Friday, January 28, 2011


This is my grandmother's desert rose china collection. It belongs to me now. My dear cowboy uncle shipped it off to me in three giant boxes last week, and now here it is. It's been a long time coming. It was always meant to come to me, her only granddaughter, when she passed away over three years ago, but it was never a high priority for anyone, least of all me. But now that Dad has also passed away, Amy is taking charge of certain things, and her Christmas present to me was helping my uncle get these things packed and shipped to me. And now that they're here, I'm glad I have them.

It's an 8-piece dinner set, with dinner plates, salad plates, dessert plates, soup bowls, coffee cups, teacups and saucers, two large bowls, a pitcher, a sugar bowl, a cream pitcher, a serving dish, and a butter dish. It's a lot of stuff! But it's really quite beautiful, and it has the added weight of having been Grandma's for all those years. I remember eating biscuits and gravy, and waffles with karo syrup off of these plates. And I remember how they were displayed in a rickety china cabinet in the dining room that shimmied and shook if you stepped on the wrong floor board.

So now I have a full set of china and a full set of silverware from Grandma, plus her diamond earrings, which Dad delivered to me in person earlier this year. And I've somehow "inherited" Mr. G's mother's crystal. I'm ready to host the perfect dinner party! If only I had a dining table and knew how to cook. But seriously, I could serve almost anything on these dishes and it would be classy, albeit in an old fashioned sort of way. Maybe once I paint my apartment, I'll have a dinner party for 8. Now who to invite . . .

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

shine on you crazy diamond

Youthful enthusiasm is not attractive in a simple minded 20-something art school drop out. But it's very attractive, and even inspiring, in an intelligent preteen girl. I had the most awesome conversation with such a girl at the zoo recently. I was in my docent uniform, and she came right up to me and said, "Isn't this just all bunk?" She then launched into an angry critique of zoos, zoo visitors, and the legitimacy and purpose of keeping captive animals for our own amusement. Love that youthful righteousness! And I love that she was then willing to listen to everything I had to say, and to discuss the topic at length and consider alternate views. Smart girl! I told her that all of her passion and opinions were totally valid, and then explained why I think quality zoos are important. We talked about education and conservation; how zoos support research, both within their own facilities and out in the wild, that helps to preserve species and ecosystems worldwide; the history of zoos and how standards have improved dramatically in recent decades; how zoo keepers work hard to provide enrichment activities to keep our animals healthy and stimulated; the impact of population growth, the ivory trade, and the bushmeat industry; Jane Goodall, and the abstract concepts of patience and hope. Yes, lots of people come to the zoo and laugh at the funny animals, eat some popcorn, and go home without any thought beyond their own immediate pleasure. But if we can reach even a fraction of those people, and turn on a tiny light in a new part of their brain about how awesome animals are and how important it is to respect and protect our planet, maybe it's all worthwhile. Maybe. You can still debate it, but personally, that's what motivates me to be involved with the zoo. But change doesn't happen over night. You have to be patient, and help effect change in whatever small ways you can, with the underlying belief that eventually human consciousness will make that crucial shift and find a way to live more harmoniously with this planet that is our only home. By the end of our conversation, my young friend was telling me that she wants to be a scientist (What kind? All kinds!), and a politician, and a singer. Why the hell not? And then she gave me a little lollipop and thanked me for talking with her. Made my day.


I'm a jaded old lady, so don't bother talking to me, you roving young art enthusiast. These jade monkeys are meant to illustrate both my jaded nature, and your monkey-like (i.e. foolish) behavior. Even though I happen to love monkeys, and know they're more intelligent than you are. You're certainly not unique in this, but what gall you have to interrupt my peaceful lunchtime in the park with your inane and uninformed chatterings about art. Did it even cross your mind that perhaps I'm sitting in this quiet corner trying to have a moment of solitude and meditation in the middle of a busy work day? Why on EARTH do you think I give a DAMN about anything you have to say about art, artists, museums, yourself, or anything else? I DON'T CARE. And you dare ask for my freakin' phone number? NO. Oh, of course not for a date or anything, just a coffee to continue this great conversation. NO. At worst, you think you'll get somewhere with me, even though I'm easily 10 years older than you, wearing an engagement ring, and I wouldn't be interested in you in any version of reality anyway. At best, you think you'll "network" with me, and you'll be cool because you have an art museum connection now. No, dear, you do not. I'm getting nothing out of this but a pain in my ass. And I don't appreciate being used, for whatever purpose.

