Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Olga Departs, and a Feeder Update

I had the craziest day yesterday. I guess everyone was getting books to read over the Thanksgiving holiday, because the desk was constantly busy. On top of that I had to help supervise and find books for two classes simultaneously while my coworkers were in meetings -- including one boy who'd been assigned to read a biography and was being exceptionally stubborn about the subject. (A footballer, preferably Ronaldinho, and not an American footballer and certainly not a baseball player, all within a rather narrow window of reading level.)

Fortunately, today will be much easier, because we don't have kids in school. It's a professional development day. Which means I will be re-shelving books.

First, though, the dog-boarding folks are coming to collect Olga and take her to their spa resort in the countryside, where for the next four days she will no doubt receive Swedish massage and steam facials complete with cucumbers over her eyes, her ears done up in a towel. At least that's my assumption, based on the price.

Yes, I still feel guilty. But with her gone, Dave and I can focus after work on getting ready for Lisbon before flying out early tomorrow. (And we have dinner plans tonight.)

As you can see, our squirrel feeder has become more of a pigeon feeder, especially now that the squirrels have knocked out the protective little plastic window in front. I wonder what our neighbors think of this development, since the pigeons tend to sit on their balcony railing upstairs.

The squirrels, not content to relinquish such a reliable food source, periodically come and chase away the pigeon hordes, a process that involves a lot of insane wing-flapping.

The big Eurasian blue jays also come around almost every morning. I've seen them pop an entire peanut (in the shell!) into their gullet and hold another in their beak and fly away.

(Top photo: Flags of Tunisia, Palestine and Saudi Arabia in Cricklewood, on Sunday.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ye Olde Camera Shoppe

As I was walking Olga to the Heath on Sunday, we passed this old camera shop, Photo Craft, in Hampstead. We've been walking past it almost every week for a year and a half, and sometimes I'd look at the lenses in the windows and think, "I need to check that place out." It seemed like a bit of an anachronism. How many family-run independent camera shops do you see these days?

And then suddenly, in October, it closed. So much for that.

When I stopped to take these photos Sunday, workmen were dismantling the facade. (The guy on the bottom, hiding his face, told me he's "camera shy.") They told me the shop had been there for 50 years, and sure enough, when I looked it up online, I found a couple of news articles about the closing that said the same thing.

I was interested in this even older sign underneath the photo shop facade. The workmen had no idea what Leonards might have been. A cursory Google search couldn't tell me either. Maybe when they take the rest of that old clapboard away, all will be revealed.

Unfortunately I may not be here to see it, since we'll be gone this weekend. It depends on how quickly the new tenant, a beauty shop, moves in.

We're having a rainy, wet, cold morning here. I slept until 6:30, about an hour later than usual -- Dave even got up before me, which almost never happens. Olga, however, is still in bed.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Boom Boom!

So here's Sunday, in a nutshell -- Olga and I at Hampstead Heath. We were out and about quite a bit yesterday. She was inside all day on Saturday so I felt like I had to make it up to her.

A more detailed account of the day begins before we even went to the Heath, when Olga and I took a long walk through the neighborhood early yesterday morning. The gates to the cemetery were closed and we couldn't go in, but while walking the public path through it, we found these little handmade webs hanging from a tree. I have no idea what purpose they could serve.

Have I mentioned that it was freezing cold? This was our birdbath yesterday morning -- a solid block of ice! (With leaf garnish.)

Olga and went out again for our Heath walk a few hours later, at 11:30 a.m., and were gone until mid-afternoon. Then we came home and in between doing laundry and eating dinner, Dave and I watched a hilariously bad sci-fi movie called "The Langoliers," from the '90s. Apparently it was based on a Stephen King novella. We basically created our own Mystery Science Theater, mocking the movie out loud. We cracked each other up.

This helped:

A Washington state vintage with a particularly eye-catching label.

Olga, however, was interested in neither the film nor the wine. You know how I always say the object of our long, weekend walks is to exhaust the dog?

Mission accomplished!

Oh, and as we discussed, I did make a new video of me speaking Tashelhait. Here it is, if you're interested. I've already uploaded it to the school so now that obligation is done! I probably should have shaved first, but oh well.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ribbons, a Frosty Hibiscus, and Extremism

We had snow yesterday morning! Huge, wet, fat clumps of snow that melted immediately upon touching the ground. Just barely snow at all -- I suppose a few degrees warmer and it would have been rain. But still.

I brought in our geranium and our venus flytrap, but I forgot to bring in our hibiscus. So now it looks a bit frostbitten, some of its leaves drying and curling. I think it will survive, though. I doubt that it got cold enough to damage the wood.

I sat inside with Olga during the slushy downpour and debated staying home from French class. I didn't really have a good reason, except that I was feeling lazy and didn't want to go out in that weather. In the end I went, and I'm glad, especially since I'm going to miss next weekend.

Afterwards I took a walk around Marylebone to find this shop, V.V. Rouleaux, which I'd heard about. It sells ribbons, trimmings and flowers, although I notice it also has women's hats, candles and even deer antlers in the window. It looks like a pretty eccentric place! I didn't go in -- I just wanted some photos. It took me a while to find it -- I thought it was on Marylebone High Street and I walked up and down in the clear wintry chill without success, before stumbling onto it in a side street.

