March 2008 Archives

About that reticence

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Ironically (or perhaps not), when I have a lot on my mind, I am less inclined to blog. I think my method of dealing with things is to kind of close myself up in them and dwell. Or completely distract myself and try to avoid any substantive thought. Not implying much of that goes on around here, but yknow, in case it did.

It's not anything huge or overly dramatic, mostly money, school, future stuff. Also a much-loved family member (the personal in the second half of this post) just went through a fourth bout with cancer, but his surgery went well and I think he'll be okay. (I called him in the hospital this time, in case you read that post, and he seemed happy about that.)

By comparison, the other stress I feel is not so important. Next week I'm helping with asymposium on science & art, which is going to be way cool and I'm really excited... but I'm nervous as hell. I'm not at all worried about my responsibilities or the tasks I have to do throughout the days - those are a piece of cake. My anxiety is solely to do with talking to people, standing around at coffee breaks and lunch, and generally having to be social and network.

I fear I will never end up with a real full-time job because I don't so much "network" as stammer incomprehensible things to my shoes, paste an enormous uncomfortable smile on my face and stare with maniacal deer-in-headlight eyes, or start telling some asinine story that lasts waaaaaay too long and goes nowhere, the conclusion of which positively perplexes the individuals to whom I was supposed to be talking about glass and somehow got on the topic of why asparagus makes your pee smell.

So yes, it will be a relief when that is over. I know that these are the people who I want to be my peers and colleagues, and it will probably go smoothly, but I do so much better at conferences full of strangers where I can just sit, take notes, absorb the presentation, and then go home and post on my blog about how cool it was. Then again, I've been asked to take photographs at the symposium, and my camera is my security blanket, so maybe I'll find some new, intelligent, confident side of myself instead of my spontaneous socially-induced speech impediments.

(Did you know I stutter? Neither did I, until you ask me what field of conservation I'd like to specialize in.)

On what could be a very exciting note (I am so afraid to jinx it), Eric and I are moving out of this apartment at the end of this lease in August, and we may be moving into a spectacularly wonderful place.

I don't want to say a lot about it because I'm afraid it's some magical dream from which I'll startle awake and realize that we actually moved deeper into Brooklyn, but I'm sort of giddy at the prospect of it. I really love this apartment itself, the 14 foot ceilings and 8 foot double windows with gorgeous light streaming in the afternoon.... but I don't think I will miss the homeless people yelling at me on the corner (I don't carry cash, ever!) or random shootings at the projects by our subway. Or the filthy streets and pollution and the fact that I would never, ever want to raise children here.

When I was coming back from New Jersey over Easter, I could feel my dread becoming progressively worse as I got closer to my apartment, and it really crystallized the fact that while this is where I live, it is not my home.

Since one cannot transplant a much loved apartment into an entirely different city, we will have to sacrifice that which I adore about this space for one infinitely more suited to our personalities and lifestyles. One that makes me drool when I think of the possibilities. At risk of hyperbole, I think it will be the best thing that's ever happened to us.

So that is just a glimpse. I have a whole lot of photos of food that I want to post, and since I can't think of a terribly clever way of organizing them into some narrative, perhaps let's just write me a pass if the next entry consists of little more than chomp, monch, drool and various onomatopoeias of deliciosity.

Oh hello again

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Did you ever have a friend, with whom you spoke regularly, and then for some reason one of you was unavailable to talk, so you got behind, and then you put off calling them because it'd be a longer conversation than usual as you had so much to catch up on... and then it got to be a little awkward because you suddenly realized a rather embarrassing amount of time had gone by and not only did you have a long list of things to catch up on, but you also now needed to explain why you've been out of contact for so long?

Right. So. Hello blog, it's me again. Have you got a minute?

I am on spring break from school right now. This isn't as special as it was when I was taking full-time classes, but I did have off from my assistantships, which has been a glorious bout of relaxation.

Last week I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in art museums, which is ordinarily a heavenly experience, but it was slightly dampened by maintaining head counts of undergrads. Oh also, I was so sick that I frequently had to escape to adjacent galleries to have coughing fits, and I sucked on so many vitamin C drops that I think my tongue shrank.

