Sunday, January 31, 2010

Anthropomorphizing Canines

The February 1st issue of New York magazine (out since last week) has an interesting cover story by Jon Homans called "The Rise of Dog Identity Politics." The idea of a dog-themed storyline on the cover of this magazine may seem incongruous, until you realize that his take is largely about dog ownership in urban centers like NYC. In places where everyone lives in apartments, Homans queries whether urban dogs are losing their sense of identity as dogs unto themselves. Dogs historically existed in rural areas to perform specific tasks, from hunting to herding. As our society becomes less country-based, dogs may be losing those innate traits with each passing generation, and dog owners may be to blame because they want or expect their dogs to be just like us, i.e. eating vegan and getting pampered at doggie day care centers. It's an interesting article because Homans talks about many issues associated with dogs and pet ownership. He discusses, for instance, the drastic decrease in the number of euthanized strays over the past 40 years, thanks to organizations that have fought for better protection over animals. But he also notes the antagonism between groups like animal shelters and PETA because of their different philosophies on pet ownership.

The human-canine connection is very real, as any dog lover will attest. Unlike cats, which are known for their indifference (I'm generalizing here), dogs bond with humans. There is something to the adage of a dog being man's best friend. The general belief is that dogs are pack animals and if the owner takes on the role of alpha dog, his pet will follow his/her lead. Others claim though that there is more to it than that, citing examples of how dogs can learn behaviors, instructions, and practices, sometimes on their own accord, all because they empathize with the needs of their human. Homans discusses in the article new research on the hormone oxytocin, which is credited with increasing bonds between mothers and newborns, as well as couples. Studies show that when dogs gaze at their owners, human oxytocin levels increase, suggesting a bond between the two that is comparable to that of having children or friends. But of course this is the human reaction to the dog staring at the owner, not the other way around. Who knows what the dog is actually thinking or feeling. He's probably only interested in trying to tell you he has to go crap outside. Hence author Homans's issue: are we treating dogs like humans to the point that we may be hurting them in their natural development as dogs?

Having a dog in a NYC apartment is extremely difficult, I believe, but plenty of people do it. I'm not so much troubled when it's small dogs, but the thought that some people keep golden retrievers and other large breeds in one-bedroom apartments upsets me. Dogs of that size need space to move around, and although there is an increase in dog parks in the City, it's not the same. When I lived in Florida, I had two dogs (Duchess, a Westie, and Pepper, a Yorkie), and those who knew them can attest to how much I loved those dogs. (Duchess died at age 14 from kidney disease and Pepper died of old age, living to be 18 years old! I must acknowledge my friend AK and her mother GS, as well as my Uncle, for their neverending devotion to my dogs as well.) I don't have a dog right now, and I so miss that kind of companionship it devastates me sometimes. My choice not to have a dog right now isn't based on apartment size, but that my life is so chaotic right now it wouldn't be fair to keep a dog in my apartment when I'm not on a regular schedule to take care of him. Homans's article is making me wonder though, am I making too much of that concern? Would a dog really know that I'm gone for 14 hours? Other than needing to crap and having food/water, does a dog actually need anything else? Am I anthropomorphizing a dog because I think he would be devastated waiting for me all day with nothing to do, that I might even be tempted (as Homans did) to bring another pet in the house to keep the dog company?

These are tough questions and worth thinking about. Contrary to what some scientists may think, I do believe dogs (and animals in general) can feel, but they cannot express their feelings in the same way we do because their capacities for intelligence and communication are so different from ours. But just because dogs are not humans doesn't make them lower on some hierarchical scale. It just means we need to respect them for their own unique design and needs. Getting a dog as a pet is a lot of responsibility, and it's not uncommon for people to get rid of the dog because the dog didn't behave the way they expected. That's silly. You cannot put human expectations on a dog and then be disappointed for his inability to meet that expectation. Instead, recognize that you are training a dog and that you are rewarding him for his good behavior. And when he gives you that look (and dog lovers everywhere know exactly what I'm talking about!), go ahead and spoil him. Who cares if it only means that your oxytocin levels have increased. It was the dog who made it happen.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

250 Lessons in What Not to Wear

Whenever SVH & I are together, inevitably we'll be sitting in a coffee shop or parading through town arm-in-arm and we'll comment on what certain people are wearing, noting those who look good and those who easily could change their wardrobe with some simple steps to look better. It may seem bitchy, but everything we know we've learned from 7 years of watching fashion consultants Stacy London and Clinton Kelly on TLC's What Not to Wear. (Yes, we love them, and I keep hoping one day I'll bump into them here in NYC, and hopefully not act like a crazy fan.) Last night the show celebrated its 250th episode, which has to be a milestone in the history of television makeovers. NPR even interviewed Stacy London about their accomplishment. The show is based on a British version, which I had seen before, but those women were just mean (much like, say, chef Gordon Ramsay, who can be brutal). Stacy & Clinton are hilarious with their NYC sarcasm. Not everyone can take it though, and they've had serious challenges from some guests, but in the end almost all of the participants get it and do make the great transformation that one hopes for them.

