, and came up with a building near the river in Dagenham called Evolution House. But that building is several kilometers from this sign, and only roughly in the correct direction. So I'm not sure that's it.

Olga and I found these discarded on a bench at the top of our street. I mean, one iron, OK -- but five? I considered taking one because Dave and I don't have an iron. But then I thought, we've never had one as long as we've lived in London. If we haven't needed one for the last 13 years, how likely are we to start ironing now?

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Teddy Bear on a Bicycle

The foxgloves are fading now. This is one of our last nice-looking ones, spattered with rain. We're getting into the hot, dry days of summer. (And I STILL found a big ol' slug one one of my dahlias this morning! Argh!)

I spent much of yesterday reading "The Running Grave." This book is huge but it's GOOD -- I'm having trouble putting it down. Being able to focus on it during my air travel to Spain and back helped me put a serious dent in it and I'm on page 848. I ought to be able to polish it off today.

Olga seemed especially reluctant to go with her dog-walker yesterday. She's never thrilled about it, but this was next-level reluctance. She tried to sit down several times as the walker was leading her toward the door. Now, I walked her yesterday morning when we first got up, so she'd already had some exercise, and she was lying on her bed in the garden -- probably her favorite place in the world -- when he arrived. So I can see why she wasn't hugely motivated.

But I also don't want to FORCE her to go on walks. She's old enough now that they may be painful or uncomfortable for her. So we're going to take her to the vet on Wednesday for a checkup and also to have a conversation about whether we should just stop with the dog-walker. Maybe it's enough for us to take her on a walk each morning and then let her lie around all day and sleep. I need the vet's advice.

Here's a project I completed last week. These cacti and succulents were all living in tiny individual plastic pots on a windowsill at work, and had been for years. (Except the one at upper right, which I brought home and adopted a few years ago.) They were handed out to faculty and staff as gifts long ago, if I remember correctly -- everybody got one -- and I'm sure their original recipients are now gone from the school. They're sort of community property. Anyway, they needed attention.

I brought them all home and put them in this terra-cotta box planter with special cactus and succulent soil that I ordered online. It's like our own little slice of Arizona! I may take them back to work in the fall or I may just adopt them. No one will miss them, I'm sure.

Here's a peculiar scrap of paper I found while walking Olga. I'm not entirely sure what's going on here. A stuffed animal on a bicycle? If I had to guess I'd say it's a photo from a kid's toy camera. Google Image Search couldn't clear up the mystery. What do you think?

Oh, and here's a fun challenge that I picked up from an episode of "Friends" last night: Try to name all 50 states, and time yourself doing it. It's much harder than it seems. I got 45 of them in about four minutes, but it took me another two and a half minutes to figure out which five I was missing!

Monday, June 24, 2024

More Madrid

We're back from Madrid, safe and sound, and I'm now sitting on the couch with Olga snoozing beside me. It was a whirlwind trip for sure, but we got to do the things on my agenda so I was happy.

Yesterday morning, when I went looking for coffee, I walked from Plaza de España down the Gran Vía to the Plaza Mayor, and then over toward the Prado. Remember the Museum of Ham from yesterday's post? Well, I also discovered the Paradise of Ham (above).

I did get coffee pretty easily, by the way. Starbucks in Madrid opens at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning!

You can tell it's LGBTQ Pride season from the advertising posters! I saw lots of rainbow flags too.

I found this stunning building off the Plaza Mayor, with the light hitting it just right.

Dave and I have seen this heart-obsessed graffiti artist before, in Amsterdam! I was amused to find his work in Madrid too. Google Translate says the phrase in the heart means, "there are hidden gifts."

I managed to find the hostel I stayed in when I first visited Madrid in 1994. It looks exactly the same. There are three hostels in this building, one on each floor -- I stayed in the Gonzalo, which is on the third floor with the yellow sign. Memory lane!

