~ Friday, July 29, 2005 ~
Quiet. Like a Fish.
To celebrate the whole student-on-summer-vacation thing, Rambam and I took a trip to the newly-opened Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. It's probably been ten years since I last visited an aquarium, but when I was younger, we--my family and I--used to go to Monterey's on special occasions, and to San Francisco's all the time. While Rambam and I were planning this one, we were reminiscing about our favorite parts of the SF aquarium. (He used to live there, so he can do that.) I could still remember standing next to Maimone as we peered over the metal bars to look down into the sunken pools where the crocodilians lounged, and him explaining to me how to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile (an alligator's snout is broader, and when it closes its mouth, you can't see any of the lower teeth). In that same area, if memory serves, was the giant boa constrictor and the dainty two-headed snake, and in the next hall was the luminescent fish whose light you could see if you pressed a button. I remember liking the seahorses, too. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has its own set of memories--the immense two-story kelp forest with all the schools of fish darting in and out, the stingrays zipping around and around in a shallow basin with all the children gathering around to stroke their backs but carefully avoiding the poisoned barbs on their tails, the chamber of jellyfish with their otherworldly beauty, and I think there was a spot directly connected to the bay itself, where you could stand and watch fish swimming around amid the periodic frothy deposits of fresh waves, with only a pane of glass separating you and them. (I think it was also at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that I stood next to my father amid a dense crowd of people, all of us gawking at an octopus, and I proudly--and loudly--told my dad to look at all the testicles. Of course I realized my mistake a split second after the word escaped my mouth, but the entire crowd had already burst into laughter. That memory I didn't share with Rambam.) Anyway, there was something remarkably organic about the whole experience, as if the glass and the walls and the little explanatory text placards would disappear if you didn't keep an eye on them, and suddenly it would just be you and the fish all together in the water, each utterly vulnerable to the other. I liked those aquariums.
I liked Camden's aquarium too. Camden's seemed a bit less organic and a bit more like it was the Broadway show of aquariums, but if they were putting on a show, it was a good one, with plenty of showstopping moments that made me start in surprise and delight. I expected seahorses, for example, but I didn't expect the seadragons. For a moment I didn't even realize they were living, because they were surrounded by leafy plants that resembled their own...appendages (what are those things, anyway?) and I didn't expect to have to look for motion from the vegetation, but once I switched to interpreting it as an animal rather than as a plant, I was entranced.
Other things I didn't expect included the eels, with their disconcerting habit of hanging out in crevices with their front portion sticking out and their mouths open, as if they had such an extreme sense of entitlement that they just expected dinner to swim right in. I was also surprised by the seals and the penguins in their outdoor playgrounds. It was mercilessly hot that day, but I forgot the heat while I watched the seals rolling off rocks and slipping into their cool watery playground and imagined how good it would feel to hop the fence and do the same.
One of the most dramatic parts was the giant two-stories-high chamber with movie-theater-style seating and surround-walls where you can practically watch an entire ecosystem swim around in their choreographed marine ballet, complete with a sea turtle prima ballerina, some supporting stingrays, a corps de ballet of flickering tuna, and two diver stagehands swimming around in the background keeping everything flowing smoothly.
At the last minute, when we thought we'd seen everything, we discovered the wing of the aquarium on the other side of the cafeteria, where they keep the hippos, the sharks, and the jellyfish. I had no idea hippos were so playful. One of them was quite a performer, and seemed to enjoy propelling herself out of the water and hurtling back into it with a mighty splash, just for the effect it created in her audience. It was also fun to watch them swim round in circles with their bellies skimming the inside of the glass walls. They really are remarkably balletically graceful in the water, but of course on land it's all lumber and waddle. I have to admit, I feel a kinship with them--when I'm on the dance floor I (usually) manage to keep my balance and move in time to the music and stuff, but off the dance floor I'm pretty embarrassingly clumsy. Maybe I'll adopt the hippo as my totem animal.
I realize I owe a great deal of my enjoyment and fascination to the Rambam's catalystic contagious enthusiasm. I think I would forget how much I like communing with interesting fish without someone else there to remind me by openly and unselfconsciously enjoying it himself.
By far the most frustrating part of the day is that one of the pieces of music they piped into the aquarium (oh yes, the aquarium had a soundtrack...I told you it felt like a show) sounded nigglingly familiar, in a John Williamsy sort of way, but I couldn't place it at all. We even asked at the gift shop, but not only do they not sell the CDs of the aquarium soundtrack, but they couldn't even tell us what the music was. Someday I'll figure it out, I suppose, but in the meantime I'm adding it to the list.
Current Music: WQXR is playing something by Mozart.
~ prattled by Miriam at 7:29 p.m. [+]
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