For those who have never seen the show before, a woman who is a fashion disaster is nominated by her friends and family, secretly filming her for 2 weeks in her hometown in all her clothing nightmares, highlighting horrors from her closet, etc. Then with the woman's family and friends, Stacy & Clinton ambush the woman and offer her $5000 to shop for a whole new wardrobe in NYC based on their rules, but they have to turn over their entire wardrobe for disposal. Inevitably the person says yes, there is a lot of cheering and crying, then they watch the secret footage, which is frequently humiliating. The best part of each episode is always when the person tries on a few of their own outfits and Stacy & Clinton verbally assault them with their acerbic wit about everything wrong with what they're wearing. (Case in point from last night's episode: with silver moon boots and a pillowcase-turned-skirt, they called the woman a homeless person from outer space, and asked if she sleeps on an A-line skirt.) They in turn offer alternatives for their body types and challenge them to step out of their comfort zone.

The is followed by the disposal of the clothes, which often proves to be a traumatic experience for these women. What one discovers is how many people use clothing as a protective shield because of how insecure they are about themselves. It's a very real phobia. We all really do want the same thing: for people to be able to approach us and (dare we say it?) like us. And if you deny this, then you're lying to yourself, and you know it. It's human nature for us to be social and to want people to like us. But these women are not changing their appearance for other people, but for themselves. In a rather ironic twist, it turns out that when you feel more confident about how you look, you no longer care about what people think of you. As your self-confidence increases, inevitably people liking you comes naturally. That is perhaps one of the most fascinating lessons so many of these women learn.

Then comes the shopping experience, which on the first day is traumatic, and on the second day is successful with Stacy & Clinton's help. They also get a hair and makeup redo, and in they end they parade their new look and they look fabulous. Now, of course, as reality television, all of this is very formulaic and a bit of a farce. But it's still a lot of fun because of the personalities and the humor. Some of the funniest episodes are the "hoochie-to-hottie" shows, where women who wear inappropriate, skin-tight, barely-there outfits learn how to dress sexy-sophisticated, coming to the realization that you don't have to sell your body in order to get attention and that covering up a bit can give you the respect you really want from others.

So cheers to Stacy & Clinton for helping everyone dress better! In closing, I thought I would share 5 lessons SVH & I have learned from Stacy & Clinton, some of which do apply to men as well, so pay attention:
1) Your body isn't the problem, it's the clothes that stores sell. Not everything you buy will fit perfectly. Tailoring may be needed, and that's perfectly acceptable.
2) An hourglass figure on a woman is hot. Wear clothes that accentuate your curves, like a wrap-dress that cinches at your waist, and you will be amazed at how it makes you look.
3) Dress age appropriate. Nothing ages you more than dressing like you're 20 years younger than you are.
4) Wearing dark colors and baggy clothes will not make you look thinner. Instead, you look like you're wearing a tent. Go for clothes with structure, like fitted jackets and A-line skirts, that fit with your body's natural shape.
5) It's worth investing in a few higher-priced, well-made pieces that you can wear frequently and with many outfits (e.g. dark-wash jeans). The more frequently you can wear it, the more value you get for your money. Then, you can easily pair it with less expensive clothes and come up with a a wardrobe you can keep mixing up throughout the year.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: Antoine's Alphabet

This review was originally an assignment for my class on Watteau last semester. For those of you (like my family) who might not typically read this kind of post, I encourage you to do so, because toward the end you'll discover that my experience with this book and Watteau took a personal turn that was rather unexpected and ultimately quite fulfilling.

Jed Perl, Antoine’s Alphabet: Watteau and His World (pbk. ed., New York: Vintage, 2009)

"I was mesmerized by painting’s dreams—and by all the dreamworlds and real worlds that painting could reveal. And this is where I have remained ever since, much like the men and women in Watteau’s Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera, unsure as to whether I am coming or going, but always convinced that the journey matters, that love and friendship and beauty and pleasure can be found amid the darkening groves, if only I am willing to grasp that hand or look into that face or talk to that person, and let the possibilities unfurl beneath the cloud-scattered skies" (202-203).
This quote by Jed Perl makes up the last two sentences of his essay “Zeuxis” in Antoine’s Alphabet, an essay in which he discusses the legacy of wall painting. Perl intends to show the continuum of Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) to the history of art, connecting backward to ancient Greek painting and forward to unknown decorative artists of the twentieth century. However, the essay in fact is more about Perl, specifically his emotional response to painting from when he was a child in his grandparents’ Brooklyn home staring at the garden scene painted on the wall above their couch. Perl sees himself as one of many artists and art lovers who are heirs to Watteau’s legacy. He includes in Antoine’s Alphabet discussions of artists and writers such as Picasso and Beckett, who were as much inspired by Watteau as Perl himself is to this day.