Tuesday was awesome - a bright, sunny day, and I was up early and at the Met. Because I'm the world's friendliest TA, I stood three feet away from my class and didn't recognize any of them until the professor showed up. I rule.

As we walked to the Frick, we noticed a media circus outside of an apartment building on 5th Ave, which it turns out is where Eliot Spitzer lives. People were waiting to catch a glimpse of him or his Belmar call-girl (ha!), but I later learned they did not.

At the Frick, my professor noticed Jodie Foster entering just before us, and we stood next to her while paying. For the five years I've lived in Brooklyn and gone into Manhattan, I think the only non-artist "celebrity" sighting I've ever really had was Topher from the reality show The Restaurant... though he was my waiter, so I feel like that gives it some flair.

I got angrily gestured at for taking this photo of the garden court at the Frick:

I had a little time between the morning and afternoon classes, so I grabbed a lamb gyro from a vendor with the most arrestingly beautiful eyes I've ever seen (and it didn't occur to me to ask for her photo until I walked a few more blocks to the park, damn it).

I ate lunch in the park and strolled around taking a few pictures, enjoying the sun. (I made a Flickr set of Central Park & Nearby, in case you want to see some more).

An Italian friend once said he thought all Americans look good in sunglasses. I think I disprove this theory.

My glasses do, however, have a remarkable ability to turn sunlight into exuberance, by casting a warm tint on everything. Compare:

I also found proof positive that it is in fact almost spring:

There were many more in a bush, chirping merrily away. Hoorays.

When I returned to the Frick, I was the first one there, so my students recognized me. Score one for the afternoon class. When my professor introduced me in the beginning of the semester, she made it very clear to them that I would be grading all their assignments and exams, and she even said "So be nice to her." Morning class might have paid a little more attention...

I was going slowly the second time through the Frick, since it's not a very big place, and I'd only really left myself a few rooms that I hadn't seen in the morning. I also had to escape frequently to the downstairs lounge to gulp water through coughing fits. Awesome.

On the second or third trip downstairs (I can't imagine what the security guards thought), I realized I had to pee, so I went into the bathroom, where there was one other stall occupied (I swear this becomes relevant and I'm not just being weirdly over-personal). I peed, and as I came out to wash my hands, there was Jodie Foster, washing hers. Whoa. I didn't realize she was still there. I smiled at her in the mirror, and the thoughts that went through my mind included "I am alone in a room with Jodie Foster. Jodie Foster is like two feet away from me. I just peed next to Jodie Foster!" and so on.

I texted my brother with the last of these revelations, and he and my father both responded that they hoped it was in a bathroom stall and not, say, on the floor of a gallery.

I wanted to geek out and say something or ask for a photo, but we were in a bathroom and really, she wasn't working - she was there for the art. Art museums are kind of sacred places to me, so as much as I was being a douche in my head, I couldn't muster more than a "hi" and a smile in person. Don't want to pull aHinckley, yknow?

I did, however, stalk her for a few minutes during the rest of the afternoon, watching her with the audio guide contemplating a painting, looking very thoughtfully and considering it carefully. I was happy for her, that of all the things she could do on a Tuesday, she was spending several hours at an art museum, and she was really enjoying the art. Hooray Jodie Foster.

(My grandmother, by the way, said she never thought I'd be a name-dropper. I assured her this is only because I don't frequently have names to drop).

I spent the rest of my time at the Frick absolutely entranced by Bellini's St Francis in the Desert. The colors here are really off, but in person, it is stunning, especially the way he paints the rocks.

The afternoon class ran right to closing at the Met, and the highlight of my life was buying heavy-duty drugs at a pharmacy on the way home. I collapsed asleep, thinking "Argh, I gotta do it again tomorrow."

Where Wednesday lost over Tuesday is that I didn't bring my camera. Where it significantly housed Tuesday is that class started at 10, ended at 12:30, and the whole thing was at the Met. I was much sicker and coughing a lot more frequently than the day before, so much so that I would more accurately describe the morning as "coughing with occasional breaks to look at art." Even the students felt bad, and a few said "Feel better" and "get some rest" as they said good-bye. I've been blaming them for getting alien flu all over their exams and making me sick in the first place, so this was actually consoling.

