Monday, December 29

Holiday Break

I hope you all had a great holiday. As planned, Eric and I spent Christmas in Illinois with my family. The weather didn't cause us any travel difficulties, but it did bounce around from bad to worse to okay every ten minutes or so. It was so nice to have a chance to see family and friends that I don't get to see very often. Per tradition I overindulged in calorie-packed foods and sweets...and just as soon as New Year's Eve has come and gone I'll stop eating like an unsupervised six year old.

We'll be spending the last day of the year with his parents--thank goodness that involves no air travel! We didn't encounter any weather-related travel delays, but on the way back we were delayed waiting on connecting passengers who were trying to make the last flight of the day to L.A. Once we finally landed, LAX was packed and the taxi line was monumental. Even though we live only fifteen minutes from the airport, with the taxi line wait we didn't get home until over an hour and a half after we landed. I know it wasn't the same degree of trouble experienced by some holiday travelers, but it was frustrating nonetheless.

I wasn't surprised today to discover we didn't have a scrap of food in the place. After an extensive grocery trip, we're back in business. Now that we have food and are unpacked, I think we're pretty well settled in again. Even though I'd mentioned it to him at least two or three times before, Eric was "bummed" to learn I still have another week off. It's not my company he objects to so much as my presence--when I'm home he knows he's not going to get to sit around and play Xbox all day. We've gotten pretty good at compromising about it, though. I have some new books I want to read, so I can get into those while he works on his hand-eye coordination.

My only real plan for the week is to enjoy the rest of my time off, allowing myself to be lazy and do as little as possible. That being the case, I'm going to wrap this up and get to it!

Wednesday, December 17

Almost Home

It is a cold and rainy day here in L.A., one of the coldest and wettest I've experienced here in Malibu. Rumor has it someone spotted a few snowflakes fluttering in the wind. (It made the news, so it must be true. Click here for the story.) There were very few of them, of course, and they melted instantly on contact, but it gives you an idea of what today has been like. I actually don't mind the weather--we get so little of it here--what I mind is having to drive in it. Drivers here are insane under normal circumstances, and when you add something like rain it really gets dicey. Only a few more days until I get to board a plane home for the holiday. I have no idea exactly how I'm going to be able to get everything done I need to between now and Sunday morning. Usually it all somehow gets done, so I guess I'm just going to have to count on it happening again this time around.

Aside from the usual holiday bustle, the rain this week revealed a leak at our bedroom window. This Monday when I woke up and went to peek out of the blinds, my barefoot stepped on cold, wet carpet. Wonderful. That discovery began a process of working with maintenance to dry the carpet, ultimately resulting in the delivery of a dehumidifier. This machine is so ancient it should be on display at the Villa. It seemed relatively harmless until I turned it on. The filter has probably never been changed, and as it sucked up the moisture, the filter was dampened and began emitting a stomach-turning mildew/mold stench. We ran it for as long as we could stand it and when we couldn't take it anymore I turned it off. Even when it was off the stench was still there. Maintenance finally returned to collect it this afternoon, so I'm currently trying to clear the air around here with every Glade candle I could find in the place.

Assuming the scented candles do their job, the apartment should be back to it's normal warm and cozy holiday self soon. We've already received several Christmas cards from friends and family that are helping to make the living room festive. Sinful goodies are also rolling in from work, along with a few other gifts. I have a pragmatic reputation, so I got some very nice lotions--including some peppermint oil tingling foot cream (gonna have to keep that out of Eric's reach). The general consensus around the office seems to be that we teachers deserve to pamper ourselves. That's exactly what I intend to do. just a couple of more days.

Friday, December 12

Sketching Herakles

Last month one of our teachers brought back a rather entertaining souvenir from an "Art Odyssey" lesson, which is our family program at the museum and is meant for family members of all ages. She featured mythological heroes in the lesson, and as the activity at the end asked everyone to sketch one of the most famous statues in the Villa's collection, the Landsdowne Herakles:

Below is the drawing that a grandmother on the tour produced:

I wonder what was on grandma's mind?

Monday, December 8

Christmastime Is Here

I'm settling in this morning with a cup of coffee to catch up on email and various other cyber to-do's. It's already 11 o'clock, I'm still lounging around in my pajamas. Eric is on campus, so I have the place to myself. I love days off. This past weekend was my December Saturday-Sunday weekend off (usually I'm off Monday-Tuesday), so Eric and I took advantage of it and used Saturday to get our Christmas tree and decorate the apartment. The Christmas tree lot was predictably busy, but luckily the 7-8' trees weren't entirely picked over. We examined several candidates. Well, Eric got all dirty and sticky with sap while I examined them. That's his job.

