April 2008 Archives

I am making my way through an all-nighter grading undergrad papers (which will likely be followed by a marathon of grading final exams), and I was startled to do this basic math:

Kindergarten + 8 years of grade school + 4 years of high school + 4 years of undergrad + 3 years (so far, ahem) of grad school = 20 years that I've been a full-time student.

This doesn't include summer sessions or internships on top of a full schedule, for which I feel I should earn fractions.

The point is, I've been doing this an astonishingly long time. And I'm not even done yet.

Perhaps by the time I'm 50, I will learn to manage my work so I don't leave it all till the night before it's due. Perhaps then I will also have an idea how to get a job that pays above minimum wage. Sigh.

Can't sleep, am 65 million degrees

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I understand that the laws in NYC regarding heating of residential buildings are probably necessary. They require that from October 1 through May 31, the temperature must be kept above 65 F. Fair enough.

Why is it, then, that every landlord I've ever had is incapable of actually making it 65 and instead aims for somewhere around oh, 80?? It's such a waste of energy and SO uncomfortable! We leave our windows open year-round, but we wait until almost June to turn the air conditioner on (because really, who can stand having the heat and air on at the same time?).

This time of year is practically insufferable - as the temperature rises outside, it becomes like a greenhouse in here, and by the time we go to bed, the air is thick with heat and humidity. We live in a sauna, no exaggeration, and I find it nearly impossible to sleep when I am drenched in sweat and can't cool down even with a fan blasting.

Keep in mind, I am the person who could sleep through getting sunburned in her own bed. So really, when I say this is terrible, I mean it.

Thinking about summer

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I used to hate summer. Phew, I've said it aloud.

Without the structure of the school days, I felt aimless and lost. I can think of more than a few summer days spent in an existential funk, or wallowing in teen angst. Inevitably at some point I'd descend into doldrums and find myself staring at the sun wondering "What am I even doing??"

Up until last year, summer was a time I dreaded because I didn't know what I wanted out of it, and I never had a purpose for it. Left to my own devices, I drove myself insane.

Then last summer I had the most amazing six weeks perhaps of my life, living in Venice. It completely changed me as a person, and I absolutely loved it.

As this semester is starting to wind down, instead of dreading summer, I'm thinking of all kinds of ways to fill it up, work I want to get done, projects I want to dedicate all my time to, new things I want to start doing....

I'm actually excited it's almost summer break. So excited that I can barely sit still trying to finish the last of my projects this spring. Some of the things this summer may include (but let's keep our fingers cross and not jinx anything):

- TA'ing for a chemistry class at school

- exciting research on conservation projects

- at least 2 weeks and maybe as much as a month abroad (we'll talk more about this soon)

- horticulture classes? (trying to decide about these)

- developing astonishingly impressive gym habits, especially swimming, and getting over my fear of riding my bike around Brooklyn

- thesis research galore

- looking for, finding, and moving into a new apartment in a better neighborhood

Phew. I probably even forgot some things. This looks like it's gonna be a really nice time.

Buon fresco

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Yesterday I made my second fresco. I still have not actually posted photos of my first (sorry about that - see explanation below), but you can see part of the first process here.

This one was a lot easier, as it didn't involve chiseling out a section of an old brick wall first. It also presented some latitude in the types of images we could create, though I still wanted mine to be vaguely authentic or Italian in style.

For my image, I worked from a photograph of flowers that I took at the Villa de Maser, a beautiful Palladio and Veronese collaboration (now also a great vineyard) in the Veneto. These flowers were against a sort of terra cotta colored wall, and everyone who stood near them looked exquisitely serene and lovely. For me, it completely reinforced the idea of La Serenissima, in color, and has remained in my imagination as an iconic image of that summer.

I produced my cartoon to scale on a piece of tracing paper, which I later transferred using a modified incision method. I didn't want very deep grooves in my resulting image, so my incisions were very light and sparse - I later drew myself guidelines in a thin wash of pigment, which functioned as a sinopia layer.

We worked on the backs of 12″x12″ ceramic tiles, which were saturated with water beforehand. Because we did not create separate arriccio and intonaco layers, the mortar mixture was a 50/50 blend of coarse and fine sand, mixed with slaked lime.

