Two awe-dropping experiences in one afternoon. How can you beat that? Well, consider that two of the world’s most preeminent institutions bookend the mid-section of Central Park. We have the American Natural History Museum on the west side, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the east, with the Park’s 81st Street roadway connecting them. The AMNH is presenting a 3D movie that takes visitors on a “global odyssey” to the ocean floor, and the Met’s Apollo 11 exhibit sends visitors up, up, and away to the Moon. What an adventure that could only be done in New York, with no Dramamine required.
The 3:30 p.m. showing of Oceans: Our Blue Planet already had a long line of ticket holders upon arrival. By the time the 3D glasses were handed out, the line had increased so much that every seat in the enormous theater was filled. Right in the center, I was told by the hostess, is the best place to enjoy the Imax screen, which measures 40 feet high and a whopping 66 feet wide in all its 3-dimensional wonder. So immersive is the experience one can feel the sea wind in your hair. Seniors, young couples, families with little ones, all with glasses in place, quieted down as actress, Kate Winslet, with her very proper English accent, narrated a totally thrilling and astonishing film depicting newly discovered creatures living and being rather clever on the ocean floor.
The creature that created the biggest reaction was the rarely seen tusk-fish who scours the sea floor for food, specifically clams. Grasping the clam between its fish lips, the tusk-fish carries it to a piece of hard where he pounds it time and time again, sometimes dropping it, but showing endless patience and poise. Just think about it: we are witnessing the intelligence of a fish as it uses a tool. Next we see an octopus evade capture by using its tentacles to pull shells around its body, so that it blends in with the ocean floor. Using new scientific and diving equipment and very brave camera people, viewers are given vantage points never before seen. There was not a sound in the theatre, not even by the many children, who were just as enchanted by the film’s hypnotic quality.
And now, after a meandering walk through the park….onto the moon.
Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography features more than 170 photographs, drawings, prints, paintings, films, videos, that celebrate the Moon since the dawn of photography, as well as new works inspired by the ‘69 moon landing. The exhibit would not be complete without a living room set-up with an old fashioned black and white TV playing a loop of the Moon landing footage. For me, who did watch the original landing, Armstrong’s words, “The Eagle has landed” never gets old.
The exhibit chronicles the progress of astronomical photography and how, over the years, the images have become sharper and shaper. One picture in the exhibit actually is worth a thousand words. Taken on the day Apollo 11 crew left the earth, we see a group of people standing near the Cape Kennedy launch site. With eyes upward and a plume of smoke lingering in the skies, it stands as a reminder that at that moment, history was being made miles above the crowds.
And up on the Moon, another museum of sorts is taking shape since visiting astronauts have been leaving behind personal items. Take Charles Duke of Apollo 16, for example, who left a family snapshot listing all the names, and since there is no wind on the Moon, it lies right where he left it. Other items left include various flags, plaques, associated spacecraft and other samplings from our visits over the years.
Top photo: “A orange-dotted tuskfish holds a clam in its formidable jaws on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. These tuskfish are one of the few coral reef fish that use coral outcroppings as tool. By forcefully smashing the clam on either side of the outcropping, the tusksfish is able to break apart its tough protective shell.”
Photo credit: Alex Vail copyright BBC NHU 2017