Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kyoto: November

Phalerate (adj.): made beautiful; ornate, ostentatiously adorned or decorated. (English, now obsolete)

November has been a busy month! I really love it here, and it's unbelievable to think that I've already been away for five months. Kyoto in the fall is magnificent, and I've spent a great deal of time walking through the city and visiting surrounding areas to make the best of the beautiful weather. Here are some highlights, to give you an idea of what I've been up to:

Arashiyama. Arashiyama is a little district to the west of Kyoto, and extremely popular with tourists, couples, and school groups. It's best known for the enormous scenic bamboo forest (10/10, would definitely recommend) and its scenic river vistas, but I went for the Urushi Lacquer Festival at Kokuzo Hourin-ji temple. The temple is on top of a hill which is surprisingly hard to find (though to be fair I went without a map like a fool,) and hosts the festival that is a yearly event for lacquer artists in the area to make offerings and pray for success in the coming year. It started with a Noh performance inside the temple followed by ceremonies throughout the day--it was such a treat to visit. I spent the rest of the day wandering through bamboo groves and visiting temples like Tenryū-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple with gorgeous gardens.

Sekizanzen-in Temple. I made my way to northern Kyoto for the Juzu Buddhist Rosary Ceremony. It's the first festival I went to where I was clearly the only Western tourist in attendance. The festival was enormous, and it served as a memorial service for old juzu (Buddhist rosaries.) It was absolutely packed with people who came to have their juzu blessed, as well as vendors and food sellers.

Kiyomizu-dera. This temple was the first that truly reminded me of the dzongs I visited in Bhutan. It is perched on the top of a hill and about a fifteen minute walk from my house, and is an absolutely massive temple complex. There are several temple buildings under construction at Kiyomizu-dera, although the main temple hall is fully operational. I bought omamori (charms or talismans) at the temple office which are one of my favorite genres of sacred objects in Japan. Omamori can be employed for a variety of uses, like protection or good luck--I bought two, one for safe travel and one for academic success--and often take the form of a small, colorful cloth pouch with a piece of paper or wood inside (though they never should be opened, to preserve their power.) There is some debate about the quality of factory-made vs handmade omamori as it relates to their effectiveness, which I find fascinating; over and over during this project I have been encountering the theme of intention and power, and how the process of making an object has a direct impact on its sacredness.

Mt. Kurama. Reportedly the site with one of the highest spiritual energies in Japan, Mt. Kurama is perhaps my favorite place I have visited in Japan. It is a place of intense quiet (and intense walking, but that comes with most mountains) and the further up you go, the deeper the contemplation gets. There are many shrines on the way up, and the air is saturated with energy and cold and quiet. The main temple hall is almost at the top, a temple dedicated to a trinity deity. The summit itself is a cedar grove with exposed roots and a slight wind blowing through the trees; it is believed that this is the founding site of Reiki. I'll definitely be going back again before I leave--it's too special to just go once.

Summit of Fushimi Inari. I decided to revisit Fushimi Inari, the enormous Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto, and make my way to the top of the mountain. The number of times I looked at my map and nearly cried during this hike was astronomical. But the views on the way up were worth it!
(very important side note: there is a Neko Cafe right near Fushimi Inari Station, where you can drink tea and hang out with cats. 100000/10, would definitely recommend)

Uji. Aside from being the green tea capital of Japan, Uji is home to Byōdō-in, a Buddhist temple that has been in operation since 998 CE. It's an enormously popular place to visit being both a Japanese National Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot.  Its most popular feature is the Phoenix Hall, the main temple hall that houses a massive statue of Amida Buddha and a host of flying Bodhisattva carvings. The draw of the site for me, however, was in the on-site Hoshokan Museum, which houses most of the site's treasures and is responsible for their preservation and display (read: drooool.) The museum includes archaeological finds displayed alongside Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as the original bronze phoenixes that give the main hall its name. The conservation efforts on the site are focused on stabilizing the site's treasures while performing technical analysis to study technique and materials, so that the museum can create honest reproductions to put on display in the functioning parts of the temple complex. Their current project is the creation of reproduction doors for Phoenix Hall, a massive undertaking that involves a lot of research into wood and metal. So. Neat.

So! I have about two weeks left in Kyoto, and then I head to Ireland. I'll be sad to leave, but I have a feeling in my gut that I'll be back. Hopefully next time I'll be armed with more Japanese. And Cheetos.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Kyoto: October

Gezelligheid (n.): loosely translated, the "warm and fuzzies"; a feeling of belonging and contentment. (Dutch)

Believe it or not, I've been in Kyoto for just over a month now. It certainly doesn't feel that long to me, although I think I'm still in week-to-week mode from my time in Spain. I'm living in a share house in Higashiyama-ku, a central ward of Kyoto that's in the Eastern, older part of the city. The streets are often tiny and cobblestone, and the shops are filled with kimonos and pottery and about five thousand different types of green-tea (matcha) flavored treats. Going to the supermarket is much more of an adventure here than it was in Spain, with the added excitement that I have literally zero idea what I'm buying. I go a lot by pictures and educated guessing, though I have found a couple of essentials in my neighborhood super (namely Super Chunky Skippy peanut butter and Frosted Flakes) that I recognize from home. Omnipresent convenience stores (called konbini) are also excellent providers of a variety of Japanese foods and cup noodles, and I have become a huge fan of 7-Eleven chocolate eclairs.

I really love this city, and I'm oddly glad that I had to switch my plans and come to Kyoto instead of Istanbul. Fall is absolutely gorgeous here, although a good deal warmer than I'm used to my Falls being--during my first weeks here it got up into the 80s pretty regularly. Now the leaves are finally changing and the mornings are crisp, and there are several festivals centered around the changing of the seasons that I'm looking forward to. I have a bicycle that I use to get around the city (riding along the river that runs through the center of Kyoto is my personal favorite route) and it's the perfect city for living as a pedestrian, which suits me just fine.

Kyoto feels so completely different from Spain, and yet I'm encountering a lot of similar themes here that had been established in the first three months of my project. For instance, there is the involvement of the government in the conservation of religious objects and spaces. In Japan, most of the significant religious objects that would be in need of conservation are considered National Treasures (not the Nic Cage kind) and are therefore under the protection of the government. Only a few conservation workshops in the country are allowed to treat them, and these workshops are very protective of their work. It's incredibly hard to get in to see their projects, especially if you don't speak Japanese (TL;DR, I'm working on it).

