January 5th, 2006

whitewitch6

there's a hole in the bottom of the sea

If you aren't interested in my trip to the Georgia Aqaurium you might want to just skip all this and look for my second, more writerly entry later this evening. I won't be offended, really (heck, I won't even know).

So, yes. It was, mostly, a very, very good day off. Hopefully, today will be another. We reached the Georgia Aquarium about twelve thirty, and I immediately realized that I'd been horribly wrong in my belief that the kids were back in school and all this holiday vacation nonsense was over and done with for another year. The place was deluged in tourists, and most of them had children and rowdy teens in tow. It took us about forty-five minutes from the time we parked until the time we were allowed into the aquarium. In between, we stood in a long amusement-park sort of line (even though we're aquarium members) that ended in an airport-style security search. My bag was searched. I was scanned with the little wandy thing. At least I didn't have to take off my frelling shoes. It does seem rather absurd, all that security for an aquarium. But this is the "new normal," the age of post-9/11 paranoia, and we were, it should be noted, standing only a hundred yards or so from the spot where Eric Robert Rudolph set off one of his bombs in Olympic Centennial Park (July 1996). So, I tried to be forgiving about being treated like a potential threat to life, limb, and national security just because I wanted to go to the aquarium. Besides, it gave me time to realize how incredibly ugly the outside of the Georgia Aquarium is, a gaudy cathedral of blue and orange aluminum held together with silicone caulking, and also to notice how many women were wearing velour. Ew. I don't get it. Velour was tacky in the 1970s, and it somehow manages to be at least twice as tacky today, and yet here are all these women in velour blouses and pants suits and jogging suits. Ew, I say.

Anyway, when we were finally inside, I was greeted not with an aquarium, but with a bizarre amalgam of theme park (hence the lines, I suppose), shopping mall, and food court. Oh, there were fish, but they seemed entirely secondary to all the rest. The aquarium part of the Georgia Aquarium is divided into five main areas, based on ecosystems, and a sixth area that's some sort of 3-D theatre affair. But in the middle of it all is this gigantic frelling food court, stinking of greasy food-court pizza and sandwiches. We would soon learn that the aquarium had been designed so that it is essentially impossible to enter or exit any one of the display areas without walking through the food court. And there was all this light and giant video monitors and huge styrofoam statues of cartoon fish...all of which might have been fine at Epcot or Disney World or something, but I still think of aquaria the way I think of museums. They should be darkish and dignified and stately, just like museums (yes, I know many museums have abandoned this demeanor in the age of shrinking budgets and "infotainment," but I persist). And crammed into all this colourful chaos were several thousand tourists, most of them, it seemed, from various rural parts of Georgia, Mississppi, Alabama, and Tennessee where personal hygiene has yet to be discovered. It felt more like a NasCar crowd. It was icky and then some. We almost left. But, damn it, I'd come to see fish and swore I would not be swayed from my course by velour, stinky food courts, or redneck tourists.

And that's a good thing, because once you get in and through all the crap and clatter, there are some truly stunning creatures at the Georgia Aquarium. Sure, we could hardly see many of them for all the people, but what we could see was marvelous. The five belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) were a delight. A couple of them had been rescued from a Mexican amusement park where they'd been kept in a warmish tank beneath a roller coaster (?!?), and they had the scars and lesions to prove it. But they were still beautiful. Other highlights included a giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), the whale sharks (which I'd never seen before up close), a guitarfish (Rhinobatus productus), enormous Japanese spider crabs (Macrocheira kaempferi), leafy sea dragons of two or three species, sea otters (Enhydra lutris), a small but impressive kelp forest display, enormous "flocks" of cow-nosed rays (Rhinoptera bonasus), and a gorgeous tank containing numerous species of African cichlids. Neat stuff. The big tank in the "Ocean Voyager" area is probably the coolest thing in the place. I used to snorkel off the coast of Gulf Shores, and the sights in that tank were very nostalgic.