With the afternoon free, I was going to visit one or two of my favorite paintings, then head home, but on the way to the Georgia O'Keeffes, I realized they had reopened the 19th century European painting wing, which has been closed for reinstallation as long as I can remember. Oh happy day!

As I walked through the galleries of Impressionists and scenic painters traveling to Italy (oh what a thrill to recognize all the subjects now), I noticed that everyone in the galleries was smiling, light-hearted, and enjoying themselves. I wanted to attribute it to the cheerful color palette and the bucolic settings for relaxing images. There is something so carefree and just plain lovely about the playful brushwork describing a jar full of irises that rescues it from frivolity and moves it straight into the heart of joy. The same subjects, painted in the scope of the Renaissance or Baroque (of which I'd seen countless examples in the past two days) felt dour and over-encumbered by the weight of the world. Such gravity felt foreign to these happy flowers or revelers dressed in linen pants and striped shirts in a gazebo with dappled sunlight filtering onto dark water. It was hypnotic and rich with the sensation of sunny afternoon light and back-lit foliage, such a refreshing break from the austerity of religious subjects and the severity of previous centuries' masterpieces.

I surprised myself with the overwhelming joy I felt, the intense and pure happiness. I know this has very real ramifications for me as a painter, and I have not thought through them all yet, but it's really quite thrilling.

I saved the two rooms of Van Goghs for last because I knew they would be the highlights, and man, he did not disappoint. I stood there with tears in my eyes, staring at the brush strokes and colors dancing together. I thought about how it must have felt, as a painter, to see these shapes forming from his hand, to mix on a palette dominated by orange and green and come up with such glowing, intense colors. I looked at the cake frosting impasto, and I thought about other artists who have tried to mimic the liveliness and energy contained in it - no one has ever done it like him.

I stayed in front of my favorite Van Gogh (Wheat Field with Cypresses) for about a half hour, just smiling with tears pouring down my cheeks. I am quite sure I looked insane, whispering to myself occasionally and standing up quickly to look at a different portion I hadn't thoroughly examined yet. It was ecstasy, in its purest form, and I'm almost ashamed to admit that when I finally made my way down to the Georgias (which are usually the paintings I spend the most time with), they completely paled in comparison.

I thought about painting all through lunch (sausage pizza, a bottle of apple juice and an insane pear tart - I was pouting about feeling sick), and I walked about mesmerized by what I'd seen. I thought about a scene in a movie I'd just re-watched (A Season of Giants, a miniseries which aired on TNT in 1991 and has never been shown again and I can't find on VHS or DVD), where Raphael was asking Michelangelo for advice as a painter. Michelangelo argued that he was a sculptor, not a painter, but Raphael persisted, saying well if you were a painter, what advice would you give? Michelangelo said he could only offer Donatello's advice:

Draw. Draw and don't waste time.

I have no idea about the historical accuracy of this advice, but it's good. I added a second note for myself: Work from nature. Nature is ultimately timeless, always relevant, poignant, and able to reach into people's souls throughout the centuries. We are viscerally connected with nature and no amount of skyscrapers or nudes is going to do it for me the way a flower will. I have thousands and thousands of reference photos taken out in nature, yet I usually work from my imagination, making abstract blobby undersea forms.

Now I realize the solution has been in front of me for years (and I've realized this before, probably just about this time last year): Paint from nature. And draw more.

Simple enough.

Eric came home from Connecticut on Wednesday, and it has been a delight to have him back. I do in fact have a lot more catching-up to do, but I fear I've already written way too much. I will take a lunch break and resume in a new entry.

Art nerdistry

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First I should mention some things I forgot in my last post.

I really loved one of the Met's recent acquisitions, Corrado Giaquinto's The Penitent Magdalen (c. 1750).

It is a stunning painting, and it was great to see. I also loved the way they arranged the chat cards to include a small reproduction of a preparatory red chalk drawing. I wish museums did more of this, as I think it really enhances the experience.

