Wednesday, November 30, 2011
While running along the Grand Union Canal yesterday morning, I came across this wreck of a bicycle. It looks like someone pulled it out of the canal, covered as it is with algae, rust and crusty mud.
You can see the canal in the background above, along with the towpath where I run.
My brother the bicycle blogger might be able to tell us exactly what kind of bike this is, as well as point out any interesting features. (I'm sure it's some inferior brand, at least in his eyes -- he's used to pro equipment!)
I didn't take this photo while running, by the way -- I don't carry my camera when I run. (I'm not that crazy!) I went back yesterday afternoon to shoot some street art I found along the way, and I caught up with the bike then.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Because you can never have too many dog photos, here are some I took on Thanksgiving. Above, Ruby lounges in the living room.
And here's Ernie lurking beneath the table, waiting for any stray scraps to come his way. Believe it or not, when he was young, his face was mostly black.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Dave and I went to see "My Week With Marilyn" yesterday, and I enjoyed it, particularly for Michelle Williams' spot-on portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. She really captured Monroe's gestures and wide-eyed innocent appeal, as well as her fearfulness and lack of personal confidence.
I went through a period of fascination with Marilyn Monroe when I was a freshman in college. I read several books about her, like Anthony Summers' 1985 investigative biography "Goddess," and I had a huge, life-sized poster of Monroe on my dorm room wall. (Now it seems so gay, but an amazing number of my dorm-mates assumed I posted it because I thought she was hot!)
It was Monroe's vulnerability and my then-conviction that she had been used and abused by Hollywood and most of the people around her that made her so appealing. If only she'd had an honest friend -- like me! -- she could have been saved, I naively thought. The same sort of sympathies are expressed by Elton John in "Candle in the Wind." But having gained a few more life skills, I can see that she was a difficult character in her own right, addled by substance abuse and emotional scars. Williams also skillfully portrays that darker side. (You can see the "My Week With Marilyn" trailer here.)
You might remember that I visited Monroe's crypt in Hollywood a couple of years ago.
Other than the movie, yesterday was pretty uneventful. I did lots of stuff around the house and Dave and I jointly managed the dogs. Ruby goes back to the vet today for a check-up, but I don't expect anything dramatic.
(Photo: Leaves at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich on Saturday.)
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Yesterday I met up with Sally and Liz for a wander through Greenwich, downstream from central London on the Thames, and the site of history, architecture and Greenwich Mean Time, not to mention the Prime Meridian. I also indulged in a bit of unabashed consumerism, which for me is pretty rare!
We met with our respective spouses -- and Sally's daughter Sorren -- for brunch at a pub near Blackheath train station. We had fun jawing about crazy American politics and other phenomena, which was good for me since lately all I've been able to think about is geriatric dog care. Then Liz's Andy and Sally's Mike and Sorren went home, and Dave went back to Ernie and Ruby. That left me, Sally and Liz to wander.
We crossed Blackheath, which is basically a big open field where guys were playing football (aka soccer), and crossed into Greenwich Park. We walked along an avenue of ancient chestnut trees to the Royal Observatory, which became the home of the Prime Meridian -- or the zero mark of longitudinal measure on the globe -- by international agreement in 1884. (Not that long ago, in the grand scheme of things.) We walked around the edge of the observatory, a collection of very ornate brick buildings, to a spot where you can actually stand astride the line that marks the Prime Meridian -- kind of silly and arbitrary, really, but fun! Then we went to an overlook with great views up and down the Thames.
That's central London in the distance -- you can make out "The Shard" on the left and, amid the other skyscrapers, "The Gherkin."
We avoided pushy squirrels on the observatory grounds and descended to the river, where we walked among a collection of buildings designed by Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren. Some were the former Royal Naval College, one was a palace for Anne of Denmark, and some of the space is now used by the University of Greenwich.
In the Royal Naval College, where the buildings were designed by Wren, we saw the Painted Hall, meant to be a dining hall and decorated with elaborate murals by James Thornhill. The murals are loaded with figurative personifications like History, Age, Youth, Valor and Europe, along with various royalty of the era. There are mirrored tables to view the ceiling by looking down at the reflection (above), which is easier than getting a crick in your neck by looking skyward for ages.
