Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
-- John Donne, 17th century
-- Illustration by Robert Hooke, 1665

Kudos to whoever invented the flea. Its tiny mouth parts are specially designed to pierce skin and suck blood from innocent mammals (including humans) and birds.
Its legs are long and well adapted for jumping. A flea can jump vertically up to seven inches and horizontally up to thirteen inches. That's about 200 times its own body length, making the flea one of the best jumpers of all known animals (relative to body size). And speaking of bodies, theirs are laterally compressed, extremely hard and polished, and able to withstand great pressure, allowing for easy movement through their hosts' fur or feathers, and making it virtually impossible to crush them. The only way I know to kill them is by drowning, or of course highly toxic chemicals.

We have fleas. We haven't had fleas for many, many years, but they're here now, with a vengeance. I hate them. Zoe hates them. Xander hates them. Frankie hates them. But we are determined to prevail over them, and KILL, KILL, KILL every last one of them. My lovely landlord is now treating all of the outside areas (where there are tons of plants, grasses, and roving cats and dogs), and will do so regularly throughout the summer. I naively bought a knock-off version of Advantage which didn't do SQUAT, but I've now been advised by two vets to wait a couple weeks before applying the real deal. So we're stuck in a horrible limbo. I know the Advantage will solve most (if not all) of our problems -- it's a wonder drug, even though it's highly toxic, and I do have some reservations about rubbing toxic chemicals on my little pets. I'm just itching to use it (literally)! In the meantime, I'm spraying OFF on my legs, and putting the cats through a rigorous daily grooming routine in which many bastardly fleas are combed out and drowned in soapy water, struggling for survival in their own tiny bloodbath. I've also ordered some special cedar oil spray which is supposed to be an effective, non-toxic, repellent (See William Blake's "Ghost of a Flea" at upper left.)

I feel so low being infested with fleas like this: sub-human. But really, haven't humans always had an intimate relationship with fleas, and not just because of the pets and livestock that we keep? I'm sure my beloved Jondalar from "Clan of the Cave Bear" had fleas. And I'm sure all the Pellucidarians at the center of the earth have fleas. And haven't most people had fleas (and worse) throughout most of our history (especially in Europe)? Fleas are just one more little piece of nature, right? That doesn't mean I have to like them though, and I will not succumb to them the way the bulk of Europe did in the fourteenth century. I won't!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Last night I volunteered at the LA Zoo's major annual fund raising party, the Beastly Ball. Apparently volunteer positions for this event are highly coveted, so I was very honored to be selected to participate as such a recent graduate. I guess I made a good impression on somebody. :-) This year's honoree was the lovely Betty White (seen here with a young crocodilian). I was assigned to the silent auction, and worked a table with lots of winery tours and dinner packages for guests to bid on. There was great music, a giant grasshopper man bouncing around, and my favorite restaurant, Malo, had a table set up right across the way. It was immense fun watching all the fancy people with their jungle themed jewels and fancy dresses, high-priced faces and hair-dos. The silent auction ended at 8:15, and we were then free to watch the main program. The entire entry courtyard had been transformed into a shimmering dining hall and dance floor, and I rubbed elbows with Betty White and Mayor Villaragosa before getting drawn back out for more volunteer work handing out the auction items to their winners as they left the party. It was actually a lot of fun, but I was exhausted by the end of it because I'd been there since 9:00 a.m.

My shift started out that morning at the Meerkat hotspot, answering questions and talking about how one meerkat is always on guard duty, watching the sky and surrounding areas for predators. There was much talk about the movie Madagascar (no, these are not lemurs), which I had to re-direct to the Lion King (if you must have a movie parallel).

