Monthly Archives: August 2012

Spanish Fresco “Restoration” – Why is it funny?

The conservators saw it first. Over the years I’ve been lucky to work on archaeological projects with conservation teams on site–they pick up the pieces when we reveal something that is too delicate or too sensitive for archaeologists to move without risk of further damaging the object. They conserve paintings, wood, metal, pottery, bone, and can fix your site flip-flops if they snap. They have tiny tools and lots of glue–they’re our miracle workers.

One of them will be called in to meticulously scrape off the handiwork of this elderly parishioner, spending countless hours removing flecks of the offending paint. So, yeah, they saw this and cringed. Good luck to the conservator that has to tackle this one. Oof.

The second person referencing this link thought it was hilarious. I admit, when I clicked on the link and saw the photo, I laughed too, and then shook my head. It was reported on Boing Boing as “Fresco Restored” and the comments section is split: about a third of the commenters are horrified, with one stating that “I feel like absolutely everyone would be better off if news of this hadn’t spread very far. I know I’m not better off for knowing.” The majority think that the “restoration” is hilarious.

Is it the rendition of a bizarre Jesus with his black eyes and strange tongue that is funny? Or that an elderly lady did it? I am not arguing that it isn’t funny, I was laughing too, but why? A recent story on NPR described anthropologist Robert Lynch who studies humor but who also does stand-up comedy. Roughly, “you laugh when a joke resonates with your inner values and beliefs.” The “restoration” struck a chord with some of us. I’m not sure what this chord was–the destruction of cultural heritage usually doesn’t elicit a chuckle. I think this reaction calls into question what we think is cultural heritage and what is the appropriate treatment of such.

Finally, I was wondering if the conservators needed to be called in at all. From what little I know about it, the “restoration” was an act of devotion; the restored Jesus is a very personal Jesus, with bare reference to the original. If it offends, it might be easier to primer over the whole thing, project an image of the original at the right scale, and then repaint it entirely. They were planning to repair and repaint the painting anyway, perhaps we should leave this lady’s Jesus as part of the palimpsest of devotion.

Blackberries & Berkeley

“Bullied” by Darwin Bell

There is a ragged little blackberry bramble that grows along the fence outside my door. We live in a ground floor apartment that opens almost directly to the street, so there is no grass for a visual break–the sidewalk becomes our cement front yard. I’ve been watching the bramble all summer, the green berries turning red, then black, and then the fat blue-black when they are finally ready. There are some days that the little bramble is my excuse to get out from behind my screen and go outside to check up on the ripeness of the berries.

When I was a child in Oklahoma my grandmother would send us out with gallon buckets, buckets that had held vast slabs of vanilla ice cream made crunchy from the too-cold freezer. We’d swing our buckets, bang our scraped knees, and squabble, a little scrum of bare-limbed cousins. I remember the main blackberry bramble as being at least two-stories high, thick, shaggy and impenetrable. It was full of all manner of bitey creatures, ticks, chiggers, wasps, snakes, and spiders as big as your hand. We’d approach the bush timidly, throwing rocks and talkin’ real loud to scare the snakes away. The nearby ponds were writhing with cottonmouths and they’d get into the bushes to eat the mice. Or possibly to kill children.

The berries were thick and would sometimes explode in our hands, or go into our mouths instead of the bucket. There would be long tears across our arms, punctured fingers, thorns embedded in our socks. We’d fill our buckets and return to my grandma who would freeze most of them, but would bake a big blackberry pie for dinner. It’s the first thing she taught me how to bake and is still my favorite. While a slice after dinner was delicious, having a cold slice with cream the next morning for breakfast was divine.

The bramble outside my door doesn’t yield more than a handful of berries at a time, and these are mixed. Many are still too tart, a few are dusty and bad, but occasionally I’ll get a perfect one and then it is summertime all over again.

This was my first summer in Berkeley. I am usually out on an excavation, but I’ve been determined to stay here and work hard to finish. I haven’t quite come full circle on Berkeley summers–I still whine and groan when it is cold, gray and foggy for months on end. But the bright hatred I had of the climate has dulled over time, and I enjoy the cool, sunshiny days. As I’m wrapping up I have also regained a sense of wonder over the University of California at Berkeley. It was never really gone, I always was drawn to grand state institutions with their endless halls and vast libraries.

I had a couple of beers with the new archaeology faculty members last night, and they made me excited again with their drive and enthusiasm. Jun has some great ideas about teaching and Lisa is ridiculously smart and incisive. I had a little too much cider and wandered back through campus, along the paving stones and through the shadows of the giant eucalyptus trees that had gone sharp and cold in the evening chill. Summertime in Berkeley, my first, and maybe my last.

Save Early, Save Often

Command-S. I think I picked it up from video games, or maybe even from Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’d read each story, keeping a finger between the pages at each decision point, and then another one, and another one until all of my fingers were used up and I’d be flipping back and forth to find the optimum route. In video games I’d run back to the save point, use unique names for each of the files, fill up all my “save cards” or eventually hard drives. It isn’t so much that I was anxious about making the wrong decision but more that I wanted to experience everything the book or game had to give.

The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology scores the game playing style of gamers according to card suites, with Diamonds = Achievers, Hearts = Socializers, Clubs = Killers and Spades = Explorers. While I haven’t formally taken the test, I’d score pretty high in the Spades category, always exploring the level until the very edges of the in-world earth, looking for the extra dialog or funny-colored sword. My imaginary rucksack was always full.

I have been writing so much and for such sustained periods of time that I find myself in the same compulsive mode, command-S, command-S, command-S. Save. I have started doing it in emails now, annoyingly, as Google Chrome offers to save my entire screen, and on Facebook, command-S. All dissertation writers get their own personal ticks, I suppose.

Next week, visa-Gods willing, I’ll be on the road again with my not-so-imaginary rucksack. I’ll be headed to London to work with the incredible L-P Archaeology on the developer-funded Minories Project, a fantastic excavation right outside the Tower of London. I’m taking this six week diss-break because L-P gave me free reign with digital media and interpretation and it’s perfect for setting up some fairly experimental postdoc work. Time to see if I can find the edge of the world again. Command-S!