Wednesday, April 29

Festival of Books

There are two things I typically look forward to in April. One is the annual American Research Center in Egypt conference (ARCE) and the other is the L.A. Times Festival of Books at UCLA. Usually I can only attend one or the other since they are typically scheduled on the same weekend. This year I did not go to ARCE, but I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the Festival of Books. All of the tents packed with books of every kind covering the UCLA campus is a book lover's paradise. Then you add the fair-type atmosphere with hot dogs, churros, ice cream, slushies and the like, and you have an eminently enjoyable afternoon. Unfortunately, over the past few years the Festival of Books has attracted quite a following. This year the turnout was extraordinary, and as a result I had a very disappointing experience. There were so many people I could barely get into the tents to browse around, which is the whole point of coming. Maybe it was the mild weather or big name authors doing book signings that brought people out. Whatever the reason, they came out in droves this year.

Here's hoping next year's Festivial will coincide with a weekend long heat wave that will keep all but the truly die hard book lovers from coming out!

Saturday, April 25

Dodger Game

Last week I had quite a busy schedule. On Wednesday I went out with a couple of friends after work for a girl's night out, and then on Thursday evening I went to my first baseball game of the season. I went with my friends Amy and Devi and we had a great time, in spite of the rather chilly weather. I'm looking forward to our next planned outing at the ballpark in August when the Cardinals come to town. That day will find me decked out in my Cards gear rooting for the visiting team, of course. The Dodger hat is only out as long as L.A. is playing a team other than St. Louis. In this case it was San Francisco, so I had absolutely no problem rooting for the Dodgers to trample the Giants--which they did. In fact, they swept the series.

Amy and Devi.

Dodger Dog and garlic fries - ballpark cuisine

For some reason, Eric does not like baseball. I admit watching a game on t.v. is not very entertaining, but at the stadium it is a completely different experience. Who doesn't enjoy watching a game with friends, having a beer, hot dog, and garlic fries and singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch? It defies the imagination.

Monday, April 13

You Think You Can Do Better?

One thing kids always appreciate is a good story. Lucky for me, the Villa galleries are full of objects that tell great stories. So I often find myself talking to groups of kids about artifacts in our Trojan War gallery that help tell the story of Odysseus and the cyclops. It just so happens that the Etruscan pithos I use the most to tell that story does not depict a cyclops in the way your average 21st century kid-- living in a world of HD t.v., graphic novels, and computer animation--expects it to be. Since they always seem so convinced they can do a better, more accurate job of representing a cyclops, I hand out the art supplies and invite them to give it a shot. As you can imagine, that means I spend a lot of my time in these cyclops drawing sessions. Eventually I gave in and started drawing my own version along with the kids, and I produced a couple of decent examples (at least in my judgement), so I thought I'd share them with you here. The one on top earned me the title of "bestest cyclops drawer ever" from one third grade class. It is skills like this that will stand me in good stead for the rest of my career.

Saturday, April 4

Catching Up

March turned out to be a rough month. For nearly the whole month I fought a nasty, nasty bug that just kept evolving from one affliction to another until finally the doctor agreed he should probably give me something to help me beat it. One of the little carrier monkeys who come through the museum with school groups infected me, I'm sure. It was one of the fiercest bugs I have caught in a long, long time. Even so, at this point I think it is safe to say I'm going to live. In fact, I feel pretty much back to my normal healthy self. So I have spent most of this week trying to catch up with my life, which somehow seems to have just gone on without me.

It is a good thing I was feeling healthier this Friday, because that morning I had two of the worst school groups I have had in a long time. I am happy to say that for the most part I have really positive experiences with school groups. However, I have come to the decision that 8th-12th graders are most likely to be something of a lost cause. My first group on Friday was an 8th grade group. Even better, their teacher had selected the "Art of Persuasion" lesson topic, which is meant to present art and architecture as means to persuade and shape opinions. This topic is absolutely something these students could understand--particularly with my comparisons with today's world. Unfortunately, oftentimes 8th graders simply refuse to speak because no one wants to take the chance they are going to seem foolish in front of their peers. For some reason I do not recall, at this age nothing matters more than what your peers think of you.

Anyhow, the lesson did not start off well. I took them to our "Men in Antiquity" gallery to compare a portrait head of Augustus with an earlier Roman Republican era portrait head of an old man. Once we arrived at the stop and they (pretty much) stopped talking, I realized some joker in the front had his iPod playing so loudly we could all hear the music coming from his pocket. I took care of that issue, but no matter what I did to develop a conversation about the portrait heads, I failed to get them to do more than stare at me with faint smiles on their faces. I am not afraid of silences, so I let them hang for awhile before I struggled on, hoping they would cave. They did not. Sadly, the rest of the lesson was essentially that same experience.

So that was discouraging. My next lesson was a more typical "Daily Life in the Ancient World" lesson with a class of 6th graders. Sixth graders are better than 8th graders in the sense that they are usually still willing to talk to you, so I expected this second hour of teaching to be better. It was better--the students were willing to talk about what they were seeing and asked some great questions. The trouble came when I brought them to the "Athletes and Competition" gallery to show them our Boxer's mosaic. Even though the mosaic was part of an ancient floor, curators chose to display it on the wall of the gallery. It is much easier to see it that way, and it also keeps it off of the floor, which is never a good place for something rare and valuable. Still, even on the wall, it is a tempting target for eager little fingers.

I have to say, I rarely have trouble with students touching artifacts at the Villa. It was a constant issue at LACMA, but here at the Getty I noticed it is much more rare. Well, Friday was that day of rare exceptions, and we had barely begun talking about the mosaic when a student reached out and touched the mosaic. I immediately gave them a forceful, "Do NOT touch" reminder. Half a minute later another student reached out and touched the mosaic. "I said don't touch! Was that not the first rule they talked to you about?" They nodded their heads. I continued. While we were talking, a student walked around from the back of the group and touched the mosaic. At that moment I pretty much lost it, and my raised voice threatening to remove the group from the galleries brought security sailing across the room to back me up.

I probably should have taken them out of the museum, but I felt guilty for losing my temper and stuck with the lesson. I am afraid my remaining school groups this year will pay for this group's violation of trust, however. It is an act of trust to set these antiquities out before people so they can see them, and it's disheartening how often it is violated. Just the other day one of my fellow educators told me some woman actually set her purse on one of the artifacts while she bent down to fix her shoe and had to be asked repeatedly by security to remove her purse! Such obliviousness constantly amazes me, and unfortunately it makes me ever less inclined to trust the public.

Sad, but true.