I've spent most of my time in Shinto shrines, although I have visited many Buddhist temples and even a couple Christian churches. Only this past Sunday I went to the Ohitaki Fire Festival at Fushimi Inari shrine, which was incredible and more than a little overwhelming. It was pouring rain that day, and the shrine (which is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto) was packed with tourists and worshipers alike. It is important to note that Japan is an umbrella culture--not a raincoat culture--so on rainy days navigating through crowds becomes about eighty times more dangerous and a thousand times more awkward as you try not to poke out anyone's eye while you maneuver with a three-foot radius... So. The Ohitaki Fire Festival consists of an entire day's worth of ceremonies, rituals, and dances, which I saw some of (before my near-beheading by a pink umbrella). A major part of the ceremonies is the burning of tens of thousands of wooden prayer sticks offered by worshipers (I put one in!) and dance offerings for the shrine deity. It was magnificent, if a bit wet.

It seems that most of the physically interactive sacred objects in a Shinto shrine are kept very well maintained, like the pulls for suzu (ritual bells,) and saisen-bako (offerings boxes,) which are objects that are actually touched during shrine visits and would be expected to show the wear and tear of thousands of visits. Even the grounds of the shrines are immaculate, although many long-term offerings, like torii (the fantastic red gates that offerings to the temple) are left to nature, and some show the weathering more than others. There are also statues where kami are invited to reside, but these are often kept out of sight within the inner parts of the temple. They are usually better preserved than outdoor statues, though they are exposed to the damage that indoor worship can impose, like soot buildup from candle smoke. There are also many statues that are preserved on display in museums, and it's not uncommon for visitors to the museum to pray inside--something that almost certainly would not happen in Spain.

So! The conservation culture here is completely new, and exciting to navigate. It's a bit more work in that I also spend a lot more time at the library researching religion here than I did in Spain. I definitely took my background knowledge of Christianity for granted when I was in Spain and in Bulgaria, since I already had a grasp of iconography and worship practices. Here I have to do more legwork, but it's giving me much more time to reflect on what I study. I'm finding all sorts of new sources for my project, like Noh theater, which has an entire sub-genre which portrays deities. It is believed that when the actor puts on the mask of a kami, his words are transformed into the words of the god and the god may spread its divinity through the performance.

New avenues for my project continue to surface and I'm very excited to pursue them; as stressful as my detour from Turkey was, I feel like it was a necessary change that liberated me to follow this project where it leads me. As far as my time in Japan goes, I'll be taking some shorter trips to nearby towns and cities in the coming weeks. The main reason I chose Kyoto as a home base is because the city and surrounding prefecture have the one of the highest concentrations of sacred sites and objects in the country. In the coming weeks I'll be heading to Uji, Nara, Hiroshima, and maybe even Tokyo. In any case--I'll keep following my nose and drinking lots of matcha, and I'll try not to eat my weight in sushi. Until next time!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Santiago de Compostela

物の哀れ (mono no aware) (n.): literally "the pathos of things"; the bittersweet awareness of life's passing beauty. (Japanese)

Even though I really didn't walk the Camino, I still felt a connection with the peregrinos that did. I paid my dues, following the iconic yellow arrows and seashells across northern Spain, hitting almost every cathedral on my modified bus-Camino route and finishing with an intense sense of accomplishment in Santiago de Compostela. SDC's weather is a bit of a downer, as it sees the same amount of sun as Seattle and it's high is usually in the upper teens (Celsius, people. I'm trying to fit in) so my arrival wasn't quite the sun-drenched march of victory that I had anticipated but rather a cold and wet treck to an apartment on the top of a steep hill. These little presents from the universe keep me humble.

The Cathedral of Santiago is fantastic, although it was a rather different experience than the quiet communion with space that I have come to love. Rather, as the end of the Camino, Santiago Cathedral is a mess of ponchos and hiking backpacks, filled to the brim with exhausted but exhilarated pilgrims babbling in every language you can imagine and snapping photo after photo with omnipresent selfie-sticks. I visited the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela first as a tourist--I made the obligatory circuit through the ambulatory, visiting all the chapels and oohing at the impressive baroque main altar with everyone else. The Cathedral there is enormously popular, as it marks the end of the Camino de Santiago, and it is filled with elated pilgrims and all their hiking gear. It gets kind of loud in the church (the crowds are hushed periodically by guards patrolling around the perimeter) but when I visited the hum made the church feel alive and exciting.

The second time I came, however, was on completely different terms and the experience was transformed. I had received word from home that my youngest sister would be undergoing surgery , and I wanted to visit the chapel of the Sacred Sacrament to meditate and pray for her safety and a speedy recovery (she's recovering well!) As I pushed my way through the walking sticks and ponchos, the hum of the crowd was no longer exciting. It was disconcerting. The camera flashes capturing the monstrance I knelt before were distracting--couldn’t the visitors see that I was engaging with the Sacrament? I felt like I was in a goldfish bowl, and that my interaction with the Sacrament and my time of quiet prayer was being interfered with. I had the chance to see both sides of the interaction with sacred objects that exists in places of worship, and it was disconcerting and more than a little unsettling, to say the least.

Admittedly, the barely controlled chaos of Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral is something of an exception. In most places of worship, tourists and visitors are not even allowed inside the building during mass.As my flatmate pointed out, there are more churches in Santiago than people, so I had no shortage of places to visit in the endless drizzle. We even got two days of glorious sunshine, and I followed the sounds of singing and bagpipes to a massive circle of newly-arrived pilgrims dancing in the plaza next to the cathedral. Not too shabby at all.

Perhaps my own greatest sense of achievement derived from the day I visited Muxia, the second westernmost point on Spain's Costa de Muerte. I visited the Church of La Virgen de La Barca and reached the sea, finally collecting my own seashells to commemorate my pilgrimage to the ocean. Come to think of it, those shells are some of the most sacred things I own. I wonder if they'll ever make it into a museum someday.


