First Days in New Bedford

I’ve made it to New Bedford and I’ve officially done two days of interning. It was a bit of a journey to get here—initially I landed in Providence, Rhode Island, and had to look up a friend to stay with in Boston before busing myself down to the Whaling Museum on Monday.
Currently, I’m living in the “Scholars’ Quarters” (very posh sounding, I know), where I have basically the entire third floor of the Kendall library to myself. There is my room, which contains an office and a bedroom bisected by a small wall, three or four other bedrooms, two bathrooms, a conference room, a kitchen, a living room, several random supply closets, and a huge common room all for little ol’ me. Right now, I live alone, but I’m told other people (“scholars”, I presume) will come through occasionally.

The first order of business was moving all the best furniture into my room, which I’ve just about accomplished.

The second was buying food.

I keep finding new parts to the Scholars’ Quarters. I found a couple random doors that go out to different parts of the roof. I also keep finding random TVs and trinkets squirreled around in various cabinets, as well as notes and things from previous interns, which generally contain advice, and happy little pictures in all sorts of unexpected places.

At first I was worried that I was going to be lonely up here in my scholarly tower, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be a-okay. I have an absurd amount of reading and research to do as it is. But I’ve also done some patrolling around New Bedford, and there is quite a bit going on. The best part is everything is on my block. There’s a bank, Chinese food, dollar store, Rite Aid, Mexican food, sea food, several churches, music venues, cool coffee shops, cool clothing shops, and other young people, all within two blocks. There was a movie store too, but it is shutting down this month, so I got a whole bunch of DVDs for incredibly cheap.

My interning has been fantastic. I literally walk around all day with a notebook, and write down whatever anyone is saying, because it is always good.

This morning, I helped a dentist from the Harvard School of Dentistry photograph sperm whale teeth with various different pathologies, which he explained as we went along. I saw the world’s largest piece of scrimshaw (an enormous carved whale jaw) and learned that sperm whales are the only mammal with an unopposed set of teeth. That’s right, the world’s largest toothed mammal only has those big honking teeth on its bottom jaw—and biologists don’t even know why. My bet is that, since sperm whales clearly aren’t chewing their food with only one set of teeth, they probably dive deep, grab those squid, and drag them quickly to the surface in order to quickly depressurize/kill them. The dentist also said that the function of the Narwhal horn has been discovered: it is densely packed with very sensitive nerve endings which it uses for detecting the movement of prey in the water. Neat! [For more information:

I always assumed the horn was just for mating, like peacock feathers. You know what they say, big horn, big… …horn. I am, as they say here, 100% blubber-brained (this is a compliment).

I spent most of this afternoon working with the Whaling Museum’s conservator, a nice old man who spends his time making sure historical artifacts don’t decay. We sat around and he showed me all the different possible ways things can decay, and how he can repair and prevent that. Soon he will be showing me the actual techniques for getting stains, mildew, rips, etc out of prints, and how to properly package paintings, etc. We discussed the ethics of Photoshop, paintings and their frames (is the frame appropriate for the time period of the painting? Is it an original frame? If so, how do you maintain the two?), and the ever pressing question of at what point are you over-treating an object and intruding upon its natural aging process; that is, at what point are you violating the artist’s work/intent? What was the artist’s intent? He recited some of the conservators’ mottoes:

“Preserve today for tomorrow.” (He wants me to translate this phrase into Latin for him.)
“There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.”
“Do as much as necessary and as little as possible.”
“The treatment was successful, but the patient died.”
He also strictly adheres to Murphy’s Law.

I gave him my favorite motto:

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”

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