Monday, April 23, 2007

A day in the museum

I totally packed wrong for this New York trip. Somehow I thought it was going to be a) still winter and b) a sedentary experience—as was my visit to NYC two weeks previously. So duh, did I ever feel like an idiot in my high-heeled knee-length boots and long-sleeved shirt, yomping along Eighth Avenue in the Sunday-morning 80-degree heat. And as much as I would have loved to soak up some sun, I wanted to be somewhere cooler. So we grabbed a cab and headed for the Museum of Natural History.

Of course, the first thing we did when we arrived was check out the tropical butterfly exhibit, a walk-through experience that mimics the insects’ natural habitat—80 degrees and humid.

It was easy to forget about the climate, though, because we were surrounded by lepidoptera—gorgeous sapphire morphas and green-winged somethings and little orange wossnames and big furry golden moths.

There was no place where butterflies were not; resting in the orchids and ferns, fluttering against the heat lamps, feeding from fruit slices.

Being in there felt like having ADD—start watching one brightly colored bug floating just above your head, and then another, even more dazzling, dances by and grabs your attention, and then another flutters past flirtatiously and distracts you again. It was hard to know where to look.

Outside the butterfly enclosure, the museum’s marble walls cooled us down and we wandered the halls, finding tyrannosaurs and brontosaurs and various flavors of stuffed African deer that were now just as likely to be extinct.

The wild-animal dioramas were beautifully rendered, with the taxidermied specimens posed as if in mid-action against backdrops of distant mountains with an incredible sense of longview perspective; it was hard to tell, without looking closely, where the three-dimensional fake grassland ended and the painted mural began.

After much wandering, we stopped for a snackie of tea and pecan tart (a little dry, but a good jolt of sugar and carbs), and then watched a half-hour of Japanese Taiko (two guys pounding on either side of a double-headed drum, one keeping time while the other did improvised fills, followed by a much more delicate and refined female version) and then finally took the subway back to the hotel.

Oh, and I lost count of the number of parents exasperatedly explaining to kids that yes, this was like the museum in the Ben Stiller movie, but no, it wasn’t exactly the same, and no, the exhibits probably don’t come to life at night ...

... or do they??

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