Zero-Tolerance in Twelve Objects, Part 1: The Dwarf Morgante

I spent a week and a half at the end of June 2018 with my parents and siblings in Italy. It was a lovely trip, full of museums, old churches, older ruins, pasta, gelato, cats, and beautiful views of rivers and mountains. Taking a break from work and my normal routine did wonders for my psyche. But a vacation is not the same as a total escape, and my experience of Italy occurred not in a vacuum, but in the same universe as everything happening back home in the United States.

Throughout the trip, we endeavored to keep our party of five (none of us younger than 30 years old) together, or at least cognizant of one another’s whereabouts. As we walked along the narrow streets and sometimes-existent sidewalks, whoever was at the front constantly looked back to make sure they could see all our people among the crowds. Museum visits often included designating a particular room or statue where we would meet when, all going at different paces, we inevitably lost track of each other.

When visiting the Pitti Palace in Florence, some of us (myself included) wanted to brave the heat and the inclines in order to explore the Boboli Gardens, and others (possibly the wiser ones in this case) wished to stay inside and see the modern art. We decided upon The Dwarf Morgante by Valerio Cigoli, a sculpture of a man riding a turtle in the Boboli Gardens just outside the palace, as our meeting spot. This particular object was chosen because it was in a central location and it stood out from the other, non-turtle statues. For us, Cigoli’s work of art was a landmark as much as it was an object in the collection to be viewed.

marble statue of naked man riding on the back of a turtle

The Dwarf Morgante by Valerio Cigoli at Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy

At one point during our visit to Rome, my family did get separated, the doors closing on a packed bus with one of us on the bus and four of us still on the sidewalk waiting to board. That was the day we were visiting St. Peter’s. We were reunited soon enough, and as we walked toward the queue to enter the church, we wondered aloud where Italy ended and Vatican City began.

These silly anecdotes about trying to keep a family of five adult tourists together in a foreign country, and the amazing surroundings in which such anecdotes took place, could not be separated in my mind from the daily updates of horrifying news back home, which I read on my phone back in the apartments we rented. My perception of all the old art and cathedrals was inextricably linked to the resistance of today’s artists and religious leaders, among so many others, to the separation of asylum-seeking migrant families at the US-Mexico border. When I saw the many artifacts depicting children – cherubs, baby Jesus, newborn Roman gods – I could not help but think, again, of the stories I was reading about children in asylum-seeking families amidst Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, the chaotic implementation of the policy itself, and the June 20, 2018 executive order that changed some protocol without truly changing course. (A year later, we are still seeing horrific headlines every day.)

Since it was hard not to think about the news at the border while I was in Italy, it would also be hard to try to write about the trip in any depth or detail without also writing about what was on my mind. I also quickly realized it would be hard to write about it all in one post, without overwhelming my millions of readers. Accordingly, this is just the introductory blog post in a series about contemplating the US-Mexico border crisis through Italian and Vatican objects.

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Recent Reflections and Reads: The Incredible, Credible Museum

For the past six months, I’ve been contemplating questions related to what makes someone or something a trusted or persuasive source. In whose opinion or expertise do we put stock? How do we honor different kinds of knowledge, both that gained from study and that gained from personal experience? Who is the best person to tell someone’s story? To whose stories is society willing to listen? How do we center the voices of those who have historically been silenced? With proximity to death being a part of oppression, who is even around to tell one’s own story? Why might we feel that our own perspectives are not persuasive on their own, needing to be bolstered by statistics, or a long-form article showing someone else feels the same way? What biases or blind spots limit well-intentioned research projects or creative endeavors? How can objects, and the context provided by museums, fight an era of alternative facts and anti-expertise? And how do I get back into the habit of blogging about a particular field without getting bogged down in impostor syndrome? (If I didn’t manage to make a financially viable career in the field, am I, in fact, an impostor?)

1.       Honoring an Exhibition That Never Opened – article on the exhibit 6.13.89: The Canceling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition that just opened at the Corcoran, which I can’t wait to see. Director of the Corcoran school Sanjit Sethi said that there’s currently “another conversation of what it means to be American. Are we really for a dynamic, culturally accepting, norm-disrupting and culturally creative society, or are we for something more homogenous? That’s where I think all cultural institutions [are]…you can’t assume someone else is going to push for those dialogues.”