I know I seem fixated on reliving my earlier experiences of Madrid, but I'm not sure I adequately conveyed in yesterday's post how transformative that trip was for me. I also didn't mention that at the time I was head-over-heels in love with the friend I traveled with, so there was an added romantic component -- in my mind, anyway -- that made the whole thing magical. Of course I'm 30 years older now and I've been lots of places, so that youthful sense of wonder and possibility isn't the same. But it was still great to see the old sights again. My life is good now, in fact better in many ways, and I am lucky in that regard.

I also passed by the ornate Metropolis building, one of the most famous edifices in Madrid.

From there I walked back to the Plaza de España and picked up Dave, who'd been sleeping in a bit. Then we took the Metro back to a famous spot near the Plaza Mayor for churros con chocolate, a breakfast treat of fried dough dipped in chocolate sauce. We sat out in the square and ate them in the sunshine, watching the police chase off the costumed entertainers -- the gorilla guy from yesterday's post, as well as Bart Simpson, The Joker and others -- who try to cadge pocket change from tourists by posing for photos. I guess they're really not supposed to be out there, or maybe just not at that time.

OMG, that chocolate was AMAZING. Definitely not something you could eat for breakfast every day without dying.

We found a table at a cafe on the square and had coffees while watching the passing parade of humanity, including many tour groups, before finally taking the Metro back to our hotel, picking up our stuff and heading off to the airport.

Terminal 4 of the Madrid Airport is pretty cool, with a wavy roof that casts circular patterns of sunlight on the floors. Our flight back on Iberia was terrible -- we were jammed up against a bulkhead between business and economy class, with very little legroom. In fact our seats were so bad that Dave intends to complain. He and another guy in our row had to sit with their knees in the aisle because they couldn't fit into their seats. It was absurd. (I barely fit, and I was in a middle seat to boot. Fortunately I managed to lose myself in my book and ignore the crying baby behind me.)

Now we have a week of rest before we're off on the next adventure!

Sunday, June 23, 2024


Well, here we are in beautiful, sunny and very warm Madrid. That's the view from our hotel room, above, overlooking the Calle de la Princesa (which becomes Gran Vía as it bends to the left) and the Plaza de España (the green space on the right). That huge building on the left is the Edificio España, a very fascist-looking 1953 structure that now houses the Hotel RIU. We are staying in the Barceló Torre de Madrid, caddy-corner from the RIU.

I am not blogging from my phone, by the way. Dave brought his computer so I'm using that.

Getting here went smoothly enough, though it was time-consuming. We left home about 7:30 a.m. and got to our hotel just before 4 p.m. (There was a one-hour time change in there as well.) Dave wanted to relax a bit but I prodded him to go with me to the Plaza Mayor, because our time here is short and I wanted to see some sights!

I was last in Madrid in 1994, another lifetime ago. I was in the Peace Corps in Morocco at the time, and I crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on a ferry to meet a friend and tour Spain. I'd never spent any time in Europe up to then, so it was my first encounter with a European city -- cathedrals and narrow streets and historic structures and art, art, art.

I have laughed for years about the restaurant known as the "Museo del Jamon," or Museum of Ham, and I was happy to see this Madrid institution is still going strong.

When I was here the first time, my friend Arthur and I would hang out daily in the Plaza Mayor, so it's the place I most associate with the beauty of Madrid and I was eager to take Dave there. We sat out with a glass of wine and watched the passing throngs. (Including some guy dressed up in a gorilla suit -- definitely not something I saw the first time around!)

We rode the Metro (subway) back to the Plaza España and then walked to our friend Chris's apartment, just across the Manzanares River from the Principe Pio neighborhood. It's about a 20-minute walk from our hotel. 

There we met with our friends Keith and Gordon and Chris and his boyfriend Joan, and had a Spanish-themed meal featuring salted cod, meat-stew croquettes, cheese, olives, and a delicious gazpacho that included cherries, of all things. And a custard-and-cherry tart for dessert. We've been gathering for meals with this same group of friends for years, though usually in London -- this is the first time that Chris, a music teacher in Madrid, hosted us on his own turf.

This was the sunset view from Chris's windows, looking north toward the mountains. The swallows (or swifts? I never know the difference) were swooping and diving all around the building.