Friday, January 14, 2011

you never gave me your new #

How am I supposed to contact you? You never call me anymore. I'd like to talk to you about a lot of things, but I have no way of getting in touch with you. Isn't their some way I can reach you? Did you just move away and forget to leave a forwarding address? That's so unlike you. I don't even have a clue how I might communicate with you at this point. The ball is in your court. You could call me. Or send me a little message in the mail. Or you could stop by and visit for a few minutes. Or just walk by outside, and let me see you for a moment. Couldn't you?

Monday, January 10, 2011


The concept of ownership has been bopping around my brain recently. Ownership in the sense of taking pride in something, or feeling a sense of belonging to something. Specifically, I've been thinking about "my" museums over the years, and the deep sense of ownership and connection I've had to each one of them. My identity gets all wrapped up in where I work, which I guess isn't unusual given how much of our lives each of us devotes to our jobs, whatever they may be, for better and for worse. I've been lucky that most of my jobs have been pretty good.

The Stephen-Birch A
quarium Museum, La Jolla

My first museum job was at the aquarium. It used to be in an old building down by the beach, and we visited all the time when I was little. I remember the tide pool out front where you could touch starfish and sea urchins, and the tiny gift shop where you could buy cheap seashells and coloring books. I wrote a report on the history of the aquarium in junior high school, and I still have a chunk of the beautiful blue tile that was salvaged for me when the old building was demolished. During summers between college, I worked in the ticket booth at the new incarnation of the aquarium (pictured here). We had to wear these aquamarine polo shirts (which totally didn't fit my style at the time, or now, for that matter, but it's more troubling when you're younger), and sell tickets out of a cramped little booth. People would often ask if we were mermaids because we were the first creatures they encountered behind glass at the aquarium. I loved being knowledgeable about the fish and the museum, and about silly things like the millions of different coupons and membership packages. Even though it was cool to be there all alone, I was always kind of scared walking through the dark aquarium before or after hours. What if all the glass broke and I drowned in those dark hallways among thrashing sharks and lobsters? It still give me the heebie jeebies.

Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley

My next museum job was at a science museum in the Berkeley hills. I had to ride a funky little blue bus from the campus up through the fog every morning; sometimes it was so foggy you couldn't even see this life-size whale sitting right out front when you arrived. I worked for one of the education programs, and spent a lot of time running past a large display of the human neurological system that made a loud zapping sound every few minutes as it traced the pattern of synapses through the body (or some such thing -- I'm not a scientist!). One of the things our program was trying to do was encourage science teachers to use this thing called the internet. It was a huge victory each time we got one of them to set up an e-mail account. Yes, I'm that old! And I got to meet Glenn Seaborg, who won the Noble Prize in Chemistry in 1951, and has an element on the periodic table named for him: seaborgium (element #106)!

Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park

My first ART museum job was in Seattle. I remember praying to a tiny statue of Ganesha that I'd get this job as a curatorial assistant at SAAM, supporting an older curator of Japanese art with an insane temper, and a younger curator of Chinese art who was always on the go. I had to type little labels on a typewriter every week for the ladies bringing in their Ikebana flower arrangements; meet old men in the lobby who wanted to donate their collections of Chinese snuff bottles; and listen to stories from the old timers who were very lovely, but carried big chips on their shoulders about the good old days before the newer museum was built downtown. I always had a soft-spot in my heart for SAAM, quietly sitting up in the park on the hill, in its beautiful art deco building, with all its history and old fashioned ways. But of course downtown was where the action was, and I was seen as a bit of a traitor when I transferred there to be assistant to the head curator.

