Friday, October 23, 2015

"Lead on, O kinky turtle!"*

One of the things fourth-year medical students do is away rotations. This is when they ask another medical school if they can visit. Sometimes students do this to audition for a residency program. Other times they want exposure to something their own school doesn’t offer. That was the case with me: I wanted to learn about pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation. I have already written about the insanity that is applying for these positions. The ridiculousness of that list was compounded in my case by my inability—despite fifteen years of higher education—to figure out how to properly use a special website to upload all the paperwork necessary to get a background check in New Jersey. And by the hosting institution forgetting to email me the start time and place information, such that I wasted the first of my ten days there trying to get somebody anybody to tell me where I was supposed to report. I got scolding emails from the background check website for a month until I called and asked them to deactivate my account.

ANYWAY, after all of that nonsense, I needed a girls’ day-out with some of my college besties. After some bus and subway shenanigans, we met at Port Authority for a Greek lunch and then hiked up to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), me dragging my suitcase behind. Along the way, I snapped this shot of Stephen Colbert’s Tonight Show headquarters on Broadway for Dear Husband. At the MoMA, we joined the masses to take in the modern European gallery. Here are a few of my favorite pieces.

“The Dream” (1910) is one of Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings. Rousseau (1884-1910) never saw an actual jungle. Instead, he consumed its representations in the metropole, through the Jardin des Plantes, colonial expos, and popular literature. The first thing that leapt to my mind was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The painting also evokes Eve in the Garden of Eden and the writings of another good imperialist, Rudyard Kipling.

This 1913 Futurist sculpture--"Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" by Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916)--graces the cover of one of my favorite books from graduate school, Stephen Kern’s The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918. A group of Italian artists became particularly enamored of the parts of modernity that were fast and sleek, like locomotives and automobiles. Here, a running man has become a little bit of each one. Kern talks about how new technologies like telegraph and cinema compressed time and space: a message could cross hundreds of miles in seconds rather than in days, and the curious could watch dispatches from the front lines back home during WWI.

Best Title went to an art-glass sculpture by Marcel Duchamp, "To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour" (1918).

Roberto Matta’s “inscape” entitled The Vertigo of Eros (1944) was entirely new to me, but I liked the tension between the abstract and the concrete. I see Gaussian lines, bodily organs, algae, endoreticulum, crystals, and ripples. It is an “automatic” illustration whose inspiration is supposedly somewhat mystical. Matta (1911-2002) was born in Chile but lived and worked in various countries throughout his life.

Then we wandered through the large exhibit on Pablo Picasso’s sculpture. It turns out he was never formally trained in this medium, and he rarely if ever exhibited his three-dimensional work during his lifetime (1881-1973). However, he kept many pieces in his studios, and over 100 were on display at MoMA. He went through phases during which he experimented with one material or another: clay, cardboard, metal, plaster of paris, found objects. Unsurprisingly, none of his sculptures are conventional. To the left is a still life of musical instruments made out of cardboard. To the right is a metal woman in a garden from 1929-1930. She’s probably naked, like all of the other women in his art. But I still think it looks like a rooster.

Hungry, but not wanting to battle Friday evening rush-hour traffic, we treated ourselves to coffee and dessert in the nice cafe on the 5th floor. Finally, we headed home to eat dinner, listen to the final game of the World Series, and play a neat board game called Veritas from Cheapass Games. Each player represents a different version of “the truth” recorded in manuscripts in a medieval French monastery. Each turn, you can copy and/or spread your truth to other monasteries. Sometimes one burns down, and then the manuscripts scatter. The goal is to strategically take over the most territory possible. CM and I duked it out until EF secured a come-from-behind victory, unlike the New York Mets, who lost in four straight to the Kansas City Royals.

The next morning I flew out stupid early to begin Residency Interview Season.

