“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, November 27, 2005

atlanta notes 3

The aquarium proved to contain fish. Many, many fish, in scenic locales, and with background music to make your average ticket holder feel vaguely heroic, as though he was not visiting the Atlanta aquarium but shouldering through Jurassic Park.

I am not one to diss fish. I like them, I like them large, I like quantities of them swimming above my head or held in by auditorium wall sized glass. I liked them so much that at the end of my tour, I craved fish and chips. But LI’s major interest was not in the fish, but in the fish and people combo – people looking at fish.

The weather when we go to the aquarium was, for this Austinite (where the golfers are used to wearing their checked shorts under December skies, and the ac is always an option) astonishingly cold. But it was probably only in the forties. There was a milling crowd before the giant, well, ark shaped structure – what did you expect? – and we were all eager to see the wonders. Myself, I had not been instructed in the scandalous and sad lives of the beluga whales (“given to the aquarium by the owners of a Mexican Amusement Park because they knew the aquarium would take better care of them,” according to one helpful sign – but the news is these were abused belugas with the sores of Job when they arrived), or the supposed tantrums of the founder of Home Depot, whose money created the place, when news of his precious purchases, the surprises he apparently wanted to unveil before the awestruck town, was leaked to the paper. I had not seen the reporter with the Penguins, or with the sea lions, or with the sea dragon, or petting the skate. I was sorely lacking in background.

But I did what I could. I immediately bolted for the restaurant, having had no breakfast and it being five in the afternoon and all, and found the food unpalatable and expensive – which I expected. I even thought about getting a Coke. Coke is an unbearably sweet beverage which I cannot believe I relished as a kid. That adults drink it down – that my brothers finish cans of it without blinking – sorta astonishes me. I didn’t get the Coke. Then I proceeded to the ocean room, and was pleased as punch to watch kids watch fish float above them in the tunnel, and kids pile up at various places of advantage, held in place by their adoring and often aggressive parents. I don’t know what was made of the strangely macabre faces pulled by the sawtooth shark – if I was a four year old, I’d be a little leery. In fact, I always avoided certain animal photographs when I was a kid, close-ups of tarantulas and the like. But I was a whimpy kid. Still, I’d rather like some of the old gut fears kicking in when little humans, and big humans, confront those creatures with mouths and appetites big enough to swallow us down. My, what sharp teeth you have, granny. “The better to eat you with my dear” – perhaps this one sentence is the whole of the prophets and the commandments.

Actually, though, there was no creature like that. The whale shark, the star of this aquarium, is, I believe, a dedicated vegan – and I’m not googling to see if that is correct, for I’m in no mood to correct my impressions.

Getting back to the people-fish nexus: I did wonder, as people watched the large ocean aquarium for long intervals, about what it is that fills space in such a way that people are interested in it. What filled that space was an intense blue, a visible thickness of glass, various motions in the blueness, and odd shapes with eyes and prongs and cruciform tails. It is the life that brings this otherwise highly abstract (and beautiful) tableau into the aesthetic ken of a crowd that probably would be less patient of a painting or a video that eliminated the living parts but combined the same colors and the same motions. What they wanted, it seemed to me, was something to search for. I do too. Searching in crowds – being in a searching crowd – is, for me, a little hard to deal with. I get irritated. This is because I like searching to be a relatively private thing, something I do with a limited number of others. But I can’t really get very far with that irritation. Far better to forget it. I root around here between the urge to be snobbish and the urge to surrender all that pickiness and think of all the popular entertainments, all of the Coney islands, all of the ways of spending Sunday with the kids, and to not care really what I think about it at all.

In the end, though, it is a give us this day, our daily people-n-fish moment, as the Good Lord would have said if he had visited Atlanta’s museum today, no doubt.

No comments: