Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Videogame Museum of Natural History

This may not be the best way to do it, but I've been buying shoes like crazy, hoping that ONE pair will fit, before I go to Istanbul on Lepanto Day; so far, no luck. The way I go about it is: buy the shoes (usually on someone's recommendation that such-and-such a brand are comfortable) and then take them to a museum to test them without going outdoors in them. Then they can be returned, a painful process I especially detest. But I can't keep shelling out $200 a week for shoes I never wear, now, can I? At some point I will fall behind in rent and food money -- not to mention closet space. (Was that Imelda's problem? Did any of them FIT?)

I've been to the Met a lot these days (because it's the cheapest and stays open longest and has the widest variety of things to see), and to MoMA, which is costly but always has things that interest me, but today I had two pairs to test and was on the West Side anyway. So I went to the American Museum of Natural History, supposedly the world's largest museum (though only half the originally planned galleries were ever built). I had not been there in some years, or only to see certain special exhibits or attend lectures on witchcraft in various cultures. The place has changed.

Now, I grew up in that building. More than that: when I was 18 I had a summer job in the library there and got to explore its light-years of lofty, spacious corridor lined with ancient undisplayable bones. It was quiet, august, dusty, but mighty impressive. A refuge from the too-busy city -- as the Met used to be (and some of its galleries still are).

AMNH has changed. Oh, has it changed. It is, for one thing, monstrous expensive ($22 for one special exhibition, $30 for all of them, $2 for the coat check -- you don't think I was going to lug three pairs of shoes around all day, do you?) and it has become a refuge from nothing. The special show I attended, on mythic creatures and their possible origins and derivations (and some artistic artifactoids) was naturally geared towards little kids, but how even they can take it is mysterious to me: loud, lecturing screens, short movies, talkative nooks litter the place. They are not kept discreetly down dark corridors, or discreetly to themselves; there is no place in the exhibit where one is not assaulted by at least two loud voices telling you things you'd rather deduce for yourself, or read on the displays. I fled to the dinosaur rooms, the evolutionary room, the gem room fer goshsakes -- ALL had the same loud spouting voices dinning into you. It was like being trapped in a videogame parlor, or a house with separate TV sets in different angles of the family room -- perhaps this is the effect they wish to reproduce? Perhaps this is how kids learn nowadays, or is the only way to get their attention?

It made me sick.

The gem room especially used to be a sweet, otherworldly haven of glowing jewels on black velvet, dazzling colors, dreamlike splendors. Used to be terrific to get stoned in, back in the day. Now? Would drive me to suicide or anyway the Alpine solitudes of the Central Park zoo.

Whose idea was this? Is this the effect they wanted to produce?

The only rooms that were at all safe were the great dim halls of dioramas and stuffed animals -- as mysterious and silent and spooky as they were when my grandpa took me there -- and the hall of Northwest Indians. (Appropriately; you could imagine yourself in a Cascade rain forest, one of my favorite places.)

I have fond memories of taking my friend Julie to AMNH a dozen years ago with her six-year-old, Ned, dinosaur-obsessed (we've all been there, eh?), to a huge show of the dinosaurs and the mammalian pre-dinosaurs, and explaining to him that the interactive computers were all descended from fossil invertebrates themselves, to his extreme annoyance. (Julie thought it was funny, though.)

AMNH is a building to be enjoyed, from now on, only from outside, on 77th Street. On your next visit to New York, it's a must-skip.

And tonight, my thighs are in pain from the goddam shoes.

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