Monday, December 12, 2005

"Beyond," no . . . "Darwin," yes

I spent this afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History. It's an excellent place to spend an afternoon. Every time I go there, it's as if I'm there for the very first time. That's how incredible the exhibitions are . . . even the permanent ones, which don't seem to have been updated since the 1950s. Foremost on my trip there today was a new exhibit titled, "Beyond." I learned about it in either The New Yorker or New York magazines during my first hospital stay and the exhibit has been on my mind ever since. Thus, after weeks of putting it off, I decided that today would be the day to check it out. When I arrived at the museum, however, I learned that "Beyond," an exhibit of space photographs taken by satellites of the Cosmos, never materialized. It wasn't there. So, the advertisment in The New Yorker or New York magazines were premature. I was somewhat disappointed because I had been looking forward to checking out what promised to be exciting stellar photographs. Astronomy has always been a great interest of mine. Having just finished Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, I was especially hyped up about "Beyond." Despite this disappointment, I was present in a great institution which as I mentioned earlier never seems to grow old. There's always something new to learn or reexplore.

Some of my friends had told me about the new exhibits, "Darwin" and "Voices from South of the Clouds" weeks ago. So, I checked them out. "Voices from South of the Clouds" is an exhibition of color photographs of life in China's Yunnan Province. "Darwin" looks at the life of Charles Darwin and of course, his famous theory, the theory of evolution by natural selection. It's a very thorough exhibit focusing a lot of attention on his childhood, family, and schooling. It's perhaps this element of the exhibit, which I found surprising since my understanding of Darwin is almost always in relation to his scientific work only. Until today I can't recall ever learning anything about his upbringing or schooling. The exhibit does a great job, I think, of presenting the fundamentals of his evolutionary theory and its profound impact on science. It's quite clear from "Darwin" that its designers wanted to emphasize to the public the many ways in which Darwin's evolutionary theory by natural selection anchored science's understanding of the natural world. Indeed, the exhibition's message is that without Darwin's seminal work all of the biological sciences would be senseless and in tatters.

In addition to "Darwin," I visited some of the usual favorites: the halls of African Mammals, Asian Mammals, and North American Mammals. Unfortunately, perhaps my all-time favorite area of the museum, the Hall of Ocean Life, was closed because of a private engagement that was going to take place this evening. The museum staff closed it in order to prepare. But in exploring other areas of the museum I came upon a seemingly remote permanent exhibit adjacent to the Hall of Asian Peoples, which details the evolution of early man, the impact of the Ice Age on man, and the rise of civilization with Sumer in the Iraq. Though little visited, I found this quiet and remote exhibit to be very compelling.

From the museum I made a brief stop at Macy's before heading to my beloved Cafe Dante on Macdougal Street in the West Village., where I enjoyed a cannoli and cafe moka while I continued to read to The Alchemist, which I started to the read a few days ago. (Thanks Aziza)


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