Tuesday, July 29
When we first turned the television on afterwards, the networks were reporting the event as a 5.8 with the epicenter in Chino Hills (a few miles from downtown L.A.), but as the afternoon wore on, it was downgraded to a 5.6 and then 5.4. Either way, anything between a 5 - 6 on the Richter scale is considered "moderate." As it turned out, 5.4 wasn't enough to make any Angelinos spill their lunchtime Starbucks mochachinos, so most of the city's inhabitants were only shaken up enough to make it the most popular topic of conversation for the afternoon.
Sure, this quake only knocked a few things off shelves in the areas closest to the epicenter and--thank God--no major damage or injuries occurred. No harm, no foul. Like everyone else I was joking around about it after the fact. And yet... Considering where I work, one thought lurked, bubbling in the muck at the back of my mind: I was thinking of the citizens of towns like Pompeii and Herculaneum in August of 79 A.D. After all, practically every day at work I talk to people about the catastrophic events of that day and the fact that the reason we know enough about ancient Roman villas to create a reconstruction of one is because the towns were completely buried (and thus preserved) when the volcano exploded. By all accounts the quakes and other disturbances that happened in the days before the massive catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius didn't phase the locals and they continued about their daily lives as usual. They were used to the earth shaking where they lived--it was just a part of life in their part of the world. This is actually not too different from the nonchalant way some residents of southern California think of earthquakes--it's just part of living here.
Of course there's nothing you can do if the earth decides to split open and swallow you one afternoon, but I have enough respect for the forces of nature to know that the potential exits. Inevitably, one day we will be reminded that we're no different than the ancient Romans living in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. The "big one" will likely find us going about our daily business, blissfully unaware of what the earth has in store for us that day.
With any luck, I'll be living somewhere far, far away when that day comes. :-)
Wednesday, July 23
By this time in my career I’ve taught enough and spoken in front of large groups of people often enough that I don’t get petrifyingly nervous anymore, but I do get a case of the butterflies right before I go on. I mean, I’m only human—I want it to be good and I want it to be accurate, and I want to communicate and connect with the audience. That doesn’t just happen—it takes work! After our Education Specialist for Adult Programs introduced me and I began speaking at the podium I had some sweaty palms, but that cured itself as I got into the material and became focused on the subject and what I was talking about. With my own tendency to get swept up into what I’m talking about and audience questions the first part of the three hour session went over its allotted time, but I always expect that time will be an issue. The second half of the lecture went more quickly since I asked them to save questions for the last segment of the class, when we went up into the museum galleries to check out the artifacts in person, so to speak.
Without getting into too much detail, this course was on burial equipment (i.e. coffins, shrouds, funerary biers, etc.) from the time period in Egypt when the Greek and Roman empires had both come into Egypt and integrated aspects of their art and culture and religion with ancient Egyptian culture. It’s a very intriguing period because there’s so much going on, but it’s also complicated because there’s so much variation and ways in which the ancient Egyptian style of representation was used with the Greco-Roman style. To us the style looks like a hybrid of the two traditions, but as I discussed in my course, the contemporaries didn’t see it like that way. They saw nothing strange. What they did see was a sacred image and that was going to glorify them in death and help them get to the afterlife.
Here's an image of a linen shroud made for a woman from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It came from Akhmim, Egypt and illustrates well this so-called "hybrid" style of burial equipment from Greco-Roman Egypt:
By the end of three and a half hours, my voice was very much on it’s way out and I had a spectacular headache, but many people wanted to shake my hand and talk to me afterwards, which is always a good indication that people were interested and enjoyed themselves. Eventually I had to just simply retreat and run away. If I hadn’t, they’d have held me captive for even longer, I’m sure! All things considered it was a great success, and I look forward to being able to teach this course again. In the meantime, some of the research I’ve been working on in regard to the religious aspects of the Herakleides mummy (which played a significant role in today's lecture) I hope to turn into a conference presentation and if I'm lucky I'll get to present it to the scholars at the Villa during one of their “Brown Bag” lunch talks this fall. So I have more to do with my research on this topic, that’s for sure!
Right now I'm really, really tired, but I had fun today and feel like it was a job well done, so it's worth it.
Saturday, July 12
But even with all of the complaining I do about the amount of time Eric devotes to his video games, I'm a little envious as well. I have a nostalgia for the days when I was a regular gamer myself. Still, even if I was into playing video games more, we have only one t.v. in the living room, and that would lead to another upset in our stalemate. ...Then last week while cleaning house I unearthed Eric's little handheld Nintendo DS, and I thought it might have possibilities since I could play it while he was using the t.v. for his mega-graphically enhanced games. Silly me. (Can you hear the laughter of all of the married women who came before me?) Once I started playing the DS, that got Eric's attention and he wanted to play it. It's like living with my little sister all over again! He was perfectly happy with his (much more complicated, challenging, and expensive) games until I found some games to play with, and then he wanted what I had. This is a prime example of winning the battle but losing the war.
My current strategy is to wait him out. Eventually he will tire of the puny little DS system and return his full attention to his X-Box and PS3. Then--then!--I will have it all to myself. Mwha-ha-ha!
Friday, July 4
Thursday, July 3
--Dorothy L. Sayers
If you decide to pick up one of these books, you're guaranteed to be entertained. If not, I recommend you check your pulse. Seriously.
Currently Reading: Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Tuesday, July 1
Mostly right now I think I just need some time away from this land of fruits and nuts. The other day on my general tour of the collection, some old guy started asking me about Pompeii and then suddenly broke into a loud, dramatic recitation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. I was really beginning to wonder how the heck I was going to stop him when he finally ended the performance. Also, among the people who come up afterwards to tell me it was "great" or "amazing" or whatever, once a week or so someone tells me I sound like Jodi Foster in Silence of the Lambs. I honestly don't know how to respond to this remark except to say, "Er--thanks." They seem to think they're paying me a compliment, and I like Jodi Foster, so I guess I should leave it at that. (Some of you may remember, she was one of the celebrity tours through the Tut exhibit--we took her, her partner, her mom, and her son through the exhibit with the public. She was very nice and down-to-earth.) In any case, these are the strange and weird encounters that make up my days here at the Villa. Never a dull moment.
I hope this finds you well and making the most of your summer!