Lost in Translation?

29 Jun

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I was at a coaching workshop two weeks ago taught by two Harvard professors up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The goal was for participants to learn how to facilitate sessions using the material themselves, so the teachers would alternate between treating us as regular audience members experiencing the material for the first time and then as facilitators, learning how to use the material with other people.

As you’ve probably gathered, it can be confusing to try two different approaches to the material, so to simplify things, they asked us to pretend we were somewhere else (San Diego) when we were going through the program simply as learners, and then would ask us to, “Come back to Cambridge,” when they wanted to address us as teachers-in-training.

Our first day, we toggled between “San Diego” and “Cambridge” regularly. I found it to be a clever way to shift gears easily and know which role I was playing (student or teacher) during the program.

At the end of that first day, we were broken up into small groups to prepare our own presentations. While we were doing this, the instructor called out, “Think about what you experienced when you were in San Diego – that will help you with this!”

A woman from my group leaned over and said – in full seriousness, “Can you explain this whole San Diego thing to me? This seems like a smart group of people – how are they tricking themselves into believing that THIS is San Diego?”

I have no idea.

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Just a typical lunch conversation

10 Jun

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“Hey, do you want to see four dead mice and a dead chipmunk?” my dad asks while we’re eating lunch. I’ve just arrived in Michigan for my nephew’s graduation.

“Where are they?” I ask, thinking they’ve just been caught in a trap. “Attic? Garage?”

“Basement,” my mom says, with a roll of her eyes.

“Why do you have these in the basement?” I ask.

“I’m cultivating dermestid beetles,” my dad announces proudly.

“And why are you cultivating dermestid beetles?”

“So I’ll have enough to clean the deer skeleton I picked up,” he replies, as if it should’ve been obvious.

“And where is this deer skeleton?”

He stops eating and points at the floor.

“Under the porch?” I ask, now imagining a rotting carcass as I put a fork full of sauerkraut in my mouth.

He nods.

“Did you get the whole thing?” my mom asks, surprisingly supportive for someone who prides herself on an immaculate house.

“Close,” he says. “I was able to pick up almost everything but I think I missed a few ribs.”

There are a number of relevant questions… Where did he find this skeleton? What does he plan to do with it? Exactly how did he pick it up? How long has it been under the porch?

Instead, I settle on, “Isn’t it stinky?” since I’m now sniffing around like a pig seeking truffles.

“Nah,” he says. “The maggots did a pretty good job with it. The beetles are just to finish the job so it’s perfectly clean.”

Of course.

Isn’t this how YOUR visits home sound – or is your dad not a biologist?

Going, going – almost gone!

5 May

 

 

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My parents visited from Michigan back in March. I’d been itching to visit the Renwick Gallery since it reopened in November, and my parents were game to check it out.

If you’re not familiar with the Renwick, here’s the quick back-story on it:

  • It is part of the Smithsonian. (And because I answer this question for almost every visitor to Washington: the Smithsonian is a collection of museums and galleries – not a single destination – and they are all open free of charge to the public.)
  • The Renwick was the first art gallery built in the US intended to be used as an art gallery. (A lot of the other older art galleries were originally private homes.)
  • The exterior was completed in 1861 – and then the construction was paused because of the Civil War.
  • In the 20th century, there was talk of tearing it down, but Jacqueline Kennedy led a successful crusade to save it, and it returned to use as an art gallery in 1972.
  • It closed again for renovations in 2013 and just reopened in November.

To re-open the Renwick, the entire building was used for an installation of nine works by different artists, each specifically designed for and filling an entire room. The theme of the exhibit was, “Wonder” and I have to say: Mission Accomplished. I can’t imagine anyone going through the entire exhibit without at least one, “WHOA!” moment.

Here’s the exhibit’s opening plaque, which provides a bit of context for what it contains:

People have debated the meaning and value of wonder for more than two thousand years. It has been described as everything from the origins of our understanding of the universe, to how we respond to something defying categorization, to a naïve emotion delaying us from reason, to a shock to the heart, and a surprise of the soul.

The two rooms that provided me with the most amazement were those where common items were used to create very uncommon results.

The first example was Jennifer Angus’s pink-washed room that used insects for three-dimensional wall decoration. When we walked in the room, our initial reaction was, “Cool,” as we saw the “dia de los muertos” skeletons covering the walls. We quickly followed that by asking, “Those can’t be REAL beetles, can they?”

As it turns out, they WERE. Which then made the whole room a bit more creepy. And I felt compelled to try to approximate how many little insect corpses were pinned to the walls. It made my head hurt. Further, the wall plaque informed us that the pink of the walls was created by using the “juice” from other insects. Ew? And still – ahhhh!

Here are a few photos I snapped that don’t do it justice:

The other example that had me rubbing my chin in wonder was what appeared to be a simple construction of colored thread – pinned to the floor, then running to the ceiling, where it was pinned at a right angle. Sounds boring, but the effect was surprising. As we moved around it, it shifted from being individual clusters of thread to a see-through rainbow that seemed to be made from light.

Again, it doesn’t translate well in photos, but here’s an attempt – and no, I have no idea who that dude is posing in this shot:

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Those were the two creations that I found most provoking, but I heard people exclaiming in delight in every room, whether it was John Grade’s over-sized tree trunk constructed from small blocks of wood, or the glass ball formation created by Maya Lin (of Vietnam Wall fame), that climbed the walls of one room.

