Monday, April 14, 2014

ArtSmart Roundtable: The Overlooked Reliquary

It’s time for ArtSmart, and this will probably be my last one for the next few months with the impending arrival of Baby Art Nerd. We delayed the April posting to accommodate another art-centric post by friends of the late Hasan Niyazi. You can find those posts here.

This month, we’re revisiting the theme of sculpture. I’ve covered a broad range in this topic from fun modern pieces to triumphal Roman arches. Usually, you think of a piece of stone or bronze as a larger-than-life object for sculpture or perhaps you think of busts of noteworthy people. But what about reliquaries? They’re sort of in between as a functional object and a piece of usually delicate metalwork. I’m going to focus on two kinds: portrait-style reliquaries and church-shaped pieces.

What is a reliquary? For this discussion, focusing on medieval European reliquaries, it’s an object used to house the relics (often bones, teeth, clothing, or hair) of a saint. Churches were often consecrated once a relic (generally of the patron saint the church is named after) was installed. Many powerful cathedrals and monasteries used their relics as medieval tourism to gain revenue from visiting pilgrims. Especially if their relic was purported to deliver miracles. So if you had a money-making, miracle-creating relic, you needed a fancy vessel to display it.

Via Wikimedia Commons.

Reliquary of Ste. Foy dating from the late 10th to early 11th centuries. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The abbey church of Sainte Foy in Conques, France has an excellent example of a portrait-style reliquary. The church is on the way to the Camino de Santiago, and Sainte Foy’s miracle claim to fame was freeing prisoners who prayed for her intercession. The relics were actually stolen from Agen by monks which shows just how important relics were in medieval society. The reliquary is Ste. Foy seated in a chair. The head is actually a different gold from the body, and there is a receptacle in the back holding her skull encased in silver. Some art historians have theorized that the head was the original reliquary that was later added to a body. The crown that she’s wearing denotes that she was a martyr. The body itself is gilded yew wood and the ornamentation has been added to over the centuries. The oldest parts of the reliquary date from the late 10th to early 11th centuries (though the face dates from the 4th century as a late Roman bust), and it measures almost 3 feet tall. You can find the reliquary in the treasury at the church of Ste. Foy in Conques.

The Reliquary Head of St Eustace in the British Museum. Made from silver-gilt, sycamore, amethyst, carnelian, rock crystal, chalcedony, pearl, Roman glass. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The Reliquary Head of St Eustace in the British Museum. Made from silver-gilt, sycamore, amethyst, carnelian, rock crystal, chalcedony, pearl, Roman glass. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The reliquary of St. Eustace is a bust-style featuring just his head and neck resting on a stand. It was made in the 13th century in Basel, Switzerland so this has a late Romanesque look rather than the early Romanesque look of Ste. Foy. It measures about 14 inches tall so it’s much smaller than Ste. Foy. The base is sycamore covered in silver gilt and gems. The inside contains skull fragments, which were assumed to be pieces of St. Eustace’s skull though he was martyred in late 1st/early 2nd century. It’s not clear where the relics came from, but the reliquary stayed in Basel until it was purchased by the British Museum in 1850. It still belongs to the museum today.

Reliquary of St. Taurin. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Reliquary of St. Taurin. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The reliquary of St. Taurinus is an example of a church-shaped piece. The life of St. Taurinus is a bit hazy, but he’s generally associated with the 4th or 5th centuries. He is said to have raised several people from the dead in Normandy during his lifetime. An abbey was established in his name in the town of Évreux in Normandy in the 6th century. The reliquary dates from the mid-13th century, and it takes the style of a Gothic church. The reliquary is silver covered in gold leaf and gilded copper with enamel and jewels. It’s over three feet long and over three feet tall, and it weighs and weighs over 150 pounds. You can find it in a side chapel at the abbey church of St. Taurin in Évreux today.

Next time you’re in a museum or church, don’t miss the gilded reliquaries on display. They’re often incredibly detailed pieces of metalwork, and each one tells the story of the saint or church it is associated with. They may not command the room like a giant classical nude or an Egyptian temple guardian guard or a brightly colored Lichtenstein, but they are unique, ornate vessels with stories that you usually don’t hear about.

What is ArtSmart?  A couple fellow travel bloggers with an interest in art and I decided to do a roundtable series focused on making our readers “art smart”, e.g. understanding why certain works of art are famous and worth the visit while traveling.  At the end of this post are links to the other ArtSmart posts by participating bloggers.  Interested in joining the Roundtable?  Check out our Facebook page or email me.

