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Central Park, MoMA Lower Manhattan, Seaport, Brooklyn

15th March 2017

American Museum of Natural History

Cullman Hall of the Universe
    The world outside was still white, but blue expanses in the sky made for a brighter day. Through my window it looked as though the temperature might have climbed slightly; I hoped so since my body was starting to feel it.
    I removed the huge cockroach from my bath, showered, enjoyed my minimalistic breakfast, and after checking with reception that New York would be open today, I took a short walk around the part of Jersey City in my vicinity. At ground level, it resembled what it had looked like when I flew over it a couple of days earlier, a monotonous, grey, Lego tapestry, the spaces between the bricks now filled with snow and ice - nothing to write home about.
    I came across a small computer shop that contained a couple of computer terminals that could be hired. I took advantage and sent emails back to blighty, my first communication since I had been away. My phone refused to function over the Atlantic. Emails sent, I ventured back onto the streets, which seemed more treacherous than yesterday. A cold wind brought about a wicked wind chill factor, and slush had now become a solid, crevassed, slippery surface waiting to trap the unwary. A few citizens now walked with arms in slings. Armies still continued to shovel the frozen waste from the pavements. In order to allow pedestrians to cross the roads, attempts were being made to create in ways into the snow drifts created by the snow ploughs.
Williamette Meteorite
    Back in Journal Square, I topped up my Metrocard, and was soon on my way to 33rd Street. Since it made sense to keep off the roads for a while and keep warm, my aim today was to visit the American Museum of Natural History. This museum is the largest natural history museum in the world with a mission commensurately monumental in scope. The entire museum spans four city blocks and consists of some 25 interconnected buildings. Though today the phrase "natural history" is restricted to the study of animal life, the museum, founded in 1869 on the heels of discoveries by Darwin and other Victorians, uses it in its original sense: that is, the study of all natural objects, animal, vegetable and mineral. The museum's scientists study the diversity of Earth's species, life in the ancient past and the universe. The complex contains more than 40 exhibition halls, displaying a portion of the institution's 32 million specimens and artefacts, many in lifelike dioramas. The exhibition programme rotates as much of this material into public view as possible.
    Top of my priority was the stunning Rose Centre for Earth and Space, a $200 million glass box created by architect James Stewart Polshek. Enclosing a great white sphere, it opened to international acclaim in early 2000. The centre features the Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway, where each step equals about 75 million years of cosmic evolution; the Scales of the Universe, which illustrates the vast range in sizes in our universe from the whole universe down to the fundamental particles that make it; the Cullman Hall of the Universe, focusing on discoveries in modern astrophysics; and the new Hayden Planetarium, the world's most technologically advanced, which offers an absorbing three-dimensional tour of the universe and a multisensory re-creation of the Big Bang. The Gottessman Hall of Planet Earth focuses on the processes that have shaped the planet earth and continue to shape it. It contained a marvellous collection of multimedia displays that explore plate tectonics, volcanism, seismology, climatology and a host of interviews with scientists actively engaged in their fields of interest as they spoke. I have always been fascinated by astronomy and space exploration, and the Rose Centre did not let me down. I read every morsel of information, bewildered at how lots of people skipped through without even looking at any text at all.
Scales of the Universe
    Once I surfaced from my complete immersion in the Rose Centre, I headed to the top of the building and aimed to slowly work my way down. At the very top I came across the most scientifically important collection of dinosaurs and fossil vertebrates in the world. The museum has six halls that tell the story of vertebrate evolution. Also on view in the Roosevelt rotunda is the tallest free-standing dinosaur exhibit in the world, which has been remounted to reflect current scientific theory about dinosaur behaviour. This tableau depicts a massive mother Barosaurus trying to protect her calf from an attacking Allosaurus. A large cinema gave the story of how dinosaurs fit into the evolutionary structure, highlighting the crucial branches to future evolutionary paths and the importance of them. I found this tremendously interesting, though a lot of kids and babies around me seemed to be petrified by the tale considering the amount of screaming they were dishing out, or perhaps they were just bored. It made listening to the story a tad hit and miss.
    So far I had spent five hours, leaving just one hour to take in the rest of the museum. The Hall of Biodiversity is devoted to the most pressing environmental issues of our time: the critical need to preserve the variety and interdependence of Earth's living things. Other permanent exhibits, known for their striking dioramas portraying people and animals on indigenous ground, include the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, the Hall of Asian Peoples, the Hall of African Peoples, the Hall of South American Peoples, the Spizter Hall of Human Origins, the Hall of North American Mammals, the Hall of African Mammals, the Hall of Ocean Life, the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians and the Hall of North American Birds. For geology buffs there are also the separate halls of meteorites, minerals and gems. I could not take it all in. There was so much more I wanted to see but the place had to close. I thoroughly recommend this museum.
    I caught the subway down to Greenwich Village, found a rare Indian restaurant, and was set up for the evening. A regular chilli fix is what I crave, and I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. There was only a couple seated in the restaurant so far when I arrived; a reflection of the restaurant or the extreme weather? Needless to say the service was extremely prompt with a waiter out of his starting blocks like a Chinese whippet; think about it, when was the last time you saw a Chinese whippet - shows you how fast they are. The food was bland by British standards, however the day was saved when one of the waiters asked, "Would you like more onion or green chillies?"
Tyrannosaurus Rex
    My eyes lit up, "Yes, please!" A plate containing the said items was immediately dispatched to my table, and I was as happy as Larry. Whilst eating, an elderly Indian man in a shabby grey suit came over to my table. I found out he was the owner.
    "How is the food?" he asked politely.
    I was pretty blunt in my reply, "Indian food is a lot spicier in Britain."
    "Ah, you know Britain has been involved with India for over 250 years, and your British have become accustomed to our food. I was in London recently, and the curry houses there are very good. But I think Americans don't like spicy food, so we don't spice the food up."
    I gazed up to find the previous couple had now been replaced by a younger couple. They were having to have the dishes explained to them in the utmost detail.
    "Where are all your customers this evening?" I asked.
    "The weather has deterred a lot of people," he replied. "I live 35 miles north-east of the city. It was bad there yesterday, the snow was more than 18 inches deep. I didn't come into work, couldn't get anyone to clear my drive. They soon get tired here," he laughed. He wished me well and left me to continue with my meal. I returned back to Jersey City early, it was bitterly cold. There was nothing else for it but to hit the sack by 21:30.

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Central Park, MoMA Lower Manhattan, Seaport, Brooklyn
Last updated 10.4.2017