Fernweh (n.): a feeling of longing or homesickness for a place one has never been to. (German)

I'm all settled in Kyoto and still rather behind on posts, so to continue my retrospective journey:

Lugo is a bit of a forgotten stop on the Camino de Santiago. To be fair, I went in without a plan and winged it, which isn't really my strong point. I'm getting better at capitalizing on following my nose, but my spontaneity turn-on-a-dime factor is a bit low. Lugo has the immediate advantage of being a walled city, however, which makes up for an infinite number of sins. The Roman wall around Lugo is still very intact, and the intrepid tourist or Classics nerd (c'est moi) can make quite a day (or several) of it. I did get quite the sunburn, but (spoiler alert) IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT. I had the ability to look within the old city and pick out places to visit from the skyline, a luxury that tiny winding streets and tightly clustered city centers have prevented in most of the Spanish cities I've visited.

Some Lugo highlights: sitting for a few hours in the main plaza with all the vecinos, until an old man came up to me and confronted me--surely I couldn't be from Lugo, girls as pretty as I only live in Valencia. Ahahaha *runs away*

Lugo Cathedral! Gorgeous! It's incredibly well maintained, although I think a lot of this is due to the fact that there are services held in almost every chapel and the nave at least once a day if not more frequently. It's not as big a tourist magnet as some of the other cathedrals on the Camino de Santiago, but this might be because tourist visits are not allowed when mass is underway, so tourists have maybe fifteen minutes a day in which to visit and tour. And, no gift shop.

Like most cathedrals and churches I've visited, there is a coffer next to the biggest entrance for visitors and worshippers to contribute to the cathedral's maintenance. I tried talking to the men who swooped in with brooms and polish in between services to clean the main altar, but they were quite short with me and refused to talk. In any case, Lugo Cathedral seems to be a well-visited (at least by Lugonians? Lugo-ites?) place of worship, although its objects have been removed as the cathedral has been modernized and replaced with modern pieces.

Which led me to my next major stop: the Museo Provincial de Lugo. Since Lugo has a very obvious and well-preserved connection to its Roman past surrounding its center, archaeology and ethnology are visibly and proudly preserved within the city limits. All Lugo's historical objects are condensed into this historical museum (which has an incredible collection of Roman mosaics, and I highly recommend a visit if you're ever in the area) and it makes for a rather mixed collection but endlessly entertaining visit. Interestingly enough, Lugo's museum keeps its religious artifacts (like monstrances, crucifixes, relics and altar pieces) seperate from the rest of the collection. In almost every other museum I have visited, there have been very concerted efforts to treat sacred art as unremarkable and only significant within its art historical boundaries.

The Museo Provincial, however, has a designated "Sala de Arte Sacro" which is the location in the museum where capital-s capital-a Sacred Art has its home. There is other art within the museum's collection that has sacred iconography, but I believe that this Sacred Art label is important (both in its inclusion and exclusion,) since it shows that the Museo has a fundemental understanding of what is and isn't sacred, plus a desire to hold the sacred seperate and make it distinct. Why the "Pieta" upstairs was deemed "Moderno" and not "Sacro" is another question. If I had control of the museum's collection, where would I put it? And what implication do those distinctions have for the objects themselves? Is there a gray-area term that can serve art-historical purposes and still preserve original sacred connotations? Maybe I need to invent one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Change of Plans

Bricoleur (n.): a person who builds from whatever is available, scrambling to gather the pieces as it all comes together. (French, English)

Hello hello! I know that there are some posts on Spain that are overdue, but I need to get this short post out first.

As most of you know, I designed my project to be spent in quarters; a year divided between Spain, Turkey, Japan and India. I spent three fantastic months traveling in Spain, and I then headed to Bulgaria (where I'm writing from) for a week as I prepared to head to Turkey. I planned and prepped and had housing and contacts all lined up, my flight to Istanbul was booked--

And now Turkey's not happening.

Don't panic! I promise, I did that already. And I have a plan. But to explain: one of the conditions of the Watson Fellowship is that Fellows are not permitted to travel in countries that have Travel Warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State. And, as I discovered last Wednesday, Turkey is on the list. Until the Travel Warning is lifted, I'm not permitted to visit Turkey and I have to restructure my year accordingly.

So, tomorrow I fly to Japan. This is all rather sudden, and I'm still a bit tense. However, I'm incredibly thankful to have the resources to turn on a dime and head off in a completely new direction, and I'm very excited to have Japan lined up. As of today the plan is to live in Kyoto for the next three months, and I can't wait to dig in!

This also means that I'll be returning to research and revisiting my previously rock-solid country list, just in case Turkey retains its Travel Warning. My plans for my travel are a bit more written in the sand from here on out than I had hoped for, but I'm told that's all part and parcel of the Watson deal. Who knows, maybe this will be a blessing in disguise. Fingers crossed! Next time I write, I'll be in Kyoto.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Sonder (n.): The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. (English)

As may have delicately hinted before, I found the Grail.

Or did the Grail find me? *Ironside theme plays in the background*

I had to beat back my on-point Sean Connery impressions when I visited the Basilica of San Isidro (because somehow I thought they might not appreciate them) and because honestly it is. So. Cool. Apart from the Grail (which I will wax poetic about in a bit,) the Basilica houses what is known as the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque Art. Now I don't know if you're a geek for Romanesque Art, but I AM. And trust me when I say, this place is the top. And so well preserved!

This leads me to a point of delicate terminology that I have been running up against repeatedly here in Spain, and I bet will continue to be a source of frustration throughout my trip. There is a difference between what I'll call "spatial" conservation and object conservation; that is, the difference between the restoration of architectural spaces and of independent/autonomous objects. This is the difference between conserving in situ wall paintings and conserving a chalice, or between the treatment of a cathedral's triclinium and the treatment of vestments. It's a twisting, thin grey line to walk, and something I struggled to define even in the earliest stages of designing this project. The line between object and space is especially blurred when considering liminally autonomous "objects," like stained glass windows, or lifted mosaics, or orphaned cornices, or even altarpieces, and it's a definition that I'm continuously refining as I visit each new place. Right now my definition of what makes an object independent is that its significance is not dependent on its inclusion within an architectural scheme. But that will develop, I'm sure.

