Posted by: ktzefr | May 26, 2011

Magic at the Museum

Real smiles, Otavalo, Ecuador. Photo:KFawcett

I love museums.  I was a high-school senior the first time I came to Washington, DC and was awed  by the Smithsonian Institution.  My favorite has always been the National Museum of Natural History.  I have spent more hours roaming its halls than I can count.  When my son was in middle and high school  he volunteered at the Natural History museum during the summer and I would drop him off at work and then spend the day “doing” the exhibits.  When I got tired I’d find a quiet spot to read, write, and/or daydream. 

I was looking through some of my old journals recently and found a couple of entries from my observations —  one serious and one that may make you smile…

I sit on the steps and wait for the doors to open.  Every morning in front of the museum the construction workers eat Egg McMuffins and feed the pigeons.   I am struck by this image.  In their own countries many of them could not even feed their families.


I am sitting in the museum on a stone bench that is part of an exhibit, a replica of a village in South America (it was perfectly acceptable to do this).  The bench is perched outside a little church with spires and bells and across from the make-believe marketplace where plaster women sell fake corn and potatoes and quinoa.   Motionless llamas appear to roam the market, and behind them on walls of painted fields with blue skies and high volcanic peaks other llamas grow smaller and smaller in the 3-D distance.  The least one, clinging to a green mountainside, could be held in the palm of your hand. 

Men in fedoras and ponchos stand open-mouthed, forever caught in conversation.  The people — the real ones, mostly tourists — walk through the exhibit and gaze.  They talk about the white cliffs where the plastic seagulls perch, and they discover, once they read the printed labels, that the white stuff covering the fake cliffs is meant to mimic the splattered bird poo on the real cliffs along the sea in Peru. 

The real kids are drawn to the fake kids.  They ask the same question, again and again.  Why is that boy wearing the clothes of an old man?  A tiny poncho and fedora.  Black rubber boots to the knees.  Little copies of larger images.  It’s the tradition of the Andes, the moms say.  Like American moms putting tiny jeans on babies….well, maybe.

A real kid lets his eyes wander, looks up the steps to the little chapel, to the towers with the bells that will never ring.  He points to me sitting on the stone bench reading and says this:

“Mommy, that statue looks almost real!”

Almost, indeed.  I hold my breath, then watch his eyes bloom when I smile.  There’s always a little magic at the Natural History Museum!


Colors of the marketplace, Otavalo, Ecuador. Photo:KFawcett


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