After a few eliminations Eric's mom spotted a nice full noble fir in good shape. We shook it out to confirm first impressions, and once it was declared worthy we claimed our tree and loaded it in the truck. Well, Eric loaded it. That's his job.

There was the annual discovery of faulty strings of lights and the annual trip to get more to replace them, but before the day was out we had the tree decorated. It looks great--hopefully we can keep it looking good through the holiday season. We cleaned and decorated all afternoon and had the place cozy and Christmas-y by the time friends came over that evening.

Sunday was another busy day for me. I ran all sorts of errands, did the grocery shopping, more cleaning, and laundry. I even made my first batch of homemade candy (butterscotch haystacks) for the season. Having done quite enough yesterday, today I'm giving myself permission to do nothing at all. It's hard to believe that I have only two weeks or so before boarding a plane home. I almost can't believe I'm going to have two weeks off for the holidays this year--that hasn't happened in a very, very long time. I plan to make the most of it!

Thursday, November 27

Thanksgiving & the Arrival of Jeffery Alexander

Eric and I had quite a busy Thanksgiving at the Wells house, although not as busy as others. A morning phone call found both of us lounging around--me with a cup of coffee in front of the t.v. and Eric still in bed. In the small hours of Thanksgiving morning, Eric's sister, Heather, made an unexpectedly early trip to the hospital to give birth to a baby boy, Jeffery Alexander. Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is always a lot of work, but this meant we would be short-handed. It was a busy day of cooking, but everyone pitched in and helped out. Even our friend George (seen below) got involved and prepared one of the turkeys the way it's sometimes done in England, stuffing it with sausage meatballs and covering the outside with strips of bacon. Sure, the English aren't exactly well-known for their cooking talents, but the turkey was very tasty.

By six o'clock everyone was properly stuffed, and once we could be persuaded to move again we headed for the hospital to visit Heather and the baby. Jeffery Alexander was born six pounds and a bit, and much earlier than his planned mid-December arrival. He's doing just fine, so I guess he was the better judge as to when he wanted to be born.

Uncle Eric, of course, was eager to hold his new nephew.

He was even persuaded once or twice to give Aunt Amber a turn as well, as you can see. Babies are cute and sweet when they just lay around and sleep, which is all Jeffery felt like doing at the time. I'll be watching to see how eager Uncle Eric is when he's around for the fussiness and dirty diapers. :-) His talents for diaper dodging from the infant days of Jeffery's big sister Genna are legendary, so we'll see how this time around goes.

Monday, November 17

When Lion's Eyes Are Smiling

Not long ago my colleagues and I were once more in the galleries, engaged in a discussion of an object in the collection. This particular object, a marble sarcophagus with a wine-making scene, is one I feel I'm intimately familiar with. I have two focus tours, one featuring a discussion of death and the afterlife, and one that specifically concentrates on sarcophagi, and this sarcophagus is included in both. So, I often find myself standing next to it, breaking down the scene and talking with visitors about what they're seeing. Still, there is always something more to think about or learn, and I was reminded of that when one of my fellow educators commented on the lion's eyes. Sure enough, I took a step closer, and this is what I saw:

Both pairs of lion eyes were smiling back at me! Could it be? Here before me was evidence that it was actually the Romans who invented that ubiquitous symbol of cheer, the Smiley Face! ...Just kidding. As many times as such archaeological leaps of logic are made, I think it's pretty obvious in this case that it was a graffiti artist much later than any ancient Roman that added smiles to the lions' eyes. I don't remember the curators or conservators ever bringing this feature of the sarcophagus up during our briefing on this object when it was first put on display earlier this year. I'm sure they're aware of it--they go over possible acquisitions with painstaking thoroughness--so I find it interesting the smiley faces weren't mentioned.

In any case, it's an entertaining new detail to add to my picture of what this object's modern life has been like since it was removed from it's archaeological context.

Sunday, November 16

Virtual Spotlight

This week I had a performance evaluation, part of which was a video observation. As a result, one of my "spotlight" talks on the mummy of Herakleides was recorded. Since there are several friends and family who have mentioned they would like to see some of what I do, I've uploaded the video here. The whole talk is around twenty-three minutes long, so I had to break it into three parts in order to upload it. You can't really see the mummy very well in the video, but keep in mind the idea of recording it was to allow me to see and evaluate myself. While not a true gallery experience, it does at least give you a virtual idea of the public part of my job.

Monday, November 10

Good Stuff

Sunday Eric was out of town visiting a friend, so I went with some friends in search of a little autumn fun. We found our way to Riley's apple orchard in Oak Glen. It was overcast and a cherry-red nose, see-your-breath chilly day, but we had fun in spite of the cold. It was just the sort of activity I was looking for to really get into the fall season. To start things off we grabbed a bag and a picking pole so we could pick our own apples.