However, what I find infinitely frustrating about separating spaces and objects within my project is that spaces are just so cool. Everyone (I hope) has had at least one moment when they have entered a building and feel their stomach drop a few feet as they experience the majesty of space. It happens for me almost every time I enter a cathedral, but I've gotten it in museums, monuments, opera houses, and out in the mountains; the environment (built or not) is inherently experiential, and very visceral because it tilts our perception and touches each of our senses. Don't believe me? Let me share my experience of the Basilica of San Isidro:

It was stupidly bright that morning, and I had forgotten my sunglasses. The heat of the day was already creeping up the back of my neck, and I could tell that the slight breeze was going to be just as ineffective that day as it had been the day before. I had to walk up a ridiculously sloped set of stairs to reach the Basilica's plaza, and I made a beeline for the main doors of the building, bursting through the outer doors and then slowly creeping through the inner doors with a bit more decorum. The first thing that hit was the scent: the slightly musty, wet smell of cool stone and unswept corners. Then my eyes began to adjust to the low lighting from votive candles and iron chandeliers, and I was alone except for an older couple praying in the nave and an awkward huddle of tourists near the door trying to read their plastic guidebooks as reverently as possible. The temperature was noticeably cooler, and the air was still like the stones were holding their breath. I inhaled, and it tasted of dust and iron. Someone, the sexton probably, had put a quiet CD of classical music to play over the speakers, but it barely echoed within the expanse of the church. I sent my gaze upward, to where the windows of the apse sent colored light to stain the floor with images of saints and apostles. The bench where I settled to pray protested weakly as I sat, groaning with the memory of countless masses.

So. Let's call it a "spatial experience." Being in the Basilica targeted each of my senses, and I was transported mentally and physically from the minute I entered. If you think that my description was melodramatic, I challenge you to make a catalog of your senses the next time your stomach drops. See how far it takes you--I'd love to get  more people to fall in love with their surroundings. Space is far from empty, and never boring; our environment has more power over our emotions and experiences than we realize.

How, then, do I transfer all this spatial sensory delight to objects? Let's return to the Grail.

The Grail of Leon is comprised of two black stone cups that have been wrought together with gold and precious stones in the form of a chalice. It looks like this:

(image from here, since I wasn't allowed to take pictures)

Is it like what you thought? Whenever I tell people that the Basilica of San Isidro advertises that they have the Holy Grail in their possession, they get a look on their faces like they just bit into a lemon.

There are a lot of things that tickle my fancy about the Leon Grail. First tickle: advertising and merchandise. There are posters and signs EVERYWHERE advertising the Grail. Come see our museum! Archaeologist-approved! And then, when you get to the museum where it is held, there is an enormous amount of Grail merchandise you can purchase. Who doesn't want a solid gold Grail necklace?

Secondly, there's the question of security. The Grail is hidden up in this tower in the museum with a bajillion motion sensors and cameras pointed at it. Seriously. I counted. I felt nervous just breathing in that room.

Thirdly: isolation. The Grail is all alone, in the center of a room down a little hallway, behind thick glass. And, fascinatingly, the Grail proper isn't actually this whole chalice, but rather the top half. It's a shallow stone bowl that has been covered in gold, expressly so that no one can ever touch the place that Christ's lips touched. When I asked why it's hidden away, I was told this is because it's too holy to use. Hmm. Even if somehow I could touch the Grail, I wouldn't actually be touching the real thing. Which brings me to my last point of interest.

Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, is the question of legitimacy. I'm sure everyone who walks through that museum wonders, Is it the Real Thing? We were told the story by our tour guide (since no one is allowed near the Grail without supervision.) Apparently a Moorish monarch in the south of Spain gave the cup to Ferdinand I of Leon, whose daughter Doña Urraca had it encrusted to look like it does today. The chalice was traced back to traders in Egypt, where it was believed to have been brought after a raid in the holy land. The museum can quote and site professionals out their ears who say that this is the real Grail, and my tour guide looked pretty convinced herself.

My counter-question, however, is: Does it matter if the grail is The Grail? While this may seem irreverent, the fact of the matter is that my fascination with the Grail of Leon derives from its effect on people, not its hotly contested legitimacy. Think back to the spatial experience in the Basilica--what made it special was not that one stone was chosen for the building over another, but rather the collection of experiences and feelings that the Basilica drew out of me. Material culture has the power to draw out and capture visceral emotions, and that is why places like the Basilica and objects like the Grail survive. This amalgamation of stone and metal has made it through the ages because people believe in it, plain and simple.

What is it about the material evidence of our beliefs that makes them so worth protecting? A cup, whether it is The Grail or not, is now sitting behind bullet proof glass, a symbol of faith and obsession. It hasn't stopped being relevant for centuries! And that is SO NEAT! And why I'm here, incidentally.

Speaking of obsession, I'm hyperventilating a bit. I think that's enough on Leon, although I'd be more than happy to go into it again if my opinions or terminologies are too vague. Next stop, Lugo!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Self-Reflection and a Preview

It's been a while, hasn't it? An appallingly long while, actually; over a month of radio silence. I'm sorry for the delay--as much as I like writing, I get blocked the same as anyone else.

Some of this block I could blame on the nature of travelling and my own character. I'm horrible with maintaining blogs and diaries and whatnot (those of you who followed Adventures of a Goliard during its brief stint can attest, I'm sure) and I get so caught up in living that I forget to record it. Some might say this is a virtue, and a refreshing break from my generation's dependency on photographs and social media to track our lives. How wonderful that I feel the air move in and out of my lungs rather than capturing it! Yada yada. (However, I don't think I'll be thinking that way in a year or seventy when I'm trying to remember what eyes 21-year old Lindsay looked through.) So. Yes, I do have a complicated relationship with deadlines, and I do get blocked. How very literary of me. Blame: placed.

If I were to be honest, however, I would have to admit that a great deal of this block comes from a place of fear. This fear has two opposing and yet equally intimidating halves, like two sides of The Coin From Hell.

The first part comes from my own fear of the void. I find myself asking huge, choking 3am questions like, What if nothing I even write on here matters? Am I just a ridiculously entitled kid who writes things on The Internet? Rambling on about "material culture" and "object-dependency" and things that don't really have anything to do with anything other than her own obsessions? Is anyone listening? And would it matter if they were?

Yeeeesh. Nothing like "what if" to block the creative juices.

The rest of the fear, and perhaps this is the more stifling part, comes from the worry that someone actually is listening. That what I'm working on does matter. And that the things I spill out weekly on a blog, records of work I put my heart and soul into, just don't cut it. I have been incredibly blessed to have the Watson awarded to me, and I am the recipient of enormous privilege. That privilege is heavy, and it has been weighing me down. So, from here stem a month of radio silence and crushing writer's block.