Seattle Art Museum, Downtown

This became my home for the next 5+ years. I made all the gallery labels, restocked the brochures, maintained the slide library (yes, again, I'm old!), responded to crazy people claiming to be reincarnations of Miguel Covarrubius, coordinated the annual local artist award, scheduled studio visits for the curators, escorted visiting scholars and students into art storage, coordinated the quarterly art acquisition meetings, basically got to be part of the heart of the museum. I felt like it was "my" museum. I loved being the source of information about exhibitions and the collections, being a mediator between the public and the curators, and having free rein around the galleries, storage areas, and administrative offices. And I made many dear friends there, attended many lectures, sat on the grand stair for many film screenings and concerts, attended many parties, kissed in many stairwells, ate and drank at many local eateries (the Green Room and under the Squid being two favorites), cried many times in the parking garage, and learned many, many useful things. They've since renovated the entire museum, and it's bittersweet to see familiar hallways that have disappeared to make way for a new cafe, and to see where the old galleries once ended and the new ones begin. It's a nice new space, but it's not my space anymore.

The Getty Villa, Malibu

One of the highlights of my life was working at the Villa. I know it's not perfect -- no place is -- but honestly it was a dream come true in so many ways, and I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to be there for the reopening, to work with and befriend so many golden people, and to have the privilege of calling that gorgeous oasis in this crazy city my home-away-from-home for over 5 years. Drinking prosecco on the porch; sharing lunch with a gaggle of good friends; seeing dolphins on the way to work; cultivating my special herd of curators; intimate conversations on the psychologist's stool; the notoriety of working at the Getty and always being in the news, for better or for worse; the glamor and professionalism of working in a world-class institution; checking on the galleries in the mornings; strolling through the gardens in the afternoons; attending lectures, performances, and glittering opening receptions in the evenings. Damn I loved that place, and it was so hard to leave. But I had to, in the pursuit of continued growth and self-respect.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

What is this place? Will I ever have that same sense of ownership here? I realize I've only worked here a few months, and my time has been colored by personal loss and disorientation, but right now it's mostly just a job. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of "ownership," feel that little glow of being proud and excited to be part of this dynamic institution. There are many more freedoms, and lots to learn, which is what I wanted. I just have to remember to be patient. It's early days yet. I'll carve out a home for myself here, just like I've done at every other museum. And next thing I know, it will be a significant part of my history. Maybe I'll stay here a long time. Maybe I'll return to the Getty in a new guise. Or maybe one day I'll depart for another museum, and make that place my own too.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

mr. g

This is another thing that makes me happy.


These two things made me happy recently:

My bedside table in our hotel room in San Francisco, complete with goldfish companion, lavender sachet, and a special scented candle that Mr. G bought for us at Barneys on Union Square. Ahhh . . .

This was written by an unknown person on the beach in La Jolla on New Year's Day. There were lots of similar sentiments in the sand, and happy faces.


Did I tell you that I also really love Chinatown? San Francisco's Chinatown. Again, lots of cities have what they call a "Chinatown" area, but SF's is the best. I'm a total sucker for certain touristy things, and I embrace that fact fully. But Chinatown is one of those great combination places that is both the ultimate in touristy kitschiness, and yet is also a vibrant neighborhood inhabited by real people.

Why does it seem like every culture on earth is more colorful than European/American culture? So many other people in the world embrace bold colors in their clothing, architecture, homes, even their food. While we dress in blacks and blues, live in our gray houses, and eat potatoes and bread. Boring! And so we love the "exotic," and we admire its beauty, but we know it's not really for us, so instead of emulating it or joining in, we try to possess it, and purchase it, and own it. Anyway, I'm off topic. Back to the joys of Chinatown!

One of the joys is indeed shopping. Look at all the pretty little things! And they're cheap too! Beautiful silk purses in every shape and size, paper parasols, gleaming lanterns, decorative fans, lucky porcelain cats, colorful tea pots, dainty slippers. Of course there are also tons of crappy souvenirs, tiny cable cars and bridges, shot glasses and ash trays, cheap luggage, and tacky t-shirts. I also love the glitzy antique shops interspersed among the souvenir stands. Who is the person who actually buys that $2,000 bronze tortoise on a whim while walking through Chinatown on vacation? Where exactly are you going to put that 6 foot ivory carving of a thousand tiny horses running in the wind when you get home? These shops are so crammed full of stuff I can't even see what I'm looking at. But I will always regret not buying one of these sleeping piglets.