At the risk of being a downer, and apropos of nothing I've mentioned above, I've gotta write about the reactions to the Paris attacks -- the bombing campaigns launched by France, the efforts to mount a European military response. I understand the desire to retaliate, because part of me feels the same desire. But I'm not sure bombs are going to do much good. Extremists, and people who lean toward extremism, are all around us, after all. They aren't easily contained and concentrated in one neat, bombable area. They're going to pop up here and there, the way the Mali hotel attackers subsequently did.

The only way to defeat extremism is with education and opportunity. That is the only way. Bombing campaigns just make extremists angrier, help them recruit and motivate them more.

The other day I read an article in The Nation that mentioned an extremist recruit who grew up in northern Iraq as one of seventeen (!) siblings, children from two wives of the same man. He was educated to a sixth-grade level. He had no friends outside his family. He was married with two children of his own, but an injury left him unable to work as a laborer, so he turned to ISIS to provide for his family. Although religious, he saw it merely as a job.

Likewise, extremists based in Europe -- where you'd think education and opportunity are more readily available -- don't see much of a future for themselves. Maybe they can't take advantage of school because they get mired in drugs or feel discrimination or they're just not academically astute. Maybe they are raised in angry or abusive households. They fixate on cultural differences, blame them for their problems and fight back.

The millions and millions of people crammed into ragged, war-torn countries -- or living on a shoestring in dreary European suburbs -- must be shown that they have something to live for here on Earth. Otherwise, they'll be on a constant quest for a better afterlife.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Moroccan Candle Labels

I've written before about my odd affection for banana stickers, those little branding devices that are often stuck on supermarket bananas.

In a similar vein, when I lived in Morocco in the early '90s, I became infatuated with the labels from packages of candles. You could buy candles -- eight simple white tapers wrapped in paper -- in any town market. But the brands varied by region, so whenever I traveled I'd pick up the local lights and I soon developed a little collection.

I came across them again recently while working on my journal transcribing project. (Which, by the way, is going to take me years.)

There's a definite "big cat" theme going on with these first two. In fact, I'd say someone was ripping someone else off.

Many of the labels seemed to have a religious theme, depicting a mosque. Maybe they were often used in mosques. (I never went inside a mosque in Morocco -- in that country, you must be a muslim to enter. It's actually a law.)

In the town where I lived my first year, the mosque (and our house) had electricity. But in my second year I moved to a nearby village where candles were my only light -- and perhaps the only light in the mosque, too.

Falconry, anyone?

I think they're a fun little look at Moroccan graphic design. I wonder if these brands even exist anymore, or what's replaced them. It's been so long since I've been to Morocco. I really need to go back. Dave and I keep talking about it but something else always comes up first.

Speaking of which -- Lisbon, in just five days!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Notepads and Mold

We are in the depths of November, that damp, dark time. The sky is mostly gray, the trees are mostly bare. The soggy leaves piled on the sidewalks have been "trodden black," as Robert Frost put it, and are slick under the heel.

This time of year seems like a slog. I go to work; I come home in the dark. I'm finding that I have very little to say about my days at work, even to Dave. There's a sameness to them all, sitting at the desk, handing out the same computer chargers to the same kids. I need to come up with some library projects to keep me occupied. I have a few lingering in the back of my head.

The past few days I've been making notepads out of leftover printer paper. The kids (and staff too) send massive quantities of stuff to the library printers, and then often forget to pick it up. The one-sided printouts go into a stack, ideally for "second use" as scrap paper on the blank side. Problem is, no one wants to use those loose sheets. So my boss bought some binding glue and we've cut the paper down into halves and quarters, and glued it along one edge to form two sizes of notepad. It's pretty smart, I gotta say, and people seem to like them.

We have a pack of ninth-grade boys who colonize a corner of the library every day during morning break and lunch. It's become their space. They are a big group -- 15 to 20 kids, all sitting and lying on the floor in a jumble of jackets and books and backpacks. I don't mind them too much, but they do occasionally get loud and they kind of take over. I try to chat with them a bit each day so that when they get really crazy and we have to intervene, they'll be more inclined to cooperate. Everything is political, as I wrote yesterday!

One good thing about this November -- Dave and I have not seen a recurrence of our mold problem at home. We've been more careful to keep the heat on, to use the clothes dryer rather than hang clothes to dry indoors, and to contain after-shower humidity in the bathroom by closing the door. The flat is noticeably drier.

(Photo: Knightsbridge, on Sunday. It's a very lipsticky neighborhood.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The OAP Critic

Yesterday Dave and I went to see "High School Musical," which our school drama class has produced on stage. I've never seen the movie so I wasn't sure what to expect. Now I think I'll skip it. At the risk of sounding old and curmudgeonly, it's not "South Pacific."

The kids, however, did their best with the material at hand, and many of them surprised me by effectively playing characters so unlike their everyday personas. Now at least I can talk to them about the show, which will hopefully win me some points so I won't be seen strictly as the Library Enforcer. (Everything is political, right?)

Each year local OAPs, or Old Age Pensioners, are given free access to the Wednesday show, and yesterday was no exception. But at least one of them, sitting in front of me, felt the way I did about the script. He kept frantically waving his hands in a dismissive manner and in a quiet moment I heard him mutter "garbage" out loud. Yikes! Old people really lose their filters, don't they?

(Photo: South Kensington, on Sunday.)