I usually take snapshots of pieces I either liked or need to remember at some point, so I decided to make a Flickr set of Art from the Met, collecting these images.

Now onto the hands-on nerdistry!

This semester I am taking a chemistry course dealing with artist's materials and techniques, as well as aspects of conservation. It combines lectures with lab work, and the labs have been spectacularly cool.

Our first lab was synthesizing pigments, where in a series of fairly simple procedures we created azurite, malachite, Prussian blue, burnt ochre, and cobalt blue.

I cannot even begin to describe what a huge thrill it was to create some of my favorite pigments (especially malachite!!!). I should add that I made a Flickr set of Art Nerdistry, which contains more images and notes on some of the techniques.

(If you are super, super interested, I put my lab report online, and I would love to geek out anytime over it.)

Last week, we made Egyptian faience, which is basically a self-glazing ceramic. More specifically, it is made from sand which contains clay and mineral salts, combined with water to form a kind of paste. As the water evaporates, it carries salts to the surface, which deposit silica and metallic oxides, the components of the glassy glaze. When fired, the inside is a solid white, resembling porcelain, and the outside is a luminous glass-like surface.

In lab, my group worked with manganese, but I asked if I could use some of our synthesized pigments on my own.

Eric came with me on Friday, and we mixed up a batch of faience, using combinations of our synthetic pigments to try to get different colors. I think Eric found the whole process a little tedious, but I was in heaven:

We decided to make discs, which could be strung on wire to make a kind of molecular sculpture. I'll have to see how they turn out when fired, of course.

It was way cool to have the lab to ourselves (and later to myself, when Eric left) and play around with new materials. Faience is a real pain in the neck to work with, but I think it has so much potential for really beautiful creations.

I kind of wish I had a kiln at home, to make my own.

The more of these materials that I experiment with, the more I want to try more. When I finished my fresco, I immediately started thinking about having a fresco business that does wall murals and smaller pieces on tile. Now I'm thinking of jewelry and design pieces using faience... God help me when I take weekend courses in illuminated manuscripts and mosaics.

Venice article

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Note: I am still really sick, and I've got a bunch of stuff to do today, but I did just submit this draft of an article about Venice for a department newsletter. Since I never actually got around to talking about Venice (sorry about that), I thought I should at least post this as an introduction on the topic.

This past summer I was privileged to attend the Pratt in Venice program, an ideal environment for living, working, and creating in one of the most inspiring cities in the world. The professors and guest lecturers were incredibly generous with their depth of knowledge and experience, and the spirit of camaraderie within our group of travelers was truly heart-warming.

Art history courses were held primarily on-site, where we viewed painting, sculpture, and architecture masterpieces in their original contexts and functions, and learned how they've been modified over time. Day trips to Torcello, Padua, Castelfranco, and Bassano brought us face to face with mesmerizing Veronese frescoes, Bellini altarpieces, and a view of the Dolomite foothills which still permeates my dreams.

The Materials, Techniques & Conservation seminar included intensive individual research projects and meetings with conservators at a mosaic lab in San Marco, a wood conservation lab in Oriago, the Orsoni glass factory, and a lecture with Paolo Spezzani on non-destructive analysis. We worked in world-class libraries, and many students learned Italian to study primary documents and speak with local experts. In a rare opportunity, we climbed the scaffolding within a dome at the Basilica of San Marco. We were moved to tears while touching the glittering gold mosaic tesserae and viewed this staggering work of collective creation in its splendor from a viewpoint no tourist could ever hope to see.

The juxtaposition of Renaissance and Byzantine masterpieces with the contemporary art of the Venice Biennale and satellite exhibitions throughout the city proved intensely intriguing. Students of painting and print-making worked in the internationally renowned Scuola Grafica or in charming studios on the Guidecca, overlooking an oleander garden and the lagoon stretching out to the Adriatic Sea.

Saturated with history and beauty, Venice is incomparably inspiring: light reflecting off the canals and dancing on foot bridges, exposed stucco forming abstract patterns on the sides of buildings which have withstood centuries of history, riding vaporettos down the Grand Canal past palazzos of extraordinary grace and beauty, and standing in the same churches and campos as Carpaccio, Bellini, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Sansovino, and Palladio.

