Sunday, January 18

Week in Review

This has been a good week. I had a chance to visit with friends and see a movie, and work wasn't as crazy as I anticipated. One of our teachers was out sick this week, and we had an unusually high number of requests to accommodate community and VIP groups on top of our normal obligations, so I expected a heavy teaching load. The schedule definitely lived up to that expectation, but there were a few fortuitous cancellations or late arrivals that helped ease the schedule. Unlike our usual routine of general public tours and school group lessons, community and VIP groups can be unpredictable. This morning was a good example of that unpredictability.

I was scheduled to spend thirty minutes in the galleries with a group of female lawyers and judges from Afghanistan. It sounds straightforward, but add in the logistics of a translator and the difficulties of moving a large group around on any sort of schedule and it gets complicated very quickly. Also, being somewhat experienced in taking Muslim audiences through American museums, I knew I would have to carefully choose objects from the Villa's galleries when deciding what to show them. I mean, let's face it--it's practically impossible to avoid sex, alcohol, and nudity at a museum devoted to ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. Islam, of course, deals very strictly with these subjects, and the safest course of action was to assume these women would be conservative and not well-traveled (given the need for a translator). All of these factors could turn the experience of taking a group of Afghani women through the galleries rather dicey.

Knowing how shy and embarrassed some Muslim women can be in these situations, I was a bit nervous about my decision. On the one hand, my job is not to edit ancient culture to suit anyone. Still, I try to represent myself with some modesty with Muslim visitors, because I want to help fight this stereotype of the promiscuous Western woman who is always wanting sex. ...Then again, I also want them to see the freedom I enjoy as a woman in America. But above all, I never want to offend anyone. You may think this schizophrenic line of thought makes a big deal out of nothing, but the little things count. Sometimes they count more than the big things.

As it turned out, the group arrived late. The limited time helped considerably. Also, getting them to move with me through the museum was like herding cats, so I only had time to take them to one gallery. I ended up talking to them about Orpheus and the Sirens--a mythological story with no sex, alcohol, or nudity. Having someone translate for you always makes for a stilted encounter, but I think all went well given the circumstances. One of our representatives with the group thanked me at the end for assisting in international diplomacy. It's always nice to get a thank-you, but mostly I was relieved to be able to hand the group off to the next Villa representative and scoot. I believe the rest of their visit went smoothly as well, so hopefully they will have good memories of their visit here.

As for the upcoming week, I'm looking forward to the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday. The cable news cycle can be extremely annoying, but at other times it is incredibly useful. Since Tuesday will be my day off, I'll have an all-day front row seat to history on my living room couch. Due to the early hour (noon ET is 9 a.m. PT) I will be enjoying the event in my p.j.'s with a nice hot cup of chocolate. I might even be persuaded to get up early to watch the pre-ceremony coverage, which starts at 6 a.m. PT.

...And that's how you know you're a history geek.


  1. Hey Amber,

    Nice post. Just a suggestion, though. In the future, I think you should be less afraid of offending Muslim women in the galleries. It's a misconception, in my opinion, that, because these women may dress more modestly themselves, they are offended by the more revealing dress of others in art or otherwise. In fact, sex and sensuality are celebrated in Islam as they are in other cultures. Although these things may be delegated to the private realm more often than not, my experience around Muslims (both women and men) in the Middle East has been that they understand other cultures' more overt depictions of the human form.

    Just a thought. Thanks, Amber. I always enjoy reading your blog. keep writing!


  2. Hi Deanna,

    Thanks so much for the comment! I agree with you in the case of Muslim women who have had the opportunity to travel. In the case of this group, it was my understanding this was their first international trip, so I wanted to be mindful of that fact. I'm sure they wouldn't have objected if I had chosen a nude sculpture to discuss, but in my conversation with their group leader before we started she implied I should be considerate of modesty--so that factored into my choice. I just try to play off the cues I get...

    Glad you like the blog!


  3. FYI - Channel five is starting their "historic" coverage at 4 am! (not sure what will be on then because I plan to be sleeping!)

    Miss you and looking forward to lunch in a few weeks.


  4. =/ If it were and class but Kara's I would completely skip Tuesday and stay home to watch the big event. As it is, DVR will have to suffice when I get home.

  5. Okay, even I will not be getting up at 4 a.m. That two hour window between 4 and 6 is crucial sleep time!

  6. I was talking with a friend of mine in visitor's service at the museum today, and he told me when this group first arrived he was told they requested "minimal male contact." Fortunately for them, museum education departments are typically made up of women. :-) He also told me it was their first visit to a museum (those being scarce in Afghanistan). I wish I would have known that...