This Month’s Fellow ArtSmart Roundtable Articles:

Alexandra of Arttrav: 8 exquisite sculptures at the Archaeological Museum in Florence

Pal and Lydian of ArtWeekenders: Botero’s Voluminous Sculptures Around the World

Lesley of Culturetripper: Francis Bacon & Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty, AGO, Toronto

Christina of Daydream Tourist: Man and Myth: Statues of Abraham Lincoln

Ashley of No Onions Extra Pickles: Rodin’s Thinker

Murissa of Wanderfull Traveler: The History & Highlights of Peggy Guggenheim’s Sculpture Garden, Venice

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How I Hope Traveling Will Make Me a Better Parent

So yeah, that whole having a baby thing is 6ish weeks away. Which is why I’ve been a little quiet here; nesting has totally taken over. You know that feeling of last minute panic when you pack your bags hours before a trip? That’s kind of what I’m feeling, but I’m compelled to clean ALL THE THINGS in addition to washing/folding/organizing baby clothes and my own clothes (and figuring out what spring outfits still fit now that it’s finally warming up).

My only “experience” with parenting is being a fur mommy to my sweet kitty. Granted, she had some similarities to a baby like waking me up at 3 am for food, being very cranky at doctor’s visits, and puking on furniture/bedding/etc. But I know I’m in for quite a change.

I’m hoping some of the lessons I’ve learned from traveling will carry over.

Dealing with the Unexpected

We made several wrong turns trying to get back to our hotel in Barcelona on New Year's Eve.

We made several wrong turns trying to get back to our hotel in Barcelona on New Year’s Eve.

Oh, my flight home has been discontinued (not cancelled, straight up discontinued)? The line for tickets at the Termini in Rome is so long that we missed the first train to the airport? The museum we thought was in this neighborhood is nowhere near here? In my early travel days, those first two problems left me panicky and flustered. But now I’m used to things turning out differently and not going according to plan. Having to roll with the punches and figure out Plans B, C, D, and E should help me learn the ropes of how to be a mom.

Dealing with Exhaustion

Turkish coffee in the Grand Bazaar definitely helps.

Turkish coffee in the Grand Bazaar definitely helps.

Red eye flights, jet lag, and ridiculous layovers are not particularly fun. It took me a few days to get over jet lag in Istanbul, and we had a layover in NYC that was almost as long as the flight from Istanbul to NYC. I’ll admit that I’m not the most pleasant person when I’m tired. But I’ve learned how to be less bitter and how to cope with napping to get over missed sleep. Hopefully this will translate over into the weeks of waking up and feeding a baby every 2-3 hours.

Dealing with Minimal Stuff

Miss Zoe, certified packing assistant. RIP.

Miss Zoe, certified packing assistant. RIP.

I used to be an over-packer. I wouldn’t know what I’d feel like wearing so I’d pack 6 extra outfits for a 5 day trip. Now, I’m much better at packing. I have a bunch of go-to outfits, a minimal beauty routine, and I don’t need a lot of other stuff to keep me occupied on long flights. I can travel with one bag on many trips, and I generally pack the same things over and over since I know they work. We’re trying to have a minimal home for Baby Art Nerd I don’t want our house to turn into a showroom for Toys R Us. I thought long and hard about what our lifestyle is like to avoid buying “necessities” we’ll never use. Until I know our baby’s personality, I don’t see the point of having a multitude of things that may or may not work. Our apartment isn’t huge, and I’d rather have Baby Art Nerd explore the world around him/her than have the latest and greatest baby item.

I know there will be a steep learning curve, but I’m hopeful that the lessons I’ve learned from traveling will help make things even a tiny bit easier.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Snapshot: Pei’s Pyramid at the Louvre



I have to say, I really prefer I.M. Pei’s Pyramid from below as opposed to the courtyard level. The ticketing queues for the Louvre really benefit from all that light instead of feeling like you’re being rounded up like cattle to enter some dark entrance.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What I’ve Learned in 30 Weeks of Being Pregnant

Yes, 30.

That means I HOPEFULLY have 10 more to go. Based on my latest ultrasound, this kiddo is above average in weight (yet I didn’t gain any weight between doctor appointments…hmm) so let’s all pray I don’t go to 41 or 42 weeks. Because yeah. That does not sound fun. At all.

So let me take advantage of my time between naps and 975653425699776454243 baby prep activities to recap.

1st Trimester

10ish weeks

10ish weeks

Have you ever had mono? I had just a touch more energy than that for a solid 3 months. Oh, and did I mention that I was working 3 part-time jobs? Obviously biking to a bakery 2 miles away at 5:30 am is IDEAL. Or literally just starting a job in the field I’ve always wanted to be in days before finding out I was pregnant. So I took ALL THE NAPS. Because of ALL THE NAPS, I learned how to delegate, prioritize, and let go of stuff that didn’t *need* to get done.

