Sunday, July 30, 2006

a familiar face

When I was in Berlin on a study trip several years ago, most of our time was planned for us. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing - our chaperones took us to the Jewish Museum, to the Schloss Sans-Souci in Potsdam, and a lot of other famous attractions. However, it was nice when one afternoon we were told that our time was our own for the rest of the day. The only caveats were that we had to travel in groups of at least two, and we each had to visit at least one museum, the ticket stub of which we had to retain as proof. (We were also to be reimbursed our admission costs when we presented our ticket stubs).

My friends and I poured over our map of the city, trying to settle on a museum. According to our information, there was some sort of art exhibit (I don't remember the details) in a palace called the Schloss Charlottenburg, so we set out on the subway. However, when we got to the palace we found that the art exhibit hadn't actually been there for some time. We toured the palace itself, which was gorgeous, but none of us was quite sure whether that counted as a museum. There were a couple museums across the street, though, so we went to check them out. There were four of us all together, and two girls were enticed by signs promising Picassos inside the little art museum, but the third girl and I decided to try the "Aegyptisches," or Egyptian, Museum.

When I was in sixth grade my friends and I read the book The Egypt Game, and for the rest of the year we'd been obsessed with ancient Egypt, constantly passing each other notes written in hieroglyphics. Prominently featured in the book had been the famous bust of Nefertiti, the image of which had become symbolic, to my mind, of the entire culture. I'd always assumed the original must be in Egypt somewhere and never expected to actually see it.

Imagine my surprise when, after paying our admission to the unassuming-looking museum and going inside, this was the first thing we saw:

To my sixteen-year-old self, it was like a miracle. It was liking finding a civilization of fairies in the back of my closet. I will never forget that day.

Friday, July 28, 2006

a cheese sandwich

This is my official entry in Zilla's cheese sandwich story contest (a link to Zilla's blog can be found to the right). I think it's lousy, but I did my best to fulfill what understand as the instructions - to take something mundane and increase its significance by using heightened language. Zilla suggested a trip to the zoo, and this is what I came up with. She limited the length to 750 words, and this is 656.

Cheese Whiz

For a zoology major, a trip to the zoo can be a trying ordeal.

Take this weekend. I was sitting in the reptile house across from the turtle tanks, resting for a few minutes while I waited for my parents to catch up, and one by one I watched half a dozen sets of parents tell their kids blatantly wrong information about the animals on display. "Yes, that's a very big turtle, but they would die before they ever got that big in the wild." (Wrong: it was an alligator snapping turtle, and they certainly do get that big in the wild.) "I wonder why there's a little crocodile in with the turtles?" (I don't know why it was there, but it was an alligator, not a crocodile.) The ignorance was blinding.

So was the heat. The cool, dark reptile house was a pleasant break from the paths that wound between the outside exhibits, where the concrete gathered sunlight and sent it back at us in waves that battered us without mercy. Outside the only respite came in the form of the misters set up every few hundred feet, where children danced in the sprays of water. Even the animals were feeling the wrath of July, and many had misters of their own plus piles of crushed ice on the floors of their habitats. The large animals all slept in the shade, dreaming of wild places with refreshing breezes.

My parents found me just in time, right before I was about to step up the ignorant parents feeding their children made-up facts and tell them off, and we continued to the last glass-fronted reptile exhibit: the Khomaini water monitor, my favorite. A huge monitor lizard about four feet long from nose to tail, it was almost too big for its small habitat. As we watched, it stalked back and forth in the tiny space, its forked tongue flickering in and out to taste the air. Its strangeness fascinated me, the cold eyes, the scaly skin, the third eye on the top of its head (all lizards have this, a light-sensitive spot covered by a single transparent scale that helps set their internal clock). According to the sign this was the only known specimen of its species in the country, and it had been hatched here at the zoo a decade before. The only place it was found in the wild was on a single miniscule island in the Indian Ocean.

What would it be like, I wondered, to spend your whole life without seeing another of your kind? To live in a glass box only six feet long, only two feet more than your own length nose-to-tail? But my musings were interrupted prematurely by my parents' desire to get going, so we proceeded out the door and back toward the zoo's entrance. The reptile house had been our last stop for the day, and now we were headed home. Still, the cold, thoughtful eyes of the monitor lizard stayed with me as we crunched across the gravel parking lot to our car, the sun baking out the last of the coolness that had lingered with us from the reptile building.