In his Prologue, Perl shows a reproduction of Mezzetin (right) and proceeds to look very closely at the figure. He considers the garden, the statue, his clothes, his fingers on the guitar, and so on, all in an attempt to prove his great statement that Watteau is, without hesitation, his favorite artist. Perl notes that this surprises people. Art lovers are supposed to prefer the grandeur of Rembrandt or the psychological torment of Goya, because their meanings can be easily appreciated and understood. But Perl identifies himself as a lover of the complexities of feelings, and he notes that if one is uncomfortable with “silken surfaces and elusive emotions” then Watteau is not for that person. Those who love Watteau do so because “the audacity with which he insists on hiding or veiling or theatricalizing strong feelings becomes a way of revealing the complexity of those feelings" (5). In short, Watteau is a master artist because he paints emotions with all their erratic eccentricities, and according to Perl only those who can appreciate the luxury of emotions can truly appreciate Watteau.

By page 5, then, I was suspicious of Perl’s intent. For whom was this book intended? Only those whose taste leaned toward the painterly and romantic? If so, why was he ignoring those of us who prefer academic art in its traditional modes of representation? Should this not be an opportunity for Perl to teach us about Watteau? Or was that risk so great that the experiment would fail and we would see him for being the painter of frivolity that we already suspected (or that Perl suspected of us)? By asking these questions of Perl, I knew I was bringing to the text my own biases, first about Watteau, and now about Perl. After all, while the post-postmodernist in me refuses to reinforce a canon of great European artists, my personal taste leans away from the Rococo and Watteau.

I don’t dislike Watteau. I think he was an amazing draftsman and that some of his paintings like The Pilgrimage to Cythera (the second version, above) are highly skilled works of art. My reading of literature on Watteau has made me more aware of his modernism from a socio-cultural perspective, and this is something which I admire as well. But, to be frank, looking at Watteau’s paintings requires a lot of time and energy. There are so many things going on that it is nearly impossible to take all of it in, and so I find myself wanting to turn away. Furthermore (and at the great risk of shocking my reader), these scenes of silliness, lovemaking, and theatricality are too busy and crowded, and I find myself drawn more toward works like the stark dominant message inherent in Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii and the blatant sensuality in Anne-Louis Girodet’s Endymion (although I admit it’s not exactly fair to compare them to Watteau since they are so different). I try to have an open mind, however, and so as I finished the Prologue, I challenged Perl to convince me that I was missing something, that by reading his book I would discover what I was misunderstanding about Watteau’s pictures, for surely if he was as great of an artist as people believe, then I am missing something. Perl would need to give me the answer.

Arranged letter-by-letter, Antoine’s Alphabet is structured like a children’s book, meant to educate the reader by providing examples of words or phrases that exemplify both the letter and the theme of the book. Each letter is represented with at least one essay, some short, some long, leaving the reader with a total of 62 essays associated in some way with Watteau. I have grouped them into five general types: Watteau’s life and work (6 essays, such as “Ornament” and “Gersaint’s Shopsign”); elements in Watteau’s work (12 essays, such as “Fans” and “Soldiers”); ideas about Watteau’s work (21 essays, such as “London” and “White”); others inspired by Watteau (13 essays, such as “Flaubert” and “Verlaine”); and Perl’s association with Watteau (10 essays, such as “Party” and the above-described “Zeuxis”).

The most successful of the individual essays are those relating to concrete elements in Watteau’s work. Here we see Perl’s talent as an art historian come to the foreground. His essay on “Backs,” for instance, addresses the enigmatic presence in Watteau’s pictures of figures who stand with their backs to the viewer, such as the woman in the foreground of Gersaint’s Shopsign or Pierrot in The Foursome (left/above). According to Perl, backs signify rejection, or they suggest the anticipation of the person turning to greet you. The back of a person is an alternate face, one which can suggest recognition for viewers and thus allow them an opportunity decide how they will respond when the figure turns around. Watteau’s experience with the theater allowed him to understand the important role that backs could play on stage, both as a device to shift attention to another character speaking, but also to suggest a hidden emotional response on this character’s part, a feeling that the audience could empathize with or even question, more so than if they could see it full-face. Watteau’s backs are masks and no masks at all. They reflect the ambiguity of emotion in all of Watteau’s works.