But all hope is not lost! There's a song I've been listening to recently (read: blasting on repeat) called "I Say Fever" by Ramona Falls. The story's a bit weird and hard to follow, but suffice it to say the man loses his dream because he chooses inaction out of fear.


And the lesson he learns? "I try to decide what to do now based on love, not fear."


I've always been a big believer in letting music inspire me.

So on the menu in the near future, coming your way from a semi-adult in Spain, are Leon! Lugo! Santiago de Compostela! Salamanca! and Cordoba! It won't be all at once, and I can't promise that now I'll get everything all on time forever and always. I'm as much a work-in-progress as this project. But I'm in love with what I do, so the choice is clear.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Duende (n.): The power or spirit within a work of art that has the ability to move the soul of its viewer to feel awe, fear and beauty. (Spanish)

I arrived in Burgos late on Wednesday, just in time for supper. A quick note on Spanish meals--breakfast is late and almost non-existent, with a cup of cafe con leche and a piece of toast being the standard fare (sometimes you can get some cheese or a piece of fruit, but don't bet on it.) Lunch is the big meal of the day, and is eaten around 1:00 or 2:00 pm, with at least two or three courses. Then dinner, which is often tapas or a bread/cheese/meat combo, around 8:00 in the evening. It's taken a bit of adjusting to the timing, and my stomach is very displeased most of the time (I'm a snacker at heart) but I am slowly becoming a pro. The trick is hitting the sweet spot for the dinner rush. And not thinking of Cheetos.

Once I got to Burgos I had the privilege of staying in the Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, a Cistercian monastery that's been around since the twelfth century. It. Was. Awesome. There was a gargoyle right outside my window! Several Spanish kings have been born or buried there, and as such it is a historical site controlled by the Spanish government. The nuns no longer worship in the old monastery, since it is (as it was described to me) "overrun by tourists." My window opened onto the main courtyard of the nunnery, where the ticket office is, and I can attest to just how overrun the monastery can become. Throngs of people come through every day, queuing up for the guided tour. I went on the tour myself, and the monastery and all its treasures are spectacular. However, since they have been appropriated by the Spanish government and for tourism, they can no longer be used for their original purposes. True, they have been conserved beautifully--some much better than they would have been if they were not destined to be behind glass--but it makes me think about how objects change as their associations develop.

This brings me to a theme that I came across first in Montserrat, but has developed as I travel and talk to more people. I'm hearing from a lot of people, those I encounter in monasteries and cathedrals in particular, of a growing apathy among the younger generation of Spanish citizens towards the spiritual heritage of Spanish material culture. Sometimes it is described as a kind of "cultural Catholicism," one where a person may grow up going through the motions of being a Catholic, but he or she never inherits the spirituality that accompanies the traditions. Other times I have been told of a general apathy towards all aspects of organized religion--sometimes associated with the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath--that is increasingly common among Spanish youth and even some adults. This is leading to Spanish spiritual heritage being used increasingly for tourism and its material manifestations for cultural patrimony. And, in some cases, the spiritual heritage and significance of objects is being abandoned in favor of pursuing artistic or historical investigation. Whether this apathy is identifiable because of the older generations' fear of the younger generation's disinterest, or from shifting cultural focuses, it is nonetheless present and apparent.

Some of this I understand. I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, and there are few things that I am less excited about than American colonial and revolutionary history. From the tender age of seven or so, every child schooled in Lexington is marinated yearly in field trips to battle sites, visits to colonial house museums, and costume days consisting of sitting on the Battle Green eating apples and listening to stories about Paul Revere. My summer camp at the rec center was Revolution-themed; my church ran one of the most popular Patriot's Day pancake breakfasts in the town; and it was pretty common to run into reenactments on the bike path. As I grew older, I grew tired of the town's history, a history that I had heard repeated over and over. I smirked at the tourists pulling up in their coach buses, rolled my eyes at the endless parades of tricorn hats, and thought that The Minuteman was possibly the dumbest mascot on the planet, all because after fifteen years or so of growing up with the stuff, it just wasn't interesting anymore. Honestly, (and I hope the Saint of Material Culture doesn't strike me down for this) to me the Minuteman statue on the Battle Green is just a statue, and a rather unimpressive one at that.

So. Is it the same here? If I had grown up with an eleventh-century monastery down the street instead of a monument to Paul Revere, would I have gotten over it eventually? Would the gargoyle outside my window become humdrum and boring? I come from a country where we make a big deal about a building being a hundred years old--that's nothing here. Is it overexposure that makes spirituality easier to overlook? I have no idea. And I don't know if spiritual apathy is a problem, either--at least where objects are concerned. I've come across many ongoing restoration and conservation projects in the places I've visited; the Burgos Cathedral alone had three. So does spiritual apathy equate material disinterest? It doesn't seem like it. However, does material interest equate spiritual awareness or respect? That is unclear.

Suffice it to say that my stay in Burgos was thought-provoking. It was possibly my favorite city I've been to so far, and it's hard to put my finger on why. Maybe it was the parks, or the flea markets, the stunning cathedral, or the wonderful women I met while staying in the monastery. But I have to keep going, and now I'm in León, exactly a month after I left home. Who knows what else is in store?

I saw the Holy Grail on Thursday. But I'll tell you about that next time.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Dépaysement (n.): The feeling stemming from not being in one's native country; culture shock; disorientation. (French)

I'm afraid I'm a bit overdue for a new post, but I have an excellent excuse: I've been cloistered. Since we last spoke I've gone on arduously long hikes, spent almost 24 hours in various Spanish bus stations, avoided seafood almost successfully, and listened to an absurd amount of the Harry Potter series on tape (narrated by Jim Dale, 150,000 out of 10: would highly recommend.)

I left off in Zaragoza. Which, now that I think of it, feels like ages ago. Happy month-iversary, by the way! July is now a thing of the past (at least in this time zone) which also means that all of the other Watsons have now departed for their respective years of discovery. Bon voyage, future friends! I'll see you in a year.

