Last week, J and I took the train to New York City, where he attended a conference and I kept in touch online with my classes, both of us working in the mornings then exploring in the afternoons.
Some of the places we explored were new to us: we went to a taping of The Daily Show, for instance, and we spent an afternoon wandering around the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. But other places we visited are familiar sites that have achieved an almost ritual significance. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to the Central Park Zoo or Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance: these are places I want to re-visit no matter how many times I’ve already been, each new encounter feeling a bit like going home even though I’ve never lived in New York.
One place in New York that has an irresistible pull on my imagination–a place I visit with almost religious fervor–is the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History, where you can walk under a life-sized fiberglass replica of a full-grown female blue whale.
I could probably spend a week or more in the American Museum of Natural History staring at the dioramas in the Hall of Mammals, letting my imagination take me to exotic locations, each meticulously detailed set a portal into another world. But even though I brace myself, it’s always the blue whale that amazes me the most, each visit a jaw-dropping surprise. Is there any place on the planet, I wonder, that could be as awe-inspiring as the shadow beneath a blue whale?