Applying the fresco to the tile was characteristically arduous, but eventually it came together. The mortar is sort of a crumbly cookie dough consistency, and it takes a tremendous amount of pressure to consolidate it into a concrete-like solidity. Combined with the challenges of square edges and working on a raised surface, this did get a little frustrating, but I think the end result was worth it.

I regret that I didn't take more in-process photos, but I needed to work quickly, as my mixture was drying fast. Generally, you have about 3-4 hours before a fresco sets but because it had taken me so long to get my mortar applied, I knew the edges would start drying sooner.

For those unfamiliar with the fresco process, I should explain that we apply pigments made into a paste with deionized water directly to the lime mortar surface. A carbonation reaction occurs, wherein the lime reacts with carbon dioxide in the air and forms into solid calcium carbonate crystals, with water evaporating. As it does this, it incorporates the pigment particles into the structure of the wall, making fresco painting permanent and very durable.

This is my fresco immediately after pigment application:

As it dries, the colors will become lighter and slightly less saturated, so it is a little difficult to estimate the color balance by this image... but you get the idea.

Once completely dry, fresco can be buffed to a marble-like sheen (and I am planning to buff this one) - some Romans preferred frescoes in which they could see their reflections.

In addition to the buon fresco or true fresco application here, an artist can also apply fresco a secco, which is derived from the Italian secco (dry). In this process, pigments are mixed with the cream of the slaked lime (liquid which floats on the surface) and applied on top of the dry fresco. I will very likely do some a secco touch-ups to this fresco, as I did with my first one, though fresco a secco is nowhere near as strong or long-lasting as true fresco. It is also possible to gild fresco, though some friends and I are still trying to work out a good method for that.

Parenthetically, the reason I don't have photos of my first fresco is because I made numerous a secco corrections since the last photo I took, and it now looks nothing like that image. I need to go back and take another photo, and even though I walk by it nearly every time I'm on campus, I keep forgetting to take a picture.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this one dries, as well as experimenting with gilding anda secco techniques. It's very nice to have a portable fresco that I can keep in my home. You can bet I've already started researching materials and thinking about doing more of these on my own!

Spring, a quiet surprise

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This week we had our power shut off at a time that was pretty darn inconvenient.

It was interesting working by candlelight, without all the electronic creature comforts upon which we've become alarmingly dependent.

Also it was kind of relaxing.

Yet still, ConEd knows what it can do to itself.

This morning I had to drop off some work stuff early (the less we speak of this the better), and at the last minute I decided to take my camera with me. The walk to and from my campus is almost exactly a mile round trip, but there were quite a lot of things to see in the lovely morning sunlight.

I am filled with hope that in spite of everything, nature is coming out again, another spring. I don't know if I get some sort of seasonal amnesia or if this is the time of year where I put my head down and don't think to look up until I'm overwhelmed with color and fragrance, but I'm always a little surprised by spring. It's a quiet surprise, but a very good one.

It's looking to be a lovely spring too.

It's nice to be out in the morning, in the stillness and calm before traffic and business starts up for the day. Everyone seems more thoughtful, contemplative, and relaxed. I'm sure I'm projecting, but I think in some ways my father is right when he says you meet a different type of person out in the morning.

I do believe that I would have an easier time in the world if I felt for people what I feel for trees and flowers. I probably need to work on that.

There are these brilliant orange plastic fences around all the grassy areas of my school's campus right now, and the way they contrast with the sunlit green is marvelous.

I have a bunch of other photos that I put into a Flickr set. I decided I should continue taking snaps around the neighborhood to remind myself that Brooklyn really does have a lot of loveliness, if I just take the time to look around.

If you'd like to see a slide show of some of my neighborhood, you can check it out here.


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Probably obvious to astute readers or those who know me personally, I have been in a bit of a funk lately. And by "a bit," I mean "wallowing with the blanket pulled over my head" sort of funk, for no good reason really.

I vacillate between thinking I am hiding it very well and knowing that like all people I am utterly and completely transparent. No sense pretending anymore.

With regards to my latest tirade against Brooklyn, I think we can all safely say it's not Brooklyn, it's me. I could probably find fault anywhere there are people, and I know that by withdrawing I am essentially guaranteeing that I will only see and experience the negatives.

I have little other purpose to this post except to inform myself that it is time to resume work and school responsibilities, house cleaning, good grooming, and other healthy and productive habits.