We skirted the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark, which is being restored after a devastating fire in 2007. We ended the day at the Greenwich Market, where lots of vendors were selling food, crafts, art, clothing and other fun stuff. I bought a couple of great t-shirts, one for me and one for Dave, a pair of cups depicting boars and foxes, a new credit card holder made from an old recycled London map, and yet another used Bill Bryson book. Oh, and earlier in the day I got a blown glass Christmas ornament, which may or may not become a gift for someone.
All in all, a busy day! Today, as a result, I'm going to stay home and chill.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
The other day I noticed this tiny marigold in our parking lot, blooming in the crack between the curb and the pavement. I'm always so impressed when I find garden flowers that strike out on their own! We also have snapdragons growing along the top of the wall near the front door to our building -- probably from seeds that fell from a windowbox, or were dropped by birds. No one tends them there, but they seem to flourish.
Friday, November 25, 2011
The problem with experimenting is, you never know what the outcome will be. After all, you're experimenting!
We'd never had grouse before, and we discovered a butcher in Holland Park who carries it (along with pheasant, partridge, venison and all sorts of semi-exotic cuts of meat). Dave found a recipe online for grouse with blackberry sauce, and since we love blackberries we thought we'd try it for Thanksgiving.
Dave wasn't happy with the outcome -- or with his stuffing or his roasted celery root. But then, he's hypercritical of his own cooking. I thought the stuffing turned out well, and the grouse was interesting, though not something I would order every day. It's a dark, gamey bird, and beyond the breast we didn't find much on it to eat. The sauce sort of worked -- at least, I could tell what flavor relationship they were shooting for -- but it wasn't bright or acidic enough, so again, not really a favorite.
We got pecan tarts for dessert, and they were yummy, and we had some pink champagne and some terrific Bordeaux recommended by the wine store specifically to accompany grouse.
And best of all, we had each other! We watched my favorite movie, "The Graduate," and then watched "Midnight Express" with Brad Davis, also an old favorite.
We had to make a last-minute appointment at the vet to have Ruby's abdomen drained -- despite the diuretics she'd grown so large that she couldn't stand up easily and she was having trouble breathing. They removed three and a half liters of fluid from that dog. Now she's much more at ease, but still on diuretics and consequently, still drinking like it's going to be her last drop of water. (The diuretics help her eliminate fluid but they also make her incredibly thirsty.) Bottom line, I don't know how long we'll have before she's ballooned once again. Managing that dog's fluid levels is certainly a Sisyphean task.
(Photo: An art gallery on Westbourne Grove near our flat, at dusk.)
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Yesterday, while running, I cried.
Well, I didn't cry, exactly. I wasn't out-and-out sobbing. But I got choked up, which sometimes happens when I'm running and the beauty of the moment strikes me. I wrote about this phenomenon already -- I'm sure endorphins are partly to blame.
I was running on Ladbroke Grove. The sun was shining from a grayish steely sky, flashing through the girders of the bridge over the train tracks to Paddington. I was passing the graffiti-splashed walls of the bridge, then the huge council blocks near the end of Portobello Road, then elegant Edwardian row houses. It just struck me that I was running in London, where I now live, and I was feeling strong and healthy and just so incredibly lucky.
I have been amazingly fortunate in my life. I hesitate to even talk about it, for fear of tempting fate. But seriously -- I've lived with Berbers in Morocco, I've walked the beaches in Madagascar, I've explored Dogon cliff villages in Mali, I've listened to howling hyenas while sleeping in a tent in Botswana. I've run the Washington D.C. mall, and the Stars Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. I've been to the Taj Mahal and to Stonehenge, and to Italy, Germany, Austria, Iceland, France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Spain. I've seen Victoria Falls and Niagara Falls. I've seen the Aurora Australis in New Zealand and glaciers in Canada. I got to spend ten years living in Manhattan, and now I'm living here.