The essay “London” is one in which Perl sees the idea of Watteau’s works as a product of cultural significance. Here he discusses how in 1938 Neville Chamberlain spoke to the English people about the ridiculous need for the British to be wearing gas masks because Germany was about to annex Sudetenland. Around the same time, Virginia Woolf wrote to her sister about wearing a gas mask on her way to the National Gallery, noting that while there she overheard a lecture given by a docent on Watteau’s pictures, writing to her sister “I suppose they were all having a last look” (111). This short essay beautifully suggests how during a time of war Watteau could be looked at as a last vestige of emotional satisfaction, an innocent time before gas masks and Hitler. The people gazing at the Watteau would have seen happiness and innocence in the figures frolicking in the park, or perhaps note even their sadness in understanding that their time in the Garden of Love was but a fleeting moment in time. What Perl misses out on, however, is the opportunity to educate the reader about Watteau’s historical legacy in London, how he lived there for a year toward the end of his short life and painted important works such as Italian Comedians while there. He also could have suggested that the annexation of Sudetenland echoed Louis XIV’s takeover of Valenciennes, Watteau’s hometown, showing how his paintings reflect escapism in a world dominated by war and tyranny.

Perl’s interest in the legacy of Watteau is most interesting in longer essays like “Cézanne,” in which he creatively recounts the artist’s frustration with drawings he had done of his son Paul dressed as Harlequin, and how he subsequently created a new subject out of this work by pairing him with the boy’s friend Louis dressed as Pierrot. Inspired by these Commedia dell’Arte figures in Watteau, Cézanne reinvigorates them as modern subjects. The costumed boys become the guise of youth. For the artist, they represent “the optimism of young people who were setting out into the world of love and illusions,” while reflecting simultaneously “the evening clarity of a man who had left behind … those excitements and torments” (39). But as the boys model and the painting comes along, the artist sees they are also actors on stage about to take their bow. Sometimes the picture is about two boys playing dress-up, carefreely putting on and removing their costumes. There is a suggestion that the boys even generate for Cézanne heightened sensuality, verging on homoeroticism. Other times the picture becomes merely fictional: Harlequin and Pierrot performing at the theater. Nearing completion, Cézanne comes to the ultimate realization, that the picture is all of these things, “a single, monumental uncertainty” (43). This is Perl’s point about Watteau: that ultimately their meaning is a jumble of possibilities, and that more important than subject is sensation, for the artist and the viewer.

The essays in Perl’s book continue in this way, reflecting the author’s take on aspects of Watteau’s works, elements, career, admirers, and so on. But the book, in truth, teaches us less about Watteau than it does about Perl. For the lay person unfamiliar with Watteau, this book does not educate him or her fully about Watteau’s life or subject matter. His one teacher Claude III Audran makes one appearance in the book, but another, Claude Gillot, makes no appearance at all. Despite an attempt to explore the meaning of important pictures like The Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera, Perl does little to explain the importance of the fête galant in art history (which would have made an impressive essay for the letter F between “Fans” and “Flirtations”). Thus, two-thirds through the book, I was disappointed that Perl had failed me. I had factual data and Perl’s take on the artist, but I still could not understand why I should like Watteau. And then, something extraordinary happened.

Reclining on my sofa, I had finished reading the letter P (“Party” to “Postcard”) and was about to embark on Q (“Qualities”), when I fell asleep. Almost immediately I began to dream. I entered a dark portico with large classical columns and a marble tiled floor. My footsteps echoed as I looked around and saw shadowy figures hovering around me in canvases on the walls (I realized later I was in Gersaint’s shop). I walked through the doorway. I was then in a house, and as I moved from room to room, I felt a foreboding ache in my heart. I finally reached the kitchen, where my mother (now deceased for more than three years) was working hard stirring a concoction in a bowl that I knew was for me. She looked up at me, tilted her head, stopped stirring, and contorted her face into something monkey-like, and then shouted out in her make-believe Chinese language which, from the time I was child, used to make me roar with laughter (it sounded something like “Ching-Chang-Chong!”).

Suddenly I was following her in a garden filled with Italian cypresses and white floral beds. Her back was to me, and she moved further away with each step. She was dressed in outrageously colored silk finery, a bare-shouldered gown, her red hair piled high on her head so that a few loose tendrils spilled down her neck. I heard a yipping sound nearby, and I could see a toy poodle, whom I recognized from my own past, dancing on its hind legs. A monkey nearby clapped his hands. Music echoed throughout the garden, but I couldn’t see any musicians. There were people everywhere in motley silks and satins. Even I was dressed in a costume pinky-peach in color. And I was smiling. I could feel my happiness. I watched and listened to the party around me, people chattering in unison about so many things, laughing and hollering, singing off-key to invisible music from trees that swayed on their own accord, and in the midst of this cacophony birds twittered, little dogs danced, and monkeys clapped.

I realized this was the cacophony of own life, all the boisterous, exciting gatherings with extended family I had experienced throughout my childhood. It was blissful. But then I saw the cleft between the shrubs, and I knew I had to leave. I could feel my heart ache with each step. I looked around, but everyone seemed happy in their own insanity. They had no cares or worries. They were ignorant of their own fleeting happiness. I could no longer see my mother, but I knew somehow she was there and always would be. I was sad, but I was also at peace. When I awoke, I felt depressed, and yet there was a grin on my face, because I remembered my mother’s silly antics, the dancing dogs and monkeys, and the joyful surroundings of the garden. I knew where I had been, and I realized that this excitement of being so alive in those moments was perpetually entangled with the awareness of being so dead.

