In Museums on May 12, 2011 at 12:45 am

So, I’ve been in DC for a week, and I have only managed one half of one Smithsonian. Bad Laura! Very bad museum nerd! This had to change. So, I moved systematically on to the next door neighbour of NMAH, the Museum of Natural History. Now, I have mentioned my hatred for glass case museums on several occasions already. The THOUGHT of the Natural History Museum alone made me feel lethargic, bored and borderline suicidal. I imagined cases of dead animals, model whales hanging from the ceiling, primary-coloured bits of plywood everywhere and lots of hands-on exhibits. What did I get?

It certainly wasn’t a surprise in any way. I wandered through the sea exhibit (the name was too tedious for me to bother to take note of) and was as bored as I expected to be. It was exactly the same as every Natural History Museum on earth (and several on Jupiter). First impression was not good. But, with a heavy heart, I continued on to the next exhibit, on Africa. I really enjoyed the tiny room on Haile Sellassie and Rastafarianism, but I have no idea how that’s Natural History. It was a small side-room off from the origins of man in Africa – I couldn’t help but think it was a little inappropriate, no matter how interesting it was. The rest of the area was a little off as well – a lot of social history, but presented in a rather condescending way. Aaaaaaand then came the elephant. If there was one thing I was expecting more than the plastic whale hanging from the ceiling, it’s the stuffed pachyderm in an atrium.

The whole thing is on a grand scale – it’s huge, and the internal architecture of the building is pretty impressive, but that would be the same if the room was empty, hosting a concert, or full of boxes. It is nothing to do with the museum, really. Like Britney Spears these days, it has a very glossy exterior and was once a real gem, but it’s kind of dead behind the eyes now.

That said, there were some great exhibits too, and they went some way to redress the crippling boredom. There are roughly a squillion exhibits in total (technical term there, folks), so I’m just going to tell you about two. There’s the Geology section, which ranges from some amazing examples of moon rock, meteorites and sample collection kits that were taken to the moon.

It moves on to the gem collection, which has some pretty serious bling on display, including one of the kings of bling, the Hope Diamond. Currently, hope is in a new, modern setting to celebrate an anniversary – it looks pretty amazing.

I really enjoyed looking around this, although there was only a very small selection on display. The space seemed pretty heavily fortified, and it wasn’t a huge gallery, so I assume that’s why. It was still great, but I couldn’t help but feel sad for pieces like this stunner that will never again be worn. What a heartbreaker, and one that applies to the dresses in NMAH as well. But that’s just me!

Next I took a wander to what I believe is the polar opposite of gemstones; bugs. Largely, I was not happy about this exhibit. Spiders don’t bother me at all, but bugs I do not like. There was a mad scientist with a tray of insects for you to handle (live buggers!) and I though that it would be cool to handle a tarantula – the orange and black ones that are harmless that are the go-to handling bug. He didn’t have those – he had the most disgustingly large milipede you have ever seen. Couldn’t have got out of there fast enough. *shudder*

However, as I ran screaming from the gallery, I came across an oddball room that looked like a tunnel. It turned out to be the Butterfly House, which it costs to go into. Every day except Tuesdays, that is! How lucky. You get a timed ticket and come back at your appointed time, but there wasn’t even a queue! I just went straight in, and it was great. It’s a really sweet idea, and the kids in there were absolutely enthralled by it. It was fun and unexpected, which all museums need a bit of.

Soooo – Smithsonian #2. Not bad, not great, but as I loathe all Natural History Museums, to have me leave indifferent (if not slightly entertained) is pretty good going.


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