Thursday, June 24, 2010

Best Place Ever

Today, I came home early and had plans to meet Samantha for dinner. I decided to take a short nap first. There were thunderstorms here in the morning, but when I got home around 3 p.m. it was sunny and humid. I got in bed around 4:30 and was awakened by a text message from Sam asking whether I still wanted to have dinner due to the rain. What rain?, I thought. And then I realized it was really dark in my room at 5:45 two days after the longest day of the year, and I heard the distant rumbles of thunder. Turns out there was also a tornado warning and about 15 minutes later I heard the tornado siren, but I quickly texted back that, duh, I still wanted to have dinner.

Anyway. I lay in my bed a few minutes longer listening to the thunder and gradually realized that it reminded me of something, something incredibly pleasant. And then I remembered my favorite place on earth.

I have been to 27 states (a few of those just driving through, I guess, and Vermont we specifically drove to because they'd still be selling liquor when the tiny New York town we were in was not). I've been to seven countries on two continents, and I've been to the moon (j/k!). But my favorite place ever (well, so far) is the Milwaukee Public Museum.

Okay. Picture this: Milwaukee, 1985ish. My grandparents live in a giant house on 31st Street. It's not the best neighborhood but I have my doubts as to whether it's quite as bad as I later realized my family thought it was. I looked it up on Wikipedia because I know very little about Milwaukee geography. Apparently the neighborhood directly adjacent is currently kind of on the mend but is known for drugs, prostitution and low income and property values. It was in this neighborhood, five blocks away from my grandparents' house actually, that Jeffrey Dahmer would be arrested in his apartment of horrors. That wouldn't happen for like six years, though.

Anyway. My grandparents lived on a quieter street and had a backyard that wasn't giant but seemed huge to me. They had a sandbox and a large garden and a swingset, and for some reason my little pea-brain interpreted this all as kind of "country." We were in the middle of a low income area of Milwaukee, but the old folks and their old timey ways and the tomato plants and home cooked meals had me thinking we were nearly on a farm. The funny thing is that the neighborhood in which I grew up (in Chicago) was definitely more suburban-esque than this one. But children are basically totally dumb.

So there I was, enjoying weeks at a time over the summer and school breaks hangin' out on the 'hood farm with the grandparents. And they introduced me to the Milwaukee Public Museum, rather than forcing me to play with the tomato stakes and dirty sand all day long.

I'm sure nostalgia plays into my abiding love of this place given that I haven't been there in years and years, and both my grandparents have passed away and the house is no longer where the family gathers for the occasional reunion, etc. Overall it's your typical natural history museum, with sections devoted to Asia and Native Americans and the Rainforest, etc. But really, this place is kind of amazing, mostly for three reasons.

The first is "The Streets of Old Milwaukee" exhibit, in which you walk through a recreation of old timey Milwaukee. Who doesn't love old timey towns? I sure do. There's a candy shop, too. Candy. Fun.

If memory serves, once you follow these streets around to a certain point, it becomes a different exhibit entitled European Village. This one is genius. It consists of a bunch of tiny little houses with windows strategically positioned at the height of a child, which you are encouraged to peer into. An exhibit that encourages peeping into people's houses is obviously gold, appealing to the snoopy voyeur in each of us. Each room into which a visitor can peer represents a different European country, and of course the inhabitants and interiors are old timey. You might spy on a Belgian lady painstakingly hand-sewing lace. Or a couple of French friends wearing striped shirts, sharing a baguette and a bottle of wine, sneering and bashing America, or whatever country they hated in the 1800s.

But my favorite exhibit is actually just one big diorama thingy (are the big scenes at a museum considered a diorama, or are those just the things you make in a shoebox in 5th grade? Whatever, you know what I'm talking about). It opens another exhibit, a trek into real, real old times, like those of the dinosaurs. There are also, for some reason, a lot of gemstones involved if I remember correctly. But this particular scene is simply that of a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex (possibly built to scale, though I know little about the exact size of a real T Rex) eating a Triceratops while some little dinosaur guys look on, undoubtedly ready to scavenge when Mr. Rex loses interest/satiates himself (which seems risky; what if a Triceratops is not enough for lunch today?). And the T Rex is eating, with blood on his jaws, not just, like, knocking the other dino down or playing a game like you might see on a kid's cartoon about affable, talking dinosaurs. The side of the Triceratops's belly has been ripped open and we see the internal organs.

Here, look, I found a picture:

Except that this doesn't really capture the feel of it, first of all because it was taken with a flash and this scene is in a dark room. Plus, my favorite way to view it was to walk up to this little balcony in front of the dinosaurs, which allowed you to view it from the height of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. But most importantly, there is an ambient track on a loop that uses both sound and lighting to indicate that a thunderstorm is approaching. As the thunder grows louder, the lighting dims further and there are flashes of lightning (okay, I think there's lightning. I may be making that one up). Then the storm retreats. Then it comes back. Then it retreats. And, um, little and not-quite-so-little old me would stand on the balcony and watch the storm come in and out and in and out while a T Rex feasted on a Triceratops until my grandparents or my parents forcibly removed me. I have probably stood in front of this for 20 minutes at a time. It was Jurassic Park before Jurassic Park existed, and that is one of my favorite movies. I love dinos.

This may sound like I am an undiagnosed autistic or something, which is a possibility. I also used to watch Dumbo at least five times a day and have actually never, ever tired of that movie (I watch it maybe once a year now, though). However, my sister loves this museum just as much as I do. When she was dating her longest-of-long-term boyfriends and she brought him to Milwaukee to spend a day with my Grandma, she also felt compelled to take him here and show him one of her favorite places.

So anyway, this T Rex and his thunderstorm is what my thunderstorm today reminded me of, and it was quite pleasant, especially since we weren't whisked away in a Twister as we braved traveling for some burgers.


Boulos said...

Wife, I absolutely love this post. I also just got the strongest desire on earth to go to this museum. I used to love the Museum of Natural History as a kid, which I feel like, considering how annoying it must be to drag to kids all the way into the city from suburban Jerz, my parents took us there a lot. There is something about those dinos that is really mesmerizing. Can we just ditch life and road trip around the country hitting up Dino exhibits? Let's do it, film it, and create a sweetass dino video blog. Or, submit it to current tv. I'm so there. My new transient lifestyle makes this a possibility for my future.

Amanda said...

I love museums and we should totally travel the country together visiting them. Let's contact the travel channel, and also Sonic for a possible tie-in.