I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

It's creepy and it's kooky, mysterious and spooky

The Museum of Musical Instruments from the outside -- the building was originally a department store, but I'm not sure that's an adequate explanation for the architecture.

Bonus reflections

Because when you wake up on a Saturday and you decide that screw it, you are NOT going into the office today, it feels like Christmas came early. I lazed around all afternoon, finished one book and started another, and went through the last of the Brussels pictures.

This accordion is from a delightful exhibit in the Museum of Musical Instruments, where I spent a few hours getting out of the rain my first day in Brussels. They had a collection of Estonian folk instruments in little tented cubicles, with motion sensors so that as you stood before each of the instruments, a recording of its music began to play. You'd move through the curtains to the next instrument and the new melody would start, overlapping the music from the previous room.

I somehow managed to hit myself in the eye with the laminated card they handed out as a museum guide, so I walked through much of the exhibit with tears rolling down my face, but I just pretended to be overcome by the music.

Saturday reflections

Here's another fun reflection from the Palais des Congrès in Brussels, this time with the sun shining.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Urban poetry

Bonus urban poetry: colorful art hanging from the ceiling in Galerie Ravenstein in Brussels.

This was an arcade with shops and offices, not a gallery in the English sense of the word, but I was just cutting through on my way somewhere else and these pyramids made me smile.

And still do, on yet another snowy morning in New York. It's not even officially winter yet, but you'd never know it by the weather.

Urban poetry

The weather outside may be frightful, but nothing deters the hordes of tourists in Times Square.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

Jupiter in blue -- another stunning image from the Juno probe.

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/ Seán Doran

Monday, December 11, 2017

More snow

It was lovelier to look at than to trudge through: the Christmas tree lot up the street from my apartment Saturday evening.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


All those loverly autumnal views in St James Park suddenly feel like a lot more than two weeks ago.

Sunday bird blogging

One of the magnificent pelicans in St James Park.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The queen of the night

Here's something different, and even older -- a Mesopotamian goddess, possibly Ishtar, created around the 18th century BC during the reign of Hammurabi in Babylon.

It's snowing, and I've converted all the documents I can manage today, so I'm heading home and leaving the blogging until tomorrow.

The lions

The wounded lions are rendered in such loving, respectful detail they brought tears to my eyes. How could creatures dead for more than 2000 years so bruise my heart?

The lion hunt

I must have seen these reliefs, from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Ninevah, before but I didn't remember them.

The royal seal of the Assyrian kings showed the king face to face with a lion, driving his sword through it, which symbolized his responsibility to protect his people from their enemies. In the mid-seventh century, the lions were more than just a symbolic threat. The records of Ashurbanipal report that “corpses of men, cattle and sheep lie in heaps as if the plague has killed them. Shepherds and herdsmen lament at what the lions have done. The villages are in mourning day and night.”

Clearly the king had to do something, and just as clearly it was more convenient, not to mention less risky, to have the lions brought to him. So this great lion hunt actually took place in an arena, where caged lions were released one at a time and the king killed them from a chariot.

While we're on the subject of lumasi

Versions of these are found in most of the ancient cultures of the Middle East -- here's a photo I never posted of the Gate of All Nations at Persepolis in Iran.

The damage here from millennia of exposure to the elements -- plus at least one angry army -- gives some weight to the British Museum's argument for keeping the Parthenon marbles. While actually walking through the ruins of Persepolis and seeing the stones in context was a once in a lifetime thrill, not that many of us get to go to Iran. And it's not likely that I'll ever go back.  But while I may never see the art of Persepolis again, I can take a bus uptown and see Assyrian art at the Metropolitan Museum any time I want.

When does protection become imperialism? Are they always the same thing?

It's complicated, obviously. Here's one more example: I knew that ancient Ninevah was somewhere in present-day Iraq, but I didn't realize until this last British Museum visit that it was on the outskirts of what is now Mosul.

Mosul was of course under the control of ISIS for much of the past several years. In addition to all the other havoc they created in the region, they destroyed all the statues of lumasi that had been left at the original site, as well as those in a local museum. So although I would have enjoyed visiting the ruins of Ninevah, the art would have been much safer outside of Iraq.

An ancient face

Here's a better look at the face.

The Assyrians were not a peaceful people, and the bulging eyes are a little creepy, but I'm always charmed by that faint smile.

The winged lions

A lamassu was an Assyrian protective deity, usually regarded as female even though they had the heads of human males. The body might be either a lion or a bull, but they were always winged. Pairs of these statues flanked the entranceways at palaces.