With it being the height of the fall season, the only apples that were left were pretty much on the very top branches of the trees. Luckily we had one of the longer picking poles, so we were able to reach just about everything we could see. After picking a bagful of apples, it was time to satisfy our appetites. They had plenty of great homemade dishes to choose from for lunch. I went with the BBQ tri-tip sandwich, potato salad, and cowboy beans. And, ahem, an apple pie to go. Fortunately the food was piping hot, because the tables inside were completely full and we had to eat outside in the cold. At one point, the temperature had dropped so much the light drizzle turned to hail for a few minutes. That was a bit of a surreal moment. It was definitely the first time I've seen hail in California. The tri-tip was really, really good. After lunch we took some time to check out the country store, perusing all of the goodies it had to offer. I ended up with a gallon of cider, an apple pie, and some blackberry preserves--plus some of the apples we picked.
By the time we were getting ready to leave the clouds were darkening to a forbidding steely gray. I don't know if you can see it well in this picture, but if you take a look toward the tops of the mountains, you can see the snow starting to dust the trees up there. It was a beautiful view. As fun as my day outside of the city was, my favorite part of it was getting home and settling under a blanket with a warm piece of that apple pie topped with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream. Now that is good stuff.

Saturday, November 8

Helping Hands

Today I helped build a house. I was up with the sun and on the 405 shortly thereafter in order to be at the job site in Pacoima by 8 o'clock. Along with my friends Carla and Nicole, I'd volunteered to work for Habitat for Humanity for the day. There were several other volunteers--many from UCLA (Go Bruins!)--and we had a blast all day sweeping, moving windows, and painting. I genuinely enjoyed getting dusty and dirty doing some physical work. Museums are all well and good, but nothing makes you feel like you've put in a good day's work than going home sweaty and dirty with a backache. (Check, check, and check.) There's nothing better than having fun and knowing you're doing something good for someone else at the same time.

Carla, Nicole, and I at the job site.

We even met one of the future home owners. Gregorio is a little over halfway through his 300 hours of service to Habitat, and pride and excitement was apparent on his face as he spoke of the prospect of owning his own home. "It's a good dream," he said.

That it is.

Tuesday, November 4

Witness to History

America made history tonight. For me the night was anxiety and excitement and goose bumps and misty eyes and an overall feeling of the awesomeness of this moment. It has been a night to remember.

As someone who is--mostly--prone to idealism rather than cynicism, my favorite line of President Elect Obama's speech was this:

" all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope."

Election Day '08

One nice thing about living in the city is that my polling place is within walking distance of my apartment. I was there by 6:50 a.m., and already the line extended down the block. It was a beautiful sunny rainy morning, with the sun shining brightly in spite of the dark steely rain clouds filling the sky. (That's right, in California the sun still shines even when it's raining.) In spite of the ever-growing line snaking out the door of the school auditorium, every one I saw had a smile on their face, amiably chatting with others in line. Maybe they were happy to be casting a ballot, but I suspect a lot of people were as happy as I was that today means the beginning of the end of this incredibly long election process. No one was complaining about the line, and no one was leaving until their ballot was cast.

Once I finally got into the school auditorium it didn't take long to vote and hand my ballot to the smiling elderly man who fed it into the balloting machine and watched the light turn green. I got my "I voted" sticker, and was out the door. All told, the whole thing took me only an hour or so. Even though I'm fully aware of how desperately our country needs to update and reform the voting system, I enjoy Election Day. I like standing up and participating in democracy. I am also proud to do so, knowing that I am part of a segment of the population that was for so much of this country's history denied this basic right of citizenship.

With my most important task of the day completed, I can kick back and watch it all play out with the excitement and anticipation of a true history geek. Studying history is a passion of mine, but living history is way more cool.

Right now I'm at work attempting to get something done while listening to online election coverage. This afternoon I'll head home, tune into my favorite cable news channel, order a pizza, and settle in to watch the returns.