I can't think of a graceful way of introducing them, so here are some things I've learned lately:

E-Prime is a writing system which avoids forms of the verb "to be." I have heard so-called rules about not using the passive voice, but I never came across e-prime as such. It's a rather fascinating idea, and I want to think a bit more about it.

- There is in fact a very easy and clear difference between England, Great Britain, and the UK. I never knew it, and when I asked Eric the other day out of frustration, he couldn't exactly remember. Several minutes on Wikipedia and I learned that England is a country, which is on the island of Great Britain. England, combined with Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland comprises the United Kingdom. I was stunned at how simple that was and yet, I don't recall ever learning it. My knowledge of geography is so pitiful that I still can't identify 80% of US states on a map, and if you had asked me where Idaho was before I met someone from there in Costa Rica, I probably would have suggested near Ohio.

I have a whole list of other things that I'm stunned to learn at age 26, but I actually have a paper to write this morning (weird, I know), followed by day 2 of mosaic. Wheee!

Does this ever happen to you?

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Why is it, that when I have to sneeze, it's not when I have nothing going on and my hands are free or even better with a tissue in them, but rather at the worst possible times?

Like when I'm doing something delicate and both hands are covered in something toxic. Or when I'm in the midst of using my mouth.

Just now, chocolate cream Newman-O's (like Oreos), at their finest state of pulverization just prior to swallowing. Sprayed all over my hands and, as a consequence, a bit of my face and neck too, forming a sort of sloppy chocolate beard. Awesome. This isn't even the first time that's happened, nor even the first time with this exact cookie. :-P

(Sorry, I couldn't look at my last entry any more - had to put up something irreverent).

Way to go Brooklyn

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I should preface that I don't think anyone was seriously injured.

On Tuesday I saw a bicyclist get hit by a car, followed by a car smashing into another, and ending about five feet away from me with a car crashing into a tree.

I was walking to work, and it was a beautiful sunny morning. I was looking around absent-mindedly at trees beginning to flower and thinking about the color of the sky. A truck was parked in my school's main driveway, such that it was sticking far out into the street (this is a completely common occurrence in Brooklyn).

(Not my photo.)

They recently put bicycle lanes on both sides of the main street perpendicular to mine, and as the spring weather has started making it downright inviting to go outside, I keep thinking I should ride my bike in said lanes. The trouble is of course that people drive like maniacs around here.

(Seriously, what is the goddamn hurry all the time?)

Anyway, it's close to 9:30 and people are in their usual crazy-ass rush, tearing down the street. Because the truck was sticking so far out into the street, cars coming down the one-way road were veering into the bicycle lane on their left side. You know where this is going.

I think what happened is that the first car didn't see the girl on her bike and kind of tapped her, then slammed on their brakes. The car behind that one kept coming at full speed, hit the girl and flipped her over their hood, then smashed into the car and careened across the intersection into the tree on the sidewalk next to me (thank you tree).

I don't know if his brakes weren't working or if something was wrong with his steering (oh starry-eyed optimism), but I do know that his primary concern after all this was that his car was banged up. A crowd gathered around the bicyclist (who stood up and was looking dazed rubbing her neck), and the guy in front of me just kept looking at his front end and cursing when he saw his window had broken. The only time he even looked toward the bicyclist was when a guy started marching across the street screaming at him.

For my part, I gasped and said "Oh Jesus" when I saw the bicyclist go up in the air, then stood there dazed as the car came toward me (good reflexes there, Vic). Once I saw the bicyclist stand up and people rush over to her, I snapped out of it and realized I was going to be late for work.

But I kept thinking the whole time, I'm never ever riding my bike in this neighborhood now.

(Also not my photo.)

As I am inclined to do, I extrapolated the whole incident into further reason why this neighborhood is all wrong for me and how much I don't belong in the city. In the kind of overly emotional sobfest of which I am uniquely capable, I realized with arresting clarity that I am, for better or worse, trapped here.

The place Eric and I were thinking of moving to (which I think I mentioned, fell through) would make for a minimally 1.5 hour commute each way, were I to continue with my current and planned jobs this summer and fall. That's 3 hours of driving through notoriously awful traffic every day. Or 4-5 hours if I commute through Manhattan by train. I was able to handle a commute of approximately that length when I worked in Chelsea and was coming from New Jersey, but I'm just not sure I have it in me these days, however awesome it would be to live that far away from the city.