All of it, every last moment, is more than I ever dared to expect when I was growing up in Florida. I used to dream about traveling to the exotic places illustrated in my stamp collection, but I never expected those dreams to come true.
Of course, some would say it's come at a cost. I have no children, and many people count their children as their greatest joy. But I never felt any paternal instinct whatsoever, so for me, that's a fair trade.
I am so thankful for my experiences -- not to mention all the everyday beauty of the world, the health that allows me to walk or run for miles, the opportunity to write and practice photography and Zen, for my wonderful, patient partner and my decrepit dogs. I'm thankful for my family, and the fact that we generally have good relationships and aren't like those families I occasionally read about in the newspaper, where parents are selling their children for drugs, or siblings are drinking too much and beating each other up on the front lawn.
Thanksgiving isn't much of a thing in England, from what I can tell. But Dave and I will celebrate today with a special meal (grouse!) and some together time with Ernie and Ruby. Here's hoping that all my readers -- those who celebrate it, at least -- have a happy Thanksgiving as well! And as the old folks used to say, count your blessings!
(Photos: A tree in our courtyard has carpeted the grass with red-gold leaves. I have no idea what kind it is. A few blocks away a row of them has been planted along the street, and the colors are pretty impressive!)
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
For months now I've been regaling you with woeful news about Ruby's health. She's been the primary focus of most of our vet visits, given her weak heart and her ascites. Put simply, she's the most obviously ill of our two dogs.
(Funny story: Because Ruby is so bulbous, one of the little girls in our apartment complex thought she was a goat! The girl told one of our neighbors, "I've never seen a goat on a leash!" When the neighbor tried to tell her Ruby is in fact a dog, the girl denied it, saying, "She looks just like the goat in my storybook.")
Anyway, you may remember that Ernie's not in great shape either. In June we learned he had a mass in his lung that was probably cancerous and couldn't be treated. We gave him antibiotics on the off-chance that it was some sort of infection, but because this happened right before we left the United States, we didn't have the opportunity to explore the problem further.
Well, yesterday I took Ernie to the vet for his first exam since June. The vet did x-rays that confirmed the continued existence of the mass in his lung, and though it doesn't appear much larger than it did earlier this year, there are some signs that it may have spread to other parts of his body. The vet here agreed there's really nothing to be done, as long as Ernie seems happy. For now, he eats well and enjoys sniffing everything on his walks, so we're just in maintenance mode.
Basically, as Dave says, we're running a boxer hospice.
None of this is surprising. We knew they were both old and infirm when we brought them to England. We're watching for any signs that they're uncomfortable or in pain, and so far they seem OK. So as long as their lives are happy and productive I have no regrets, even if we only get to enjoy their company for a few more weeks or months.
Besides, we've learned that predicting pet mortality is tricky business. Our New Jersey vets never expected Ruby to live as long as she has!
(Photo: Surprisingly delicate-looking flowers for November, in Notting Hill on Friday.)
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Just another episode in my apparently endless quest to document the fast-food chicken restaurants of London! I found this one in Islington on Saturday. It's like the "Blade Runner" chicken restaurant -- very techie and minimalist. The logo looks like a computer cursor, and appears to include an apostrophe s, which suggests ownership. Maybe the owner, like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, changed his name to a symbol?*
And then there's New Jersey Fried Chicken, also in Islington. What's not to love, with that jaunty chicken giving us an enthusiastic Jersey-style thumbs-up? (Never mind that chickens don't have thumbs.)
For previous chicken restaurant documentation, click here, here and here.
*For the record, Prince went back to using his name in 2000!
Monday, November 21, 2011
When I was walking in the Finsbury neighborhood last week I came across an old cemetery called Bunhill Fields. (The name apparently comes from "Bone Hill" -- don't you love that? So macabre!) Old cemeteries fascinate me, so I wandered through the gate and along the rows of headstones, which seemed to date mostly from the 1700s and early 1800s.
I walked beneath the immense trees, admiring the afternoon light, and saw a few stones carved with ornate skulls or other decorations. In a central courtyard I found a surprise -- the graves of William Blake and Daniel Defoe! It really is true that history is everywhere in London.
