January 2010 Archives

Opera high

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I've been totally slacking about writing about opera this season. (Oh, just about opera? Yes, I know.)

Actually, since writing about Die Zauberflote in October, I haven't mentioned any of the performances we've attended here, and there have been many (ToscaIl Trittico, dress rehearsal of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Les Contes d'HoffmannTurandot...).

All these were eclipsed, though, by the truly amazing performance of Simon Boccanegra that we saw on Monday, starring Plácido Domingo as the title role. I had never seen him perform live before, and it was everything I dreamed opera could be. The emotional intensity and artistry in every phrase was astonishing, and the youthful energy and clarity of his voice made both my mother and I do a double-take. I mean, the guy's a living legend, so you could almost take for granted that it was going to be incredible, but I honestly was humbled to see someone so staggeringly good at what he does, doing it his best.

I feel like it must be enormously overwhelming to be cast alongside Plácido Domingo, even for a seasoned performer. In the case of the soprano, Canadian Adrianne Pieczonka, it was her first time in the role of Maria/Amelia Grimaldi, and she rose to the occasion brilliantly. Marcello Giordani, the tenor playing Gabrielle Adorno was equally marvelous, and I kept thinking that if I were seeing another show, where someone else were playing the titular baritone, they would have been stand-out highlight performances. They both had such beautiful voices, and in scenes where all three were singing, I felt like my ears might burst with the sheer gorgeousness of the tones created. But Domingo. My God, there is only one Plácido Domingo, isn't there?

After such an awe-inspiring performance, I didn't think I could feel greater emotions. I mean, it was opera-gasm, to say the least. Oh, but then we got to meet three of the principles backstage, including Mr Domingo.

Let me just say that again, since I am still incredulous myself.

I met Plácido Domingo.

He put his arm around my mother and was humming in her ear. She got to hear the tune that was stuck in Plácido Domingo's head. We both got to see up close just how warm, friendly, gentle, charming, and kind a human being he really is. And handsome. My goodness, I forgot just how handsome he is.

More photos (admittedly not the greatest quality, sigh) in my Opera album on Flickr.


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(Edit: There used to be an awesome video from the last episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien playing Freebird with Will Ferrell, Billy Gibbons, Beck, Ben Harper, Max Weinberg etc. But then NBC continued sucking and took that off the air too. Or well, off YouTube. You know what I mean.)

So now, watch the whole episode on Hulu!


(Direct link)

I have big things to talk about (always, right?) and exciting things to talk about, but they all take more time and attention than I have at present.

So yay, it's shallow, girly things!

Like these shoes.

OMG, these shoes. They are on their way to my house right now, and if UPS is to be believed, they should arrive in a matter of hours. I'm actually like, dancing around in excitement.

I love shoes so much it's a little scary, and even though I currently own entirely too many pairs, these were on super ridiculous sale and, yknow, look at them! Sigh...

Also on their way...

Swoon. I may truly have lost my mind.

Next, hair.

(I know, right??? Didn't I promise this would be shallow?)

On this last trip to Italy, a Russian guy told me they have a word to describe my hair color. It roughly translates to "not really blonde." I thought he was teasing, but he insisted that my hair really isn't blonde, it's more a light brown or a reddish blonde at best. I know he's right, as my hair has been getting progressively darker each year since childhood, but damn.

My friend / labmate Daria snapped this cell phone photo of me mesmerized in front of one of my favorite paintings in the world at the Met on Friday, and it underscored to me how "not really blonde" I'm looking lately (also how badly I need a haircut, yikes).

I decided I'm going to lighten my hair, just a little. I don't plan to go anywhere near platinum or your typical fake shades of blonde, just a leeeeettle bit lighter. Maybe in the neighborhood of January Jones.

I read a description of her recently as a "Hitchcock blonde," a term I'd never heard before but instantly understood. I think, without having a word for it, that is what I've subconsciously aimed for here and there over the years.

You could do a lot worse than Grace Kelly, yknow?