I hope to do a little more walking around this morning -- I desperately need coffee, for one thing, but my impression is that Madrid is not an early city, especially on a Sunday. So we'll see how successful I am! And then, back to the airport and home.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Montague Burton

Here's another photo from my walk through Dagenham on Thursday. This old Deco building attracted my attention because, at the top, you can see evidence of its former life.

This was originally an outlet for Montague Burton, "The Tailor of Taste," who -- according to this article about a different Burton building in nearby Barking -- had more than 600 menswear stores by the time he died in 1952. He was an immigrant from Russia who arrived in Britain in 1900 as 15-year-old Meshe David Osinsky. He eventually built a menswear empire by selling ready-to-wear suits, which were less expensive than custom tailored ones, and according to that article the expression "The Full Monty" may stem from his name. He was even knighted in 1931.

Apparently, his Art Deco buildings are known for featuring elephants (I don't see any on this one) and often have engraved foundation stones laid by Burton's family members. More about that here. In this particular case I didn't know to look for those, and it seems they might be covered up by produce shelving anyway.

So, an interesting little glimpse into the past, there!

Dave and I are off to Madrid today. Our friend Warren is staying with Olga, and we had him over for lunch yesterday to re-acquaint him with the flat and with her routines. We had a very American summertime lunch -- steaks, corn on the cob, potato salad and watermelon. But we gave it a British twist with Pimm's!

Warren will only be here for a night, but it's a warm-up for when we leave for South America at the end of the month. Warren will then be on Olga duty for two weeks. We're just happy she can stay here in familiar surroundings, rather than having to go to a kennel or a boarder. She's too old for that.

So, yeah, coming to you from Madrid tomorrow morning! Because it's such a short trip, I'm going to leave my computer behind and try blogging from my phone. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, June 21, 2024


Well, after writing yesterday about the repetitiveness of my summertime days, I really did get the urge to get out of the house. So I took a photo walk to a part of East London I hadn't visited in years -- Dagenham.

I got off the tube in Newbury Park and wound my way south and east through Seven Kings, Goodmayes and Becontree, ending my walk at the Dagenham Heathway tube station. I walked about five and a half miles, I think, and the weather was just about perfect.

I really like these parts of London. Eastern Dagenham was built later than many of the Victorian neighborhoods closer in to the city, so there's more green space, and all along my route there were shops reflecting all sorts of nationalities, from Poland and Romania to India and Pakistan. Just outside the Seven Kings train station I popped into the coffee shop above, and had an Americano coffee and an eclair while listening to lilting Middle Eastern music. "Well, this is very multicultural!" I thought.

Flags of many nations!

As I walked farther east into the more suburban areas I saw more and more England flags. At first I thought, "My, everyone is so patriotic!" But then I realized that while that may be true, they were also rooting for the English football team in the UEFA European Football championship games, which are going on now. (As evidenced by one sign I saw saying, "Come on England!")

I followed a commercial street eastward through Goodmayes that I thought I'd never walked before, but then I spotted a Chinese restaurant that I remembered photographing ten years ago. I guess I really have been everywhere.

Still, there are always new sights!

I got back home around 2 p.m. and had lunch, then sat in the garden with Olga. I managed not to destroy our second folding chair.

Last night, Dave and I watched "Boy Erased" on Netflix, about a gay kid whose very religious parents put him through conversion therapy. It's not a new movie -- it was made about six years ago, around the time I read the book -- but somehow we'd never seen it. Russell Crowe, who plays the father, looks alarmingly like Steve Bannon. Time has not been kind to the gladiator.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Chair Incident

I apologize if things have seemed a bit repetitive around here lately -- the dahlias, the bird feeder, sunbathing Olga. I guess that's the nature of life during summer vacation! Every day I've toyed with the idea of going to town and doing something cultural, but in the end I always stay home. I just haven't gotten enough of the garden yet.

I realize that may not be true for all of you. When I was Facetiming with my brother on Sunday, he mentioned my blog and said something like -- "The PLANTS! Enough with the PLANTS!" But what can I say? At this time of year the plants and birds, Dave and the dog are my life.