So it's sad. People are hostile and ugly here, it's unsafe to have a car or get packages delivered, I walk by projects and homeless people to get to the subway, there is a near total absence of public outdoor places where I could just sit somewhere and relax (unless you count where people get shot regularly), and it takes a ridiculously long time to go anywhere else. I could go on and on with my grievances, but let's just say I'm not feeling the Brooklyn love in any way anymore.

If I move, I still have to work here until I finish my degree and get my career rolling. What exists, within a reasonable commuting distance, that isn't so miserably afflicted by its proximity to the city?

I've been catastrophizing a blue streak up in here, but it's a lousy feeling. I can't get away, and I was all amped up to go live in the country.

I don't know why or when I started hating Brooklyn so very much, but I am kind of overwhelmed with how much I hate it right now. I don't want to leave my apartment if I don't have to, and as soon as I get away (even Manhattan is better), I dread coming back. I have constant, daily anxiety living here, and it's a palpable tension which I can feel ruining my health and well-being.

I have absolutely no idea how to get over this. I'm tired of getting my hopes up. I told Eric he's in charge of figuring out where we live next, since I picked our last two neighborhoods/apartments and ended up regretting both. I'm unfortunately not terribly optimistic about the prospects.

Mosaic is awesome

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At a workshop today, I found perhaps the most perfect outlet yet for my obsessive tendencies: mosaic!

In a special two-day course attached to my chemistry class, we had the opportunity to make a mosaic. This week we laid out our designs from sketches:

I decided to make an image of cypress trees based on Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Cypresses, which I recently posted here.

We picked smalti tesserae in various colors for blending shades.

Then we used a cool nipping thing to cut the tiles down into smaller pieces.

In my case, I decided to go really micro and cut then into eighths (1/4 the size of the pieces seen here).

Using tweezers and a lot of care, we laid our mosaic pieces out onto the design, and once I got over the feelings of playing Operation, I really found the Zen of squeezing every possible tiny piece in as close together as I could.

When you're staring down at it from an angle, it looks like miniature corn niblets or a strange pixelated image, but as you move away it starts taking on forms and developing shading.

Obviously this is my first mosaic, so I haven't quite mastered making the image "read" the way it should, but I think some of the idea is getting across. I'm planning to border it all with bright red (the color of the poppies in this field), with gold pieces at the corners (gotta use the bling).

I really love this process, and I think it's easy enough to replicate at home. As an additional point of fantastic nerdistry, the tesserae we used came from the Orsoni glass factory in Venice, which I visited with a Materials & Techniques class. Words can't describe what a thrill that was for me.

Next week we mix a lime mortar, lay out a fresco-like under-layer and piece the tiles into the mosaic. I can't wait!!!


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I have lots and lots of things I want to talk about, and I keep opening up pages to write up posts, then falling asleep with my chin on my chest or getting distracted by something shiny.

In addition to the pretty important and exhausting things I had to do this week, I also had to buy seeds for a second attempt at an herb garden.

I really love cooking with fresh herbs, but I become increasingly resentful paying several dollars for a wilted little packet of them at the grocery. Because I left for Italy shortly after making containers last time, I never really got in the habit of herb maintenance. At first I under-watered, then overcompensated by over-watering, caused paradoxical dryness, and continued over-watering until I had some grayish brown, sad plant dust.

I am resolved that this batch will thrive. I'm starting them from seed, which may present an additional challenge, but I hope with some vigilance, I will have a nice little herb garden.

For the equally plant-enthused (hi, Mom), this is what I'm trying to grow this time around:

  • basil
  • lavender
  • catnip
  • chamomile
  • lemon grass
  • parsley
  • sage
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • cilantro
  • dill
  • chives
  • oregano

Delicious, right?

I have mentioned that we're going to move, and I hinted about how amazingly awesome the new place will be. Of course, it's fallen through (maybe just temporarily), but either way I still want to move somewhere that I can have plants in the ground. I am already dreaming of a huge productive garden and thinking how nice it will be to transfer my little plants there.

About this Archive

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

March 2008 is the previous archive.

May 2008 is the next archive.

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