New York City trip - Part VI: Darwin

Friday, May 26th


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So, about noon or so, we finally got to the American Museum of Natural History. I was pretty smart, actually... A few months ago, when we first started thinking about making this trip, I decided not to renew my subscription to Natural History Magazine, but to subscribe my wife instead. So, when we arrived at the museum, we skipped the long ticket lines and went straight to the "Members" desk, where my wife got a little discount, I got a student discount (yes, I still have a valid student ID - officially they did not kick me out yet), and the kids ar, quite obviously, still '12 or under', so they got discounted tickets as well. And the process was fast.[more under the fold]

Still, the Darwin Exhibit is still drawing huge crowds, so our tickets were for 2:30pm - we had a couple of hours to beat. We noticed that kids were already getting tired and restless, so I did not insist on a thorough tour of the Museum (as much as I personally wanted to do so). Instead, we made democratic choices: Mrs. Coturnix wanted to see the hall of Primates, Coturnix Jr. wanted to see the Chinese exhibit, Coturnietta wanted to see the birds, and I wanted to see the newly renovated Hall of Mammals. Believe it or not, we only ran through the Dinsoaur Hall (half of it, actually), and skipped everything else! Blasphemy! But, with kids in tow, one has to make compromises - one day, I'll be back and I'll know better - I'll go alone and spend a whole day there.
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Anyway, once we got into the Darwin Exhibit, Coturnietta had enough - being so little, she felt sufficated by the crowd, so my wife sped through the exhibit with her and took her downstairs to the cafeteria for some cookies and milk. Coturnix Jr. and I took the Exhibit much more slowly (still not as slow as I wish I could have done it, but it was an OK compromise).
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Well, what can I say? The exhibit is masterfully done. I wish I could have seen it with virgin eyes, though. I have read far too much by Darwin and about Darwin (and took four history classes that partially or entirely focused on Darwin) to have a good idea what a lay person knows or does not know about the man. As far as I could tell, they covered everything - from the family history, through the Zeitgeist of 19th century England, to his scientific work, thinking and writing, to the modern developments in evolutionary biology. Creationism was mentioned briefly in one panel and summarily dismissed, as is appropriate (I wonder if a non-USA version of the exhibit would do even that much).
So, as someone who has spent a lot of time and effort studying Darwin, what struck me personally the most? The same thing that was most memorable to my son (and I waited two weeks to ask him, so to make sure that the whole thing was not too fresh in his memory) as well as another friend who saw the exhibit relatively recently - the notebooks!

I just never thought about it - how did the notebooks look like in the 19th century - so I had a mental image of a modern notebook. Oh, no, Darwin's notebooks are tiny!

Why did he fill Notebook B vertically, while Notebooks C and D are filled horizontally? Good question....but I don't know. Was B written during the voyage and the latter ones after the return home (I forgot that little detail)? Writing on a horse, on foot, or on a ship requires a balancing act that sitting at the desk does not. Jotting down notes while out in the field may somehow act on the unconsciousness of a person to write it as if writing in a notepad/legal-pad, while sitting down and writing deep theoretical thoughts is more like writing a book. Perhaps.

Seeing his handwriting was just something special - a real connection to history that not even his stuffed specimens could evoke.

Of course I bought the Darwin t-shirt (and wore it to my biology class the following Monday) and the kids got some stuff at the store as well.

While we were at the Museum, it apparently rained - good timing on our part as it was dry again once we emerged on the street again. First, we went to FAO Schwartz was a big dissapointment. I can see how the store may have appeared huge and wonderful thirty years ago, but today, every local Toys'R'Us is bigger and has more toys than that. So, with the kids' appetites wheted by teh visit to a toy-store, we went back to Times Square and let them splurge at the Toys'R'Us there. They mostly got video games, including some that I think look pretty smart (brain teaser, sudoku, animals, etc.).
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That evening, we took another little stroll around Time Square, but we realized that kids cannot keep up with our pace. And the impression that kids will take of NYC was the most important goal of the trip. So, we decided to scratch several items from our schedule (including the Central Park Zoo, a stroll through the Northern part of Central Park, the Met, the Jewish Museum, Chinatown and Little Italy) - those things will have to wait for next time we go. Better see fewer sights, but have the kids enjoy the stay. So, next time I have time to continue this travelogue, you will learn what we did on Saturday, and then what we did on Sunday....
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Previously in this series:

New York City trip - Part I: Fear of Flying
New York City trip - Part II:Bryant Park
New York City trip - Part III: SEED
New York City trip - Part IV: Ceres
New York City trip - Part V: Central Park

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