I then walked down to the front gate to help mitigate the misinformation being spread by the International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos protesters. Their cause is worthy, but unfortunately they're barking up the wrong tree in this particular case. I took one of their flyers, which talked all about the cruelty that elephants suffer in captivity. It's all true -- elephants do suffer a great deal in many places around the world -- but not at the LA Zoo, or any zoo of any quality. Perhaps we shouldn't keep elephants in captivity at all. Perhaps it's a selfish notion to think that we have a right to see elephants in Los Angeles, or anywhere outside their native habitats. But if it weren't for the educational and conservation efforts of places like the LA Zoo, we wouldn't have any elephants at all, in zoos or in the wild. I do agree that elephants should only be kept by zoos that are able to provide them with very large enclosures, and plenty of stimulation, enrichment, and companionship with other elephants. If you can't do that, you shouldn't have elephants. But if you can, I believe that experiencing an elephant in the flesh at a quality zoo can really help people appreciate them in a way that no other experience can, and that will hopefully lead to greater awareness of their plight in the wild, and ultimately their protection and preservation. I tried to explain this briefly to a couple of the young protesters who were carrying signs about how many elephants have died at the LA Zoo. I asked them where they got their information, and they laughed nervously and said they didn't really know, they were just given these signs to carry. What the hell, people? If you don't even know the facts, what on earth is motivating you to stand outside in the hot sun trying to convince people that the LA Zoo is evil when there are TONS of other things going on that really ARE evil? Talk about misdirected energy.

I realize that zoos are not for everyone, and I respect the fact that many people dislike zoos and choose not to patronize them. But I think the issues around keeping captive animals are fascinating and complex, and I believe that modern zoos can do much more good than harm in the broader crusade to preserve our wild habitats and the creatures that live within them. That's what motivates me to wear khaki pants and a white safari shirt, and trek around in the hot sun every other weekend, trying to disseminate little bits of information to people about the awesomeness of animals.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the spectacular gerome

A new exhibition just opened at the Getty Center, and I'm absolutely smitten. The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme is truly spectacular. I've always loved his exotic, erotic, orientalism, but of course he's been considered almost kitsch for so long. It's high time his work was re-examined, and that's exactly what this exhibition does. The man was prolific, to say the least, and his images have been incredibly influential, both in the visual arts, and in the film industry. You must go see this exhibition, and let it soak into your psyche.

Perhaps his images are overly romanticized, and some might even be considered racially or sexually inappropriate in today's hyper-politically-correct world, but how can you not swoon over the opulent colors and photographic details of Moroccan tilework and textiles? How can you not wish to be transported to that exotic land of beauty and leisure, noble death and dramatic flair? How can you refuse your imagination to run wild among images of gladiators, and crucified Christians being set ablaze in the arena while lions and tigers are released to devour the unfortunate martyrs in the center of the stage?

And then there's Napoleon. Anything involving Napoleon is awesome. I love the man! Here he is, facing down the Sphinx of all things, during his Egyptian campaign. What's not to love about this painting? The beauty, the drama, the historic impact, the romance. Sigh. Swoon.

What else can I say? I only had a chance to breeze through the exhibition this week, but I'm definitely going back for more. I want to read all about this stuff, buy all the books and souvenirs, make Gerome's exotic snake charmers and bath houses part of the secret happy place in my brain to which I can retreat when the going gets tough and I need a little escapism. Yum, yum, YUM!

Mrs. G2B

What the hell is this, and what does it mean?

I've been engaged to Mr. G for over a month now. It's a big transition for both of us, but it's going well. We're taking our sweet time, not setting any wedding dates, not even planning to move in together any time soon. Good man that he is, Mr. G is taking the whole thing very seriously, and trying to rise to the challenge of being a good future husband. Goofball that I am, I'm feeling smothered one moment, and then lonely the next moment (hence my new nickname: Hippo, for hypocrite); incredibly grateful and full of love yet another moment, and ready to run for the hills the next moment. I do believe it will all settle out when the time is right, and that's the whole purpose of the engagement period: to test out this new dimension to your relationship and make sure you're both comfortable with it and with each other. Right? Right. :-)

And what's with that scar on my middle finger?


Oh, Amma, I was so looking forward to your hugs this week. Little did I know what an ordeal the whole thing would be, and how ill prepared I was to deal with it.