2.       Guiding Questions to Think about Bias in Museums (by functional area) – blog post from Brilliant Idea Studio that encourages museums to tackle bias in a variety of ways that it can manifest itself. The process is one of interrogating omissions: “investigating inherent challenges requires thinking about who is missing and why.”

3.       The Value of Lived Experience in Social Change: The Need for Leadership and Organisational Development in the Social Sector offers further insights that can be applied to the questions posed in #2 above for museums in particular.

4.       Personality Tests Are Popular, But Do They Capture The Real You? – article by a skeptic questioning the credibility of personality tests, and exploring the limitations of personality tests in painting an accurate picture of who a person is.


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Photo: Artomatic 2017

My computer is getting increasingly worse for trying to do multiple things at the same time (like pasting a URL from an Internet browser tab into a Word document). I know I’ve complained on this blog about personal computers over the years. I think it may be time to invest in something that costs more upfront but has a longer useful lifespan.

In the meantime, while I save up for a new laptop, I’m probably just going to post occasional museum-related photos from my phone, and let the more complex posts wait.

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that there are places you call your own, and other places that you visit. As a person who loves to visit museums and other interesting sites, I am acutely aware of this distinction, and of the plethora of places to visit in the world.

Is it wise to invest financially in cheap computers? Is it wise to invest emotionally in places you only visit but don’t call your own?

We don’t always have a choice in either case, but keeping these questions in mind can be helpful. Keeping in mind the boundaries a person has put between herself and a place that she visits can be helpful when the place that she visits is breaking her heart. It’s also helpful to keep in mind the place a person DOES call her own.

And now for the photo part. I looked through my phone to find a photo to post, something from one or another of the places I’ve visited, and found this  colorful one from Artomatic 2017:


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Two Hundred Thirty Feet in Wheaton

In honor of Metrorail’s 42nd birthday last year, the Greater Greater Washington blog posted an animated slideshow showing the progression over time, from a little baby Metro system in 1976 with only five stations, to the planned Phase II of the Silver Line Dulles extension being built today. Map update #16 in 1990 illustrates the addition of two new stations, including Wheaton.

The Wheaton Metro station is near a mall, a movie theater, and various other stores and restaurants (some older, some new). But it’s the station itself that I find most interesting: its 230-foot (70 meter) escalator is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. (It is commonly referred to as the second longest in the world, but I gave up trying to verify this factoid after the Internet offered up longer examples in both Hong Kong and St. Petersburg.)

Wheaton’s escalator has a vertical depth of 115 feet and takes nearly three minutes to ride (while standing as far to the right as possible, of course). Ascending is faster if walking on the left.

The Wheaton Metro station's very long escalator

The Wheaton Metro station’s very long escalator

Our WMATA stations may not be museums like the San Giovanni metro stop in Rome, and they probably don’t meet most people’s idea of a visitor destination, but WMATA does have the occasional oddity or claim to fame like the Wheaton escalators. Other architectural and structural quirks in the Metro system include:

Union Station is not just a Metro station but also the hub for various transportation lines, including the starting point of both the MARC Train and the VRE (commuter rail lines in Maryland and Virginia, respectively). Like the National Postal Museum next door, the building (which houses a food court and shops) is an example of the Beaux Arts style. Points of interest include the statues of men running the length of the walls just under the ceiling (look behind the shields) and the bust honoring A. Philip Randolph and his contributions to the civil rights and labor movements.

At the southern end of the Yellow Line, the Huntington station offers a unique amenity to riders in the form of a self-cleaning bathroom.

Wheaton’s neighboring station Forest Glen has a similar design, with separate tunnels for each track. Unlike Wheaton, Forest Glen does not have record-breaking escalators, or any escalators at all. Instead, it’s so deep underground that it has only a bank of elevators and an emergency staircase, with an ominous warning sign indicating that it’s 20 floors from bottom to top. Both of these deep-underground stations lack the central soaring vaulting ceiling that one sees in many other underground stations in the system.

