Saturday, November 24, 2007

Day at the Museum

Yesterday we headed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for Renoir Landscapes, a show of the Impressionist master's scenes of nature.

I knew my parents would enjoy the exhibit, but I was dubious. As a teenager I spent hours at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston admiring Impressionist works, but I lost interest during college. There I discovered a passion for art history, and I took seven classes at Bryn Mawr College, mostly on Medieval and early Renaissance art. I fell in love with the stark and fearful look of saints' faces, the precise brushstrokes of Northern artists, the intricate stonework of churches. A far cry from the colorful work of the Impressionists, whom I began to despise because of popular interest in their works over the last couple of decades. Who among us hasn't either owned or seen a mug, t-shirt or other tchotche of Monet's garden?

Yesterday I fell in love again. The exhibit reminded me that the Impressionists created the modern idea of nature. Their artwork continues to inform our beliefs about and approach to the natural environment, even if most of us don’t realize it.

The exhibit began with photographs of Paris and its environs in the mid-1850’s. Just as we are today, people 150 years ago were obsessed with the latest technology, and at that time it was the railroads. Trains made Impressionism possible, the curator of the exhibit said on a recorded message, because it made remote locations accessible to urbanites. For the first time Parisians saw the countryside, and they brought their ideas back to the city. City dwellers began planting gardens, and planners established public parks for the first time.

Dad most enjoyed watching Renoir grow and change through the years. Renoir hit his artistic prime in his mid-30s to early-40s, although he continued to paint until he died. He completed the last painting in the exhibit only a few years before he died. His family taped brushes to his hands so he could continue to paint despite debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.

Among my favorite paintings in the show were The Wave (top) and Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil (right, c. 1873). Renoir also painted when he traveled: he visited Venice, Naples and the French colony of Algeria. The Jardin d’Essai, Algiers (1881) reminded me of Costa Rica.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Of Sausages, Block Cheese and Family

It's 11:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, and I'm hiding in the living room while my parents stuff the turkey. A disagreement appears to be ensuing over the amount, type and consistency of butter to be used to bronze the bird.

"You need softened butter, not melted butter!"
"I've been baking turkeys for 20 years. When's the last time you baked a turkey?"
"Oh my God. I'm going to have to kill your father now."
"Don't do it that way! Stuff it in harder! You need more room to stuff it in!"

As my mother observed, if it weren't Thanksgiving, the neighbors might wonder about these exchanges.

Not that my neighbors care. I awoke at 7 to an argument approximately three houses down. In typical holiday fashion, a couple flung names so completely inappropriate for this family-oriented blog that I cannot repeat them. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mom and Dad arrived Tuesday night with most of the ingredients I'd told them previously I would purchase myself. This included several links of pork sausage, unwhipped heavy cream with bourbon and a large block of cheese. Have I mentioned my fear of consuming produce that has traveled via an unrefrigerated cooler for hundreds of miles and crossed several state lines?

Joke as I will, I'm thrilled to have my parents here. I bought orange Gerbera daisies for their room and filled the cupboards with things they like but that I don't eat: bagged popcorn, almond biscotti, canned vegetables. I like hearing conversation on the other side of the wall when I fall asleep at night, and it's nice to have someone who understands my insanity as well as I do.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Voter #2

That's my nickname for today. Ever since I moved to South Philly, I've made it a goal to be the first voter in the neighborhood. Today I came close, but one lady beat me. She wasn't very happy. As she left the school that serves as our polling place, she opened the door for me and said, "Ay, Madonna, what a mess." (Check out this page from for more Italian curse words!)

Voting in South Philly follows a pattern, I've noticed. Four or five frail-looking Italian grannies with books of voter's names before them. One middle-aged man running from booth to booth trying to figure out why the electricity has failed. Men attached to oxygen tanks, dragging walkers down steps and asking for help because they can't see the candidates' names. Animated confusion about who's who and what's what. A good, old fashioned Italian mess.

I wouldn't have it any other way. I've always been grateful for the right to vote, all the more since I moved to Pennsylvania from Washington, DC, where residents have no voting rights. Right before I left, DC Council passed legislation allowing us to get licence plates that say "Taxation Without Representation." Now that I'm here, I take as many opportunities as I can to use my vote, even when it's a fait accompli, as it is today. We all know hell would freeze over before Philly elected a Republican mayor.

So if you haven't voted yet today, please get out there and do it. It's one of the last ways you can make your voice heard.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Magic Turquoise Bus

After midnight my second evening in Costa Rica, my roommate, Monica (right), arrived. I was awoken by a knock about an hour after going to bed. It wasn't hard to wake up, since I hadn't been able to find the switch to turn off the overhead light.