Food aversions were fun, too. Coffee tasted horribly bitter. Corn tasted like beets (and beets taste like dirt to me). Chocolate was sickeningly sweet. In fact, all desserts/baked goods were unappetizing. Meat was not very popular either. I’m pretty sure I ate nothing but scrambled eggs and toast for a week at one point. The aversions really didn’t last too long though, maybe 3 weeks tops. The weirdest one? Mint toothpaste. I don’t know if you’ve ever perused the toothpaste aisle looking for a non-mint flavor, but it’s really hard to find. And of the non-minty Toms of Maine flavors, I couldn’t go with cinnamon or clove because the hubs HATES both. So I found orange mango. It was like brushing my teeth with orange juice. Which was better than gagging on mint. So toothpaste makers, can you please expand your flavor options? I’m sure there are people allergic to mint and lots of other pregnant ladies who cannot deal with minty fresh breath. (FYI: this mint comes back for me later.)

2nd Trimester

20-something weeks

20-something weeks

No more daily naps! I could actually stay awake past 9 and do multiple things in a day! I could go back to doing yoga or going for a walk. And do chores!

My pants stopped buttoning around 14 weeks. (This was the part where I felt chubby and not pregnant. I’ve never really experienced not having my pants fit since I’ve been about the same size since high school, so this was hard to accept and embrace.) Belly bands are a gift from the gods. It’s like a tube top that hides the fact that your pants are unbuttoned and holds them up at the same time. This may or may not have been related to the fact that I probably dropped $50 at Whole Foods on avocado rolls over a few weeks.

Which brings me to cravings. I’ve had 4 consistent cravings so far: eggs, avocados, citrus, and pickled anything. So basically the first three are hungover white girl brunch with a side of hormones.

Dreams are weird, y’all. I had to give up Walking Dead at the beginning of the second trimester because I would get awful, graphic nightmares. Pregnancy hormones lead to a plethora of crazy dreams. Not only can I not watch intense stuff or violent stuff, but anything I watch before bed ends up in my dreams. RuPaul, bad 90s movies, cooking competitions, they’ve all been there. I’ve also had just straight up crazy like the one time I dreamed I gave birth to twins, a girl and a cat. A CAT. (Side note: we don’t know what we’re having so a cat doesn’t seem that far off.)

Which leads me to: EVERYONE wants to give you advice/predict what you’re having. I’ve learned to just smile and listen when people want to bust out old wives’ tales and personal quirks to predict what Baby Art Nerd will be. Odds are 50/50, so it’s a good Vegas bet. Also, many people feel compelled to tell me their horrific labor stories. Please. Don’t. I’ve been doing my own research and listening to my gut, so what worked or didn’t work for you may not be the same for me. All babies are different, and all labors are different. I know we have a compulsion to bond over similar experiences, but these are two things that can’t be generalized beyond “Hey, I’m a mom, too!”.

Last thing I learned in the second trimester? Around 6.5 months, Baby Art Nerd must have had a growth spurt because literally nothing could fill me up. I could have owned Adam Richman on Man Vs. Food. 5 pieces of fried chicken after eating a pound of scrambled eggs for breakfast? No problem. Only super heavy butter masala paneer with a pile of rice and chapati could put a dent in my hunger. So I guess I learned what parents go through with teenage boys’ appetites, because that was a lot of food.

3rd Trimester

I held off on buying this.

I held off on buying this.

After a couple of months of feeling energetic, all that marathon growth has cause my belly to get in the way of doing simple things. Putting on pants/socks winds me. Socks are the worst because I have to put my feet up on a bed or chair to just reach them comfortably. I tried cleaning the kitchen sink and couldn’t reach behind the faucet anymore. I have to brush my teeth at an angle at the sink in the bathroom. Certain pews at church are harder to get into because of the massive columns at the end. And I’m pretty sure I’ve knocked stuff off of desks thinking I could fit. Even though this belly has been growing for weeks and weeks, I still think of myself pre-pregnancy when it comes to spatial awareness.

There are 937458467857390472758465784927349375846574875948 things that are “essential” for baby. We quickly decided that we want a minimal home for the baby. I see all of the single purpose items in the consignment shops that only get used for a couple of months. To us, it makes more sense to spring for convertible items and skip a lot of “necessary” things. It’s nice to know we’re on the same page regarding certain toys, goofy fake essentials, and the whole gendered pastel baby machine. It’s worse than the wedding machine, and that is cray.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to slow down and ask for help. I need help putting socks on, getting laundry loads in and out of the basement, remembering things, and other things. I used to be super independent and try to do everything myself before asking for help. Now I accept any and all offers. I used to also try to cram a ton of stuff in like juggling three jobs or seeing 76876867698 things in three days. Now I just pace myself better and know that a nap is always more important than organizing diapers. I go to a prenatal yoga class to relax and take care of myself rather than loafing on the couch or reading the 50th book about pregnancy and raising a baby. We’ve taken quite a few classes and done research, but we’re both avoiding the obsessive neuroticism that comes from trying to read everything.

Which makes for a happier “us”. Relaxed and happy is the way to go into this new chapter.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday Snapshot: Early Morning Clouds over the North Atlantic


I’m still waiting for spring here in Boston when I can see colors besides white, gray, and brown, so here’s a colorful sunrise over the North Atlantic flying into Dublin.