Friday, October 31

Halloween Poetry

A couple of years ago, I was going through old papers and such, and I ran across a very old green spiral notebook with one of my early literary efforts preserved in it. It's not Shakespeare, but it made me smile--in third grade my homeroom was classroom #3, and my class was known for being a bit rowdy. I reproduce the poem here, just as I found it. Hopefully it will make you smile too... Happy Halloween!
The Ghost of Classroom #3
by Amber Myers (age 8)
There’s a tapping at the window,
A moaning at the door,
And something ectoplasmic
Is sticking to the floor…
But don’t panic, don’t be frightened
By anything you see,
It’s really nothing special,
Just the Ghost of Classroom Three.
It doesn’t come out often,
Just once or twice a year,
It wanders around then,
It disappears.
Sometimes it sits at the desk,
Marking books continuously,
But it’s really nothing special,
Just the Ghost of Classroom Three.
Some say it was a teacher
Who met a nasty end,
She had a class of nasty kids
That drove her around the bend.
And sometimes there is screaming,
And it weeps dismally,
But it’s really nothing special,
Just the Ghost of Classroom Three.
She swore she’d come and haunt them,
But they laughed and didn’t care,
And now she haunts the cupboard
(Which otherwise is bare).
And sometimes there are others,
A whole classroom full you can see,
Doing endless homework
For the Ghost of Classroom Three.
Some say it isn’t possible,
And it’s just a story,
But classroom three you must admit,
Feels different, sort of eerie.
And once upon the blackboard,
Someone wrote mysteriously,
‘I’ll haunt this school forever,
I’m the Ghost of Classroom Three.’
There’s a rapping at the desktops,
A rattling at the door,
And something is trying to get out
Of the teacher’s locked desk drawer.
But don’t panic, don’t be frightened,
Don’t scare too easily,
It’s really nothing special,
Just the Ghost of Classroom Three.

Wednesday, October 29

Orpheus, Hetairai, and Sirens, Oh My...

There is an interesting new exhibition opening at the Villa this week. While the subject of the Getty Villa's collection is Classical antiquity, this new exhibit features contemporary art. This is a particularly interesting and challenging teaching opportunity for me because I am by no means a fan of contemporary art. The exhibition I'm referring to is "Jim Dine: Poet Singing (The Flowering Sheets)." The concept of the exhibit is that Jim Dine, a contemporary artist, created an exhibit after being inspired by objects in the Getty Villa's collection. In particular, he took his inspiration from "Poet as Orpheus with Two Sirens," "Statuette of a Dancer," and "Statuette of a Dancer Playing the Lyre."

All of these are ancient Greek artifacts made out of terracotta and are believed to come from southern Italy. The Orpheus and sirens are large, semi life-sized figures, but both dancer statuettes are less than twelve inches high. All of them at one time were brightly painted. The dancer figurines were possibly votive offerings to deities or funerary offerings to the deceased. The Orpheus group, according to the Getty, came from an ancient Greek burial in southern Italy. It has been suggested that the Orpheus figure is the deceased dressed as Orpheus, thus identifying himself with Orpheus's musical abilities and--maybe more likely--Orpheus's return from the gloomy Underworld. (Orpheus was one of a very few ancient Greek heroes that returned to earth after venturing into the Underworld.) Sirens, of course, are strange bird-woman creatures of Greek mythology who sing a "siren song." The sirens' song was so beautiful it was said to hypnotically seduce sailors and lure them to their deaths by causing them to shipwreck on the rocky shores of the island on which the sirens perched.

Statuette of a Dancer
Greek, 330-200 BCE

Statuette of a Dancer Playing the Lyre
Greek, 200-100 BCE

Poet as Orpheus with Two Sirens,
Greek, 350-300 BCE

This Orpheus group evoked in Dine's mind the idea of a poet surrounded by his muses. (This was his creative inspiration, but remember sirens are not muses.) The dancers took the place of the sirens surrounding the poet, and from that image he created his own artistic arrangement. You can see the images of his work installed at the Villa and a short film of Dine discussing the project here. Dine's artistic vision manifests itself in four eight-foot-high painted wood female figures modeled on the dancer figurines arranged around a seven-foot-high self-portrait head. The walls are covered in a poem by Dine, handwritten in charcoal. An audio recording of Dine reading his poem plays in the background. His poem wasn't written explicitly for this project, but it was written while he was working on it. As hallucinogenic as most contemporary art seems to me, I get this exhibit in the sense that I see that Dine is expressing a connection and communion with ancient artists.

In this instance, I think my perspective is disadvantaged with the archaeological truth behind the objects which inspired him. I've already mentioned that his central inspiration for the project, the Orpheus group, is a poet flanked by sirens--malevolent creatures that lured men to their deaths--not muses. Also, all of the objects he took as his creative focus are made of terracotta, and were created from molds. So, the idea of "communion" with the ancient artist loses its romanticism if you know Dine's counterpart 2,000 years ago (or so) was just slapping clay into a mold and firing the figurines in a kiln. Add to that knowledge the fact that these dancers do not at all represent muses. They likely represent hetairai--high-end, courtesan-type entertainers--who danced and played music as a way to demonstrate their cultured talents to their elite clientele. So, you can see how this knowledge kind of takes me out of the artistic mind-set...