The public program began at 7:30 p.m. I arrived an hour early to receive my "token," which sadly was Q10. I guess one needs to arrive very early indeed to obtain a decent place in line. The ballroom was beautifully decorated with colorful silken curtains, translucent lanterns, flowers, and the smells of delicious Indian food and incense. The volunteers were perfectly lovely, managing the crowd and answering questions. I tried to relax and go with the flow, but you know that's just not my style.

I listened attentively to the spiritual discourse, and loved that Amma said that when she sees a room full of people, she sees hundreds of colorful butterflies before her eyes. I love the concepts and philosophies she espouses: the interconnectedness of all things; the fact that we belong to the earth, and not vice versa; that we are not isolated islands, but we're all links in a great chain of being; that just as we strive to reach the stars, we should strive to bring "humanity" back to earth. She spoke about many contemporary issues, including the H1N1 virus, and the even more virulent "ego-virus," that threatens to obliterate our chances for any kind of peace on earth. She also spoke of the two most important days in our lives: the day you are born, and the day you understand why you were born (obviously most of us only get to experience the former). The program then evolved into about 90 minutes of rousing music, singing, and meditation. It was quite wonderful really. I only wish I was able to relax and experience it more fully.

The hugs, which are the main attraction, didn't even start until 10:30 p.m. Me being a modern, urban, impatient, anxiety-ridden person, I wanted to check in, get my hug, and check out. I was mindful enough that I went alone so that I could more easily reach a meditative state and be open to whatever emotions I might experience in the process, but by that point, I just wanted to cut to the chase and get my hug! I waited and watched, enjoyed the music, walked around the lobby, and kept checking in to see what number they were on. By 1:00 a.m., they were only on the "J" group! At that rate, it would be 3 or 4 am before they go to the "Q" group, and I just couldn't wait that long. I'd been there for almost 7 hours by that point, and I was exhausted and couldn't afford to miss work the following day, so I finally went home, hugless. :-(

I was quite disappointed, and almost felt like I'd had the exact opposite experience to what I should have had -- instead of experiencing the warmth and connectedness of Amma, I felt isolated and frustrated about the whole thing. Maybe the lengthy waiting is meant to be some kind of spiritual endurance test, which I am clearly not cut out for. Or, looking on the bright side, maybe this was just a trial-run for me, and I'll know better what to expect (and how to prepare) next time she comes to town. I did get a little Amma doll that I'd hoped to have her bless. I'd like to try again next year, now that I know what to expect. In the meantime, maybe I'll work on my meditation practice with my new BFF, who I'll call "Seymour" for now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

nuns of toledo

Our Getty CEO died this weekend. Suddenly. With no warning whatsoever. It's shocking. And sad. My first sensation was disbelief. This must be a joke. Then I felt extremely giddy -- not with happiness necessarily, but with all the thoughts racing around in my head about what this meant, for him, for me, for the Getty. What the hell? Can we not go more than 6 months without some major drama? And not to be too harsh, but how would things be different if he'd died in December, before our Director resigned? We now have our two top position wide open, flapping in the breeze. Where does that leave us? Does it even matter really? Our day to day jobs are unaffected, at least for now, other than the ever-present sense of chaos lurking in the background.

It's no secret that Mr. Wood was not well liked by many staff, particularly in light of the lay-offs last year, and the disagreements between him and Mr. Brand, who was beloved by many staff. Certainly no one wished him dead however. Our interim director shared some very nice, and very personal stories about Jim at this week's staff meeting, and I for one found it quite moving. He told us all about a recent trip they'd taken to Spain, and how it was clear to him that above all else, Jim loved art and loved seeing and learning new things, and that counts for a lot. One of the images he left us with was of the tall, vibrant, Jim (the picture of health, really) surrounded by a group of little nuns in Toledo, Spain when they went to visit some very special El Greco altarpiece.