This then was Watteau’s garden. I realized that in order to appreciate Watteau, you need to give up understanding him at all. You feel Watteau, you do not understand him. And it is this little lesson, in a dream inspired partly by Perl and partly by my own suppressed emotions, that makes me now reevaluate Watteau’s paintings, and my own life as well. Art history makes us think so clinically about art that we often forget we entered the profession because of how art once made us feel. This is why we go to Watteau. He is a reminder that art is first and foremost about feelings.

Image sources: Barnes & Noble, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia, and the Web Gallery of Art.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: The Young Victoria

This past Saturday evening I went to see The Young Victoria with friends. According to DC, it was a "gaygasm," and surely anyone with a sense of aesthetic appreciation for the sumptuousness of period-piece films focusing on art, music, history, costumes, and romance like this one will have to agree. Co-produced by Sarah, Duchess of York, who has taken an active interest in sharing information about Victoria and Albert through books and other media, a film with some semblance of an official royal touch does make it feel more authentic somehow. That said, the Duchess is no longer official royalty since she's divorced from Prince Andrew, and so it stands to reason that historic authenticity is sacrificed at times for sensationalism, which does happen occasionally in this film. But really, it's so good, you won't care.

Emily Blunt stars as Victoria, the heir-apparent to the throne who at age 17 struggles against her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother's companion Sir John Conroy, who demand she sign over her right as monarch, placing power with her mother (and Sir John) as regent. Victoria resists, and upon the death of her uncle King William IV in 1837, she became at age 18 Queen Victoria. The movie at this point could have become just another love story, as much of the plot revolves around the arranged meeting with her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (a German provincial kingdom before there was a Germany), whom she does eventually marry. But framing the love story with the politics of the day was a brilliant plot device. It carried with it a weight of verisimilitude. As a young virgin queen, Victoria could have chosen 2 different monarchs to emulate. On one side was her formidable predecessor Queen Elizabeth I, the so-called Virgin Queen who never married (reigning 1558 to 1603). On the other was the largely ineffectual Queen Anne, who did marry and had 17 pregnancies, although none of her children survived childhood (reigning 1702-1714). Victoria did one better: she took the best from both worlds, becoming a powerful leader of one of the largest empires, while presenting herself as just another middle-class wife with 9 children (all of whom effectively parented the monarchies of Europe thereafter). At nearly 64 years on the throne, Victoria still holds the record for the longest-running monarch in British history (although Elizabeth II is not that far behind her). The film returns us to British politics of 1837, where her ascent to the throne and support of the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, are quickly overturned when he is voted out and she challenges his successor, Sir Robert Peel. This leads to chaos and an attempted assassination on her life. Into this foray comes Prince Albert, who as a foreign prince could have done little to ingratiate himself into this world, but instead he did take an active interest in British society and culture. He helped revitalize the arts and enact social reforms for the working classes. All of these things are brought into the movie, which gives it a more well-rounded feel as both historic drama and a romance.

But in the end I imagine what we really want is a story about a beautiful princess and a dashing prince. Blunt as Victoria is charming and conveys a sense of precocious innocence that makes her quite believable as she finds her way as the new queen. But when Rupert Friend enters the room as Albert, one can sense Victoria's heart start to flutter, and that's because the viewer's heart is fluttering too. Yes, I fell in love with Albert too. There's a scene where he walks in with two greyhounds that...well, for someone like me who loves dogs, combined with historic dress and accents, let's just say it was like a dream come true. It isn't even so much that Friend is attractive, which certainly he is. But his version of Albert has a determined charisma that is paradoxically subtle, patient, and well-mannered. He wants to be there for Victoria. He does love her, and he wants to marry her. But he also wants to do something with his life, and as her partner, the Prince Consort, he is able to bring about change in Victoria's name that made her popular with the people. All that said, he's also just downright sexy. The costumes for this movie are fantastic (I so would love to dress like this on occasion), and designer Sandy Powell on the movie's official website notes that it was easy to make Albert sexy because men's clothing from this period was well-tailored and very tightly fit, all of which help make this dashing prince look fabulous.

Blunt was nominated for a Golden Globe but lost, which is not surprising as this was her first major dramatic role. Blunt is good, but I wouldn't say her performance stands out like, say, Cate Blanchett's did in Elizabeth. And while I must say that as much as I appreciated the conscious attempts to accurately represent people like William IV, Albert, Peel, the Duke of Wellington, etc., as they truly looked in life, no one's performance stands out in this movie as an Academy award nomination. The movie is, truly, an ensemble piece. The writing is solid, the cinematography is beautiful, the musical score is delightful, and as I noted the costumes are exquisite. But in the end the film is really just a great period-piece drama, and anyone with a taste for such movies should not pass this by. And then there's Albert. Gaygasmic, indeed.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Week-in-my-Life: Jan 2010 (Pt. 3)

(Concluding the week, with some observations at the end...)