It's fun to eat in Chinatown too. We had dim sum at a random place that we were handed a flyer for on the street. We looked it up and it had good ratings, so we went. It was a literal hole in the wall, the service was incredibly slow, and some guy left shouting that he was going to call the police because of a dispute over his bill, but other than that it was great. The food was yum-yummy, and super cheap, and they only brought out one dish at a time so you had to savor each one individually, like these steamed pork buns. I just want to squeeze them, and hold them, and kiss them.

Even if you don't eat anything, it's fun just looking at the cooked ducks hanging in the windows, the odd-shaped fruits and vegetables in the wooden stand on the corner, the candies flavored with things we'd never consider "candy-appropriate" in the west, and the many bakeries. Everything in any bakery looks delicious, the world over. But you never know what you're going to get. We bought an assortment of tasty looking treats at one popular/crowded bakery, but most of them were filled with strange savory pastes that just didn't match our conception of "sweets." Still, they're pretty to look at and fun to sample. I wanna go back. The fact is yes, you can find all of these things in Los Angeles, but it's just not as FUN. (Actually some of it IS lots of fun here too, it's just better when you're on holiday.)

japanese tea garden

More on the Japanese. I know I've already posted photos of the Japanese Tea Garden below, but it's just SO GREAT, it deserves its own separate post. Did I tell you how much I love the tea garden? Yes, there are Japanese tea gardens in many cities, but the one in Golden Gate Park is the best (outside of Japan, anyway). I don't pretend to know much about Japan, or its culture or people, but what I do know, I like, and being in the tea garden makes me feel happy and peaceful. I want to live there.

When had tea in the tea house, sitting at a long wooden table overlooking the pond. I remember visiting as a child and marveling at the funny tea cups, the almond cookies, and the spicy crackers that burned my tongue. The menu seems greatly expanded now, but it's still simple, and I could eat from it every day: miso soup, little rice balls and bean curd cakes, the spicy crackers, mochi, cookies, jasmine tea. Perfect! And as you eat your simple meal, you can gaze out at the trees swaying in the breeze, the clouds passing by overhead, the squirrels scurrying across the grass, the light rain rippling the surface of the pond. Again, so peaceful. I think I need to spend more time in places like this to calm my troubled mind.

After tea, we wandered around the garden. It's not very large, but the paths twist and turn -- taking you through intimate glades, over delicate bridges, past colorful pagodas, around gleaming waterways -- so it has the illusion of being much more expansive than it is. And it's wonderful in any kind of weather. There are plenty of areas to shelter from either the warm sun, or a light rain. The play of light on the hedges, ponds, and rock gardens is different in every season, every time of day, every nuance of sun, rain, and in between.

You can enjoy the garden alone. It's a perfect place for solitary reflection. Or you can visit with friends or family, and walk through the gardens together in quiet conversation. You can catch glimpses of the city and hills beyond the garden from certain areas, but mostly it enfolds you in its illusion of peaceful isolation.

It's one of my favorite spots on earth. I'd like to go there right now! Maybe I can adopt it as my personal happy place in my mind. When I'm feeling stressed or upset, I can visit the tea garden in my mind any time I like!


Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter, and print maker of the Edo period. He's best known for his woodblock print series Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji, and of course, The Great Wave. I think everyone agrees he's pretty awesome. We saw this great exhibition, Japanesque, in SF. It was all about Japanese print makers in the age of Impressionism. Basically showing the fantastic work that artists were creating in Japan, which in turn inspired the Impressionists.