However, I understand that Dine is separated from a detailed knowledge of the archaeology of these objects, which allows him to simply let his creative impulses carry him to his vision. For me, instead of seeing a contemporary artist communing with ancient artists, I see a twenty-first century man looking at this ancient artifacts completely through the lens of his own creative experience. The poem jotted on the walls of the exhibit is largely autobiographical, and in this literary expression as in the artistic expression, he sees himself as Orpheus, a poet: "Once brightly painted/I am a southern Italian singer and prophet/Listing to the left of my companions."

Dine's work is visually intriguing, and I can find some meaning in it (unlike a lot of other contemporary art), so in that sense I enjoy it. I was thinking about my own response to his work, and interestingly, I think I would be more accepting of his artistic license if his creative expression was limited to the poem. For some reason the added visual element narrows my window of artistic appreciation.

I didn't intend for this entry to be quite so long, but this has actually helped me clarify my own reaction to the exhibit, and I feel better now about presenting this show to the public. Attempting to assign any meaning for Dine's work for someone else would be doing the visitor and his art a disservice. Besides, as I think I've established here, the central meaning I find in it is the artist's unfamiliarity with the history of the artifacts that inspired him--and the average visitor isn't going to find such information all that helpful in their attempts to understand Dine's work. That being the case, all I can do is present them with the history of the project and then step back and allow them to gauge their own thoughts, reactions, and opinions.

All things considered, I think there is enough creativity in archaeology without contemporary artists adding to the mix. If you have an opinion about contemporary art being shown at a museum dedicated to antiquity, leave a comment--I'd like to hear what you think...

Monday, October 27


Okay, so I'm never writing about fighting germs again. Within twenty-four hours of my post on the subject, I discovered a germy viper in my own nest. Eric (a.k.a. the weakest link) had caught a dreaded rhinovirus, and in spite of my efforts to steer clear of him, there was no hope. When public speaking is a part of your job, one of the worst things to have is a head full of cotton and a sore throat. I managed to drag myself through the week with various Nyquil formulas, Chloraseptic, and cough drops. All in all, it was a relatively miserable week.

Today I'm off and I feel more like myself--just in time to do my chores and laundry for the week. Figures!

Monday, October 20

A Long Week

It's beginning to be that time of year when I really start to miss fall in the Midwest. I love cozy sweaters and cool, crisp fall weather and watching the leaves on the trees slowly turn to a rainbow of earthy colors. The many colors of fall don't really make an appearance here in southern California, and if they do the sight is always ruined by a stray palm tree here and there. The cool weather, on the other hand, is just now beginning to turn mornings into definite sweater weather. Working at the Villa, I'm outside a lot of the time--especially in the mornings when we organize for school groups--so I've been happy to pull out my sweaters to keep me warm on those cool mornings. It was a very long, quiet week.

As cooler weather arrived this week and more kids pour into the museum, I was reminded I'm doomed to fight a losing battle this season. I work in a public place, and a lot of my audience members are kids. Or, as I like to think of them, repositories of vicious rhinoviruses that are just waiting to take on my immune system as their next challenge. This weekend I had a particularly cute group of four and five-year-olds and their parents for my Art Odyssey family tour. The lesson I was doing with them was mainly based in storytelling about heroes and monsters, so I asked everyone to sit around on the floor in front of the object we were talking about. One of the littlest ones seemed to think I was the greatest thing since sliced bread and curled up in my lap to settle in. Most teachers would have taken this as a positive sign that at least some of her audience was engaged. Instead, my first thought was that I should double my dose of Airborne for the day. These little half-pint museum goers are my cutest and most entertaining audience, but there is danger lurking behind those toothless grins. I fortify my defenses with hand sanitizer, incredibly high doses of vitamin C, and super immunity boosting multi-vitamins, but who knows for sure how much it helps my chances of dodging a bullet? The long winter siege has begun.

Time to plop an Airborne.

Sunday, October 12

A Goddess on Her Knees

As some of you faithful readers know, I sometimes post here a Villa "Spotlight" object. (For those of you anticipating a "boring" post full of useless facts mined from the depths of my grey matter and various academic publications, I encourage you to stick it out. There is a punchline.) Each month part of our programming at the museum includes featuring one object from the collection as the month's spotlight. We take people into the galleries once a day and discuss just one object in-depth. This month our spotlight object is the "Cult Statue of a Goddess, perhaps Aphrodite." The "perhaps" in the title on her gallery label suggests we aren't sure of the answer to a fundamental question: Who is this colossal goddess? Without the benefit of the identifying attributes she surely once held in her hands, her identity is uncertain. She could be Demeter, Hera, Aphrodite or Persephone, a fertility goddess. The way that the transparent fabric of her chiton and himation clings to her full and sensuous figure, leaving little to the imagination, strongly suggests Aphrodite to some, but the current scholarly consensus is that Persephone is the more likely candidate.

