On July 29th, trying to take my mind off the nonsense with Penguin and the heartlessness of remaindering, we drove up to New Bedford, Massachusetts, to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum. A small but superb museum, most notable in its skillful blending of cetacean biology, local history, art, and cultural anthropology. I will say, up front, that I have a complicated love/hate relationship with whaling and so visiting a whaling museum was an odd experience. The wholesale slaughter of whales in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Century is, in my eyes, a sort of Holocaust, murdering intelligent creatures and driving many species to the brink of extinction. And yet, the culture surrounding whaling, the great ships, the history of whaling, its effect upon the world, and, of course, the whales themselves, fascinate me no end. In this way, such a museum simultaneously inspires in me horror, sorrow, awe, and reverence. So, make of that what you will. Very often, that which most repulses us we also find so compelling.
The Whaling Museum is located atop Johnny Cake Hill, directly across the street from the Mariner's Home and the Seamen's Bethel (the very same one which Melville wrote of in Moby Dick). Upon entering the museum, we were immediately greeted by the sight of a mounted 65-foot Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) skeleton suspended over the lobby gallery. The victim of a tanker collision in March 1998, you can read more about how the museum came by the skeleton here. There was a smaller Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) skeleton sharing the gallery, but I didn't get a very look at it (a frelling wedding that had rented out the museum was interfering with everything out front). Also, the gallery walls were decorated with a mural by Richard Ellis, one of my favourite science authors and artists. An adjacent gallery contained the mounted skeleton of a Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus), which I personally found the most wonderful of the three, partly because it was mounted at floor level so I could get a better look and partly because toothed whales interest me more than baleen whales. The museum's Sperm Whale was found beached off Great Point, Nantucket, on June 7, 2002, and you can read more about the specimen here.
The museum was practically overflowing with marvelous things: a half-scale model of the whaling bark Lagoda, a display on the evolution of whales, a gallery of scrimshaw artefacts and another of new Bedford art glass, paintings, navigational instruments, period log books and diaries, a special exhibit on whaling in the Azores, a full-size replica of a ship's forecastle, including horrifically snug below-deck bunk section. There was a retrospective of the works of painter Ken Davies, and I was especially taken with "Goblin Time," "A White Halloween," and "Bell Book and Candle." There were harpoons, mastheads, dolls, grandfather clocks, and I could go on and on and on. Oh, and a so-so documentary in a nicely decorated auditorium, introduced by some guy who probably rents himself out as Emeril Lagasse for extra cash. We must have spent three or four hours there, and I'm sure we didn't see everything.
After the museum, we headed across the Achusnet River to Fairhaven, which really was a beautiful town, and on down to the old fort and hurricane barrier where the river runs out into Buzzard's Bay. At the fort, we were plagued by a second wedding, which had chosen the fort ruins for photography (???), but it was at least amusing watching the women in their ridiculous carnation-pink dresses having their hair-dos blown about mercilessly by the strong sea wind. I wanted to make some crack about the sanctity of marriage being endangered by all the damned heterosexuals, but Spooky wouldn't let me. After all, we were in Massachusetts. There was a little lighthouse a few hundred yards out past the hurricane wall, and fishing and sail boats were coming and going in the harbour. Then, on the way back to the bridge, we passed a third hot-pink wedding. Bizarre, says I.
Back in Greenhill, Spooky spoke with the housesitter in Atlanta, then made a pizza, and we watched One-Hour Photo, which we'd both somehow managed not to see in theatres but enjoyed a great deal. We read Blood Meridian until we were too drowsy to read more and must have gotten to sleep about 2 a.m. Now, some photos, mostly from the Whaling Museum (behind the cut):
The Mariner's Home
A Blue Whale, head on. Awesome.
The masts of the one-half size model of the Lagoda, view from deck.
Me, sitting on the Lagoda's forecastle.
The mandibles of a Sperm Whale, with actual living author for scale.
The Sperm Whale, extra large because I loves 'im so! Note teeth in lower jaw.
Okay. I'm afraid that's it for me and blogging today. I so wanted to get in an entry on our trip over to Watch Hill on Wednesday, but I think I shall go watch a movie with Spooky, instead. Perhaps tomorrow.