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?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Florida Water and Charlottesville

Dave grew sweet peas this year, a new thing for us. They looked terrific for a couple of months, and then the plants began to get kind of grey and moth-eaten, and laden with seed pods. The blooms began to diminish, and too late we learned that picking sweet pea blossoms encourages the plant to bloom more. Oh well.

I picked these, the last few blossoms of the season, before Dave cut down the plant. I put them in my Florida Water bottle, an antique that my British friend Liz (as opposed to my two American friends named Liz) gave me. It says on it: "Florida Water, Murray & Lanman, Druggists, New York." Liz thought it was the perfect gift for me because I come from Florida and she and I first met in New York.

It got me thinking: What was Florida Water, anyway?

Turns out that it was basically a citrusy perfume. There's a whole Wikipedia page about it. Apparently Murray & Lanman held the trademark for the Florida Water name. I'm not sure how old my bottle might be, but apparently you can still buy Florida Water. From what I read on the Interwebs, it has magical or religious uses (if you're into that kind of thing).

I borrowed that image above from Pinterest. Turns out there are a lot of great Florida Water ads from the old days. Here are a few others:

Actually, that looks a lot like my bottle!


I took Olga to the Heath yesterday, where we both had a long romp. Mud was involved (for her), necessitating a back-garden bath (also for her). I've discovered that hauling my shoulder-strap camera bag long distances is starting to really stress out my back. I may have to find a better way to schlep my equipment -- a backpack, maybe?

Mrs Kravitz is on us again about our rubbish and recycling bins. They are well-maintained and neatly tucked into the alley beside our house, right next to her bins in her alley -- but as she told me when she collared me on the street yesterday, she thinks we have too many. (We have four, which for two flats isn't so bad.) She asked me to get rid of some of them, or to petition our landlord to build a higher fence between our property and hers. (She has three bins for her single-family house, for the record.) I'm going to ignore her. Sometimes, when someone's all up in your business, that's the most reasonable response.

I'm horrified by the news from Charlottesville. The worst among us feel emboldened and, indeed, invincible, because they believe the man in the White House has their back. It's terrifying, and also just incredibly sad. For the record, I too have doubts about the wisdom of dismantling Confederate war memorials -- 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. But violence only begets more violence. Trump, through his words and actions on the campaign trail and in office, has propped open Pandora's box.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Spider Time

Dave and I have been noticing hordes of little spiders all over the garden. They've been hanging their webs and, presumably, feasting on the bugs that are attracted by the ripe blackberries and the late-summer blossoms.

It must be the season for them. We definitely weren't seeing as many a month or two ago, though maybe they were out there and they're just now getting large enough for us to notice.

Remember our balcony arachnopet, Pat, from five (!) years ago? Pat was this same variety of spider, I think -- a common garden spider. We first noticed him/her in June, so he/she was a bit ahead of this crowd, and was a pretty good size by the time August came around. Pat disappeared in October, as I recall, when the weather got blustery and autumnal.

But Pat laid a cluster of eggs, which hatched the following spring. And I guess that's what's happened here. The circle of life! (To quote "The Lion King," which I'm sure did not originate that phrase.)

I spent yesterday morning trimming and weeding the front garden and the side alley, which we almost never use. The alley was full of weeds and detritus like a stray Coke can (from who knows where, because neither Dave nor I drink Coke). I definitely disturbed lots of little critters living in their weedy sanctuaries, but the job had to be done and I must admit it looks much better now. I tried to relocate the critters when possible. I carried shovelfuls of buggy dirt to the back of the yard, where the pillbugs and millipedes and ants could escape on their own time -- and then I saw a couple of robins pecking it over later, no doubt relishing the feast I had uncovered. Circle of life again!