There were tons and tons of gorgeous prints by Hokusai, Hiroshige, and other artists, and then a whole section of prints by French artists in-the-style-of Japanese prints. One guy, for example, did his own Thirty Six Views of the Eiffel Tower. And then there were the more familiar prints by artists such as Degas, Lautrec, Cassatt, etc. The French guys (and gals) are great, but none of them capture the sublime simplicity and vibrant color of the Japanese prints. They're just gorgeous in person; you can't take your eyes off them. You want to possess them. You want to be there in that scene, watching that bird hop along a branch, admiring that mountain across the rice paddies, or walking along that lakeside in the moonlight. It's a world you want to inhabit. Views of Paris are lovely, but I'll take the Japanese countryside over industrial Europe any day.

And of course there are the erotic prints. Who doesn't love these? For all their bucking of tradition, and defying of conventions, those Frenchmen never came close to the eroticism and sheer boldness of some of these Japanese artists. I mean, check out the octopus love here! Enjoy it visually, and then let it sink in a little bit . . . awesome! Mr. G purchased a beautiful folio of Hokusai prints and a thick volume of eroticism. I purchased a Hokusai tote bag and a coloring book. That pretty much sums us up, and that's why we complement each other so well. :)

northern museums

SF has a lot of great museums. Walking through the Legion of Honor, the De Young, and the Academy of Sciences, I couldn't help thinking that I'd be happy to work at any one of these museums. Of course it's easy to fantasize about things like this from the outside, when you're on holiday. I'm sure each institution has its share of crazy people and ridiculous policies that have to be navigated. And any job is a drag when you have to get up early, and slog through the rain, and your car is in the shop, and your cats are sick, etc. Basically you have the same problems wherever you go, but it's still fun to daydream.

The Legion of Honor is a gem of a museum, out past the Golden Gate. They have a wonderful collection, beautifully displayed, plus excellent changing exhibitions downstairs, and a great gift shop and cafe. It's the kind of place you plan to visit in the afternoon, but soon realize you should've planned for more time to really savor each gallery. You swear you'll come back one day, and you do, but there's never enough time! On this visit we had to see the fabulous exhibition of Japanese prints from the age of Impressionism (which truly was fabulous), but that meant I had to all but run through the permanent collection. When is there ever time to sit on a bench and spend quality time with your favorite artworks? When, I ask you?!

The Academy of Sciences is also awesome, especially its living roof. It has an amazing aquarium, with views up through the fishes and the tropical rain forest sphere, all the way to these portals on the ceiling. And it has the famous albino alligator, and classy displays about evolution and global warming, and of course the requisite hall of taxidermied beasts. It's super cool, but I have to say I miss the old building and the old displays. Maybe they were out of date, and maybe it's just childhood nostalgia, but I loved the central courtyard with its big dolphin fountain, and the sculptures of bears and cats all around the perimeter. And the tiled floors, bronze railings, and noisy acoustics of the old aquarium entryway with its alligator pit and two-headed snakes. And the dolphins, the manatee, and the fishes that swam round and round in the roundabout. And what ever happened to the anthropological dioramas showing Native American women weaving baskets, and Indonesian families in their houses on stilts? Were they deemed politically incorrect? And didn't it used to be a lot bigger, or was I just smaller? They've kept a few little homages to the former building, like the alligator pit, and the bronze seahorses, and this old walrus, but it ain't the same. If I didn't know about its former incarnation though, I'd be perfectly happy with the new museum.

And then there's the De Young, also in Golden Gate Park. What a great park! An art museum, a science museum, a Japanese tea garden, an arboretum, bison, a conservatory, turtles and ducks in the lakes. It's paradise, really. I'm not sure what I think of the new De Young exterior, but the galleries are great. I love how they've mixed media throughout, and juxtaposed works from across time and cultures where relevant and provocative. And they have stunning collections of African and Oceanic art. Plus, again, a great changing exhibitions program including the marvelous post-Impressionist show from the D'Orsay. I approve!

Maybe some day we will move to San Francisco. Although it has plenty of negative stuff, and it's awfully expensive, it's so much more civilized that Los Angeles. There are many things I like about LA, but SF is a place you could actually be proud to call your home. But then wouldn't Dad just be pissed? All those years he lived there, and I choose to move there after he's gone? That's so insulting. But of course one big reason I'd be there is because it's a way of being close to him. (If you're reading this blog, and you're getting tired of hearing about my Dad, tough nuts. He's gonna be on my mind for a while.)

golden gate

What's not to love about this iconic landmark?