FRIDAY 01/15/10

10am = haircut at local salon, Chic Elegance, which the ladies in there all pronounce in loud, Brooklyn accents as "SHEEK!"

10:30am = head to school to do more studying

1:30pm = lunch with KB at school, during which we bitch and moan about how much studying we're doing

3:45pm = head to the gym, sadly no cute guys in the locker room; burn off 556 calories using rowing machine, elliptical, and treadmill

5:45pm = on F train home, reading more of Crow, deciding to eat healthy dinner tonight

6:20pm = walking home, call Padre, concerned still have not heard from him

6:30pm = pleasant surprise waiting for me at home: belated Christmas card with note from Mezza-Sorella #1 in Italy, glad to know she wants to maintain communication with me

6:45pm = succumb to temptation of unhealthy dinner after having passed deli on the way home: roast beef & cheddar sandwich and chips, and Ben & Jerry's chocolate fudge brownie ice cream; amazingly, feel no guilt whatsoever

7:30pm = Netflix movie: 9, post-apocalyptic animated feature (3 stars)

9:25pm = realize Padre called me back at some point and left voicemail, never heard the phone, much relieved to know all is okay

SATURDAY 01/16/10

7:30am = call Padre while heading to bagel shop, overall things are good, tell him about card from Mezza-Sorella, discover names and relationships can get slippery

8am = breakfast: whole wheat everything bagel with cream cheese & tomato slices and French Vanilla coffee; update Facebook status about breakfast, and once again prove that food postings always generate the most comments

9am = call the Uncle for a chat

11am = settle down on the couch to read more of Crow, finish first 1/3 of book, still amazed by his writing style and ideas

12:30pm = lunch: leftover Chinese food

3pm = enjoy the guilty pleasure of afternoon nap

5pm = leave for Gay Boys Night Out in Chelsea

6:15pm = movie theater with DC & YU to see The Young Victoria, brilliant film (5 stars!)

8:30pm = dinner with DC, YU, JM, & AR at Raffaella's, eat Raffaella Crepe (grilled chicken, artichokes, spinach, sundried tomatoes, swiss cheese) with side salad

10pm = drinks at Barracuda's, packed with Chelsea queer BYTs (Bright Young Things) who go crazy over Beyonce and Lady Gaga, couldn't resist tapping my toes, suddenly we all want to go dancing, but realize sometime after midnight that we're old and exhausted, so we all head home

2am = in bed fast asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head

Observations about the week: (1) highlight has to be almost getting hit by the car with the Jesus stickers, but people who've emailed me seem most intrigued by my food choices---what is it with food?!; (2) the interplay of high points and low points make me realize that's life; and (3) I'm really busy with school-related things, but I seriously need to make more time for a social life, if you know what I mean.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Week-in-my-Life: Jan 2010 (Pt. 2)

WEDNESDAY 01/13/10

6:15am = after a horrible night of sleep, wake up with excruciating headache, take Advil and call into work late, knowing I'm going to miss meeting for all professional staff

8:30am = email Padre about his doctor visit, hoping he understands we're concerned about him

9:15am = leave for work although head still hurts; halfway to subway realize I forgot work ID, so have to go back home, but since it's so friggin' cold and windy I'm glad to go back for my hat

9:30am = heading back to subway, while crossing intersection almost hit by a livery cab with stickers of Jesus Christ on headlights; ponder for a moment whether the impact would have killed me or converted me a là St. Paul

9:40am = on 4 train to work, head hurts, but force myself to start reading Thomas Crow's Emulation: David, Drouais, and Girodet in the Art of Revolutionary France (1995), knowing RL will be very happy I'm finally reading this

11am = meeting; starting to decide I may need to go home early because head still aches

2pm = leave work early; get to subway and once underground hear announcement that all 4, 5, and 6 trains have stopped running "due to an incident involving the police at Grand Central" (which of course is never explained further); trudge upstairs with everyone else bitching about the NYC transit system, wait in line with 127 other people to take a bus down Lexington Ave., eventually getting out at 68th Street and walking to the F train; commute that normally takes 55 minutes winds up taking me 1 hour and 35 minutes to get home, with head still pounding

4pm = Advil and nap

6:30pm = headache tapering off, so decide on dinner: turkey burger with sweet potato fries and green bean, tomato & goat cheese salad; watch episode of Paula Dean on Food Network and almost vomit when she makes chicken fettuccine alfredo with mayonnaise

7pm = start revising independent study report

9pm = watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (4 stars)

10pm = wash dishes, take more Advil because god-damned headache never went away, convinced at this point it's one of the air-pressure-and-stress headaches which, combined, are always impossible to get rid of

THURSDAY 01/14/10

6:15am = wake up very happy because finally headache-free

7:35am = walk to subway across same intersection as yesterday, grateful for divine intervention that there are no Jesus-stickered livery cabs in the vicinity; get a seat on the subway next to a smelly homeless man whose hand keeps eerily brushing my leg; ignore him by reading more of Crow and listening on my iPod to Mozart, Bublé, Streisand, et al.

