Tuesday, September 23, 2003

AMNH: The Crossroads of the World

It seems that few people, except terrorists and museum employees, are acutely aware that the entire United Nations General Assembly and "a bunch" of world leaders, including George Bush himself, are coming to my museum this evening. I am not sure why they are coming and no one here is saying much (in spite my nosiness), but I suspect they are coming here to relax, to party and to rebuild relationships strained by months of long-distance squabbles and swagger punctuated by a day spent in heated face-to-face arguments at the UN building.

So today, we all are being asked to leave after a few hours of work. The entire museum is being closed to the public at noon and everyone, from the lowliest grad students to the department curators, must be out of the building by 2pm -- by 5pm if you passed a Secret Service security check! The streets surrounding the museum will be blocked off to all traffic and all subway trains will skip the museum stop starting in the early afternoon.

The entire museum has been crawling with Secret Service agents for more than one week. Since the new school year just began and the tourist season is officially over, this means that there were several days when Secret Service agents obviously out-numbered civilians.

But visiting dignitaries present advantages, too. The entire museum is being cleaned and buffed to a shine that her lofty halls have not seen in decades. Dirt that is older than God is meticulously scrubbed from those places where marble walls meet floors and stairs. Plaster walls are being restored to a glowing white and marble walls and floors mirror everything around them. Child-sized fingerprints, whose owners are now middle-aged, are being wiped from moldings and glass windows on display cases and dioramas. Dust is being vacuumed up with so much zeal that my allergies and asthma have been causing me genuine pain for several days.

As I look around my museum, a place that I think of as my home, I wonder what the visiting politicians and dignitaries will think of this place, this grand (yet small) representation of the biological wonders that once freely roamed our planet? Will they stand in the main entrance and marvel at the mother Barosaurus rearing up to protect her pony-sized offspring from an attacking Tyrannosaurus? Will they wonder what these creatures might have sounded like, what colors they might have decorated themselves with in life? Will these dignitaries hold their breath in mixed wonder and sadness when they see the only, nearly complete, skeleton of the Dodo in the world? Will they try to decide which bones are real and which are reconstructed? Will these visitors' hearts skip a beat, an uncomfortable reminder of ancestral times, when they suddenly come upon the astonishly huge Bengal tiger snarling at them through layers of barely visible glass? Will the politicians gasp when they stand under the life-sized model of the female blue whale diving down upon them from the crystalline ceiling that resembles sparkling ocean waves? Will they search for her belly button as the rest of us do?

Or will our visitors spend all their time in the Planetarium, staring at the imaginary heavens, sipping their wine, pondering escape from our damaged blue planet in search of new worlds to conquer? Or maybe they will look at all these collected natural wonders and see only dollar signs? Will they wonder why we care about these extinct creatures when there are more and more hungry people crowding onto our little planet, needing to be fed and clothed? Will they decide that animals and plants are more convenient when catalogued neatly away in a few of the world's museums, more preferable to living things that are losing the battle to occupy this earth alongside us?



© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

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