I have a paper problem

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I'm glad that I finally laid out what I'm working on lately, since now I can blather on about it incessantly and not feel the need to write lengthy introductory paragraphs or just casually drop in "oh, yeah, I'm applying for a second bachelor's."

This is a super frustrating process in its own right, because I have to come up with a lot of information that I've mentally filed away under "don't care, never need again" many years ago. It is compounded, however, by a massive organization problem, the true extent of which I think even I haven't faced until recently.

To wit...

Selected Items I Can Easily Find at a Moment's Notice with Zero Effort:
- the retainer I haven't worn regularly in more than a decade
- the leftover yarn of every pair of socks I've ever knit
- receipts for every pack of gum or train ticket I've ever bought (but not important purchase receipts, and especially not if I need to return something)
- A small digital scale that I use so infrequently I must replace the batteries every other use
- everything even remotely related to my sailboat or kayak
- my floppy beach hat

Items I Have Spent Hours or Days Seeking and Lose Regularly:
- my passport
- my birth certificate, social security card, and my checkbook
- any necessary (and especially expensive or flammable) art supplies purchased for a specific project
- any important paperwork to do with school, including graduation applications
- the notes or articles I require to finish a paper or master's thesis, bonus if they are photocopies of obscure sources that took many hours to procure like out-of-print books from a research library in Venice
- any receipt for which I am entitled to reimbursement from work, especially if it was really expensive and I didn't have the money to pay for it in the first place
- any piece of paper I have previously deemed important and made a mental note not to lose, especiallyif I've gone to any effort to put it "somewhere safe"

The theme, of course, is that when I try to protect things, especially paper things, I am guaranteed to lose or destroy them. Which is to say that if I someday have a baby, I should plan to keep it on the roof of my car or shoved between couch cushions.

Also, paper is evil. I genuinely loathe paper, and I go on at length about how much I dislike it at work (I use "paper conservation" as a slur, and I refer to detestable things as, like, "the paper of hotels" or "the paper of philosophy treatises"). I have tactile issues with newsprint and most mass-produced copier paper. The only paper I like, at all, is drawing paper, and it's taken me years to come to terms with that (the very instant I find a more absorbent medium for ink and watercolor, I'm bailing).

That said, I am surrounded by and dependent upon paper (this is absolutely why I hate it). I dream of a time in my life where I won't own binders full of articles (because they'll all be on my computer where they belong!) or little stacks of rubber-banded-together notes and cards or fugitive suitcases full of Important Stuff I Can't Lose. In that time, paper will be just for writing and drawing upon, to use for disposable lists which I actually throw out after using or small hand-written greetings that others don't feel the compulsion to keep either. And I won't even consider things like filing cabinets or carts because I won't own a single manila hang-tab folder because every paper I actually need will easily fit in one small, meticulously organized space like a safe deposit box or something (Oh God, let it be the bank's problem!).

Man, it's so good to dream.

Saturday Breakfast

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I don't have any idea how it happened, but I finally got on a decent sleep schedule this week, and after a few days of going into work early, I popped out of bed early this morning.

(It probably doesn't hurt that I was dreaming about making pancakes.)

I hung out with my father, brother, and one of their friends before they took off, and since I was up, I decided to make my pancake dream come true with a nice breakfast for my mother.

For a fruitier version, I minced apricots and mixed them in the pancake batter, and instead of maple syrup, I made homemade pineapple-orange, which was really quite delicious.

Oh, and bacon. Lots and lots of bacon.

What I'm doing with my life

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When you talk as much as I do, you're bound to blurt something out that surprises even yourself. This happened a little after Christmas, when I was having drinks with a friend and we were talking about our relationships with our parents.

I suddenly heard myself saying, "But with my dad, well I guess he figured I'd be married and someone else's problem by now... and so did I." My friend looked at me for a second as my brain caught up with my mouth, and I realized the gravity of what I'd just said.

(For the record, neither of my parents treat me like a "problem" - I meant that my father worries a lot about how I'm going to support myself, as do I.)