So, to sum it up: Zaragoza was hot. Some highlights: wading pools in the center of the city, excellent for keeping your ankles lukewarm and looking like a silly tourist. Goya everywhere. The most impressive collection of medieval tapestries in Europe. Limon congelado, the best frozen lemonade to ever grace the earth. The Diocesan Museum of Zaragoza (which is one of the coolest museums I've ever been to, and I've been to a lot. Walls that slide away as doors, fantastic lighting and audiovisuals, and a great collection built into an archaeological excavation site. Not too shabby at all, and I had it all to myself.) Also a store that claimed to sell "All things America." They had Cheetos and Jolly Ranchers, so... nailed it.

I journeyed from Zaragoza to Pamplona by bus, and then to Aurizberri where I stayed in a hostel outside of Roncesvalles. I went to Roncesvalles to see a monastery, but I was flouted at almost every turn. Here my story, ye readers, and despair. And then get over it and keep moving. That's what I did, anyway.

The trip started with a major perk, in that I am almost certain the guy at the desk gave me the key to the wrong room. I had booked a bunk in an 8-person mixed dorm and was feeling incredibly anxious at the prospect of having so many roommates, but I opened the door onto a neatly appointed room with a full-sized bed and an ensuite just for me. No sharing, hurrah! And a bathtub.

The major draw of the hostel was that it said on the website that it was 3 km from the monastery at Roncesvalles, and I figured it would be a simple enough commute. I saved my directions on my iPod, shrugging at Google's silly calculation of an hour and a half walking time (what do they know? ohoho, I'm so smart and superior). I left the hostel at 9 am, ready for a brisk walk and a visit to some treasure at the top of the hill.

Turns out it takes the better part of three hours to get to Roncesvalles from Aurizberri. And walking on the side of the road is a Very Bad Idea. Suffice it to say I survived, and thank all my lucky stars it was a cool day with beautiful countryside, but I was rather discouraged when I got to Roncesvalles much later and much more tired than I had anticipated. Oh well, I thought. At least there will be so many things to see and investigate here!

Oh, my sweet summer child.

The museum and collections were only available through a very expensive tour not offered when I was there. I could walk through the church and a part of the cloister on my own, but that was it. I asked around for guidance from the staff, but most of them are pilgrim-hospitality oriented and not well-versed in the site. So that was a bit of a bummer.

It was, however, my first real encounter with the Camino de Santiago, a centuries-old and incredibly revered pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela. People come from all corners of the world and all walks of life, to undertake the pilgrimage. Since Roncesvalles, I have been (more or less) following the pilgrimage route towards Santiago de Compostela, and I plan to end up there in a few weeks. From Roncesvalles, it is 790 km as the crow flies to Santiago de Compostela, and quite a daunting walk; I've seen more peregrinos boarding buses with Camino-related injuries than I can count. But I do value the five hours I spent on the Camino route; it gave me a small glimpse into what it is like to undertake the pilgrimage. Maybe I'll come back and do it for real sometime--I certainly can't do it now. I'd like to see someone undertake it with the amount of luggage I have and survive. In any case, even though the monastery itself didn't yield much in terms of objects, the walk did wonders. I experienced a renewed passion for the objects and places that people are willing to put their bodies through so much to see.

I walked home in a lightning storm, which just made sense given the day I had. All bah-humbuggery aside, I really liked Aurizberri. It's one of those villages where if you sneeze as you drive through it you'll miss it, but the view can't be beat. What can I say? I'm a sucker for mountains.

I'm still playing a bit of catch-up, since I'm in Leon now, but I was in Burgos for a week and my time there gave me a lot to think about. Next time, Burgos!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Montserrat and Zaragoza

Resfeber (n.): The restless beat of a traveler's heart before the journey begins, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. (Swedish)

To be fair, I've already been travelling for over two weeks, so it's not quite resfeber I'm suffering from. Still, travelling place to place I feel a thrill of anticipation and nervousness when I set out. I hope I don't lose it as time goes on.

I left Barcelona on Monday and voyaged to Montserrat, a beautiful mountainous area that is incredibly popular with tourists. Bypassing the massive tourist magnet of a monastery that rests at the top of the hill, I made my way to the Monestir Sant Benet, an active Benedictine nunnery that is home to a community of incredibly welcoming women. I stayed there in descanso for four days, communing with my surroundings and reviewing my ideas of worship and spirituality in the context of cloistered nuns. Here's the view from my window:

The nuns of Sant Benet are known for the ceramics they make, both for sale at their own monastery and as commissions for other communities. I got to sit and talk with them and the other women passing through the hostatgeria about the importance of conservation and objects in spiritual pursuits. However, I must say the best part of living there was simply that: being part of a community, even briefly. I attended services, got teased by the nuns for being the slowest eater they'd ever seen, breathed mountain air, read books from the tiny library, and exchanged smiles with everyone I saw. Not bad at all. And some A+ calabasa soup, to boot.

On Thursday I traveled from Montserrat to Zaragoza, with a short stop in Barcelona to visit the Apple Store (buckets of soaking laundry and iPods do not mix, and I was not about to embark on the rest of this journey without my iTouch--but that's a conversation about object-dependency for another day) and then I caught a coach bus to Zaragoza. It was a beautiful trip, and I'm sad I don't have pictures--the guy next to me usurped my window seat ticket and honestly I was too tired to fight it out.

I'm staying now in a small hostel in Zaragoza (another third floor walk-up to match my digs in Barcelona) and using my own two feet to get around the city. Today I visited perhaps one of the most famous cathedrals in Catalonia, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. I've been visiting mostly Romanesque buildings thus far, and Pilar is Romanesque and Gothic on the outside but Baroque on the inside. If Romanesque interiors seemed lavish to me before (they have a quiet, stately grace) Baroque interiors are out of control. I mean this in the best way possible, but it's a bit of a shock to the system. Nonetheless I had a fantastic if slightly overstimulating time, and I had an excellent collection of encounters that I shall share here.

The Importance of Touch and Treasure. One of the many chapels within Pilar is dedicated to the worship of Christ and Mary, housing a massive wooden figure of the crucified Christ and an accompanying statue of the Madonna and Child. The practice is to approach the Christ and kiss His feet in supplication and prayer, in addition to holding His feet and legs, and then proceeding to kiss the feet of the Madonna. These statues are very old, and touched by hundreds of people a day, and the paint and form of each is being rubbed away by each new supplicant.

In short, they're a conservator's nightmare.

