Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Turkey Cafe, and Solitude

This is one of the buildings in Leicester that caught my attention on Sunday. I guess it must be pretty well-known because one of my commenters yesterday asked if I'd seen it. Built in 1901, it's the Art Nouveau-style Turkey Cafe.

It even has its own Wikipedia page. It's a protected building and now serves as a restaurant, though it didn't seem to be open when we were there, so we didn't go in.

I love the mosaic turkey on the roof, made with Royal Doulton ceramic tiles.

Things are finally starting to settle down around here. Ever since Singapore my life has been in a bit of an uproar, with our visiting guest, our trip to Leicester and my efforts to finish as much Bleeding London as possible by today's deadline. Not to mention work. That too. I haven't had much time to read blogs (or even the news) so I must apologize to my blog pals. I promise I will catch up with all of you ASAP!

I read a terrific piece in Harper's this month about solitude -- a writing life lived singly -- and it really resonated with me. I lived almost my entire adult life as a single man, until age 42, and I appreciated author Fenton Johnson's take on the creative rewards of being alone. Don't get me wrong -- I treasure my relationship with Dave, and fortunately we have the kind of bond that allows each of us to do his own thing, so I am not bereft of solitude even now. In fact I'm arguably even more solitary than I was when I was single, no longer pulled by the social whirl and the romantic ebb and flow of various crushes and casual dates.

But I always enjoyed my singlehood, and Johnson's piece was thought-provoking in questioning the cultural tide that pulls us toward pairing up. Especially those of us who tend to be creative, cerebral types. I do need to continue to make quiet time for myself. Bleeding London serves that purpose now -- it gives me a chance to walk, all by myself, with just my thoughts and my camera and my creative impulses. Aloneness in general soothes me and makes me much less cranky. Some people find it a curse but I find it a refuge.

Dave feels the same way. I know he enjoys being alone at home, when he can fling ingredients in the kitchen or putter in the garden. (Why is "putter" a word exclusively reserved for gardens? Do people ever "putter" in the living room or the den?)

Speaking of which, Dave spent a lot of time in the garden yesterday. He finally put our pathetic lemon tree in the ground, or at least the remaining twiggy bits, in the hopes that it will somehow survive. (Odds are long.)

Is it my imagination or does that turkey have unrealistically huge feet?

Olga is enjoying having us at home this week. She got two outings yesterday -- a morning romp in the cemetery with me and an afternoon walk with her dog-walker. (We haven't cancelled the dog-walker, even though we're home all week. It's nice to farm that task out, especially when I'm hoofing it with the camera.)

It's super-windy out there this morning. The daffodils are taking a beating!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Visiting Richard III

Back from Leicester, and our friend David has taken off for Stansted Airport and the next leg of his trip through Europe. He's visiting Switzerland and Italy before returning to London next weekend.

Leicester was interesting, though I must say I don't really share in all the excitement over Richard III. I think it's amazing that they found his body after all this time, and seeing the new Visitor's Center -- which explains his life and death, the background of the Wars of the Roses, the location and excavation of his grave and exhibits the grave itself -- was fascinating. But would I have brought my own white roses to leave at his statue in the public square outside the cathedral?


Plenty of other people feel differently, though. Some visitors wrote him notes and left mementos. Legions of enthusiasts feel that he has been wronged by history, portrayed unjustly as an evil, scheming hunchback by the likes of Shakespeare, who had their own reasons for supporting his foes, the Tudors. The exhibits ask us to reconsider these portrayals.

David spent about a half-hour longer in the Visitor's Center than I did, so while he browsed I went wandering in town and found some interesting buildings and other subjects for photography. I'll share those with you over the next few days. Leicester has some beautiful architecture and seems like a pretty prosperous town.

We came back on the late-afternoon train and got home around 6:45 p.m. Yesterday we changed to British Summer Time (our equivalent of Daylight Saving Time), but I didn't even really notice. Thank goodness for phones that reset themselves!

And now, I have a ton of laundry and housecleaning to do, and I've got to get out and finish these last NW9 streets before tomorrow!

(Top photo: A ladybug on a very ornamental fence surrounding a war memorial in Leicester.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Found Rug

Despite a gray, cloudy sky, I successfully got in some walking yesterday and photographed 53 streets. Woo hoo! I think I'll almost finish NW9 by the end of the month. I need just one more good long day.

I found this beautiful rug on my walk. I think it's Indian. It was in a very Indian neighborhood, at any rate. No, I did not take it home.

The overall scene wasn't quite as nice.

Today my visiting friend David and I are off to Leicester to visit the Richard III Visitor's Center. (It's kind of funny there even is such a thing, isn't it?) The English -- some of them, anyway -- are gaga over the rediscovery of the body of their last Plantaganet king, and have reinterred him with all sorts of solemnity and pomp. Crowds of people lined the streets to see his coffin brought to the cathedral where he is now entombed. A king who died more than 500 years ago, and who by many accounts was a child-kiling tyrant.