Monday, January 3, 2011


They say that once cremated, the average person is reduced down to about 7 pounds of ash. That's about what a newborn baby weighs. Creepy, huh? But it fits in nicely with the whole concept of the ongoing cycle of birth and death. Birth and death really do complement each other. Both are major transitions, from and into what we may never know. And that mystery that accompanies them both is inescapable. Where were we before we were born? What becomes of us after we die? Is it really just nothingness on either end? I tend to think so, but when you witness these moments in life, it's simply impossible to wrap your head around what that means. For me anyway. I suppose it would be more clear if I believed in god.

Dad's ashes came to us in a simple black box. The box is sitting behind a large photo of him in Amy's living room. I took 5 vials full to scatter at various locations. I apologize if you think this is inappropriate subject matter for a blog, but not really, because I don't think there is such a thing. Cremated ashes are not smooth and light, as I guess I thought they would be. It's a rather thick, dense ash, and yes, there are fragments of bone (I suppose) mixed in there too. It got a little messy when Amy was transferring Dad from the big box into my little vials, but we both agreed that was okay. We were all close in life, why not get even closer by getting your ashes under our fingernails (!). It's so macabre, if you want it to be. Or, it just is what it is.

Our first stop was Dallas, Texas. That's where Dad was born and bred, and we returned there for a memorial gathering with his family. Afterward, Amy, Dad's brother, and I, went out the cemetery where both of their parents are buried. Grandma died about 3 years ago, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's. Their father died when my Dad was only ten years old, so of course I never knew him. However, it was interesting to note that he died on October 9, 1952, which was the same day we happened to be scattering his oldest son's ashes on his grave, exactly 58 years later. Here's a photo of Dad at the site a few years ago.

Mr. G and I went to San Francisco for Christmas, and one of my priorities was to scatter some Dad ashes at a few key spots. San Francisco was his city, and we shared a lot of good times there. The Legion of Honor is a gem of a museum, at the far edge of the city, with a great view back at the Golden Gate Bridge. It's quiet, peaceful, and beautiful there, plus Dad visited and enjoyed the museum countless times on his own, with me, and with Amy. So we went to this little vista point where I'd taken some nice photos of Dad in the past, and we admired the bridge, and I scattered my first little vial of ashes in the moist dirt. I then realized there was a nice pile of raccoon poop right next to my sacred spot. Sorry, Dad!

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park holds lots of fond memories for me, most of which were spent with Dad in my childhood. So I wanted to scatter some ashes there too. I don't know what the rules and regulations are about scattering human remains, but I felt a little self-conscious about it. I waited until no one was around, and scattered a bunch over the edge of the Rainbow Bridge. Most of them made it into the water, but I left a nice dusting along the edge of the bridge too (!). I also scattered some in a pond behind the gift shop which felt especially serene and peaceful. And a few more in a stream which leads down to a large pond in front of the main tea house. That man is all over the place in the Tea Garden, so now I love it even more!

I was in San Diego for New Years, and thought the beach along La Jolla Shores would be another lovely place for Dad to rest. I was conceived and born in San Diego, and the first 5 years of my life were spent there with both Mom & Dad. The beach is a wonderful place for reflection (especially at the beginning of a new year, or when one is troubled), with the immense ocean stretching out as far as the eye can see, and the relentless tides washing up and back in nature's great endless rhythm. I found a quiet end of the beach, and scattered some of Dad in the waves.

When I got in the car to drive home -- and I happened to be driving Dad's Subaru for a variety of uninteresting reasons -- the first song that came on was the Beatles' "Octopus's Garden."

I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus' garden in the shade

We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus' garden near a cave

We would shout and swim about
The coral that lies beneath the waves
Oh what joy for every girl and boy
Knowing they're happy and they're safe

We would be so happy you and me
No one there to tell us what to do
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden with you.