Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Magic Mushroom, and Harvey Milk

When Olga and I were at the cemetery on Saturday, we came across this beautiful mushroom all by itself at the edge of the lawn, where the grass meets the woods. I don't remember ever seeing one like this before. I did some online research and I believe it's a shaggy inkcap, but I'm no expert. It may not be magic in the hallucinogenic sense, but it is in the nature-is-amazing sense.

Also amazing is a little tidbit of postal news I heard yesterday via my old friend Kevin. He alerted me to a new U.S. stamp reproducing the famous inverted Jenny postal error. (But valued at $2 rather than 24 cents -- what would they have thought in 1918?!) Kevin bought some online, and sent me a link to the USPS web site. I like the new Jenny stamp, but I was more intrigued by another stamp mentioned on the same web page -- honoring Harvey Milk!

If you had told me back in the '80s that the U.S. government would someday issue a stamp honoring a political leader known primarily for advancing gay rights, I'm not sure I would have believed it. I am so impressed. The world really is moving forward. (And, predictably, it makes the religious conservatives crazy.)

Of course, no one uses stamps anymore, so who knows if it will actually be seen. But it's the issuance that counts -- the official endorsement.

I am posting a bit early this morning because I'm going to work much earlier -- as I will every Wednesday from now until late November. I'm still singing with the faculty/staff chorus, and we've just started late afternoon rehearsals for a new performance at the end of November. So I need to go in earlier to make up the time I'll spend rehearsing. I'm trying to decide if it's crazy and Sheldon Cooper-ish to take a dry bowl of cereal to work so I can eat my normal breakfast at 8 a.m., my normal time? Or should I just eat early at home and be done with it? Decisions, decisions!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Olga Returns to the Cemetery

I mentioned that I took Olga to Hampstead Cemetery on Saturday. This time I brought along the camera and took some photos.

The cemetery is full of gravestones and ornate statuary dating back to the Victorians. Some of it is really beautiful.

And some of the tributes are more modern and spontaneous.

There are lots of stories -- clearly many of them very sad.

There's a large, open area with a memorial dedicated to War dead. And there are a smattering of people who, if not exactly famous, were at least notable in their time:

Andrew Fisher was an Australian politician and its fifth prime minister.

Marie Lloyd was a popular music hall performer at the turn of the 20th century.

Kazimierz Wierzynski was a Polish poet.

This man, by the name of Wilson, worked for decades as an engineer in Egypt -- his Egyptian-style tomb declares him a "pasha."

Olga, of course, couldn't care less about the headstones. She just loves the grassy spaces, which, as I've said before, seems like it should please any of the graves' occupants.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Leyton and Hackney Wick

Yesterday was another marathon photography day! I took the tube eastward to Leyton, in the E10 postcode, which badly needed depicting for Bleeding London. I meandered around for three or four hours and got several shots I really like, including the orange extravaganza above. Leyton is an interesting neighborhood -- heavy on immigrants from all over and therefore colorful and unpredictable.

At one point I found myself on the street where our coworker and friend Gordon lives with his family -- which was a little weird. I was afraid they'd look out the window and see me and think, "Why is Steve stalking us?" But they didn't. As far as I know.

Here's a photo that made me think of my blog pal Ms. Moon and her friend Billy. I'm not sure what this place is, but there are signs on the porch advertising free items and boxes in the window, so I wonder if it's even open anymore. It looks like something you'd see on a roadside in the American South. A local greasy spoon, maybe.

Speaking of which, after several hours of wandering I ducked into a cafe for a rather greasy vegetarian English breakfast. (That's become my lunch of choice when I'm out and about. Well, not the greasy part.) Then I hopped on a bus intending to go to east Hackney (E9), but I got off the bus again almost immediately because I passed several photo opportunities that were just too good to miss. I spent another hour or so in Leyton before getting back on that bus.

I got off in Homerton, on the other side of the River Lea, and walked south to Hackney Wick, a major center for street art. I've photographed this building before, but it's evolved quite a bit since then!

I wandered around "The Wick" for another couple of hours. All told, I covered 96 streets and was quite happy with my haul at the end of the day.

I caught the train in Hackney Wick (station platform above) and came back not long before sunset. In fact, by the time I walked through the door at our flat it was completely dark. (My trip home took a ridiculous amount of time because there were numerous rail and tube closures yesterday for maintenance -- a long and not very interesting story!)

Dave spent the whole day gardening, and when I got home he'd abandoned his plans to make a lasagne. We ordered Chinese takeout instead and I edited pictures until just past midnight. I hope I can stay awake at work today!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Inspiring Photo Exhibit

Yesterday I decided to get out of the house and go to the Barbican to see a photography show that a coworker promised I would love. Called "Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age," it was a fascinating survey of urban and architectural photography from the 1930s until today. I did love it. In fact, I bought the catalog.

It included work by Stephen Shore, who has got to be one of my favorite photographers. He often employs a straight-on style and depicts subjects similar to those that appeal to me. (Here are some samples from a past show at the ICP in New York that I wish I'd gone to see!) On the other hand, he sometimes shoots scenes that make me think, "Why?" And I love being faced with that question in photography.