But what would they be without touch? There's something very visceral about touching the feet of Christ as you pray--I did it myself in the chapel. One of the feet's toes are now barely recognizable, having been worn down by thousands of supplications. However, it would be devastating to remove the Christ and Madonna from public access, and directly in opposition to the statues' purpose. 

Likewise a very popular place for touch and prayer is the pillar left by the Virgin when she appeared to Saint James and asked him to build a church in her honor. It's low to the ground and can only be "used" by one person at a time, so I waited my turn. The line of worshipers leads to a small kneeler set into the wall, with a framed portion of the pillar at face height once you get into the kneeling position. You kiss the pillar and pray to the Virgin for her protection, leaving your mark in the ever-deepening grooves of the pillar. It's an incredibly sacred place that slowly works away at an incredibly sacred object. But as a conservator I have to step back, and allow these objects to be used as intended. It's not my job to do the saving in these chapels.

There's a treasury in Pilar too, kind of like what I encountered in Santa Maria de Pi. It's called The Virgin's Jewel Box. A curious name, I thought, but as it turns out The Virgin's Jewel Box is a display of the finery that supplicants of the Virgin of the Pillar have donated to the Virgin in supplication or in thanks. There are crowns, mantles, earrings, necklaces, pins, hairpieces and rings kept for the Virgin, as well as more personal items. A composer gave his bow, a writer a golden pen; generals have given badges of valor, homeowners gave candlesticks. Are these objects sacred now? As I understand it, these are the possessions of the Virgin of the Pillar, kept safe by the Basilica. I wonder about that pen, and the violin bow, and how their significances have evolved. Or have they? Were they sacred to start?

Seems like I've got a lot to think about.

I'll be in Zaragoza until Monday, and then I continue West. Keep cool weather in your thoughts for me--it's been hovering pretty consistently around 100 degrees in these parts, and I'd like to make it through July gently braised, rather than cooked straight through. Hasta pronto!

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Vacilando (v.) : Travelling when the experience itself is more important than the destination. (Spanish)

It's official! I've been in Barcelona a week. It's incredibly hot here, which makes travelling around the city less than fun, but at least cathedrals are generally cool temperature-wise, and there are public drinking fountains scattered around the city. Aside from being a respite from the heat, churches in Barcelona are also hugely popular tourist destinations; Sagrada Familia is the number one spot to visit in the city.

Before I regale you with witty tales of my adventures, I would like to address the ever-popular concept of language barrier. In my innocence, I figured that having mastered Spanish to a good extent travelling to Spain and speaking to everyone would be easy-peasy. FALSE. I am in Catalonia, friends, and Catalonia means Catalan. Now when I was in school, I got the impression that Catalan was sort of an ephemeral language, not terribly necessary to know and easy to circumvent. ALSO FALSE. I had to translate the directions on my microwave pasta because I had no idea how to follow directions written in Catalan. I'm picking up pieces here and there (Sortida=exit, si us plau=please, etc.) but it is tiring for the brain. That being said, I am furiously studying my Turkish, and praying for mercy when I start travelling west and everything turns to Basque. But I have persevered through the throngs of tourists, the language and the loneliness, and this is what I've been up to so far:

Barcelona Cathedral. A fantastic Gothic specimen of a church, with spectacular side chapels dedicated to saints and about a thousand manifestations of the virgin, plus a beautiful choir and crypt, which I couldn’t get into because they were being used for services. It was breathtaking, and it took me a moment to realize that the lightness in my chest was the absence of the homesickness I have been fighting--for me, churches (especially cathedrals) inspire a quiet awe in me that I find very grounding. The panic of leaving home was gone, and I could lose myself in the space.

Santa Maria del Pi. Located in the same general area as Barcelona Cathedral, quite beautiful and less touristy. I found a room labeled “Treasure” which immediately caught my eye--this must be where the magic happens. I was right--I found five reliquaries, about a bajillion monstrances, and even more chalices. It turns out, this church has a special relationship with its objects because the interior was burned out the day after the civil war started. The surviving objects are few and precious--even the chairs are on display. I might go back and investigate--there’s a cleaning lady too, whose uniform indicated that she is hired by a third party. I wonder what it’s like to clean churches?

Sagrada Familia. I got up nice and early to get to the cathedral ahead of the crowd. I got to the end of the line at 9:30 just in time for the teller to inform us that the next ticket would be sold for 1:30pm. We could come back later (hahahaha) or buy online (hahahahahahahahahahahaha). So I spent a good long time looking at the exterior, and then went on my merry way. I came back later in the day when they told me to and tried to get in again, but they were all sold out for the day. Hopefully I'll have the chance to return when it's finished.

Sant Pau Reciente Modernista. In a bit of a tiff after my battle with Sagrada Familia, I headed off in the direction of what looked like a church (it had Sant in front of the name, so I foolishly thought it couldn't be anything else) and walked for a while. I would like to give a shoutout here to my sandals, the real MVP--they are holding up better than I am. However. Sant Pau Reciente Modernista is not a church. It’s a museum--sort of, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was once the foremost hospital in Barcelona, and now the collection of buildings is an empty shell. An empty shell, however, in the manner of a pysanky egg. The buildings are exquisitely gilded inside and out, looking like a village of palaces, and I can only imagine how it must have been to be a patient in bedazzled wards. The style is dubbed “Catalonian Modernism” and I’ve never seen anything like it--in the best way possible.

Tarragona. Unlike the other spots I've been to, Tarragona is not in Barcelona. Rather, it is a city in its own right (a walled city, I might add--the best kind of city) about an hour's train ride south of Barcelona. The train ride itself was actually quite pleasant. Here is a List Of Things Learned On A Train Trip In Spain:
  1. Fanny packs are in. Like, way in. Like, I’m pretty sure they were never out. Pick up yours today from Louis Vuitton, Coach, or anywhere fine fanny packs are sold.
  2. Public transportation makes people rude. And old Spanish women with tiny dogs are no exception. In fact, I think they are the reason for this rule.
  3. Nude beaches sneak up on you. All you wanted to do was stare out the window at the surf instead of at the eight prepubescent Spanish Justin Biebers sitting next to you, and suddenly there is nothing but naked people for miles.
  4. Gayland is, in fact, a fantastic beach shack decorated entirely with rainbows that looks out on the Mediterranean. It is also inaccessible except for by crossing high-speed train tracks. Be careful, my friends!
  5. The nude beach will still be there when you go back in the other direction.
In all seriousness, Tarragona might be my favorite spot so far. The cathedral there is absolutely beautiful, and I'm particularly partial to it because I had it to myself for half an hour in the morning, and the silence of a cathedral is the best kind of silence there is. I did some digging into all the recent conservation work they have had done there, but everyone I talked to either knew nothing or could only talk about history. Not quite what I was hoping for. I got a website to look into of the conservators who had most recently worked on the cathedral, so we’ll see where that goes. I also found an enormous monstrance that was made by a goldsmith to replace an original that was stolen in 1939. Curiouser and curiouser. One of the most interesting pieces of the cathedral for me, however, was a corner in the gardens near the cloister, where hundreds of names had been scribbled onto the stones. At first I was outraged--how dare they? And then I saw that the names went back in some cases almost a century, and my view began to change. Why leave your name in a church? Are they part of the church now? Can they be sacred like the building?  Hm.

