Shiny things in the National Museum of Anthropology

So many shiny things…

Scale models

Thematic maps


Cranial binding

Two steps to make a Clare happy…

World class museum like the Museo Nacional de Antropología and/or artefacts

Good cake

Happy Clare!


22 December – 31 December 2010

In the interest of this travel blog catching up to some time remotely near the present I will enlist a listing strategy.

  • We caught Amtrak’s Airondrack to Montreal on the 22nd December. It was cheap, comfortable and long. I liked watching the climate get more and more icy.
  • It was snowing in Montreal.
  • We stayed at Auberge Espace Confort. The first night, after we had gone to bed, the fire alarm went off. There were no staff in the building. The fire brigade arrive. Our room, with all the electronic appliances unplugged and a lack of fire, was the culprit. We went back to sleep, safe and unburnt.
  • Walking through the Latin Quarter, the Old Quarter and the Old Port.
  • Ice-skating at the Old Port.
  • Extremely good meal at L’ Epicier in the Old Port. They accomodated vegan requirements without a reservation. The best creme brulee of my life.
  • Contrasted by the number of homeless people and mentally ill having to walk and walk all night in sub-zero temperatures. The lucky ones were in the ATM rooms and subway stations.
  • Christmas day in Trois Riviere with a Montreal family.
  • Moved in with S., a friend of my brother, who very graciously acted as our tour guide.
  • The archaeology museum has an unusual method of incorporating First Nations into the history of Montreal for the 21st century. The level of ‘Hoorah’ left me somewhat uncomfortable.
  • Saw Black Swan. No surprises.
  • Mont Royal is pretty. Recommend the view over the city at nightime.
  • Otto Dix exhibition. Amazing art, bad exhibition space for that amount of people (not) moving through it. I wanted to punch someone after ten minutes of it and one of our party was physically stuck and unable to move for an hour.
  • Don’t eat at L’Avenue unless you like having lunch after four, waiting in line, doof doof music and waiters who are more interesting in chatting/feeling each other up than serving your meal. We were also unfortunate in that one of our four meals was cold by the time it was served another rendered me queasy for 24 hours. For the love of god, go across the road to any of the other exceptionally good restaurants.
  • Strombolini excellent.
  • Blue Nile african restaurant also excellent.
  • So much good food and wine…
  • Mosaics, Public Art and the Transit Museum

    December 2010

    The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) puts one percent of its subway construction budget towards public art. The mosaics, sculptures and other assorted artworks that resulted from this policy are found throughout New York’s transit system. A guided tour of the Transit Museum provides a detailed history of the subway network and provides photos of conceptual art behind the many artworks. Wish some of the world’s cement carparks would follow the MTA’s example.

    Photo of a Transit Museum photo of Brandt's 2002 Room of Tranquility at 161st Street

    For more, better photos not taken by me:
    The New York Subway Art Guide

    The Skyscraper Museum

    December 2010

    We found ourselves at the entrance to Wall Street. I hoped to find pyramid schemes, if not pyramids. We swiped our credit cards at the turnstyles. Two authoritarian security guards dressed in black coats spoke. “You cannot enter here. Your credit cards are not platinum.” I looked around me. Smug men sucked on their cigars and pushed through the turnstyles to the promised land beyond*. I could work a second job, pay my income into a rent-controlled studio apartment ($1200 a month in Hell’s Kitchen), accept one of American Express’ generous credit card offers and buy a box of cigars. With these shibboleths, perhaps I could persuade the guards that I was in genuine pursuit of happiness. Instead we caught the Staten Island ferry for free and saw Lady Liberty waving in the distance.

    Later we went to the Skyscraper Museum. It focused on the built structures of the financial district, rather than the construction of Manhattan as a whole. The surly receptionist ungraciously took our money, snarled some instructions then snapped when we went the wrong way. She must have been having a bad day. Maybe her pyramid scheme fell through. The museum was as disappointing as the receptionist. The highlight was an old documentary on the construction of the original Twin Towers. I found a miniature of the city. No pyramids in that cityscape. I may have to change the scale of the quest and look for slightly smaller pyramids. Or maybe start searching for the meaning of life. I’m running out of pyramid jokes.

    The pyramid-less skyline of Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry

    Statue of Liberty in the distance

    *This may be fictional. To my knowledge there are no such turnstyles or restrictions to entering Wall Street.

    Chasing Pyramids

    In the mornings, while Matt does his writing, I stalk through the streets and museums of New York. If this was France and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the Louvre, I would have sighted a pyramid before the week was out. Alas, this is New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just the Met and I have had to make do with the contents of pyramids.

    I’ve had to make do with 90,000 year old stone tools, evidence of the beginnings of metalwork and ivory knife handles that, if you look at up close, you can see the ferocious expressions of carved lions. Middle Kingdom wooden models of boats, breweries, bakeries and butchers. Granite statues of Sekhmet, Thoth, Horemheb and the ‘hoteps. Sure, the Met has grave goods, a tomb and a temple. But the pottery? Not even remotely pyramid shaped.

    I shall take comfort in that if were I in France, knowing the exact location of a pyramid, I would not have the thrill of the chase, the hunt. Also, I think the Louvre pyramid might be too slippery to climb.

    Pyramid Hunting in New York

    The Guggenheim Museum, with its Frank Lloyd designed spirals and curves, was not conducive to pyramid-sighting. There were some well-formed triangles from Kandinsky, some inspired cubism from Marcel Grommaire and Leger, and some pointed ballerinas from Degas. Cones, yes. Pyramids, no. Otto Dix seemed more interested in blood and guts than geometry. I made my way up and down the spiral path, determined not to be seduced by Frank Lloyd Wright or the Chaos and Classicism exhibition. I had a mission.

    Next in my quest for pyramids was the American Museum of Natural History on 81st Street. For a paltry $1 I learnt that the earth was approximately 4.8 billion years old, learnt how different types of rock formed and how to take an icecore sample. I saw a slab of the oldest known rock formation on earth (imported from Greenland) and several large meteorites, one so dense that it required concrete pylons to be constructed deep into the museum’s foundations to support its display on the 1st floor. I found a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an Albertosaur, an Archaeopteryx, a specimen of the Australian lungfish, Pleseosaurus, and the antecedents of birds, fish, frogs and turtles. I took a refresher course in human evolution and dragged Matt from cast displays of Lucy, Turkana Boy to Achulian and Levallois stone tools dating back 300,000 years. They had a cast of the skulls recovered from Lake Mungo (c. 35,000 years ago) and Kow Swamp (c.10,000 years ago/Pleistocene era). I casually made it known that I had participated in a minor capacity in excavating Pleistocene-dated stone tools in Wonthaggi, Victoria. I waved my arms enthusiastically in front of a mammoth, Diprotodon, giant proto-anteater and proto-sloth (Lepradon). I found some dioramas representing salmon traps that had been made by the North-west Coast Indians. It reminded me that I never finished reading about the eel trap settlement around Lake Condah, Victoria. I spent 8 hours over two days in the Natural History Museum, seeing approximately 45% of the collections on display. I am grieved to report that I did not locate any pyramids. I also didn’t find any unnamed dinosaurs I could name after Katie*. But all is not lost: a little plaque on the fourth floor said there were many fossils in their collection and too few archaeologists paleontologists to study them. I could always retrain…

    *When a high school friend of mine found out that I got a job in archaeology she made me promise under duress that I would name a dinosaur after her. I am still looking. I just tend to get distracted by things that have existed within the last 30,000 years.