Thanks for the slug-fighting hints. I do realize that I could easily start killing them if I wanted to. I just can't bring myself to do it. As much as the slugs and the snails drive me crazy, I figure they have a right to live too. I just have to do my best to keep my tastiest plants out of their reach. (Though I have been known to throw a slug about as far as I can across the garden, so I can deceive myself that I'm allowing it to survive while probably simultaneously killing it.)

Having said all that, allow me to foist upon you more bird calls! I recorded this with my Merlin app while sitting on the back garden bench yesterday afternoon. You'll hear the racket from the rose-ringed parakeets, some burbly little robins and a pigeon. There are supposedly also goldfinches in there, though I have no idea which calls are theirs, and there's the distant music of the neighborhood ice cream truck. Ah, summer!

Of course I sat out in the garden reading yesterday, polishing off another hundred pages of "The Running Grave." I also mowed the lawn, cleaned the bathroom and vacuumed the house. We have a friend staying here over the weekend while we're in Madrid and I don't want the place to be a pig sty.

Also, I had a bit of drama:

This is a folding chair that came with our flat. We have two of them and they're not super-sturdy. Well, yesterday as I set it up in the garden, I stepped on some uneven ground and fell on it, smashing the chair and causing me to pitch sideways into a flower bed. It was quite a spectacle, I'm sure, and it caused Olga to leap up from her bed and run away. Lassie she is not!

I was completely uninjured, as were (amazingly) the plants in the flower bed. But the chair, as you can see, is toast. I'm amazed it lasted this long, to be honest.

Speaking of honest, that's honesty, in the top photo -- the sunlight coming through its new seed pods shows off the seeds quite well. As you can see, its leaves have also been slug-munched!

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Dahlia Carnage

The dusty miller in our flower bed is huge and is overgrowing the stepping stones into the back yard. I have to keep pushing it aside to even get out there. Can you see the little flower bug in the upper left part of this cluster of blossoms?

Yesterday was pretty quiet around here. I sat out in the garden most of the day reading "The Running Grave," the newest Robert Galbraith book, which tops out at 945 pages. J.K. Rowling (who writes under the Galbraith pen name) can really crank out the verbiage. Mr. Pudding might say that she has bloggorhea -- or would, if she were writing a blog. (Is there such a thing as bibliorrhea?) But I don't find her books at all flabby.

My dahlias are still looking pretty sad. At this point, I'm just hoping they keep enough leaves to nourish the tubers through the season. Expecting flowers in this snail-and-slug-crazy summer seems like a tall order. This one has had all the growth points (where flowers would normally emerge) gnawed off. I imagine more will sprout and I am moving these plants around and elevating them onto tables and chairs until I find a place where they can grow relatively unmolested.

I'm having varying degrees of success!

Some of them look pretty good. This one looks like it might give us flowers eventually.

I have nothing else for you today except this video of starlings mobbing our bird feeder and thrashing around in our bird bath, which I'm posting just to show that the Russians' bird ball does absolutely nothing to keep them away. Good!

(As you can see, Olga did not let them disturb her power nap.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Bird Ball

The Russians have moved their bird ball out to the edge of their balcony railing, directly overlooking our bird feeder. As far as I can tell it doesn't do any good -- the birds still come. I suppose the allure of food is more powerful than an inflatable deterrent. It feels like a big yellow middle finger to us, though, doesn't it?

They have a real thing about birds perching on their railing. They've lined it with pigeon spikes in an effort to keep them away. I mean, birds are going to perch. It's what they do. You can't stop nature.

Not that I don't see the downside. Just yesterday I was sitting in the garden beneath our walnut tree, reading The New Yorker, when a pigeon shat on me from above. And it wasn't a modest little poo, either. It was like being strafed with pea soup. It was everywhere. I had to come inside and take a shower.