We had more in common, that lizard and I, than was first apparent. Domain Eukaryota, Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata, the zoologist in me listed off automatically; we shared that much of Linnaeus's system of classification. And after all, didn't I live in a metaphorical glass box of my own sometimes? Doesn't everybody? Except when we are completely alone, our every word and action is part of a performance for the benefit of an audience. We put ourselves on exhibit every day.

I didn't know how long it would be before I happened to go to the zoo again, but as we pulled out of the parking lot, air conditioner blasting, I silently wished the monitor lizard well until our next meeting.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


A longer post will hopefully follow later, but right now I'm busy drooling over the first movie poster for Star Trek XI, slated to come out in 2008 (about which nothing official is known except that it's slated to come out in 2008... and the poster doesn't exactly reveal much).

When the first theatrical trailer comes out, I don't care what movie it runs before, I'll pay for a movie ticket just to see the trailer. Yeah... drool.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

uh-oh, suzy sim's bladder motive is getting low...

I have one computer game addiction. Just one. A couple years ago I went through a Harry Potter computer game phase, but I got over it, and now I've come back to my first computer game love.

Yup, it's The Sims. Or rather, now it's The Sims 2, to be precise.

It's a game that involves creating little people, building them houses to live in, and then running their lives. You know, making sure they use the toilet when they need to so they don't have an embarrassing accident and making sure they get to the carpool on time so they don't lose their job. In The Sims 2, each character also has wants and fears to worry about, which makes it even more interesting. Usually I create a family, play them for a bit, then get busy with school, and then just start over with a new family when I start playing the game again, so I never really get very far with any one group of Sims. But when I came home for the summer I started yet another family that I've been playing ever since, and the girl I created as a toddler when I started the family just gave birth to a daughter of her own yesterday, so I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Kind of a pathetic thing to get a sense of accomplishment out of. But I'll take what I can get.

We went to the zoo again today. Next time I'm going to wear a red polo shirt and impersonate a docent so I can do what I really want to do, which is stand by the alligator tank in the reptile building and correct every parent who tells their kid the critter's a crocodile.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

they say we can choose our friends, but...

...not our families.

My oldest nephew is spending three weeks with us. He's fourteen, which is a pretty obnoxious age, but he's okay most of the time - just not when he's following me around the house expecting me to entertain him because Grandma and Grandpa are busy. He was impressed by my music collection, though. Not so much by my taste in music, just the sheer size of the collection. I guess sixty-three CDs is a lot.

Yesterday evening my mom and I were sitting in the living room while my dad was outside somewhere. Mom was reading and I was on my computer writing. My nephew came wandering into the room - I guess he wanted someone to watch Ultimate Smackdown with him, poor kid, but I really don't like wrestling - and he just stood there for a minute, and then he said, voice full of disgust...

"This is all you guys do? Sit around and type and read?"

Yes. Some evenings that is all we do. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

a fourth of july memory

Spring three years ago I was getting ready for my trip to Germany, a month-long all-expenses-paid study trip I'd been selected for by scoring high on a standardized test. It was a big deal, and the local newspaper had done an article about me winning the trip.

I had a dentist appointment, and when I got to the dentist's office I found that someone there had cut the article out of the paper and stuck it in my file to give to me. I declined, since I already had about half a dozen copies of the thing, but the dental hygienist and I got to talking about the trip. She remembered the dates in the newspaper article and commented that I was going to be there over the fourth of July.

"Yes, that's right," I said.

"Isn't that nice," she said, "you'll be able to see how the Germans celebrate it!"

And to think that in a few moments I was going to be trusting this woman with my teeth.

Monday, July 03, 2006

the return of the blogger

Boy, when you drop of the face of the earth (or the blogoverse) for a month, you miss some things. Working full-time for the first time in my life has been so all-consuming that I haven't been online much at all lately. But I just made an effort to go through and catch up with at least some of the blogs on my list, though it's hard because I don't have access to my RSS subsription thingy here at home since I can't seem to hook my laptop up to the Internet. Drat.

As I was leaving work today I noticed a bird hovering above the field across the street from the building - just hovering in place, a bird about the size of a mourning dove. I wracked my brain all the way home trying to remember which bird that behavior of hovering and watching for prey is typical of, and when I got home I checked my handy dandy Peterson's and discovered that as I'd suspected it was indeed a kestrel. So yay, add another bird to my workplace list!

Happy Fourth of July, all. I'll try to keep up better for the rest of the summer.