My fascination with these creatures goes back to childhood -- one of my favorite books was All About Archaeology, which I borrowed from the library over and over again (thanks to the miracle of Amazon, I now own my very own copy!) It tells the stories of Heinrich Schliemann and Troy, Howard Carter and the tomb of King Tut, and Leonard Woolley and Ur, and one of the illustrations shows a statue similar to this being dragged on a sledge during the excavation of Ninevah.

There are examples in many of the major museums of the world, and I've been lucky enough to see them in the Louvre and the Metropolitan and the Pergamon, but these were the first. And they're still my favorites.

This particular statue guarded the throne room of Ashurnasirpal in the 9th century BC. You can't really tell the size from the picture, but it's almost 12 feet tall. 

Saturday reflections

Near Leicester Square in London.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Urban poetry

Between a ridiculous workload and the news that bringing the wiring in my kitchen up to code is going to add another $7000 to the renovation costs, it has not been a great week. (It goes without saying that on a national and/or world level, it hasn't been a great week for a while now.)

On the other hand, I leave for Santiago five weeks from tomorrow. And there will be no wi-fi or phone service on the ship to Antarctica -- it will just be me and my fellow adventurers and some icebergs. It's as close as you can get to radio silence in this modern world and I'm looking forward to it.

In the meantime, here are some fun shadows on Buckingham Palace Road.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Speaking of demented preening cockerels...

Let's head back to the British Museum, for an Assyrian relief of a cockerel that is probably not demented but definitely preening.

I was obsessed with the Assyrian collection during my first visits to the museum long ago; I remember writing what was probably a very bad poem about the winged lions and the irony of carving wings out of stone. It's still my favorite part of the museum -- one thing, at least, that hasn't changed.

I don't remember which particular palace this relief adorned, but it's probably about 2800 years old.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

There'll always be an England

This is the Nova Building, a new monstrosity by Victoria Station. At first glance, I assumed it was still under construction and that the red was some kind of tarp, but upon closer inspection I realized that the building was in fact finished and occupied, and that it apparently, if improbably, looked like that on purpose.

I am not the only one who feels this way, as I learned when Googling “ugly red building near Victoria Station” to find out more about it. Its sheer awfulness has not gone unnoticed, and this being England, the commentary has been delightfully snarky. The phrase “hideous mess” turns up repeatedly; The Guardian called it a “particularly obnoxious 90-metre argyle sweater.”

The best description came from the judges at Building Design magazine, which awarded it the 2017 Carbuncle Cup as the ugliest building in the UK for its “bright red prows that adorn various points of the exterior like the inflamed protruding breasts of demented preening cockerels.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

I've been more than a little bit cranky since I returned from vacation and found myself in document conversion hell, but I've managed not to have any actual temper tantrums, being neither two years old nor the President of the United States.

Jupiter has no such inhibitions, and this storm last month, captured by the Juno probe, was bigger than many planets. Now, that's a tantrum!

Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SwRI, MSSS; Processing: Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran

Monday, December 4, 2017

One day I'll be famous, I'll be proper and prim, go to St James so often I will call it St Jim

I think Eliza Doolittle was actually referring to the Court of St James's, which is the official name of the court of the British sovereign, and not the very posh and proper neighborhood where I was staying my last few days in London, but I sang this every day anyway as I walked down St James Place to St James Street, then past St James's Palace, on my way to St James Park.  

These pictures are of the palace, which is the oldest royal palace and the official residence of the British monarchy, even though the kings and queens have actually lived up the street in Buckingham Palace since Victoria. Now it's the residence of minor royalty like the daughters of Prince Andrew and Fergie, though Charles and Camilla do live right next door in Clarence House.

I meant to get a better picture than the one on the left -- I was distracted by that plane -- but never did.

Bonus bird blogging for Monday morning

Another shot of one of the beautiful mute swans in St James Park, in a more traditional pose.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday bird blogging

Something a little different: the curve of the marble draperies in the statue below made me think of this image of a swan curving its neck into a figure eight to groom itself.

Also from St James Park in London.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Elgin Marbles

I neglected to mention that all of this art is from the Parthenon, in the British Museum, in case you hadn't already figured it out. 

The Parthenon collection, also known as the Elgin Marbles after the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who removed them from the Parthenon and transported them to Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century, are of course the subject of a long-running dispute with Greece. (The builders of the Acropolis Museum in Athens clearly expect to get them back some day; they have replicas of everything that's in London and make it obvious that they consider the fakes a temporary solution.)

The British Museum offers a pamphlet in the exhibit, explaining the history of the marbles and also making it clear that they have no intention of giving them to anyone. 

