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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

I haven't actually worn a Halloween costume in at least 20 years, when I went to a Bob Dylan themed party as the Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, and the plastic tears I glued to my cheeks took a few layers of skin with them when I tried to peel them off -- I still have faint teardrop-shaped scars.

But this variation on crime-scene tape on 44th Street made me smile.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

Here are some ghosts for Halloween: IC 59 and IC 63, in Cassiopeia.

Image Credit and Copyright: Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Headlight in the rain

It's been a long time since I posted a picture of a headlight. I may not be up for lugging telephoto lenses through Central Park yet, but yesterday I took the baby camera out on a walk around the block after the rain and managed one good shot.

I do feel more myself with a camera in my hand.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

This is appropriate for a final picture from Rwanda: an unidentified bird.

I couldn't find this bird in any of my field guides or in the online databases. It's possible it's a juvenile and the spots will go away when it matures, but for now we'll just call it the Gray-winged Spotty Breast of Western Rwanda.

The unidentified Nauseated Cold-Sweats Jelly-Knees illness I picked up in Central Rwanda is long gone, and my only souvenir at this point is a sluggish heart, which the doctors assure me will probably just get better on its own. I'm learning to live with it, and though very, very, grateful to be feeling better than I did a few weeks ago, I wish I could manage a hike through Central Park with my camera to see what the local avians are up to.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Saturday reflections

Street repair in Brussels.

I've been watching way too much television over the past several weeks, and it has been in equal parts revealing and excruciating. A few months ago I had never seen a single Lifetime movie, and now I have seen several. For a while they had the only storylines I could follow apart from half-hour sitcoms I'd already seen multiple times. (It was especially easy because they all seem to have variations on the same plot -- evil person pretends to be someone/something they're not and targets nice family.)

And this, I'm embarrassed to admit, was after I was back home with a universe of television channels to pick from. In the hospital in New York I didn't watch much TV, but I heard a lot of it from the next bed, mostly Judge Judy and daytime talk shows. In Brussels it was a lot of second tier BBC and Arrow dubbed in French.

I've yet to make it more than two episodes into any of the dozens of new series I could be watching, but that was also often the case before I got sick. I'm open to recommendations.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Early morning, Brussels

This is my room at the 9Hotel in Brussels, where I spent two nights to break up the long trek home from Rwanda.

I loved this light.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Urban poetry

If one of the top tourist attractions in your beautiful city is inexplicably a small statue of a young boy peeing, you might as well have some fun with it.

Here is the Manneken Pis feeling sportif. He's dressed in one of his hundreds of costumes several times a week according to a published schedule.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

From inside the Town Hall

This view of the tower was taken from the interior courtyard.

La Maison du Roi

In Dutch, this building is called the Broodhuis, or Bread House, referring to the first building on the site in the 12th century. The French name King's House seems more appropriate to the extremely Gothic ruffles and flourishes of this 1873 renovation.

More of the Grand Place

Some of the guild halls (or maybe gilt halls would be more appropriate) along the west side of the square. (I posted a similar picture to the one on the left last November, but this one is much better.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A really Grand Place

Someday I'll go to the Grand Place in Brussels with a wide-angle lens. But I did have better light and a better lens than last November.

This is the Town Hall, built in the 15th century. It's actually the only remaining medieval building in the square; the other buildings were damaged or destroyed by the French in 1695 and restored.

Astronomy Tuesday

Here's a lovely ornament for your Christmas tree: Messier 15, one of the star clusters hanging out around the halo of the Milky Way.