Blake's stone was decorated with a mysterious collection of small objects, including coins and pieces of inexpensive jewelry.
Defoe's stone, meanwhile, was erected with the proceeds from a fundraising effort after his death. It's quite a monument, a big immodest obelisk.
The burial ground was closed in 1854. What's astonishing -- by that time, 120,000 people had been buried there! Those neat rows of headstones don't begin to tell the full story.
In other news:
-- On Saturday night, Dave and I went to a production of "The Drowsy Chaperone" at the school where he teaches. The kids did a great job, and I was impressed that they produced the show at all, given its fairly adult humor. I remembered attending the Broadway play with my mom back in 2006, when we initially went on the wrong day.
-- Yesterday I was in our apartment when I heard a racket coming from Portobello Road. I went out to the street to find a gang of cross-dressing protesters, both male and female, marching along with signs and chanting, "Do drag, not fur!" I've been finding anti-fur stickers around the neighborhood, specifically targeting Harrod's. I suppose the protesters are part of the same movement. (PETA has a history of drag-related fur protests.)
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I went on a long walk yesterday up through the London borough of Islington and back through Camden Town. Google maps says my route was 3.7 miles, which seems about right. It was a beautiful day, a bit chilly but clear and sunny and great for photos.
On most such outings I come back with about 80 pictures. I might put 20 of those on Flickr, but generally only one or two make me really happy. I love coming back home with aching feet after a long walk, settling into a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee, and culling all the photos I took. The "delete" button is any photographer's friend.
Not long ago, I had an interesting exchange with a blogger pal about the ways digital technology has altered photography. I told him I just don't understand the nostalgia for film -- after all, film was expensive, messy, time consuming to process and involved the use of all kinds of poisonous chemicals. Digital photography is so wonderful, freeing us from all of that. How could anyone not love it?
He says digital photography makes it too easy for photographers to produce great images through programs like Photoshop. He sees film as more truthful and less forgiving. But photographers have always manipulated images, even in the days of film.
My contention is this: No matter what technology is or isn't used, a good photographer has to have an eye. He or she has to be able to see an image and compose it well. No technology makes up for the lack of an eye, and that's what makes good photographers stand out. (And for the record, I'm not saying I am one -- there are far better, more imaginative, more courageous photographers than me.)
It may be that more people are able to artfully compose images these days, because we're all exposed to them in advertising, movies, magazines, newspapers and electronic media. We see more composed images than anyone did 100 years ago, and maybe more of us develop a sense of balance, lines and structure through that repeated viewing. (Isn't that a weird idea?)
Digital photography does free us from volume constraints. A roll of film held 36 shots, and every frame cost something -- so unless you were a commercial photographer with boatloads of film at your disposal, you had to use it somewhat sparingly. Now I can shoot the same image six or eight times, increasing the chance that I'll get exactly what I want.
Still, digital technology and Photoshop can't make a photographer. In fact, I think a good photographer doesn't really need Photoshop. Again, without calling myself good, I can say I do very little photo manipulation -- occasionally minor cropping and color boosting to more closely match reality. I have a very journalistic sense of what makes a good photo, and that precludes most enhancements.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Poor Dave is working his tail off this week, including today, at a music educators' conference at the school where he teaches. He's been planning and leading workshops and sessions, and last night the two of us went to dinner with the teachers attending the event. The dinner was held at the Wallace Collection, an art museum housed in a historic home on Manchester Square. Unfortunately we weren't able to browse the museum, but I went there before when I visited London in 2003, and it's impressive.
I had vegetarian stuffed cabbage, which some people thought was a ridiculous choice when I could have had grouse or salmon -- but I thought I'd choose the menu option that Dave is least likely to cook! And it was good, I gotta say.
The dinner was OK, though I sometimes feel a little out of my element at these musical gatherings. I can't pretend to really know the ins and outs of music education, except what I've absorbed by osmosis. My idea of educating someone musically is to yell, "Practice!"