Should be an interesting outing!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lunch-Hour Photo Run

Yesterday was a beautiful day -- cool and clear and sunny. Of course, I was inside most of the time. But I went out at lunch and zipped up to Dollis Hill on the tube to photograph a handful of Bleeding London streets, and then zipped back to work again. I fit it all into my lunch hour, although I barely had time to cram a tuna sandwich into my gullet!

I wanted to get some photography done because, wouldn't you know, the next four days (at least) are supposed to be gray and somewhat rainy. I'm going to try to keep working on BL anyway. As long as the rain isn't coming down heavily.

The super-creative Girl Scout poster artist(s) at school are back at it! I guess we're supposed to turn out the lights for an hour tonight? 'It's a chance to celebrate our brilliant plant...from the desserts to the oceans." Awesome.

We haven't cancelled the dog walker for next week. Part of me thinks it might be kind of nice to just let him come as usual and take care of Olga during the day, freeing us up to do other things. And part of me thinks, "But we could save £60!" Surprisingly (for me), the former argument appears to be winning, so far.

(Top: A street in Dollis Hill, yesterday.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Break

The last day of school before Spring Break! Woo hoo!

Dave and I are off all next week. And having just returned from Singapore, we're going to stay home, which sounds pretty wonderful. We may take a day trip here or there, but right now we're just looking forward to spending time with the dog, working around the house and garden and relaxing.

We have some plans with our visiting friend David this weekend, but it looks like the weather's not going to be great. So I'm not sure how much we'll be able to do. It looks like my last days of shooting for Bleeding London (which ends Tuesday) are fated to be rainy ones.

Maybe I can stay inside and finally finish "The Moonstone." I've also picked two huge books to succeed it -- Gregory David Roberts' "Shantaram" and Richard Flanagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." So I have plenty of reading to do.

We were all abuzz yesterday about the shocking news that the co-pilot of the crashed German airliner appears to have deliberately downed the plane. I can't fathom what might have been going on inside that guy's head. I hope we get some answers, though.

(Photos: There's some tree-clearing going on at Hampstead Heath. I'm not sure why. Someone wasn't happy about it and painted a clear protest on the lumber.)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sidewalk Chalk

When I was walking in Golders Green a couple of weeks ago, I found these abstractions on the sidewalk along one street.

Apparently some kids got crazy with pastels. I like the effort!

Our friend David took Dave and me out to dinner last night at a French restaurant in West Hampstead. We've been meaning to try it, on the recommendation of one of our coworkers, but unfortunately we found it underwhelming. Still, it was fun to go out and I'm sure Dave appreciated a mid-week break from cooking!

Now we're having a quiet, rainy morning. I'm the only one awake. As the light comes up, Olga is lying on her Union Jack dog bed near the heater, and a handful of blackbirds are singing brightly out on the street. I love this time of day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Short Takes, with Avocado and Amaryllis

-- All by itself, our avocado tree has decided to branch out! I did't pinch the top or otherwise encourage it in any way. It just did it by itself. I'm such a proud parent!

-- My French assessment yesterday wasn't as intimidating as I feared. After work I went down to the Alliance Fran├žaise in Dorset Square, and was ushered into a little room with a Frenchman who asked me some basic questions. I answered, haltingly, but it was hard for me to access even words I know. I think I'm just very rusty. He put me in the "beginner" group, but not the bottom class. I'm the next level up. So that's something, I suppose. Class begins later next month!

-- For Easter, Dave bought me a chocolate...hedgehog?

-- I'm sure you heard about the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister and founder of modern Singapore. I read a newspaper while we were there that said he was "still" in the hospital in critical condition, and I thought, "Oh boy. If this guy dies while we're here it might really complicate things!" I was envisioning closed businesses and reduced services, that kind of thing. I'm not sure that happened, but in any event, he died the day after we left.

-- There's also the terrible story of the crashed German airliner. Coming so soon after our own long flight, with our own group of student travelers, that was scary news. Every trip on an airplane is an act of faith, isn't it? (But then, so is every trip in a car. So is walking out the door in the morning.) I cannot imagine how frightening an eight-minute descent from 38,000 feet must have been. Eight minutes is a long time to know your plane is going down. Those poor people.

-- On a happier note, our amaryllis are about to bloom again. I am so impressed with these flowers. In the past year they were transplanted, moved to a new house, knocked around a bit and gnawed by slugs, but they're durable! I think this year we'll keep them on the doorsill of the French doors in the living room, rather than outside. That way the slugs won't get to them. I bought a special saucer for their pot last night at Homebase on the way home from my French test, so we don't need to move them to water them.

-- I mentioned that Bleeding London is about to end, but I didn't mean to suggest that I was going to stop taking pictures. These days, taking photos is one of my main modes of interaction with my world. I wouldn't know what to do without my camera at my side!