Image Credit and Copyright: Bernhard Hubl (CEDIC)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

A mousebird practicing gymnastics outside my cabin in the Virungas.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Saturday reflections

The Grand Place in Brussels. When I arrived in Belgium I spent one night in Brussels before heading on to Mons and Ghent, and two more nights on my way back from Africa. I didn't take many pictures, especially during the second stay when I was having trouble remaining upright, but I did go back to the Grand Place with a better lens and was rewarded with better light.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Urban poetry

I've never heard of Emile Claus, but I loved this statue near the Botanical Gardens in Ghent. He couldn't possibly look more Belgian unless they replaced his hat with a waffle.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Random things I saw in Ghent

An alley in the city center, bikes and flowers along one of the canals, lily pads in the Botanical Gardens (with a bonus out of focus frog) and a scaffolding in St Bavos in black and white.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


A few last pictures from Ghent: the enormous willow trees along Lievekaai, and a nearby street.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

I've checked, and I don't think I ever posted this image from Cassini from 2012. And if I did, it was a long time ago, and it's certainly worth looking at again. This is what the rings look like from underneath, when the sun is shining on the other side. That's Tethys in the top left corner.

Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Monday, October 15, 2018

Welcome to the working week

I know, I know, I'm not working. And I wouldn't be working even if I still had a job because I'm not well enough. Most of the doctors -- and there have been many -- that I have seen in the past several weeks have been wonderful. But some have been dismissive -- I can't tell you how many times I've been told that the fact that I got sick in Africa was “probably just a coincidence” and has nothing to do with what I'm experiencing now, no matter how many times I say that I was in excellent health before I went to Africa.

Now I have some proof. My primary care doctor got sick himself while I was gone, and closed his practice, so he wasn't available to consult on any of what's been going on. But I got my records from his office last week, and confirmed that at my annual checkup in May my heart rate was 76. The year before it was 70. So perhaps the fact that since Africa it rarely gets above 60 and spends an uncomfortable -- in every way -- amount of time in the 40's means that something did indeed happen when I got sick in Rwanda and that whatever it was has affected my heart.

One doctor actually recommended that I see a psychiatrist because I'm probably just anxious about retirement. I am quite experienced with anxiety, and there has been a lot of it recently, but I am not in denial when I say that retiring from my job is not even in the top ten list of things that are currently making me anxious. Boneheaded comments like that are.

The picture is from the Fine Arts museum in Ghent, where they are restoring the Van Eyck altarpiece from St Bavos Cathedral, one panel at a time. You can watch the restorers at work, then walk over to the cathedral and see the finished work.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

A flycatcher, probably an ashy flycatcher, in Rwanda.

About those displays

I really liked the way they identified the various pieces with numbered layouts (this is what I wish the Kirkland Museum did.)

But oh the way everything is jumbled together on a platform running the length of one wall! It's just a mess.

As for the rest of the museum....

There were interesting modern pieces, mostly displayed very badly, unfortunately. This very cool Poltrona di Proust chair from Alessando Mendini from the 1970's in front of stained glass panels from the 1880's was an exception.

I love those greens.

May I have your attention please?

One final Maarten Baas. There are voices coming out of those horns, but they're all whispers, so you can't really understand anything they're saying.

I really love the visual effect though -- all of those round shapes and colors.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Real Time

This Baas series was very different: a wall of grandfather-style clocks, with clock faces that were actually embedded video screens. When each minute passed, the blurry man in the background erased the minute hand and drew a new one.

Still more Smoke

More Smoke

For the newer pieces, Baas burned iconic examples of modern furniture. Video screens mounted on the wall showed the pieces being burned. Seeing the actual fires is a little eerie, but there's also a kind of naughty pleasure, the way spoiling your dinner with candy can be fun once in a while just because you're an adult and you can. 

All kids want to play with matches. Few of us fantasize about burning our sofas, but if someone pointed you to a pile of wood and told you it was going to be burned, wouldn't you want to say “Let me do it!”

And it would be fun!


Most of the museum was given over to a retrospective of the work of Maarten Baas, a Dutch artist. Most of the references I found for him online afterwards described him as a furniture designer, but the pieces on display included video and sound and seemed much more like modern art, or at least an interesting intersection between art and design.

These are two pieces from his Smoke series, created when he was still a student. He burned existing pieces of furniture, then restored them with epoxy so they could still be used. It's the kind of concept that sometimes makes me cringe, when cool ideas produce results that are boring or stupid. But these pieces are strangely beautiful. The photos don't really capture the texture of the charred surfaces and I wish I'd taken closeups.