Evenings unwound with sips of prosecco and chatting in clumsy Italian with new friends, wandering the maze-like streets, sitting beside canals that reflected the city lights, and strolling through the after-hours stillness of the Piazza San Marco with the overwhelming love of an artist who found a new home in an old world.

No, it's not the world's most Barbie-licious disco - it's the waaaambulance again.

I'm sick, and I blame undergrads. And possibly Eric, since everyone he knows got sick in the order of him visiting them, but he is not sick (carrier!).

I am the only person I know who responds to a colossal dose of Nighttime extra-drowsy formula Robitussin with insomnia. It makes my heart race, and I'm so aware it's like... I move like they do.

Maybe the next time I have an important exam or occasion for which I must be alert and amped up, I'll take Tylenol PM.

Seriously, got any complicated math problems you need solved? Philosophy riddles? Wanna kick my ass in Scrabulous? Last night I quizzed Eric on Buddhism until 4am.

Stupid body.

In conclusion:

Dear Snot,

You suck. Go home. Jerkface.



Guess how many tries it took me to type "blockquote" before it came out without a body part.

Returning for more feline therapy. Next time, I promise no whining.

Okay, just in case I'm lying and I can't, here is a half-hour video of 80s cartoon show openings.

Nostalgia, ahoy. Don't say I didn't warn you. How lame is the original Ghostbusters (starts around 3:46)?!?! Serious weak sauce. Compare with the "The Real" Ghostbusters right after - vastly better.

Oooh, a thunderstorm just started. Thank you, universe.

Catching Z's

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I think I am one among many people who incorporate external sensory input into my dreams. This includes television shows, songs, people talking, and my own alarm clock.

Late last night I fell asleep in front of the TV when the movie Conspiracy Theory came on. Having slept through it, I have no idea what it's about, but it stars Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts.

In my dream? Post-apocalyptic zombie horror flick. Complete with lesbianism, motorcycle chases, and swimming in the coldest lake in the world.

Is it possible I've been dating Eric too long?

Crackpot Cookery: Cauliflower Soup

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Usually when I try to cook, I'm following a recipe. And if not a recipe, then at least a guideline that will have assumed success.

Sometimes, though, prompted by a complete lack of ingredients and funds or extreme curiosity, I'll go out on a limb. Cobbling together vague memories of actual foods, I'll come up with something divine (cheese-filled crescent rolls) or regrettable (the infamous jelly chicken, of my pre-blogging days).

Last night the stars aligned to divine, with Cauliflower Soup.


- 1 lb (16 oz) frozen cauliflower (you could use fresh)

- the following spices haphazardly thrown in, in visual ratios: salt, pepper, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, ground sage, ground red pepper

- butter, about 2-4 tbsp or to taste

- a splash of milk or cream (I used 2%)

- about 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese, to taste


Put frozen cauliflower pieces (if using fresh, cut your cauliflower into smaller pieces) into a 2-quart pot and add about 1/2-3/4 C water. Heat over medium-high heat until boiling. Add salt and pepper.

Boil until pieces are tender, about 8 minutes. Add in other spices as it occurs to you. By visual ratio, I mean dump them on top of the cauliflower in approximately even bands of color across your pot. Probably, it's between 1/2 and 1 tsp of each spice, but when you stir it all together it should look a little like this:

Continue boiling several more minutes, breaking the cauliflower pieces down with a wooden spoon. Cook until very little water remains in the bottom of your pan.

Transfer the contents of your pot into a food processor, and add milk and butter. Pulse until ingredients reach a puree-like consistency. You may need to add more milk or butter to get proper creaminess.

Pour into bowls and toss with Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Serves 2-4.... or one person who has a hankering for a pound of cauliflower in one day.


I expect this would be much better with fresh cauliflower and herbs, and with a splash of cream substituted for milk.

I think it would lend itself quite nicely to the addition of lobster, shrimp, or the perennial stand-by bacon.

This soup was so good that yeah, I really did eat a pound of cauliflower yesterday and I really wish I had more.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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