My whole life, I've been encouraged to dream. My brother and I made an agreement when we were very young that we were going to do whatever we wanted in life, our logic being that someone gets to live our dreams, so it may as well be us. This attitude has been both tremendously liberating and horribly impractical, since I rarely consider the monetary ramifications of decisions I make. I sort of just do what I want and try to figure out how to pay for it afterwards.

As I thought about where I'd be at 28, I admittedly always figured there would be some guy in the picture, making decisions with me. This wasn't always in some starry-eyed far-off capacity - for three years from the time I was 23, I was living with my ex-boyfriend and very seriously believed we were building a life together.

I was kind of dazed when that didn't work out (in case you didn't notice), and I moved into my parents' house, trying to figure some things out while finishing my degrees. This has involved a ridiculously long, expensive and stressful commute (minimally 3 hours by car, 6 hours by train), which bookends most days with untold exhaustion and frustration. I really genuinely love the job I work, and I'm planning to pursue another degree or two to be able to do this all the time (I'll get to that in a moment), since I finally found the field that combines my interests, education, and talents. Having this carrot is just about the only thing that keeps me motivated to keep traveling to Brooklyn, to finish my theses, and to move on with my life.

Another thing I blurted out recently was that I've never been able to fully support myself with any of the jobs I've ever worked. Really, not even close.

The summer after I graduated from undergrad, I was working a job that was split between Brooklyn and New Jersey (oddly prescient, now that I think of it). It was an accounts receivable position for a luxury clothing store that also included facets of purchase ordering, receiving, database maintenance, tracking down inventory problems, personal shopping, cashiering, and so forth. I worked it for more than a year, and I didn't hate it as much as I probably should have - the job itself was fine, and most of the people were great - but it was a serious effort to force myself to show up. Over time, this became more and more ridiculous, and as much as I didn't want to admit it, I understood that the main cause of my dissatisfaction was money. I did the math and determined that if I worked every single hour possible, every day the store was open, and as much overtime as I could arrange, I was still hundreds of dollars short of my monthly expenses and would never, ever be able to support myself with that job alone. When I was offered assistant buyer and management responsibilities with no additional pay, I realized it was time to go.

My biggest nightmare (and probably a large part of why I continue to live on student loans and procrastinate finishing my degrees) is graduating with two master's degrees and having either no job possibilities, or only those of the same caliber as when I graduated with my first follow-your-dreams degree in painting (which is to say positions that would like you to have a master's degree, five years of experience and want to pay you less than a barrista at Starbucks, before tips).

I hate myself, often, for feeling this way, but right now the main thing I care about is being able to pay for my own apartment, to adequately cover my expenses and support myself like an adult. And that issooooo far away from right now.

The plan I make can't just float me for a while at my parents' house, nor get me set up with a bunch of roommates scrapping together while I peter out my twenties and loll around in my thirties. I need a serious career path, the likes of which will carry me through the next couple steps and into paying off my student loan debt, buying my own car and house (or whatever), and being able to support myself the rest of my life alone if necessary, since I really can't bank on meeting another person and making a marriage work. Or if I do, it'll be nice to not have to struggle all the time and spend half of our relationship fighting about money.

My plan is a kind of ridiculous and irresponsible one, but it's the best one I've got after an immense amount of thought. I'm going to pursue another set of degrees, in chemistry, at schools in the NY area so that I can live in the city. This is not just a degree out of nowhere: it's the third necessary facet of a career in art conservation science, but it feels like such a huge undertaking to add a new field to what I'm already doing.

Most of the art conservators (and related people) whom I've encountered have come into the field through one of a handful of schools (there are currently only 5 degree-granting programs in the US) and very, very few have more than 4 semesters of chemistry (Inorganic I and II and Organic I and II). With this relatively limited education in chemistry, these are the people making decisions about conservation treatments and preservation issues. I've attended a handful of conferences and talks since I started my current job, and I quickly realized that I don't want to go into art conservation - I want to go into art conservation science.