In addition to the art work, there were quotes in each room related to the theme. A few of my favorite examples include:

“It is not understanding that destroys wonder, it is familiarity.” —John Stuart Mill

“The mere knowledge that such a work could be created makes me twice the person I was.” —Goethe

The full exhibit is only available through Sunday (May 8), so if you’re in the DC area, if you hustle you can hit it! Even if you’re not usually a fan of art, I’d be willing to offer a money-back satisfaction guarantee. (Did I mention that it’s free?!)

Say, what’s your number?

25 Apr

I have blood drawn regularly so my doctor can confirm that my medicine is working and not frying my liver. I usually go at 7am when the lab opens so I can knock it out before my work day, but my schedule was a bit twisted after traveling, so last week I went after work instead. I’m going to blame my day-end fatigue and recent jet-lag for what ensued.

The lab has a kiosk where you check-in electronically using your birthdate and last name. Once you’ve entered those, it flashes a number on the screen and tells you to wait until your number is called. Every time this happens, I think, “Why doesn’t it spit out a ticket like at the DMV so you don’t have to memorize your number?”

After receiving  my number – 286 – I took a seat.

A few minutes later, the receptionist called, “280? 280?” and no one came forward. Everyone in the waiting area (all women for some reason), started looking around at each other suspiciously. Had someone forgotten their number? Had 280 gotten impatient and left?

All of a sudden the receptionist shifted tactics and called MY name, sounding exasperated.

“Oh my gosh!” I said, running over as the other women looked at me like I was a moron. “I’m so sorry. I thought I was 286.” The receptionist laughed, then tried to discreetly ask me  if I was supposed to get a take-home specimen kit for fecal analysis. “Um, no. Just bloodwork, thanks.”

Mystery temporarily solved, I sat back down. A few minutes later, the receptionist called “280?” again as one of the phlebotemists stood by with paperwork to collect his next patient. This time, freshly rebuked, I was on my game. I jumped up and started walking toward the back with him.

“Last name?” he asked as we walked. I told him. “Nope. This isn’t you.” I started to protest, confident that I was 280, but he shook his head and called the last name that was on his form and another patient popped up to join him. Confused, I returned to the front desk. “Sorry,” I said. “I thought you were calling me for him. Did you need me again?”

The receptionist looked at me like I was crazy. “You called 280?” I prompted.

She laughed. “Your number isn’t 280. Remind me – what was your last name?” I told her and she looked at my paperwork. “You’re 276.”

“Wait. I originally thought I was 286. But then you called me over to check my paperwork using 280?” I was royally confused.

She just started laughing. “Honey, you’re 276. Go have a seat.”

I sat down and started laughing at myself. Why the hell wouldn’t they just use NAMES? As I sat there, I felt a bit less crazy as I listened to other patients’ interactions after checking in.

One woman got called over to the receptionist because she somehow managed to have TWO numbers. “Sorry,” she explained. “The number flashed so quickly I missed it, so I checked in twice.”

Another woman cruised straight to the reception desk after checking in. “Can you tell me what my number is? It flashed by so fast I didn’t see it.”

Finally a man arrived and – after a few minutes fumbling with the kiosk – walked over to the receptionist. I didn’t hear his half of the conversation, but I heard the receptionist say, “You don’t speak English?” before accompanying him back to the kiosk to help.

While I’ve never been the receptionist in a medical lab, I think I have a pretty clear idea of what drives that woman nuts about her job.

At last, 276 was called. We confirmed my name and Terrence did his business, sliding the needle in like a professional. “Smooth,” I told him. “You’re pretty good at this.”

“I should be – we’ve done almost 300 today alone.”

“276,” I told him.

“What?” he asked, looking confused.

“You’ve done 276. But you WILL do at least 280 before you leave.”

He looked at me like I was nuts. And perhaps I am, but two can play at that game.

Paris: Let me talk about eating…

24 Apr

You can’t visit Paris without at least one post about the food.

Our first night in Paris, Kelly and I struck gold when we had dinner at Café Constant. If you’re a foodie, that name probably rings a bell because it’s one of four restaurants in Paris (three of which are in a neat little row on the same street) by Chef Christian Constant. Also worth noting: it was a bargain – dinner was only 16 Euros per person in a city of often over-priced meals.

It was a hopping Friday night and the café had a nice little hustle going on, so the only place available to seat us was at a small table tucked under the stairs. Some diners might not find it desirable, but I enjoyed it, feeling like a little turtle tucked up in its shell as I ate.

Though most people in the café were French, two older, American-sounding women sat at the table next to us. We didn’t try to eavesdrop on their conversation, but when their dessert came, we gathered that one woman had ordered the roasted prunes in some sort of red wine reduction.

“Nasty,” I whispered to Kelly. “I would never think of a prune for dessert, would you?”

She was just shaking her head when we both heard something that caused us to lock eyes, raise our eyebrows and lose ourselves in laughter: The woman had raised her spoon and told her companion, “I might just shit myself at the table after eating this!”

You can take a girl out of ‘Murica, but you can’t take ‘Murica out of the girl.

That gave us one just more reason to split the profiteroles rather than try our luck on the prunes…

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