This is a larger than life sized statue (7.5 feet tall) and is the largest statue in the Villa's collection. Her head looks small compared to the rest of her body, but originally she once wore a veil (see the image of the drawing below), which would have negated that effect. The sculpture was carved from limestone, which shows traces of red, blue, and pink paint. So, when she was first created, she would have been brightly painted, looking very different than she does today. Her head, arms, and feet are made from marble. Combining two types of stone in statuary was not unusual in Sicily, where this statue was probably created. Limestone was a local, easily obtainable stone in Sicily, but quality marble was not. Therefore the Sicilians used limestone for the majority of the statue, and only used marble for her head and extremities. (Importing enough marble to create an entire statue from would have been prohibitively expensive.) Statues created using two types of stone like this are called acrolithic sculptures, and were rarely found in Greece--there was no need for them to use two types of stone because they had plenty of quality marble.

The sculptural style of the clinging clothes allow curators to date the statue to the late 400's BCE, which was when that style was popular in Athens. It's sometimes called the "wet drapery" style, although it's possible the effect is meant to suggest the goddess's clothes blowing in the wind. Personally, I like the "wet drapery" idea--perhaps this statue is supposed to be Aphrodite rising from the foam of the sea, as Greek tradition describes her birth. Some people ask why she even has clothes on, since as the goddess of love and sexuality we're used to seeing nude images of her. Interestingly, the nude female didn't appear in Classical art until the Hellenistic period (ca. 323 BCE - 146 BCE), a time well after this statue was created, so our goddess is fully clothed.

This statue was likely a cult image, and would have been put up in a sanctuary in honor of the goddess. This sanctuary, or temple as we might call it, was the "house" of the goddess on earth. Now, I'm not as familiar with the intricacies of ancient Greek religion as I am with ancient Egyptian religion, but I know the Egyptians saw their cult statues as capable of receiving the deity, thus providing the god or goddess with an earthly vessel. Whether the Greeks saw their statues as having the same capability, I'm not sure, but it certainly would have been an image worshipers prayed to and addressed as the goddess. No doubt the remarkably excellent condition of the statue is due to the fact it once stood indoors. In fact, this statue is the only known cult image from its time that is preserved from head to foot. It's also the only acrolithic statue from its time that still has both its body and extremities (well, most of them anyway).

When she arrived at the Getty, the goddess's body was in three pieces. Her marble arm and foot were broken off, as were other pieces like the fingers on her remaining arm. When conservators first assembled her for public viewing, using epoxy to glue her body back together, there were still cracks that interrupted the flow of the clothing. This visual effect is one of the most admirable aspects of the statue, so the cracks prevented the viewer from a more complete appreciation of the "wet drapery" effect. Conservators ended up filling the cracks in the drapery with a paper pulp solution and painted it so it blended with the color of the stone. Not to worry, the epoxy and the paper pulp solution are reversible, so it's not like they used super glue. Current conservation policy in the museum world holds that any conservation effort needs to be completely reversible in case future scholarship sheds new light on our interpretations or in the case of some unforeseen chemical reaction between the conservation materials and the antiquity.

Earlier this week my fellow educators and I were gathered around the goddess, reviewing what we know about her and discussing all of the things I've mentioned above as well as how we think visitors might react to the statue. At one point someone asked about some damage visible at the goddess's knees--what caused it, she wondered?

"Well," I replied, "if this is the goddess of love--she's probably spent some time on her knees."

Sunday, October 5

A Little L.A. Story

How about a little L.A. story about heat and traffic frustrations? Last Tuesday Eric asked me to pretty, pretty please help him out and pick up his course reader for a class in Westwood. It just so happened that Tuesday was one of the hottest days this week, and I've not been using the air conditioner in my car since the car has been a bit finicky lately. I wasn't exactly pleased to face the heat, but I figured if traffic didn't stink, I'd be able to get it done in an hour or so. Traffic was fine--until I got to Westwood. With the school year now in full swing, the tiny area of Westwood Village was clogged with cars and parking was rarer than a real set of bosoms on Rodeo Drive. I finally found a spot in one of those $3 a minute rip-off pay lots and took off for the course reader materials store, hoping I'd make it back in short order so I could avoid paying any more for parking than I had to.

I discovered the course reader materials location was vacant, so I had to call Eric and figure out if he was just playing a mean joke on me or if the store had moved to another location. As it turned out, the store had just moved up the street, so I managed to get in and out pretty quickly. By the time I made it back to my car, my clothes were beginning to feel like I'd just stepped off the log ride at Six Flags. All I wanted to do was get in the car and get back to the AC and my day off. I can't with any justice communicate the frustration, despair, and raw animosity I felt when I turned the key and heard nothing but a click. Again. Click. Once more. Click. #!$%#&^!