9:15am = after a day of email exchanges with 3 professors and the art history program office, I receive confirmation of a scheduled date for my Oral Examination: Thursday, April 22, 2010, at 10am (yay!)

10am = meeting

12:30pm = lunch in the staff cafeteria with EB, KZ, and RL, art history students in my program who also work at the museum

2:15pm = panic at my desk realizing I have to teach a new class called "Finding Digital Images" next Wednesday morning, and since we're off on Monday I have to prepare everything for the class before my next meeting in an hour

3:25pm = heading down to meeting with co-workers, encounter Director of the museum who will be our guest speaker; I decide to be gregarious and introduce myself, and then immediately slip into stupid mode when he asks me what I do; saved by the elevator bell

6:30pm = dinner & Netflix: take-out Chinese wonton soup and steamed chicken & snow peas with brown rice, and the first-to-last episode of season 2 of Veronica Mars (the post-modern Nancy Drew)

7:30pm = continue reading Crow, decide art historians should be applauded for writing sentences like his description of Jean-Germain Drouais's 1786 painting The Wounded Warrior (above): "The balanced studio posing of the model ... is transformed into a suspended moment of tense concentration. The alertness of the figure distinguishes it from the vacant upward stare of the earlier version: physical distress ... here produces an intense enhancement of consciousness rather than its weakening or loss. ... Pain and consciousness are all the more identified to the degree that Drouais displaces attention away from the ostensible wound to the body: as depicted, the injury is all but invisible. But in its absence the entire body is organized to mark the spasm of pain that energizes the athlete." (p. 55-56)

9pm = dessert: cup of tea and a Weight Watchers chocolate eclair with raspberries; cannot wait to know how Veronica Mars will end so watch season finale, which turns out to be really good (5 stars)

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Week-in-my-Life: Jan 2010 (Pt. 1)

When blogs first started, many were journals or diaries that recounted people's quotidian activities. I've kept a personal, handwritten diary for years now, but it was never really my intention for bklynbiblio to be that kind of blog. Still, I thought it might be interesting (fun? insane? hilarious?) to track a random week in my life and see what comes out of it. I won't do this all the time, but I figured it might give people a sense of what actually happens in the life of a NYC-based queer doctoral student-slash-writer-slash-art historian-slash-librarian. Obviously this won't be a play-by-play account, but a summary of various things. Comments, of course, are always welcome.

SUNDAY 01/10/10

5am = awake on my own accord, panicking that I need to keep working on my independent study report, which I have been working on non-stop for the past week

11am = shocked because finished with sources at home for report; reward myself with a nap

1pm = food shopping; bake chocolate chip cookies; catch up with friends on telephone, including DH, my long-lost friend from high school who friended me on Facebook few days earlier; clean kitchen

4pm = reading Ewa Lajer-Burcharth's essay "David's Sabine Women: Body, Gender and Republican Culture Under the Directory" (1991) for my oral exam study group; all good until she starts on psychoanalytical gibberish about Lacan and babies

7pm = dinner & Netflix movie: portabella mushroom burger on wheat toast with leftover roasted vegetables, and Dancing at Lughnasa (3 stars)

MONDAY 01/11/10

8:10am = standing on the platform with half the population of Brooklyn waiting for the 4 train to take us to work, reading Lajer-Burcharth by holding article over someone's head, wondering why I put up with all this

8:45am = walking into museum to start work, stroll through the Egyptian wing chatting with co-worker, realize I love where I work and that's why I put up with all this

9:30am = meeting

10am = meeting

11am = another meeting!

12:30pm = reading Lajer-Burcharth during lunch, decide that art historians should be slapped for writing sentences like: "Yet the positional constraint of the female body in the Sabines could not be attributed solely to the universally Oedipal structure of the male unconscious but also to the historically specific circumstances that made the concerns about women's 'mobility' (in the broadest sense), men's authority and paternity more urgent than at other times."

3pm = clock out early to do homework for 2 hours

6:30pm = yoga class

8:30pm = dinner: minestrone soup and grilled turkey, swiss & apple sandwich

9pm = finish reading Lajer-Burcharth

TUESDAY 01/12/10

8am = wake up shocked that I slept so well and never woke up once during the night; do morning stretches, including 30 push-ups for the first time (yay!)

