How Mean, Irene

While I was away on maternity leave the Eastern seaboard was very nearly washed away in THE STORM OF THE CENTURY. Well, that’s what the news-media wanted you to believe. Thankfully, mercifully, the museum and gardens emerged unscathed. (The red X is the Hermitage.)

Oh wait, did I say we were unscathed? I meant to say: the electrical box caught fire, knocking out power to the museum.

Why, of all things, did the electrical box catch fire during a torrential, days-long downpour? The reason, my friends, is Hermitage Law. Hermitage Law is the fifth law of thermodynamics whereby a museum full of educated, well-meaning people descends into chaos for no good reason. Put simply: just when we thought we had everything fixed, one small spark turns into an inferno.

The tidal surge crept up around the house and covered the front lawn — just a bit higher than the 2009 Nor’easter. Water breached the bulkhead along the riverfront, something that hasn’t happened since the great storm of 1933.

My own house was in a mandatory evacuation zone so I fled to the hills.  I returned to work a week later. By then power was restored, air conditioning was running, but nearly everything else in the house was… not as I left it:

Cases were empty, rugs were rolled and furniture was pushed away from the windows. Chaos! Hermitage Law! I spent the next few weeks cleaning, shifting and rearranging nearly every room downstairs. It was not how I envisioned spending my first few weeks back from leave; I had so many new ideas while I was away! After a few days of listlessly carting furniture around I realized this was the perfect excuse to give some rooms a much needed facelift. And lo, tapestries arrived back from conservation! We attacked the project with new-found gusto, and the downstairs rooms are all the better for our brush with Irene.

Tapestries at rest before hanging.

Hermitage Law (and, indeed, preservation work in general) keeps you on your toes. The circumstances are always changing, and the very things you are charged with preserving are usually falling to pieces before your eyes. In a way it’s a little bit like parenting; just when you think you’ve got it figured out, everything changes, and you’re wide awake at 1 a.m. wondering what you did wrong. Or is that just me?

Today it’s  back to business as usual, but I’m sure it won’t stay that way for long.

And that’s just how I like it.


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