I think that when most people think of art conservation, their immediate connotations are of Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters II, wearing those weird little magnifying glasses and cleaning paintings. That's about as far from what I'd like to do as that old accounts receivable position was from being a fashion designer.

What I do at my job, and what I would like to do in my career, is use nondestructive spectroscopy and analytical chemistry methods to study artist's materials and techniques and degradation processes of art. Material and technical analysis of art is invaluable for art historians and conservators (my thesis advisor and I are constantly talking about needing more specific information about art than connoisseurship and traditional art history research and documentation can provide), and using nondestructive methods allows for precious, fragile works of art to remain intact, while also giving insight into conservation issues that aren't readily apparent by customary observation. I find that in my encounters with painters, very few really understand their materials outside of a trial and error approach (which is a lovely aspect of studio experimentation, but leads to a lot of reinventing the wheel). As artists move further and further away from making their own paints or materials, the conservation issues multiply like crazy. By contrast, the greatest artists, I've found, had an intimate understanding of their materials. Lastly, while using forensics science to analyze art (and here, I mean forensics chemistry, not criminal forensics like CSI), you learn what the spectroscopy techniques are capable of, contributing to the fields of analytical and organic chemistry alike.

I realize that, like any field, this stuff is mostly only interesting to people in it, and when I start talking about our research and what I do for work, many people glaze over until they hear words like "Italy" and "Pompeii." For me, it really is the perfect marriage of art and science, and to be able to do it, I need to get myself as familiar with chemistry as I am with painting and art history. Actually, much moreso, since it's going to be the majority of what I do.

In the back of my mind, as I face the daunting prospect of a second bachelor's (and eventually, PhD) in chemistry, is the answer to the nagging thought that started this diatribe: with degrees in hard science, I can finally work real jobs.

And since I am being honest from now on (man what a pain that is, already), I think even if I don't have anything to do with art conservation research except as a hobby or on vacations, I could be happy working in plain old chemistry. There isn't that much difference between studying the proteins of paint binders and parchment versus the proteins of medicine or industry. The list of things I'd like to do in chemistry in seemingly endless, and the lab is the first place I've felt as at home as in my studio... but people will pay me to work in a lab.

I used to say that I'd be happy as long as I was doing something I loved, but I have to face reality now and amend that statement. I will be happy as long as I can support myself, for real, by doing something I love.

So this is the new year

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A friend of mine was turning 30 this year (I guess now that should be "last year"), and he said he felt that being 29 was the occasion to resolve everything he didn't want to bring into his thirties. It feels that way, at the end of a decade, or at the end of any year really, which is probably part of why most New Year's celebrations are accompanied by pretty heavy depression for me.

I don't like the idea of changing or making a fresh start because the calendar flips over, and it perhaps speaks to problematic cynicism that I see it more as another time to mess up. January feels like fresh snow or a white carpet that I know I'm going to trip and spill my tea onto, staining the whole year, and that's just too much pressure.

Last year, I was full of resolutions and ideas for how to make my life better. Right now I barely even have the heart to read them because I hate feeling such consummate disappointment. I didn't change much of anything last year - actually I made a lot of things much worse - but a lot of weird stuff happened, which I used as excuses. I don't want to do that anymore.

I have all these huge goals now, and even making lists of the steps involved launches me into gigantic bouts of panic and despair (followed shortly by paralysis or stasis). On one hand, it's good to know what I want, to have such a clear vision of it that I am physically pained at the thought of not having it, but on the other it is daunting as all hell. If it didn't mean so much, it wouldn't be so scary to risk failing.

I think the most useful resolution of any for me right now is to Be Honest. With myself, with coworkers and my boss, with my family and friends, with the person I keep telling myself I love... people deserve to know the truth. Corollary, I realize, or probably fundamental to this, is to Be Brave. Dishonesty (or in my case, reticence) is rooted in cowardice for me, and avoiding taking responsibility for myself, my actions and heart, is all to do with being afraid.

This isn't going to become Vicki's Self-Flagellation Blog, but it might not always be cheerful. That's just the way my life is now.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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