But we only saw about half the aquarium. By four o'clock or so we were so fed up with all the people we decided to call it a day and come back some other time, some slow day. We didn't make it into the "Tropical Diver" area or the "Georgia Explorer" area at all. Spooky dubbed the latter the "Hokeyfenokee," and rightly so, based on the decor of its cheesy entryway. Though the animals themsleves are wonderful and appear to be very well taken care of, I was dismayed at the lack of information presented with the exhibits. More than half the time, you'd have no idea what you were seeing or where it had come from unless you just happened to be a marine biology buff or bothered one of the poor, beleagured docents. Ecosystems were presented, but absolutely no mention was made anywhere that I saw — and I looked — that almost every one of the ecosystems were threatened and many of the species were endangered or near extinction. Well, this is Georgia, but still. That was perhaps the single most alarming oversight in the place. I was amazed to see a mention of evolution on a stingy little text panel accompanying a display of ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei). I'm sure there have already been complaints. All in all, I give the Georgia Aquarium so-so marks, even if they did spend a fortune to have the largest, gaudiest aquarium on earth. I've been to far better and far worse. Mostly, I wish it felt a little more like an aquarium and a little less like a theme park. Oh, and I was left stupefied and speechless by the women filing past the giant octopus and loudly proclaiming how "ugly" and "gross" she was. If it were my aquarium, that would have been grounds for immediate expulsion, after a mandatory cephalopod sensitivity seminar.

Here are three of Spooky's photos (behind the cut for those who care not for fishy things). I may post some more tomorrow:

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starbuck1

Addendum: The Rest of Yesterday

It wasn't all just fish and giggles. And velour. And redneck tourists slandering octopi. For one thing, my contributor's copy of Horror: Another 100 Best Books arrived in the post yesterday morning. This is Steve Jones and Kim Newman's follow-up to their 1988 volume, Horror: 100 Best Books. You may recall that I was asked to write one of the essays and chose Kathe Koja's novel Skin (1993) as my subject. I have to confess that I have a very bad habit of not reading the anthologies in which my stories are published. I tend to flip through them and set them on the shelf where I keep all my published stuff, intending to get back to the book, but then forgetting all about it. However, I wanted to take a moment to reccommend this book. The first volume was really wonderful. I picked it up when I was in London in '98. Wonderful essays by wonderful authors. The editors asked 100 authors to each choose one horror/dark fantasy/thriller book which they considered a classic of the form. This time out, sixteen years later, it was the same idea. So far, I've read Peter Straub's foreward and Steve and Kim's introduction, as well as three of the essays: Jeff VanderMeer on House of Leaves, S. T. Joshi on The Nightmare Factory, and Brian Hodge on Lost Souls. This is a very, very readable book, and you should all endeavor to snag a copy ASAP. It's available from Amazon and should be in the chain bookshops, too. And I must admit to being flattered that Silk, Tales of Pain and Wonder, and From Weird and Distant Shores made the "oversight" list at the end of the book.





After the aquarium yesterday, we treated ourselves to some very hot, very yummy Thai food for dinner. Then spent most of the evening watching the next four episodes of Season Two of Battlestar Galactica (which continues to amaze and delight). And, of course, we watched the new Project Runway (which was just a little surreal, sandwiched between two episodes of BG). I'd picked Nick Verreos to win (though I personally liked the designs by Andraé Gonzalo and Diana Eng much more), so I was surprised when it went to Santino Rice. But I was even more surprised when they dumped the very talented Gaudalupe Vidal and kept frelling Marla Duran, even after she admitted to having copied her design from a Chloe dress...sigh. Go figure.

Oh, this comment yesterday by tactileson amused me very much, so much so that I'm going to repost it. It made me smile. It is, well, drad: If you search the word "drad" on Google, your Amazon.com Farscape list is the #7 link on the page. If you search "farscape" and "drad" together yours is the number one result. Kinda neat.. Kinda drad, if you ask me.

Crap. I wish I wouldn't leave myself cryptic little notes I cannot later decipher. BBM. What the frell does that mean? It's in a list of things I was going to discuss in this entry, but I have no idea what it might stand for. If I remember, later, I'll add a postscript.

Spooky, who manages the stock that I sell on eBay, has declared that the copy of In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers presently being auctioned will be the last that I'm allowed to auction. So, this is it, kiddos. If you want to get this book from me (and it's also sold out at subpress), this is your last chance. No foolin'. Of course bidding continues, rather furiously, on letter X of Frog Toes and Tentacles and it's sexy little "cozy." At least I know how we'll pay the gas bill this month. Here's the link to our eBay auctions. Have a look, if you will. Thanks. And there's always Sirenia Digest. As soon as I get "Bainbridge" proofed and polished (tomorrow), I have to write the next two vignettes.