Here's a quote I found from an old newspaper article from 2006:

“I was thinking about why we want things to stay the same,” said Baas. “Why do we buy things and don't touch them? Why do we think symmetry and smoothness are beautiful? And what would happen if we do the opposite of what we ought to do with furniture - if we burnt it?”

Design Museum Ghent

I would have loved Ghent even without this museum, but I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon I spent there.

It's housed in an 18th century mansion with a modern wing near the city center, and that contrast between an older setting and modern displays reminds me a little of the Musée d'Orsay.

This is the interior courtyard.

Saturday reflections

Window reflections at the Design Museum in Ghent.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Belfry

The original tower was completed in 1380, although the spire at the top was added, and refurbished, through the centuries, most recently in 1913.

You can take an elevator to the top, but I didn't. I'd been in a belfry in Mons just a couple of days before that, and the afternoon the sun came out I decided I'd rather take pictures of the facades in better light.

The tower

The scale is unfortunately off in this picture, but this was taken looking up into the tower. There's no floor separating the tower from the main church, and you can look straight up to the top.

It's awe-inspiring.

Sint-Niklaaskerk interior

Inside the church feels like the opposite of Gothic. Instead of the hush and gloom you usually find, there's light everywhere.

There are stained glass windows, but much of the glass is clear. And I love how this row of apostles stands on pedestals, almost at eye level, instead of tucked away in niches with altars.


If Ghent really were a medieval theme park, St Nicholas would be Space Mountain. It's one of the famous Three Towers in the center of Ghent, the other two being the Belfry and St Bavos.

The style, called Scheldt Gothic, is very different from Gothic churches in other parts of Europe. There is the single tower, for one thing, and those cute little turrets everywhere, which to my jaded modern eye do look a little Disneyland.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Urban poetry

Yes, that's a giant roll of toilet paper.

The wonderful Ghent Design Museum had its request for a long promised extension turned down by the city government. Their response was to install bathrooms where the extension was supposed to go, and cover them with what is officially an artwork. (There used to be a sign that played on the fact that the phrase for going to the bathroom in Dutch also means Screw you, but now that the museum extension has finally been approved the sign is gone.)

Suggested motto for Ghent: We could be a precious medieval theme park, but we choose not to be!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


The church at the beguinage was locked so I just strolled around outside, looking at the houses and the beautiful green surrounded by beech trees.

This fresco -- maybe painted by one of the beguines -- is on the outside of the church.

Begin the Beguinage

This was not one of the most photogenic places I visited in Ghent, but it was perhaps the most interesting -- the Small Beguinage of Our Lady of Ter Hoyen.

I'd never heard of beguinages before, despite my many years of Catholic education. They were religious orders of women -- beguines -- who lived together, but unlike nuns, took no vows and made no lifelong commitment. They were free to leave at any time, and marry, though part of the reason beguinages were originally created was because so many of the men were off fighting the Crusades and they provided both security and community and an opportunity to live independently outside of a convent or a family home.

There are still about thirty beguinages in northern Europe, most of them in Belgium, but the beguines are long gone. This beguinage, one of three in Ghent and a UNESCO World Heritage site, was founded in 1235 by the countesses Johanna and Margaretha of Flanders and was rebuilt in the 17th century. Some of the larger buildings here are used as art workshops, but the little houses, each behind a green gate in the white wall and named for a saint, are leased as private residences.

There was construction going on, so it wasn't actually that peaceful there, but it still felt like a sanctuary from the world,

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

Another gray day, another splash of color.

Comet 21P / Giacobini-Zinner sends some of its nucleus across Earth's skies every six and a half years in the form of the Draconid meteor showers. The comet is pictured on its approach two weeks ago, between the Rosette (upper left) and Cone (lower right) nebulae.

Image Credit and Copyright: Fritz Helmut Hemmerich

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