So, yeah, I bought a big Stephen Shore book, too.

We were threatened with rain for most of the day, but as it turned out, it never really materialized. I was stressing a bit to get the laundry dry and get the dog out for a long walk, and in the late afternoon Olga and I finally went to play Kong in Fortune Green and walk through the cemetery. Photos to come! I was so glad to be able to spend time with her. I feel like I've been neglecting her a bit, what with all this photo stuff. She was so happy to get out and run herself ragged for an hour or two.

(Photo: Rayners Lane, west London, last weekend.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Just Look Around

The Virginia creeper vines always look so amazing at this time of year. (Do people in England call this Virginia creeper, or is that an American thing? I'll have to ask someone.) We're having some nice leaf color all around: the red sumac, the brittle yellow-brown chestnuts, the brightly variegated ornamental pears.

Every time I post fall leaves, I laugh inwardly, remembering that post I did years ago with leaf photos that looked so pathetic -- and my brother making fun of me. "Sort of a sad little assortment, Stephen," he wrote. And they were, partly because back then I didn't know anything about adjusting the color in my photos -- so they were washed out by my point-and-shoot camera.

Yesterday I felt sort of cranky at work. Maybe because it was Friday, and I was tired, or maybe I was a bit bored -- which is inexcusable, really, because if you're alive in this world there's no reason at all to ever be bored. Just look around! I should remember to do just that, and breathe a bit, and absorb the moment. Be more open, more gentle, more mindful. I haven't done any photography this week -- I've been taking a break -- but maybe not seeing with my photographic eye has actually deprived me of that benefit of really seeing. You know?

Oh well. I did get to finish Frankenstein, at least.

I also read a fascinating article in The New York Times magazine about women's colleges and their struggle to deal with transgender students. If the raison d'etre for women's colleges is to educate and create a safe learning space exclusively for women, what happens when one of those women decides to live as a man? Turns out that some women's colleges have embraced those students, on the grounds that they are still a gender minority and subject to discrimination, but not everyone is happy about it -- and it has put a strain on the traditional terminology used at some institutions, like references to "sisterhood." Apparently some schools have been less welcoming to students born male who now live as women, perhaps for reasons alluded to in that New Yorker article I mentioned a little more than a month ago. The modern gender spectrum and the social questions it presents continue to intrigue me.

(Photos: Top and bottom, Stanmore, North London, Oct. 3. Middle, Northwood, northwest London, last Sunday.)

Friday, October 17, 2014


Yesterday I gave John the photos of him and his dogs. He said they were "pukka!" which in English slang -- apparently derived from Hindi -- means terrific or great. (Jamie Oliver uses that word all the time on his cooking shows. I always wondered what he was saying -- I thought it was "pucker!" but got clarification after I looked it up. Thank goodness for Google.)

Anyway, John especially liked the pic with Sugar in the foreground.

I'm glad to hear from one of you that "The Moonstone" is a good read. Maybe that's £3 well spent!

Speaking of reading, I'm about three quarters of the way through Frankenstein. Turns out it's a very sad book! It's not a bloody horror tale -- more like a cautionary story about science run amok, and the monster's own desire to be appreciated and loved. I haven't seen the Frankenstein movies in ages and ages -- like, decades -- so I don't really remember them, but they must have been hard to conceive in the beginning. Mary Shelley never gives a very precise description of the method of the monster's creation, or of his appearance. She refers to his pale yellow eyes, looming stature, black lips and overall ugliness, but the rest we have to imagine for ourselves. Also, the monster in the book moves with great speed and agility, not the stiff-armed gait depicted in popular culture. And the poor guy is deeply lonely. You really feel sorry for him.

(Photo: Land Rovers in Northwood, northwest London.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

John, Sugar and Rocco

This is John, who sells used books near the West Hampstead Thameslink rail station. He sets up on the sidewalk with his three-legged staffy Sugar, who's lying on her green mat in the background. On this particular day he also had his friend's big black dog Rocco with him.

Sometimes he has interesting books, and he lets you pay whatever you think the book is worth -- I think I gave him £2 for "Gone Girl."

I've often thought John would make a good picture, but he's usually surrounded by masses of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Finally, on Sunday, as I was on my way out to the HA postcodes, I caught him at a quiet moment. I browsed his books and bought a slightly sticky Penguin Popular Classics edition of "The Moonstone," a thick Victorian tome by Wilkie Collins that I might or might not eventually read. (According to the dust jacket, Collins was "a master in the art of the English detective novel," and this particular book brings "a sense of attending upon the birth of the detective story.") I paid £3 for it, and then asked for a photo.

Then I asked if Sugar -- who really is very sweet, by the way -- could stand up and join him. He called her over -- she's very agile, despite her three legs -- and I took a few more shots. Rocco decided to play hide-and-seek in the background.

John has such a thick accent that he pronounces his name in two syllables -- "Jo-ahn." At first I thought he said his name was Jordan. Finally I figured it out!

Anyway, I'm going to make prints of these two pictures and drop them off for him.