Museu Nacional d'Art Catalunya. The National Museum of Catalonian Art is very beautiful, and at the top of some very, very tall stairs. My recommendation? Bring a water bottle and a jet pack. I headed straight for the Gothic exhibition halls and dug in. I scoped out a couple of guards and chose one that looked nice, and a conversation followed something like this:

“I have a question. Well, I would like your opinion.”

“Go for it.”

“In this exhibition space, a lot of these objects depict sacredness, or were used for spiritual acts. But now that they’re here, are they art objects or sacred objects?”

He didn’t miss a beat.

“Art objects.”


He then gave me an incredibly eloquent explanation that I wish I could replicate, and it went along these lines: the place of these objects is now within the history of art. Even if they were once sacred, they cannot be anymore. The fact that they are in a museum, with white walls and people looking at them, makes them useful to study history and the evolution of artistic style, but these objects have no impact on “el culto” (sort of "cult" but not really--more like religious persons) anymore.
He recommended very strongly that I visit the Romanesque hall before I left, which I did, and I could immediately see why he suggested it. The Romanesque exhibition hall is room after room of replicated churches, displayed for the sake of the MNAC’s very impressive collection of Romanesque wall paintings. If anything were to be creating an aura of sacredness in the museum, it wasn’t the Gothic spaces--it was the Romanesque. They’ve also done a fascinating job of integrating modern art pieces into the Romanesque spaces. It was altogether more like what I had been expecting from a museum with so many religious pieces, but still the didactics were all about evolution of style, subject matter, or history. No spirituality at all.

I know that this has been an incredibly long post. Perhaps I'll have to do this more often so I don't overload you with all my musings. But I can promise you I'm doing a lot of thinking and planning, and my brain can't be stopped by the heat.

TL;DR, Barcelona has been and continues to be great, and I'm squeezing every last bit out of the city before I leave on Monday. Ciao!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Feeling of Falling

Since it feels like my life is either about to come to a thundering halt or take off on an unstoppable rampage, I figured I should write.

Instead of, you know, packing.

I have one week until I leave the country for over a year. One week, and the next phase of my life begins. It's a lot of pressure to put on a week. Poor week. Of course, there's lots to do and I can't spend my time on the couch like I want to, but I feel the need to reflect on the enormity of what's ahead of me and the incredible collection of people and circumstances that have gotten me to where I am, on the precipice of this grand adventure.

At this point in time, I only know a few things for certain: next week, I board a plane to take me to Barcelona. I have a place to stay in Barca, and then in Montserrat, and then it's all a bit uncharted. That's the thing about a project like this--I'm following my nose, going where the wind takes me, and it's awfully hard to book the wind in advance.

As I teeter on the border between terror and elation, I'm thinking a lot about things that I'll miss in this coming year. I'll have to give up face-to-face contact with my family and friends, my rather startling dependence on Pandora for music, and my teddy bear (she's enormous--no way she's fitting in my day pack.) Some days I'll give up showers, and comfortable sleeping arrangements, and charged batteries. It's hard not to get stuck thinking about loss.

However, as I learned during my time in Bhutan, this is a dangerous trail of thoughts to follow, since I have no possible way of knowing right now the expanse of what I'll gain on this journey. And there is nothing quite so corrosive to the wandering soul as the thought of here being equated with the concept of away.

Which brings me to now, a week out, waking up every day to the feeling of falling. I think it's what I need--the unequivocal jolt to the senses that comes from a falling nightmare, waking me up and forcing me to breathe in unfamiliar air. I'll hit the ground running, and take life as it comes. I've been given an unbelievable opportunity, to follow my passion and my beliefs across the world, and I refuse to waste it thinking of what I could be missing somewhere else. I'm not saying I won't get homesick--I'm sure I will. But I also have faith in the ways in which my sense of "home" continues to develop.

So I'm slowly loosening my grip on my safety net and letting excitement take over--and believe me, excitement is an incredibly insufficient word to explain the lump in my throat and tightness in my stomach. But explanations can wait, I guess. I have goodbyes to say, favorite meals to eat, and last-minute haircuts to schedule. And maybe I'll get started on that packing.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Hello there! Might I commend you on your excellent taste in blogs?

Communing With The Ages is the title of the project I will be undertaking as a recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for 2015-2016. For more information on the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, click here. There are many other fantastic Fellows, and I highly recommend you check out the site.

I presented my Fellowship to the Watson Foundation thusly: My Watson Year will be an exploration of the sacred object from the point of view of an art conservator. All over the world, traditions nurture their spirituality and preserve their identity through the care of objects. The need for discretion and cultural awareness is paramount among conservators, because the power and meaning of sacred objects is based on the interaction between object and viewer. Whether this interaction occurs through visual or physical contact, sacred objects have a quality of “interactivity” that relies on understanding the object’s power, spirituality, and continuing significance to a spiritual community. I am captivated by objects that rely on interaction to maintain meaning and by the challenges caring for them presents. How can conservators, who are trained as artists and scientists, learn to revere objects properly, if our goal is to care for them analytically? In the end, this is the goal of my Watson year: to engage with and learn from sacred objects and the people who care for and venerate them to understand how sacred objects are relevant in a modern world.

To accomplish my exploration, I will be outside of the U.S. for 12 consecutive months, travelling to Spain, Turkey, Japan and India. I do not leave for my year of exploration until early July, 2015, so it is unlikely that I will be updating this blog until then (unless plans change drastically.) So, until July!