In addition to the magazine, I read "The Art Thief," Michael Finkel's book about a French couple who, over several years in the '90s, stole a couple hundred artworks from museums around Europe. Apparently they did it not for profit, but because they loved art and wanted to live with it in their home. It was a good book and well worth reading. What I'd forgotten about the case is that after the man was finally arrested, his mother dumped all the metalwork in a canal and set all the paintings on fire. While the art in the canal was recovered, the paintings -- including a Cranach and a Brueghel, among others -- were all destroyed.

If there's one thing I can't abide, it's the deliberate destruction of art. It's what propelled me all the way through the 900 or so pages of "The Goldfinch" -- the fear that something terrible was going to happen to the painting. (I did love that book, for what it's worth.) I can't imagine why the mother, in this case, didn't simply take her son's purloined art to the police or leave it anonymously somewhere for the authorities to find. Why burn it all? How can she have no sense of the cultural loss, of what she's taken from all of us?

In the afternoon, when Olga went out with her dog-walker, I took a walk of my own around our neighborhood. There are so many places I used to go with the dog, but can't nowadays because she simply can't go as far. So I exercised my legs and revisited some streets I haven't seen in a while, like the one near the cemetery where this somewhat dilapidated garage is located.

Olga, meanwhile, was at the Heath. She goes out daily with a group of dogs in a van. The walker says she plays a bit but I suspect she mostly lies around in the grass, and that's fine. It's good for her to have a social outing. We're keeping up her daily walks even in summer because if we postponed them she'd lose her place, and then they might not take her on again in the fall.

We are finally having some summery weather -- today it's getting up to 70º F (21º C), though still a bit cloudy. Yesterday was sunnier, so I broke out the Pimm's. My former boss gave us a bottle when she moved back to the states last year. Pimm's is a British summertime staple, a gin-based drink that's mixed with lemon-lime soda for a refreshing cocktail. Serving it with strawberries is a must. (Cucumber too, ideally, but we didn't have any.) It was a nice way to end the day!

Monday, June 17, 2024

Do Not Demolish

I had an abdominal ultrasound at the local hospital yesterday. This was a rather bewildering experience, because I went in not knowing for certain who ordered this test or why. I just got a letter in the mail saying it had been scheduled and I was to appear. So I did.

Turns out the gastroenterologists ordered it, though why they wanted it after I'd had a CT scan and an endoscopy I'm not sure. I've already been discharged from their care. I thought it was to take a look at my bumpy spleen, but as it turns out the ultrasound technician couldn't even see my hemangioma (or whatever it is) so if that was the reason it was all for naught.

But the good news is, I'm STILL not dying. At least not any more than usual.

On my walk to the hospital I found this garden wall (top) with a giant gap, a temporary fence and an admonishment NOT to tear it down. I'm not sure what the story is here, but I noticed that some of that Covid poetry is still attached to the fence. Remember, during our first lockdown, when someone posted 40 days of poems on a boarded-up restaurant around the corner from our flat? Well, this seems like the same poet, and given how weathered the poems are I wonder if they come from that same period.

Back at home, I showered off the ultrasound gel and sat out in the garden, reading. The Russians eventually got out some power tools and did whatever they do upstairs, and the neighbors had a lawn service come with blowers and mowers, so the garden was not peaceful. C'est la vie.

I made a fantastic salad out of all the vegetal odds and ends in our refrigerator, and then Dave and I took Olga to the cemetery.

She seemed very happy for the outing, especially with both of us along. She chased her ball and rolled in the long grass. (Dave is wearing my Iceland jacket. Iceland is a frozen-food grocery store here, and I found that perfectly good jacket in a skip many years ago!)

Afterwards we stopped off at Sweet Corner, that new cafe near Fortune Green, where we got a coffee and pastries while Olga lolled on the warm pavement. Dog heaven! We'd never been to Sweet Corner before and it was nice to try it out. I'll probably stop in with Olga from time to time. (The waitress told us dogs are allowed even inside!)

The bathroom had these amazing marble (I think?) walls, gray-blue with vivid white streaks and patches. Being in there was like floating in the middle of the sky.

So far the enormity of summer break hasn't hit me yet because a weekend is just a weekend. But today it's Monday and I DON'T HAVE TO GO TO WORK!