There's nothing like dying prematurely to cast a rose-colored hue on the life you lived. I didn't know Jim personally. Professionally, I don't agree with many of the decisions he made, and more than that, the way that he made them and communicated them with his staff. But in the end, he was a human being like all of us, and he dedicated himself to the arts until his dying day.

innocent until proven guilty

I had never served on a jury before until last week. I got lucky and got assigned to a decent courthouse, a short trial with no gruesome details to sort through, and a pleasant group of fellow jurors. The whole experience was great, and left me with a new respect for our judicial system, and more than willing to serve again the next time I'm called. Sure it's an inconvenience, but it's also a unique opportunity to meet and work with a random slice of your fellow citizens and observe some of the truly unique aspects of our legal system.

I mean, how amazing is it that we can gather a group of total strangers together, and they listen to other strangers' testimonies, attempt to consider all the evidence fairly and impartially, and then make a decision that may seriously impact people's lives, one way or another. I was very impressed that even though all of us jurors came from very different backgrounds, everyone seemed to fully understand the fact that the defendant was innocent until proven guilty, that even if some of us personally thought he probably was guilty, we had to feel that was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and that everyone took this responsibility quite seriously. It was a DUI case from over 3 years ago, and it basically came down to the defendant's word against the word of 3 police officers of varying credibility. He may have been drinking, but could they prove he was DUI, especially as he'd refused to take the blood or breathalizer tests? No. We found him not guilty, unanimously. It made a huge difference for us that the defendant decided to take the stand and explain his side of the story. Whether you believed every detail or not, it certainly brought many of the other testimonies into doubt, and his humble/nervous demeanor only helped his credibility. He cried when the verdict was read, and then bowed to each of us in gratitude as we filed out of the courtroom. I should mention that he was also a very handsome, intelligent looking young man, and I know at least two of us had pleasant dreams about him during the course of the trial, but of course that had no bearing on our decision :-).

We all felt good about it, and I think the roads are probably safer as a result because not only did our defendant learn a lesson, but all of us jurors learned a lot more about the law and how easy it is to find yourself in serious trouble for something that may seem like a very minor judgment call at the time. I know I learned a lot personally, about the legal system, DUI's, and being a jury foreman, which was fun. I think I did a pretty good job moderating our discussion, letting everyone speak their piece, and guiding us toward a pretty quick decision. Plus, I got to drive by this big famous donut every day!

museum people

This year's AAM Conference (American Association of Museums) was held in Los Angeles in May. Being the nerd I am, I decided to volunteer for a series of different shifts because a) each shift you worked got you a free day's pass to the conference, and b) I'm a nerd. It was actually a really cool experience. The volunteer orientation alone was totally uplifting, with several hundred people from every museum in town all coming together because they love their museums and want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

My first shift involved stuffing all the blue conference bags with schedules, maps, juice boxes, and some tourist mumbo jumbo about Turkey. My next shift was helping coordinate bus loads of people attending evening receptions at MOCA, Hollyhock House, and other hip locations around town. My final shift was the longest and most grueling, and involved standing in the main entry hall answering millions of random questions. By the end of my shift, I was a total expert on the conference and the layout of the convention center, but alas, this information will probably never be useful to me again! Still, it was fun, we got cool t-shirts, and I was then able to attend any and all sessions at my leisure.

As always, some of the sessions are so deadly dull that it's all you can do to keep from slipping off your chair onto the floor in an apathetic stupor. But there were also some really excellent sessions, including one with Michael Brand and Claire Lyons on the complex relationships between museums and archaeologists; a fantastically entertaining and informative session on the renovation of the Ashmolean's galleries; and an inspiring talk by the infamous Peter Sellars about why museums matter, especially in this day and age when there are fewer and fewer opportunities for true reflection and connection with history and our own humanity (there was a little bird flitting about the room during his talk, which was very apt).