The [British] Museum is a unique resource for the world: the breadth and depth of its collection allows the world's public to re-examine cultural identities and explore the connections between them. Within the context of this unparalleled collection, the Parthenon sculptures are an important representation of the culture of ancient Athens. Millions of visitors admire the beauty of the sculptures each year -- free of charge....The Acropolis Museum allows the Parthenon sculptures that are in Athens to be appreciated against the backdrop of ancient Greek and Athenian history. This display does not alter the Trustees' view that the sculptures are part of everyone's shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries.

More Greek horses

Wild horses

I think we would all agree that this is not a happy horse. It's always a surprise to me how the humans (and/or gods) in Greek statuary always look so placid and posed, while the horses are full of passion and movement.

I do know how this horse feels. I'm writing this from my office, where I am babysitting a document conversion process that I expect to be working on until I die, or retire, whichever comes first. (I have 16,000 documents to convert in this phase of the project -- so far today I have converted 323.) I brought in my personal laptop, figuring I could at least sort through photos while the conversions chugged along, but it hasn't worked out as planned. First, I forgot the charger, so I'm almost out of battery power. Second, these conversions do not chug along. Word crashes every ten documents or so and has to be restarted, and the entire process comes to a halt every so often and requires extreme coaxing to resume.

So like this horse, I am neither posed nor placid. I am, unlike the software, just chugging along.

Saturday reflections

The new double-decker buses in London have huge front windows, providing some cool double-decker city reflections.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Urban poetry

One of many things I love about London is the way that the ancient and the modern slam right into each other. Here, on Tottenham Court Road, you have a spire and a crane, old stone and new glass and steel, all in one small frame.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

Depending on who you ask, NGC 6334 is called either the Cat's Paw Nebula, or the Bear Claw Nebula. I would pick a bear, myself, mostly because the wisps of gas off to the left do suggest the leg, and it looks a lot more like a bear.

Image Credit and Copyright: George Varouhakis

Monday, November 27, 2017

Welcome to the working week

I had originally wanted to fly back to New York today and go to work tomorrow, but changed my plans at my manager's request. No big deal. But while I was sitting in the stationary line of cars outside the Lincoln Tunnel yesterday evening, I remembered why I didn't want to fly back yesterday -- the Thanksgiving air travel congestion doesn't really impact international flights, but once you're on the ground you're stuck in the same traffic as everyone else.

And I was cranky because I was hungry. I avoid airline meals whenever possible, even in business class, but I have to say the meals served in coach on the flight yesterday were possibly the worst I've ever seen. I was starving by the time the pre-arrival snack was served but no one could possibly be hungry enough to find that warmed-up turkey on a roll with cream cheese spread appealing, or even edible. I managed one bite.

I'm sure the man in this window on St James Place isn't finding his meeting any more fascinating than most of us do, but he definitely has a better view.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sunday bird blogging

The light looks almost tropical, but the dead leaves in the background are the giveaway -- this grey heron was in St James Park, not on a warm beach somewhere.

I was lucky with the weather in London, as it scarcely rained and there was sun almost every day, but no one would ever have mistaken it for the tropics.

Goodnight, London

Evening in St James Square a few blocks from my hotel. The light was wonderful but I couldn't quite capture it without a better lens and a tripod.

Still, it's a nice atmospheric farewell to a brief but intense visit, reminding me of long walks in the chill of early dusk.

Two more

The conference room where the senior government officials and military officers met, and one of the staff desks. I love those telephones.

Long distance

This dingy little room was used for secure transatlantic telephone calls, so this is where Churchill came when he needed to speak to Roosevelt.


These signs, more than anything, made the terror of living in London during the Blitz real to me. Although the war rooms had been reinforced with a 5-foot thick concrete slab overhead, a direct bomb hit would probably have destroyed them. 

But that wasn't the only potential danger, so there are signs explaining how to dig your way out through bomb debris, and how to distinguish the alarm that meant a gas attack from the one that meant a ground attack inside the building.

Churchill's bed

Which apparently he seldom used.

He slept only a few hours a night, and preferred to use the (less safe) bed above ground at Number 10. 

Cooking for the PM

I have many more pictures of, well, everything really, but as I'm spending the afternoon with yet another cousin, and then heading out to Heathrow to spend the night before my flight home tomorrow, here's something easy and quick: the kitchen in the Churchill War Rooms.

This museum is in the fortified bunker under the Treasury building in Whitehall where Churchill and his staff lived and worked during the Second World War. There are offices and conference rooms, bedrooms for military officers and senior staff and dormitories for the peons, and this kitchen, which Jane Austen might have found ridiculously old-fashioned. The stove looks like something from a doll's house.

Saturday reflections

Oxford Street, on my way to the British Museum Thursday morning.

Friday, November 24, 2017

More of the Great Court

I think this is one of the most successful facelifts I've seen. I love everything about this space.

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