I finished Alan Hollinghurst's latest novel, "The Stranger's Child," yesterday. It's a great book, of course, written as it is by one of the best novelists writing today, but it was an interesting departure for Hollinghurst. It was much more E. M. Forster in tone, particularly in the beginning, and much less starkly sexual than some of his other books. Maybe he's mellowing with age.
Now I've moved on to Anthony Trollope, who I've never read before. I picked up a nice old hardback copy of "Doctor Thorne" at a junk shop for £1, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It's one of his Barsetshire novels, set in the fictional English county. It looks a little dense but I like it so far -- much more readable than I expected!
(Photos: Virginia creeper along Regent's Canal, last week.)
Friday, November 18, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Last Friday, I dusted off my running shoes.
Even before we moved to London in July, my running outings had become rare -- especially during our last several weeks in the states, when we were concentrating on moving and visiting family in Michigan and Florida.
Then, when we got here, we were so busy with finding a place to live and getting settled -- not to mention exploring our new city -- that running was the farthest thing from my mind. While we were living in the Hotel Danubius during our first week, I ran once in Regent's Park -- and by that time I was already so out of practice that it felt like hell. I packed up my shoes and that was that.
Now that we're established -- and the town has been more thoroughly explored, and our dogs have arrived, and their maintenance is keeping me closer to home -- I decided I needed to focus once again on getting some exercise. I don't have a gym membership -- London gyms are freaking expensive -- so running seemed like the answer.
Last Friday was terrible. I ran a little more than two miles along the Grand Union Canal and through Ladbroke Grove, and I had to stop and walk three times. (In the states I routinely went for five-mile runs.)
But what's amazing is how quickly I seem to have bounced back. The very next day when I ran again, I did the entire two-mile loop without stopping. I did it again Monday. Yesterday I went for an even longer run in Kensington Gardens -- all the way to the Albert Memorial. Yahoo!
Already I feel better. I plan to keep it up, if not quite daily at least several times a week, along with my daily regimen of sit-ups and push-ups. Who needs an expensive gym?!
(Photo: Hackney Road, last week.)
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
This may be a "Shadows & Light" first -- a blog post by request!
"Are you up for a bit of a mystery?" wrote my college friend E, who has a blog of her own. "I've been watching the Hercule Poirot series from the late '80s, with David Suchet. In the series, the world-famous sleuth lives in a large art deco building called Whitehaven Mansions. It is actually Florin Court, and is in London."
E was curious to see what the building looks like these days, more than 20 years after the Poirot series began filming.
So yesterday I went down to Charterhouse Square, near the Barbican, to take a look. Florin Court is an amazing building, with an undulating facade that includes plate glass windows with both convex and concave curves.
It was designed by Guy Morgan and Partners and built in 1936. According to this site it has about 126 apartments, as well as a basement pool and a roof deck. Needless to say, it's an expensive, desirable address, and a Grade II listed building, which means it's protected.
I didn't see any mustachioed Belgian detectives while I was there, but Charterhouse Square itself was filled with dozens of screaming kids running around.
The area certainly is lively. Apparently earlier this year Florin Court was also the site of at least one sex party!
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Here's a testimonial to the effectiveness of social networking!
Over the weekend a Facebook friend posted an article about a gallery show of Sylvia Plath's drawings. (Sylvia, you will recall, is one of my favorite poets.) The friend lives in San Francisco, but the exhibit -- shock -- is in London!
So yesterday, wasting no time, I hopped on the tube and went to see it.
It's at the Mayor Gallery in Soho. The drawings are mostly pen-and-ink sketches, though some are only pencil drafts and at least one uses ink wash. What I found exciting is that several of them were published in a biographical appendix to "The Bell Jar," Plath's famous 1963 novel. Having read that book several times, I was familiar with them, so it was cool to have an opportunity to see them in person.
Of course Plath is a skilled writer and poet, but who knew she was such an artist? Her drawings are well proportioned and finely detailed, even those depicting simple items like a chianti bottle or a horse chestnut. Some of them have an almost Japanese sensibility. And her streetscapes from France and Spain capture the mid-century character of those countries in their postwar years.