*EF's aunt once misquoted a hymn title while out with EF and her mother. It should be, "Lead on, O King Eternal!" But now we laugh about kinky turtles whenever we have a college besties' girls-day-out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

As American as Apple Pie

In the middle of October, I spent two weeks as a visiting medical student at Children's Specialized Hospital in New Jersey learning about pediatric rehabilitative medicine. It was the right amount of time for my schedule and interest, but the wrong length to get a hotel room or rent an apartment. Instead I found a couch bed through Air BnB. My hosts were an academic couple: a Colombian-American student teacher and a Mexican neurobiologist. I would call my second foray into the sharing economy a success.*

Basically, I lived in the living room of their apartment for two weeks. We all shared the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry facilities. Also the cat, Stella, a beautiful little year-old tabby. And we made a habit of cooking for each other: I made us shrimp couscous to eat while watching The Magic of Belle Isle (with Morgan Freeman); they made us flank steak with warm potato salad and green salsa (we watched "Deep Throat," X-Files season 1, episode 2). When I brought back freshly picked orchard apples from a weekend trip to a farm, they asked whether I had ever made apple pie. I confessed that I hadn't, and since we had no/less work on Columbus Day, we took up the challenge together.

I searched for an "easy" recipe that did not involve a pre-made pie crust and finally settled on this apple pie with a sour cream crust. Meanwhile, Tom Lehrer's voice sang in my head,
Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks
And the rich folks hate the poor folks
All of my folks hate all of your folks
It's American as apple pie

But during National Brotherhood Week
National Brotherhood Week...
Folks of different colors and backgrounds hating on each other is at least as old as the day Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas, wouldn't you say? So it seemed a fitting tribute for the holiday.

E. mixing the dough by hand.

The mixture of what we guessed were Macintosh and Winesap apples.

D. demonstrating how to add the right amount of flour to the dough.




We had our apple pie a la mode with French vanilla ice cream; my hosts could hardly believe that some people like theirs with cheddar cheese. How do you like your pie?

*My first foray in the sharing economy was using Uber in Chicago, but after they got bad press for not having company-wide policies for the respectful treatment of wheelchair-users and guide dogs, I deleted my account.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Two Centuries in One Afternoon

While driving around Union County, New Jersey, I kept noticing these burgundy-colored signs to historical sites. After searching around the internet, I discovered that they are part of an annual celebration of Four Centuries of history in one of the country's most densely populated areas. The sites are grouped by theme: Early Aristocracy (1663-1812), Farm Life (1686-1840), Revolutionary Front Lines (1763-1783), Commerce & Industry (1820-1928), and Victorian Resorts & Suburbs (1837-1920). Most have small staffs and are only open on the first Saturday or the second Sunday of the month. On the third weekend of October, all open for visitors with special programming. I already had plans for that weekend, but when I got out of clinic early one day, I found one that had weekday hours and popped by for a half-hour visit.

Boxwood Hall in the Mid-Town Historic District falls under the Early Aristocracy label. It was built around 1750 by Samuel Woodruff, an Elizabethtown merchant and later mayor, and is famous for having hosted a young Alexander Hamilton, an old Marquis de Lafayette, and one General George Washington, who ate lunch there on his way to New York for his inauguration as President of the new United States of America in April 1789.

The building was added-to and subtracted-from over the years, serving variously as a family homestead, a boarding house, and the Elizabeth Home for Aged Women. The old ladies moved out in 1938, and the Works Progress Administration helped a local association refurbish the structure. It opened as a historic site in 1943. My favorite detail from this period is the window panes made of faintly pink, blue, and clear glass to simulate "old glass."

A museum employee met me at the door and gave me a personal tour. This classic Georgian home features a wide central hallway that served as a waiting room and currently features a very old grandfather clock and fancy wallpaper to impress the guests. To the left and right are two rooms each. The green one above represents 18th-century evening entertainments.

I was surprised at how colorful the walls are. The archivist explained that careful examinations of seams (of clothing and wall coverings) have revealed that washed-out color schemes reflect aging and not the original owners' true preferences. The dining room was bright blue, and this living room vivid yellow, although you can't tell it from the photo.

Upstairs, the central hallway functioned as a family room. The master bedroom in the (warm) southwest corner is still being renovated, but a "grandmother's room" is almost done. They have set up a children's room and the guest bedroom where the Marquis stayed overnight.

