Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wunderkammers and Kremlin

After a slightly debilitating morning of the all-too-well-known gastric effects of travel, I decided that my limited time here would not be well-spent lying in bed and moaning. I had decided to see the Moscow University Museum of Zoology, and walk back to my hotel via the Kremlin and Red Square. To save time, I took the Metro, only naturally in the wrong direction. After a short wander in the equivalent of Queens, New York when you're trying to get to Lincoln Center, I figured it out and went back the right way.

I love old science museums. I pretty much love all science museums, but the closer they get to a wunderkammer, the happier I am. I grew up near the American Museum of Natural History, before the big makeover began, so when I think of museums I think of dim, echoing halls (mostly echoing with kids) and the tar-colored skeletons of dinosaurs looming in the gloom. I think it definitely put adults off, which was part of the appeal. To see a bit of the old museum, check out "Journey To The Beginning of Time", a Czech SF(?) film. I loved that movie as a kid, especially because I also knew the little cave that the kids go into in order to go back in time. Nowadays, I'd just like to go back in time to meet Zdenek Burian.

The Moscow University Museum of Zoology is an old museum. It dates from 1791, and is gorgeous, inside and out. It's full of what are now considered downers in museums--lots of slightly startled looking taxidermy, formaldehyded things from seas, lakes and intestinal crevices, large dusty cabinets and the smell of mothballs. In short, heaven.

The main hall depicted on the site is beautiful. My Russian is nonexistent, so I couldn't ask who did the murals. After buying my ticket (100 rubles~3 dollars) I was informed by the very nice and patient lady upstairs that I needed another ticket to take photos. And I needed to take photos. As you see.

I have ideas about why museums like this are so appealing, at least to people like me. There's a quality about them of incompleteness--of exploration needing to be done. Modern museums are spectacular shows of what has been figured out and accomplished, but they're entertaining, not provoking. The information is often laid out as a fait accompli. Old museums lay out what was brought back with an attempt at showmanship, but it's worn thin and seems more carny barker than James Cameron. It's allowing the viewer to imagine: what was this individual like? What was its life like in the wild? What sort of person collected it? Stuffed it? The process is there, not swaddled by video and interactive displays.

Another reason I love them is that they seem to share my brain's pack rat sensibilities--things are often where they are because of an odd shape or color, not rigorous systemization. Systemization was the word here, though, but of the organizational and dry kind that's easily disregarded. A cabinet of raptors could as well be together because they look cool as because of their genetic and cladistic similarities.

I walked back via a series of wrong assumptions of where I was along Kalashny Per (must look up what Per stands for) into the Vodzvizhenka Ul (note to self: look up Ul, too). Going as far afield as the Itar Tass news agency. The Kremlin was quite recognizable when I got there, though, even discounting the heavy police presence. I took my obligatory picture in front of St. Basil's cathedral.

Then across the bridge on the B. Yakimanka Ul, which I could swear featured in a Bourne movie, and a longish but now familiar walk home.

No comments:

Post a Comment