After that mental primal scream I quickly moved into let's-get-this-over-with mode and went to tell the lot attendant my car wasn't starting and I needed to call AAA for a tow. I was sure he would insist on charging me for the time my car was dead in the lot waiting on the AAA tow truck to show up, but it didn't quite turn out that way. My car had literally been in the lot only a few minutes and had been running fine then, so he was unconvinced I couldn't get it started again. He soon found I wasn't making things up. However, he took it as a challenge, and after playing around with it a few minutes he got it started somehow. Even hotter and sweatier than before, I didn't question his mechanical magic. I thanked him profusely and sped away. When I had made it back to the apartment and collapsed in the AC, I reflected how once more my old aphorism had just proven valid: No good deed goes unpunished.

The truth of this statement has been demonstrated to me time and again, yet I keep helping, each time looking for a different outcome. The definition of a psychopath is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. So, I guess this habit makes me a psychopath. Or, more likely, just a plain old sucker.

Monday, September 29

Malibu Fog

This past Saturday I had a pleasant diversion when some friends came to visit me at the Villa. It was a pretty unusual day for Malibu--it was so foggy even the mid-day sun didn't burn through it. It was foggy, but not cold, so it turned out to be a nice day at the Villa. Debra, Devi, and Melissa came by to see the museum and to be misinformed on one of my tours. When I came out for the tour, I spotted Debra in line signing up, so I went over and said over her shoulder very seriously, "I really don't recommend that tour." The Visitor's Services guy who was signing people up was new, and when he heard what I said his face took on a horrified expression. People take themselves so seriously... Anyhow, the ladies claimed they enjoyed my tour and afterward we had lunch together at the cafe and chatted until it was time for me to teach again.

Me, Debra, Devi, and Melissa

Saturday's foggy weather matched my mood for the week. Coming back to work after a break through a haze of allergies that drugs couldn't quite alleviate made me feel as if I were muddling through. Maybe it's allergies, or maybe it's a daze of confusion after being hit with school groups for the first time since June. Whatever it is, it's clear the summer lull is officially history.

Wednesday, September 24

Sunday, September 21


This morning after breakfast and some final souvenir shopping, we packed up and hit the interstate for the long drive back to L.A. The drive back seemed longer than the drive out, even though we made good time and it was technically shorter. Overall I think it was a great trip. Eric and I got to spend some time together and celebrate our wedding anniversary and spend time with his parents, who also happen to be celebrating their anniversary this month. Like any vacation, the one downer is that you have to come back. I don't have to work again until Wednesday, but boy will I hit the ground running--school groups are starting again and I'll be working overtime that day as well. Welcome back! From here on out it will be a steady march to the holidays before I'll get more time away from work. I don't mind, though. I need vacations like anyone else, but after awhile I start to feel the need to get back to work. It must be some sort of disorder. I blame my parents.

[Note: If you'd like to see more pictures from the trip, go here.]

Saturday, September 20

Grand Canyon Trip: Day Three

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

The cabins of the Maswik Lodge sit near the railroad, so we have a lovely wooded view out the window of our room. Yesterday evening Eric and his dad went off looking for elk and deer. We had seen some does and fawns wandering around near the shuttle stops, and one of the drivers told them a tale of "the biggest elk I've ever seen" with "the biggest rack I've ever seen," so they were eager to have a sighting themselves. Knowing a wild goose chase from a golden opportunity, I had opted to wander the shops with Eric's mom. Sure enough, by dinner them the guys returned without having sighted their quarry. Early this morning Eric's dad went out again--I think he said he was out for two hours--and saw nothing. Not long after he returned to his room, he spotted some deer out the window. Murphy's law.

After a quick breakfast we caught one of the shuttles that helps to move people from point to point throughout the park. We discovered one shuttle stopped at an IMAX theatre at the National Geographic Visitor Center a few miles outside of the park in Tusayan. The theater features the IMAX film, Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. The visuals of the Grand Canyon on an IMAX scale were certainly impressive, but the film was light on the geologic and historical exploration of it. It was certainly entertaining, just not that informative.

Once we made it back into the park, we headed for Yavapai Point again in order to pick up one of the rim trails. The view from the trail make my regular evening walks look decidedly boring. I very much enjoyed hiking with such an incredible view to take in all the while. We spotted a few deer and elk tracks and a very aggressive squirrel hassling a snacking couple. (Squirrel bites are the number one treated injury in the park.) By the time we ended up back at Grand Canyon Village, it wasn't long before the time we were to board the train. So, we rested and rehydrated while we waited.