Wheaton is on the Red Line.

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2018 Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (December 2018)

December 2018 was the final month of the 2018 Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge, which was an interesting endeavor, but one that I won’t be repeating. I found it difficult to have specific words tied to specific months, because this parameter meant that a book that qualified in November would no longer qualify in December, and I’d have to start over.  As a result, I would start books but not finish them in time, or not know near the mid-to-end of the month which book to start next, or go a whole month (like December) without finishing any actual books. Instead, I filled December with short pieces like poems and satire articles.

December’s words were: bell, Christmas, give, party, present, red, sing, tree, under

I read:


“Praise Song for the Day” by Elizabeth Alexander

“Our Song” by Shakira Croce

Song” by Eamon Grennan

“Fire Island Song” by David Groff

“Reagan Red” by James Allen Hall

“What to Say to a Friend Who Wants to Give Up” by JP Howard

“[under the evening moon]” by Kobayashi Issa

“Little Sickness Song” by Rodney Jack

Song of Quietness” by Robinson Jeffers

“The Gift to Sing” by James Weldon Johnson

“In a Cemetery under a Solitary Walnut Tree That Crows” by Fady Joudah

“The Best Thanksgiving Ever” by Jennifer L. Knox

“Little Song” by Rickey Laurentiis

“Like a Party” by David Lehman

“Family Photo Around Xmas Tree” by Thomas Lux

“Liberty Bell” by Aaron McCollough

Red Wing” by Joseph Millar

“Love Song” by Carol Muske-Dukes

“Aubade in a Red State” by Josh Myers

“September Song” by Erik Schuckers

Understanding” by Robert Stewart

“I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman

“A Ribbon Red” by Glen Wilson


Back at the Fruit Tree – the story behind the Nields’ song (and I think the song “Fountain of Youth” is more than okay!).

Old Sturbridge Village Rethinks How It Presents The Past – As a leader in NEH is quoted: “Many historic site interpretations have lagged behind scholarship, so they have to become more relevant to a more diverse audience.”

There Will Be Blood-Red Trees – I have written before about how First Ladies are subject to criticism no matter how they decorate the White House (a history museum among its many other functions) for the holidays. Nevertheless, Melania Trump’s austere décor makes me think of Narnia under the reign of the White Witch – always winter and never Christmas. As the article puts it, “Christmas at the White House is about the potential for cozy, heartwarming photo-ops, and the Trump administration is perhaps better known for battles on Twitter than glitter.”

This Nativity Scene Starring Dogs Will Get You Into The Christmas Spirit – Christmas canine cuteness.

Onion articles:

Area Man Remembers Less Politically Correct Time When Christmas Was About Honoring The Glory Of Saturn

Manager Of Combination Taco Bell/KFC Secretly Considers It Mostly A Taco Bell

R. Kelly Releases Emotional New Song Thanking Fans For Continued Acceptance Of Sex Crimes

Red Hot Chili Peppers Accidentally Write Song About New Hampshire

Terrifying Man Selling Dead Trees Out Of Middle School Parking Lot

Trump Boys Leave $5 Bill, Candy Bar Under Propped-Up Laundry Basket In Effort To Catch Op-Ed Writer

White House Concerned Ryan Zinke Made Land Deal Without Giving Cut To Trump

White House Now Just Holding Continuous Going-Away Party For Departing Staffers

From the Onion, “American Voices” section:

British Radio Stations Ban Anti–Theresa May Song

R. Kelly Releases 19-Minute Song Addressing Sexual Assault

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2018 Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (November 2018)

November’s words were: brown, dream, family, food, laugh, over, table, thanks, town

I read…

Book of Poems:

Food by Ogden Nash


“In Defense of Small Towns” by Oliver de la Paz

“The Circus Is in Town” by Patricia Smith

Dream Dead Daddy Walking” by Patricia Smith

“Small Towns Are Passing” by Wesley McNair

Over Ohio” by Michael Blumenthal

“A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe


Immigrant high school students challenged to ‘dream – a conference in Long Island encouraging “dreamers” to pursue careers and higher education

Michelle Obama says she will “never forgive” Trump for putting her “family’s safety at risk” – Obama’s new memoir calls out Trump on his ridiculous birther conspiracy theories.

