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Zoe P. Strassfield

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Stendhal Syndrome

Posted: 06/27/11 02:29 PM ET

"Stendhal Syndrome" is the condition of being overwhelmed by the sight of beautiful art, especially when many magnificent works of art are observed in a single place. It is named for the 19th century French author Henri-Marie Beyle, better known by his pen name "Stendhal," who wrote about experiencing it when visiting Florence and seeing Michelangelo's David.

At my first meeting in the Office of Communications today, I was asked how I felt. I told them "Stendhal Syndrome."

I mean, right out front there was the slab of smooth black granite with "National Aeronautics and Space Administration" on it in stainless-steel letters, and the "official" NASA seal that you hardly ever see. (Yes, this is the real logo, the seal is something different, but both officially represent NASA.)

And then I went into the Visitor's Entrance and there was a huge poster display about the Aquarius mission that launched yesterday, and a real orange launch-and-entry suit like the astronauts wear when you see them walking to the van and waving to the crowd, and then I looked up and saw a framed NASA logo behind glass... made out of LEGO bricks.

And then I realized: I get to work here.

So, I got my Visitor's ID badge, because I wasn't going to get an Intern one until later in the day, and found out my boss, Katherine Trinidad, worked on the ninth floor of the building. And on the way to the elevator, there were photos and posters and models everywhere. But then, I got out on the ninth floor and saw the official seal again, this time in gold on a frosted glass sign, next to big gold letters that said "Office of the Administrator."

Could it be? I turned my head in the direction the sign indicated, and at the end of the hallway I saw... The frosted glass door. The one I knew from TV and websites leads to the administrator's office. And Ms. Trinidad works... just down the hall! Sweetness!

After I met Ms. Trinidad, she showed me her office and introduced me to Mike Cabbage, the other official media contact in the Office of Communications. Then she took me to see my cubicle and there were more hallways... more photos... more models... more posters... and more Stendhal Syndrome.

Which brings me to where I left off -- the meeting in the conference room with the other important people in the Office of Communications. They ran down every point, talking about upcoming events, issues that needed coverage, political situations -- it was like an episode of The West Wing, except it was real and I was in it.

And then they asked me to say how I felt.

So really, what else could I say?

"Stendhal Syndrome."