8:30am = on the computer typing up notes on Lajer-Burcharth's essay and Edgar Wind's essay "The Revolution of History Painting" (1938)

12pm = lunch: egg & swiss sandwich with side of almonds and clementine

1:15pm = riding the F train to school, reading Patricia Condon's In Pursuit of Beauty: The Art of J.-A.-D. Ingres (1983)

2pm = study group with KZ for over 3 hours; we do good!

5:30pm = email update about Padre's doctor visit, mostly good news, but doctor wants to try Aricept, not so good news; discover he's upset with me about doctor, so now I'm upset; call him, no answer, leave voicemail; call Fratello instead, no answer

6:30pm = dinner: salad at school while perusing books on landscape painting and French Prix de Rome winners; Fratello returns calls, I have small meltdown and he graciously lets me freak out about things, including momentary realization that I have no memory of the last time I was on a date

7:30pm = at gym; in locker room, cute Asian-Latino guy in a towel meets my gaze, I think; start cardio exercises

9:15pm = leave gym 557 calories thinner (yay!); got lovely glimpse of naked black bubble butt on my way out of locker room

9:25pm = waiting for F train, see cute guy with beard on V train, but realize he's wearing white jeans, so he's obviously straight; assumption proven correct when he gets whiplash staring at 3 women who board train; V train pulls away and I smile sardonically when I hear '80s pop song "Brand New Lover" by Dead or Alive playing on my iPod

10:30pm = leftover minestrone soup, cup of tea, last of the chocolate chip cookies, and blogging about my week so far

(To be continued...)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Conclusion to the BSOD

You may recall on Christmas Day that my old laptop crashed and I got the accursed Blue Screen of Death. I ordered a new Dell Inspiron 15 laptop, an picture of which you can see to the left. It arrived on Tuesday, but I didn't have a chance to really set it up until today (due in part to a migraine last night). Imagine my dismay when the Internet connection wouldn't work, and after doing some research discovering there may be incompatibility between Windows 7 and my ISP. (And here I thought compatibility was only something matchmakers had to deal with.) I was dreading having to call TimeWarner for help, but after 1 hour of technical assistance, we got Internet back, and I must applaud Mina and Apple (yes, like the fruit), two women who did a great job talking me through everything.

My initial impressions of the Inspiron 15 is that it is very sleek. You can pick a variety of different colors and designs, but that costs extra, so I went with basic black. It has a beautiful glossy finish that, curiously, reminds me of the lacquered Yamaha baby grand piano I had when I was a teenager. (This was the same piano that, after being set up in our living room, immediately shocked my mother into realizing she had to redecorate the entire house to go with the piano. Practically overnight we went from traditional to 1980s ultra-modern: black-lacquered furniture, white sectional sofa, mauve carpeting, and abstract paintings.) The laptop is a bit heavier than my previous Inspiron, but the monitor is much larger for high-definition viewing, and the screen resolution is incredible. So far Windows 7 is interesting to work with, but fortunately it's not that different from Windows XP in how files are arranged, so that has been an easy transition. The best news, though, is that I lost none of the files on my old computer. Thanks to a handy-dandy linking system, I was able to copy all my music, digital images, and documents onto the new laptop in one easy sweep.

So what this means is that bklynbiblio is back online from the home front overlooking the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. If you're reading this post on the actual site itself ( you'll notice also I've modified the look a bit for the new year.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review: DW: The End of Time

New Year's: a time for endings and beginnings. This past Saturday, I was glued to my television watching the last two episodes of Doctor Who with David Tennant. It's so sad to see him going. He was undoubtedly the best Doctor ever. His charisma, brilliance, and good looking nerdiness made him absolutely charming in his neverending journey to save the universe. John Simm as The Master was frighteningly good in this episode as well. Although, all that said, I still find myself thinking that the episode wasn't as good as I would have hoped. I don't want to say I was disappointed, but I was confused at times by the storyline and maybe I was looking for a little more emotional punch. I think the biggest problem was being interrupted every 7 minutes with commercials, which was seriously annoying, so I will have to rewatch it on DVD when it's released next month. And it was emotional at times. With the entire television audience knowing he would die and regenerate at the end, it was not so much the ending as much as how we got there that counted. The round of farewells was well done (yay for The Doctor matchmaking Captain Jack with cutie sailor-boy Alonso!), but when Doctor David muttered "I don't want to go!" just before regenerating, it did tug at my heart a bit. (All right, yes, I am a sap for sentimentality, but only when it's over someone whom I really like.) Who knows what's going to happen when the new episodes return this year with Matt Smith. I'll try not to pass judgment before watching them. But it's hard. We want Doctor David back. Doctor Matt will have big shoes to fill.

In the spirit of endings and new beginnings, Happy New Year! I'm writing this post from a computer at school, since I'm still waiting for my new computer to arrive.