Marco Rubio’s “conservative solution” for paid family leave: Pick your kids or your retirement – article at Quartz argues that Rubio’s proposal is not a reasonable solution

Michael Brown sculpture on display at the Contemporary Art Museum St Louis – article on a new exhibit with a goal of “elevating specific stories [of police violence] to combat historical amnesia.”

Indian man, woman killed in fall from Yosemite park overlook – sad news from October out of Yosemite National Park. (This article was from, but as of December 2018 the link doesn’t work, so I’ve removed it. The articles currently on the site about this tragedy do not contain “overlook” in their headlines and I’m not sure whether what I originally read in November is still available.)

Trump: I’m thankful for the difference I’ve made – because nothing epitomizes the Thanksgiving spirit more than bragging about one’s own supposed accomplishments

The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday – “Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.”

First Lady Melania Trump Faces Backlash for Thanksgiving Tweet – Melania Trump tweeted, “let’s keep those who can’t be with their families in our thoughts today.”

Laughing at the Jokes on Ancient Greek VasesHyperallergic article on a 2017 exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum

The Prom’s Same-Sex Kiss Makes History at Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – a happy milestone

New questions raised on Trump’s family separations as 14 children discovered – “Two recent government reports faulted the administration’s tracking efforts, and one said officials feel no obligation to find children who were released to other homes before a judge ordered an accounting of them, suggesting the total separated under the policy may never be known.”

Trump family cheated the IRS for decades: Letters – The letter writer says, “My prediction is that supporters of this president will shrug their shoulders and perhaps offer an ‘attaboy’ to President Trump for being smart enough to beat the IRS.”

Victorian Table Setting – blog post from the Tinker Cottage Museum in Illinois detailing the many objects associated with mealtime in the Victorian Era and the importance placed on how the objects were arranged.

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2018 Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (October)

The October words were: black, castle, ghost, haunt, mask, moon, mystery, night, witch

Here’s what I read:

Middle grade/young adult novels:

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore


Moon for Our Daughters” by Annie Finch

“Lament Under the Moon” by Daniel David Moses

“The Moon from Any Window” by Li-Young Lee

“Jackrabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew” by Juan Felipe Herrera

“Why Don’t You Wear a Black Crepe Glove Embroidered in Gold, Like the Hand that Bore a Falcon?” by Kiki Petrosino


28 Reasons To Love Black Cats – My favorite creature currently living in the universe is a black cat, so this listicle was preaching to the choir when I read it!

Spiders blamed after broken siren played creepy nursery rhymes randomly at night to UK townsfolk – This headline could be a writing prompt for a much spookier story than the real explanation of what happened.

An Example of a 2,000-Year-Old Board Game Was Found in a Secret Castle Passage – In Russia’s Vyborg Castle, which is open to the public as a historic site and museum, a very old board game (or brick game) was recently found in a secret crypt.

Cop acquitted of killing unarmed black man teaches class on how to ‘survive’ officer-involved shootings – The class in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the “legal, financial, physical, and emotional challenges” in the aftermath of a police officer “surviving” a “critical incident”, is facing criticism and protests.

In a Town of 11 People, Mysterious Disappearance Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor – A sad story of the disappearance and presumed death of man and dog, the article reads like the stuff of a contemporary literary thriller.

Women, Trauma, and Haunted Houses – This Book Riot post starts an interesting discussion that could be further developed with a good dose of intersectionality.

Gallery supporting black artists fighting eviction from West Oakland warehouse – a Bay Area gentrification story centering on the Alena Museum.

Heard Museum Presents Original Exhibition Featuring Rare Works By Henri Matisse And The Native Alaskan Masks That Inspired Him – The director of this Phoenix museum states, “Of particular significance to us is the effort this story inspired to reunite pairs of Yup’ik masks that, due to a variety of circumstances, have been separated by time and great distances.”

Book I read in print years ago, and partly listened to in October:

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

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