Before long we were back on the Santa Fe car, riding the rails back to Williams. After an afternoon of hiking, it was a rather drowsy ride, but by the time we pulled into the depot my thoughts were turning toward supper. We hadn't really had lunch, and I had worked up quite an appetite. The pizza place smelled best, and we had no problem completely eliminating a large pizza. What's more, I was able to enjoy my pizza without regret knowing I had gotten my exercise for the day hiking. All in all it was a really great day.

Friday, September 19

Grand Canyon Trip: Day Two

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

This morning we were up early to pack and check out before breakfast. After some bacon, eggs, and biscuits it was just about time for the "Wild West Show" before boarding the train. The show consisted of three or four performers dressed like cowboys and armed with cap guns who put on a little fifteen minute comedy skit about a poker game gone awry. It was very tourist kitch, but the crowd (mostly senior citizens) got a few belly laughs out of it. Once the entertainment was concluded, it was time to board the train.

We had sprung for first-class, so we were in one of the luxury cars near the end of the train. The seating was comfy and spacious and there was fruit, pastries, coffee, and soda. Our seats were also right in front of the bar, which opened shortly after we departed the train depot. Needless to say, we were set for a pretty comfortable two hour and fifteen minute ride to the canyon. Until I was on the train, I wasn't sure what its route actually was--the description of the route said the train skirted the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. But once we were aboard, it was clear the route started out sixty-five miles from the canyon and headed for the south rim. I caught only the briefest glimpse of the canyon through the trees as we pulled into the Grand Canyon depot. The scenery throughout the ride was still beautiful, though.

The Grand Canyon depot, open since 1901, is the oldest log-constructed depot still in use. As soon as we arrived we boarded one of the many shuttle buses that help people get around the park for a tour of the south rim. My first look at the canyon was from Yavapai Point. Like anyone else I'd heard admiring descriptions of the Grand Canyon, but as soon as I saw it I knew no words or pictures could hope to communicate the reality of seeing it. The feeling of awe, wonder, and ultimate insignificance in that first moment seeing the canyon will always be my favorite moment of the trip. What was before me seemed so vast, I had to remind myself I was only looking at one vista of a geologic feature that extends 277 miles.

By the time we had finished our time along the south rim the day was nearly over. We had a restful late afternoon at the Maswik Lodge (where we're staying) and later dinner at the El Tovar restaurant. Tomorrow we'll have most of our day to explore the park before we catch our train back to Williams.

Thursday, September 18

Grand Canyon Trip: Day 1

Williams, AZ

Last night Eric and I drove down to his parents' house to stay the night so we could get on the road early and get started on the 7-8 hour drive to Williams, Arizona, where we're scheduled to catch the Grand Canyon Railway train tomorrow morning. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be getting up at 4:00 a.m. The excitement of setting off on a road trip helped dull the pain, I think. Thanks to our early start we were well out of L.A. before any of the weekday commuter traffic got started. Once we were out of the city, I promptly fell asleep in the backseat of the truck, my head uncomfortably wedged against the window. Eric's mom was in the backseat with me, Eric's dad drove, and Eric sat shotgun. Uncomfortable as sleeping in the truck was, I fell in and out of sleep for about half our trip. By the time I decided to wake up, we were in Kingston, Arizona and it was breakfast time. I must be getting old, because getting out of the truck my muscles stiffened and cracked and creaked. They didn't used to be so painfully expressive.

From that point on, watching the scenery zip by, I began to recognize where we were. The last time I traveled I-40 through Arizona was 2002 when Mom and I were headed to California in a U-Haul. It is a really pretty drive, alternating between desert, green forests, and low mountains. We made it to Williams well before our check in time at the Grand Canyon Railway hotel, so we drove another half hour into Flagstaff to check things out. There were several little shops to explore in the historical district downtown, but no one found anything that caught their fancy. I did, however, spot a Dairy Queen--a rare treat for me since they're hard to come by in L.A.--and it didn't take much for me to convince my fellow travelers to stop and order up a Blizzard (cookie dough for me!).

Later on when we were finally able to check into our rooms and rest up a bit after the long drive, we crossed the railroad tracks that run through Williams to the main drag. Williams is one of those dots on the map that sprung up next to the railroad, much like my hometown back in Illinois. Unlike Neoga, Williams isn't much more than the Grand Canyon Railway hotel, railroad tracks, and the restaurants and little shops along main street (a.k.a.Route 66). There are a few houses and other miscellaneous buildings, but not many. I imagine most people in Williams make their money off of the Grand Canyon/Route 66 tourists. We whiled away a couple of hours wandering through the shops.

After dinner at the hotel I'm more than happy to lounge in the hotel room. Tomorrow is a relatively early start, and the train to the Grand Canyon leaves at 10 a.m.