In theory, it's also a good place to network, but that's not really my thing, although I did have a little meeting with a freaky guy from the Field Museum who wanted to learn about our exhibition process, and I also had a chance to meet a few colleagues from the east coast who we'll be collaborating with in the future. All in all, a good experience. Would I do it again? No, but probably, yes.

wookie kisses

I couldn't care less about the Dodgers. I really couldn't. But when Mr. G told me he had tickets to a special Empire Strikes Back game, and that Chewie would be throwing out the first pitch, I couldn't resist! We arrived and got special posters, t-shirts, and VIP passes, and were then ushered into the "geek section" in the far upper edge of the stadium. I couldn't tell what the hell was going on way down there on the field, but then I heard a rumor that Darth Vader was posing for photos by the hot dog stand. I leaped to my feet and picked my way past my fellow fans -- I swear, why do they make stadium seating so steep? I'm always terrified I'll fall and just go tumbling down forever until I land in the outfield, a broken, bloody, tangled mess. Anyway, I went out and sure enough, there was Darth Vader with a crew of storm troopers -- awesome. And then my beloved Chewie appeared, towering over the crowd with beastly elegance. I think he looks so sweet in this photo, kind of shy, and I love how his arm on my back makes my hair look like it's super long. My hair is the same color as a wookie!

ren faire

We drove the little beater blueberry out to the Renaissance Faire in May. It had been at least 20 years since I'd been to the Faire, but I had many fond memories of garlands of dried flowers, unicorn masks, archery, puzzle rings, the Reduced Shakespeare Co., and the Queen passing through with her bright red hair and bejeweled gowns. Not to mention the strange Scotsman who told me I should smile more or the little people would steal my shoes.

Anyway, the Faire was exactly as I remembered it, and I hope to go every year from this point forward. I got myself a new garland and a lovely feathered fan, drank a small cup of honey mead, tested my archery skills, watched a jousting match, and posed for photos with the Green Man, several knights, a rowdy group of semi-noblemen, and the Spanish Armada. Everyone was just there to relax, indulge and let their freak flags fly. It was awesome. I'm totally going to dress up next year.

coroner collision

I may have mentioned this before, but I had a collision with the county coroner back in March. It seems so long ago now. I was driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101, headed home after the final day of zoo class, distracted by a myriad of thoughts bouncing around inside my head, and frantically searching for an altoid, when all of a sudden, whammo, I'd rear-ended a van. The county coroner's van, no less. So we pulled over, and luckily there was zero damage to his formidable bumper, although he was now going to be late to go pick up "somebody" (or is it just "something" at that point?). My hood and fender got a little crunched, and most humiliating of all, the VW symbol fell off. We exchanged info, and then went on our merry ways; he even put on his lights and sirens to help us both get back into the flow of traffic.

I thought (or hoped) that the damage to my car was purely cosmetic. I felt trashy driving around in a beat up car, but I tried to just ignore it. A few weeks later, my engine was apparently over-heating, and when I went to open the hood, I found that it was jammed shut. Not even the professionals could get it open. So I relented and took it in to get fixed. Long gone are the days of simply replacing a rubber bumper. No, no, they had to replace the entire hood, front grill, headlights, and front wheel wells because they're all integrated. Thank god for car insurance, but my poor car was in the shop for a good two weeks, and I was reduced to driving around in a ca. 1982 blue Honda. It was a peppy little thing, and actually kind of charming at first. But it had a stiff clutch, no power steering, no A/C, and only an AM radio to keep me company. I enjoyed it in the mornings, but hated it in the evenings.

When I finally got my own car back, it was like driving on a little cloud. So quiet, so smooth, such effortless movements to turn a corner or parallel park. What a dream! I've been accused of being a tail-gater by several people. Hopefully I've learned my lesson, $1,000 later ($500 deductible, plus a new radiator that wasn't covered, plus 2 weeks rental car). Yet I still find myself frequently slamming on the breaks in daily traffic. Maybe this is just part of life in L.A., especially now that I have an actual commute across town and can't just roll down the hill to work. Maybe I'm more legit now. In the past year I've had my first speeding ticket, and my first real car accident. This is L.A., baby, and I'm living it.