Even more surprising -- the drawings were for sale, and they weren't wildly priced. Nearly all of them were already sold, but I saw two still available. One -- a pen and ink drawing of a manor house -- was priced at £4,000. That may seem like a lot, but I think it's pretty reasonable considering the source!
Of course, I don't have that kind of money lying around, so I couldn't indulge my Plathophilia (?). As I said, it was just cool to see them first-hand!
Monday, November 14, 2011
When Dave took the dogs out yesterday afternoon, our first sunny day in about a week, I grabbed the camera and took some pictures from our balcony.
Our routine is to take the dogs downstairs in the elevator and let them into one of the gated, fenced courtyards in front of the building. Normally this isn't a problem, and another dog owner in the building does the same thing. But occasionally the courtyards are locked -- apparently because yet another resident doesn't want dogs (or children) on the grass and asks the caretaker to lock the gate. When that happens, we head for the parking lot, until our dog-owning neighbor manages to get the gate unlocked again.
And then it's back inside! Unless it's walk time, pretty much once a day, when we take them out for a short jaunt around the block or through the immediate neighborhood.
This routine is becoming much more frequent now that Ruby is on diuretics. I've been taking her out every hour or two. I even had to get up in the middle of the night last night to let her out -- we can only hope that was a fluke. (She's very good about not having accidents inside.)
I love the monstrous shadows in that last photo!
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Someone recently asked me if our move to London has made me homesick. I don't miss the United States -- partly because Dave teaches at an American school, we know lots of Americans here, and much of the television and popular culture we experience is American. The cultural differences are not so huge that I miss my culture, know what I mean?
Of course, I do miss my family. But they're just a plane ride away, and I'm not sure flying from London to visit them in Florida will be much different from flying to see them when I lived in New York -- just a few additional hours of flying time.
What I miss is home the way it used to be. ("You can't go home again," as Thomas Wolfe once wrote.) Almost immediately after I moved out of my family home in 1985, it changed dramatically -- my brother colonized my old bedroom, the neighborhood became more developed, my childhood friends moved on to lives of their own. In the years since, the changes have escalated as we've all aged, and as more and more people have poured into Florida. And of course I've changed a lot too.
Nostalgia is responsible for some of these feelings. When we think of our childhoods we often remember the good things and bury the rougher memories -- the struggles of growing up.
But still, if I'm homesick at all, that's what I miss -- lying in my bedroom listening to "99 Luftballons" on the radio, or waking up early to get ready for school with an old "Flipper" rerun on the TV, or riding bikes with my brother as our dogs tagged at our heels, or anticipating my mom's beef stroganoff. I'm homesick for the vacant lot that used to be next to our house, which you see in the photo above. Just a year or two after I shot this picture in 1984, a house was built on that lot. Now it's gone for good.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
I've found a few more examples of fast-food chicken restaurants with the apparently customary red, white and sometimes blue signage. They really are all over London.
I've also belatedly noticed that these restaurants are almost always located immediately adjacent to a bus stop. Pretty brilliant marketing, I guess, if you want the hungry after-work crowd.
(See also part 1 and part 2.)
Friday, November 11, 2011
I went walking late yesterday morning in Hackney, a borough of east London, where I found these autumnal grape leaves along the Regent's Canal. Beautiful, aren't they?
I also found lots of street art and interesting buildings, some of which you'll no doubt see in coming weeks.
I've been doing a lot of work with my photography lately. I can't reveal everything because some of it is associated with Christmas gifts. But I can say that one of Dave's coworkers is interested in buying some prints to decorate his newly renovated house, so I've been figuring out how to obtain large-format images and where to frame them. I'm not sure there will be much profit associated with that one deal, but perhaps it's a stepping stone toward learning how to make money from my pictures.
Last night Dave and I were supposed to have seats in the audience at the Graham Norton Show, a talk show on the BBC that we love. So we traipsed down to the BBC studios in the evening, but unfortunately they overbooked the audience, so we didn't get in. They said they'd guarantee us seats at a future show. The scheduled guests last night were Cliff Richard and Lord Alan Sugar, neither of whom I particularly wanted to see, so I'm fine with waiting. Personally, I won't be happy unless the Queen is on his couch.