Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pretty Sparkly Things, and Bugs

On Saturday mornings I take an acting class downtown. Since I'm down there already, and at a pretty decent hour on a Saturday, no less, I have decided to see the city sights. That's what's up with all of the museum and monument posts. That, and I find that photo essays give me something to write about when I don't want to delve into the muck of my psyche at the moment.
My original plan was to start with the American History Museum and work my way around the National Mall, then spread out from there. I got a bit stuck between the Natural History museum and the art museums. That was the plan, but some days inspiration wants you to divert from the plan, which happened on my second week out.

I approach the museums from the east. As I passed the art museum, I thought, "it's damn cold outside, and I'd like to see some pretty things."

"But, you planned to go to the Natural History Museum," I argued. "Stick to plan! Science-y stuff today."

"No, pretty things!" I said.

"No, science-y things!" I argued back. At which point I remembered that the science museum has pretty things. Pretty, sparkly things. So, I could satisfy both my need to stick to a plan and my desire to see beauty.

Ironically, passing the art museum, I saw natural pretty things on it's exterior: The most famous sparkly, science-y thing at the Natural History museum is this:
There it is, in all its glory, and at about actual size. I last saw it in 1976, when I was about 8. My grandparents told my brother and I that it was the largest black diamond ever found. We were thrilled. "The thing must fill a room!" we told each other. "How many guards do you think it takes to watch it?" Honestly, I thought the thing would be the size of a boulder. You can imagine our disappointment to find something smaller than our hands, even at that age.

At the age of 41, my initial reaction was still, "damn, it's awfully small." That seemed to be the consensus of the people around me, too. You have to take a step back and think about the size of most diamonds that you actually do see. None of them come close to this size. Mentally adjusting to the scale of reality, this is a humongous diamond. Then, I read the text that explains its origins. The original rock came out of the ground at over twice this size. Knowing that the diamond used to be that much larger, and most of it was chipped away and lost, was sort of sad.

By the way, the second most common reaction to the diamond was, "it's so gaudy! I would never wear something like that." I don't think Harry Winston created the setting for everyday wear. I also don't think anyone would turn down the opportunity to wear it, either.
I wasn't disappointed to learn that the diamond is not cursed, and that the woman who last owned the diamond thought such stories were amusing and encouraged them.

The museum has a large collection of other pretty, sparkly things, too. Sapphires:
And many more, but the pictures don't come out too well between the low level lighting, the jostling of the five gazillion kids, and the glare from the glass.

Some of the more fascinating and beautiful exhibits in that section of the museum were not necessarily sparkly. This is the largest, flawless crystal ball in the world (according to the sign):
The ball truly is large. Think of your standard, archetypal image of a gypsy fortuneteller looking into a crystal ball. Think of how large the ball is in that picture. Now, double, even triple the size. Massive! As you gaze into it, your eyes cannot focus on anything, so you give up and relax. I can see where it could be used in mediation.

This is a huge piece of sandstone, about three or four feet tall:
I first thought is was some sort of modern sculpture. The base rotates, allowing you to see all sides. That lighting also enhances the bulbous quality of its shape.

This is a section of a gigantic piece of copper, the largest ever pulled out of the earth whole. The dark lines are the graphite that still clings to it:
Again, I thought this was some sort of sculpture, stretching about 6 or 7 feet across and about 5 feet high, or more. (Actually, I suck at judging size -- shut up! -- so just take my measurements as being a stab at credibility in saying that these were all very large.)
After wandering through all of the rocks that form on, under, and above the earth (I touched a piece of Mars -- whoohoo!) I decided to look at some of the other exhbits in the museum.

I found this massive stuffed snake:
Again with the bigness. This snake, if it were alive, could have swallowed me whole and not shown the bump of my form, that's how long and thick it was.

Since the museum had exhibits of creepy crawlers, I decided to look for spiders among the bugs. My autistic nephew loves spiders, so I wanted to shower him with photos of them. Instead, I found that the museum indulges in bug porn, which I naturally share with you:Yep. That's two bugs Doin' It. Not too far from their food, either. I guess some bugs are into that. Of course, they also don't seem to mind Doin' It or eating near their dead, either:
The second from the right is belly up, as were a few more of the beetles in this exhibit.

I rather like science museums. Since I don't do math (really, I don't -- it could be a disability), I always steered away from too many science courses beyond the requisite. Going to science museums is rather like returning to elementary school, back when science was new and fun. In these museums, I'm out of my element, and everything is fresh to me.
There is another reason to like science museums, too. In the past near decade, as science itself has come under attack, they've felt the controversy. Nonetheless, they do not bow to ignorance. They do not "teach the controversy," they do not tone down evolution or global warming from their curriculum. They embrace it:
Even in the bookstore. This one was in the "curators' picks" section:
They will even take the science down a notch:

That is science-y and downright beautiful.


CharleyCarp said...

The crystal ball is the coolest.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Hey, Charley! Isn't it? I could have stared at it for hours. So simple, so perfect, so beautiful!

dykewife said...

i love the evolution book. i'm getting the rockin'est t-shirt ever along with one that your nephew might like>

Clio Bluestocking said...

Dykewife, you made my day! Those t-shirts are hilarious. My nephew may be getting a little package in the mail very soon.


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