I wiped the sand from my eyes and opened the door. A beautiful young woman walked in, trailed by a man with a large backpack. He dropped the pack heavily on her bed, and in my sleep-deprived condition I started to think I'd be spending my vacation with a couple. GAP had warned us singles could be rooming with members of the opposite sex. Great, I thought. Just what I need! But the man left, leaving Monica behind.

We talked for about an hour, and it turned out we were a great roommate match. Monica told me she's a biologist from Belgium, and she'd been stuck in Panama because of bad weather. She'd traveled through Miami and was very laid back about her whole situation, even though she would have had to take public buses on her own to Playa Matapalo had she not made it to our hotel that night. I looked at the clothes I had put on our nightstand, carefully folded in preparation for the morning--along with suntan lotion, bug spray and a first aid kit--and thought our different personalities would be a perfect fit.

In the morning, we got on the Magic Turquoise Bus and headed southwest to Playa Matapalo. The bus climbed up and down roads winding along the coast, passing families and dogs and oil palm plantations. Attached to the trees were large, lychee-like red fruit (thanks to ASD Costa Rica for the photo). Local people pick them on behalf of corporations, which convert the fruit to palm oil. Corina told us the oil is extremely high in cholesterol, so companies use it only for machinery and manufacturing--except for McDonald's. One of my fellow travelers asked whether palm oil could be used for biofuel; Corina said she'd never heard of Costa Ricans doing so, although according to the Web a market seems to exist for it.

We stopped in Quepos, about 25 kilometers from our destination. Quepos is a compact, busy city with a grocery store, restaurants, souvenir shops and outdoor stands selling colorful textiles and balloons in the shape of whales and crocodiles. I bought dried fruit at the grocery but skipped the bottled water, since Costa Rica has a clean and plentiful water supply.

Friday, November 02, 2007

That's What She Said

Last weekend I had the pleasure of hacking up my lungs in Scranton, Pennsylvania, at the first (of what I hope will be) annual Office Convention, a celebration of all things OFFICE!

I went with my friends Jessie "from the block" Betts and Erin "Ernie" Nash, after months of planning. Sadly, our other comrades were unable to attend because of grown-up things like conferences and work obligations. P-shah, I say!

My most sincere desire was to illustrate this entry with an image of Erin and Angela Kinsey (Angela), but alas Erin has not released that precious commodity into my grubby hands (probably because she knows where it will end up). The photo was taken after the two emerged, with Jessie and Ed Helms (Andy), from the elevator, where Angela told Erin, "Thank you for coming from freakin' Ohio!"

I did not witness this exchange, as I spent most of the weekend mute and prostrate in our hotel room. We stayed at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel in downtown Scranton, which, by the way, is a lovely and friendly small city. Jessie and Erin put up with me while I spewed up phlegm the color of the rainbow and did my best to sound like James Earl Jones.

My companions ran into Craig Robinson (Darrell from the warehouse), who took over the hotel's piano Friday night. He played a mean "Piano Man" before an unfortunate hotel worker asked him to stop because the sound was disturbing guests. Then came the chorus of "boos" more familiar to Philadelphians than Scrantonians.

My future husband, John Krasinski (Jim), didn't make the convention, but I still had a blast. My brush with fame came Sunday morning, when we discovered Bobby Rae Shafer (Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration) was afflicted with the same disease as I. Erin dared me to throw him a roll of lozenges. I couldn't bring myself to do it, but I did walk up to his table and roll him a bunch. It's a testament to the down-to-earth nature of this group of actors that Bobby thanked me and popped a lozenge in his mouth (as opposed to assuming I was attempting to poisin him).

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Yesterday I celebrated the traditional South Philadelphia Halloween. I rushed home and tore open six bags of candy, reserving two peanut butter cups for myself. I flipped on the porch light to signal "open" to trick-or-treaters and waited on my front stoop with the goodies.

As usual for Halloween, my street was quiet. That's because my neighbors had already celebrated what I like to call "White Residents Halloween." This is the second year I received a note the week of Halloween letting me know the "neighborhood children" would come around on a specified, non-holiday night.

But last night I got to give candy to the "other" neighborhood children. While most of my neighbors hid in their houses, lights off, a few of us emerged with bags of candy and the spirit of the season. The children came in all ages and sizes, many with homemade costumes. My favorites were a ballerina and a ladybug. One tiny girl in a stroller put out her hand, but she burst into tears when I tried to hand her candy. "She's afraid of the kitty," her mother said, looking at Tug in the doorway. Not something I would have thought possible about a 7-pound gray tabby cat. Then again, I get scared from realizing I live in a neighborhood where people appear to prefer a segregated Halloween. It's kind of spooky.