Just down the street is Winfield Scott Park, named for the longest serving general in the U.S. Army. Over the years it has collected quite a few monuments, a few of which are shown here. That's the bust of "Old Fuss and Feathers" below.

This is a newer addition, commemorating the astronauts on the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986): Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

Another one illustrates George Washington's famous luncheon. The text reads, "1789 Elizabeth celebrates Washington's Inaugural Bicentennial 1989."

Cuban Americans provided the flower-flag for the monument to the "Apostle of Cuban independence," the intellectual and freedom-fighter Jose Marti (1855-1895).

There were of course memorials to the dead in various American wars. And then there was this one: "First Prize for City Federations of Second Class won by United Singers of Elizabeth, N.J. at 24th National Saengerfest Brooklyn, N.Y. May 29th June 2nd 1915." I find it remarkable that someone wanted to memorialize that particular accomplishment in stone and bronze in a public place for generations to come. Ich gratuliere?

While I was paying for parking, a guy yelled out of his car window as he was pulling out of his spot, "I love your attire!" I have to say that I have never been cat-called in such sophisticated terms before. In case you were wondering what I was wearing: powder blue shirt by Valerie Stevens, white sweater by Jeanne Pierre, khaki cargo pants by L.L. Bean, brown cable-knit knee highs from my sock drawer, brown slip-on shoes by Natural Sole, blue beaded earrings by high-school bestie C.B., corduroy purse by Fossil.

Resources: A map of Four Centuries sites.. A booklet to download about the Four Centuries sites.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

In My Conference Bag

A colleague in digital humanities recently asked on her blog, "What's in your conference bag?" I happen to be at the German Studies Association conference in Washington, D.C., right now, so I decided to answer her question with a quick experiment by emptying my tote bag onto my bed when I got back to the hotel after the second day of the conference.

I am using a tote bag I acquired in high school on a Wider Opportunity as a Senior Girl Scout that involved me flying down to Savannah, Georgia, by myself to dress up like a Victorian teenager and learn parlor games, how to talk with my fan, and proper dinner party etiquette. My mother sewed me a beautiful hunter green moire ball gown that I still have in my closet--not that I could fit myself into it anymore! But I digress. I obviously still use the tote bag.

Because I refuse to get with the times, I am still lugging around a 15" PC laptop (with cord). It lets me look at two documents side by side on the same screen--like a conference paper on East German visual artists in the 1980s and a power point of photographic images. Also, I left my paper copy of the conference program lying on my desk, so I have to consult a pdf to know which panels I want to listen to next. (The conference folder from the Austrian embassy just has a map, a drink ticket, and an errata sheet.)

When I left my room this morning, I packed a umbrella because apparently it's monsoon season on the East Coast; my smart phone for checking in with friends I want to see while we're all here; a wad of cash/IDs/credit card/room key; and a pen. After breakfast I decided I wanted some chapstick, and while rifling through my backpack up in the room, I also grabbed the following: a pack of gum; a baggie of candies; my inlaid business card holder from South Korea that my parents gifted me for my PhD graduation; my wallet; hand sanitizer; and a travel tube of ibuprofen. Being a Girl Scout, I had also stashed a yogurt cup and spoon from breakfast, and over the course of the day, I also acquired a packet of oyster crackers from lunch; a water bottle; and a couple of half-used napkins.

I would venture this is pretty typical of my travel style: prepared to work (laptop, business cards); to fill in down time (laptop, phone); to eat (yogurt, crackers--I usually carry an apple, too); and to handle "messes" like spilled tea or an aching knee. Probably I overpacked. After all, even though I am traveling with just my backpack, the whole reason for the tote bag is that the backpack has accumulated so many supplies that I *might* need (highlighters, USB key, mirror/brush, spare change, paperclips, etc.) that it is kind of heavy or at least cumbersome to carry around, even without the laptop. Basically, my backpack functions like a purse with two shoulder straps. As they say, the bigger the purse, the more stuff you will find to put in it.

What do you carry with you when traveling or working? Anything you find indispensable that others might not think about?