Dec 25, 2015

Age of Aquariums

Tuesday morning, Joshua helped Saori and Ayumi assemble the sticky buns, sprinkling brown sugar and raisins, and making his own rolls. They turned out amazing, and I got the recipe from Ayumi. After our sugary breakfast, we took a stroll through the neighborhood with Joshua. It was surprisingly mild. When we first arrived, it was colder in Atlanta than Stuttgart, but after a bunch of rain, Atlanta was cool and misty. I just went out in a tee shirt. Ayumi took us to see the community gardens and the chicken coop, and we threw some sticks in the little creek.

Once we got back to the house, Tim took us to the aquarium. The Atlanta aquarium is one of the biggest and best in the world, and it was his first time to see it too. Ayumi took Joshua when he was younger, but apparently he was more facinated by the moving walkway than the abundance of fish around him.

The aquarium is downtown, sitting on a grassy plaza which it shares with its oddfellow neighbors, the Coke Museum which is apparently a museum of marketing, plus a tasting room and a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the historic cola wars of the 90s, and a Civil Rights museum.

The aquarium as theme park is the name of the game here. Ticket lines and windows designed to handle massive crowds, themed “worlds” inside, promenant concessions and gift shop. It’s an exciting building with some neat architectural tricks with the various tanks and enclosures, clear and easy to understand and navigate, and for the mutltitudes inside, it never felt too crowded or claustrophobic. There was always a place we could step aside and find a moment.

But it lacked the class of the Chicago aquarium- which keeps the feel of an institution from the stately suroundings and the emphasis on fish and not flatscreens. In this aquarium, the sea life plays a supporting role but YOU are the star of the show. I was turned off by the obnoxious corporate branding and bizzare advertising tie ins such as “Did you know that the Beluga whale can grow up to 16 feet long, which is 16 rolls of Brawny Paper Towels placed end to end?” The big ocean room “Built by the Home Depot” makes me imagine a scene where a shopper at the store inquires where one can find the foot and a half thick solid acrylic panels for that home whale shark tank.

Lunch at the cafeteria was a painful gouge. I had to ask the cashier to repeat the total. For what we paid for bagged chips, bottled drinks, and sandwiches, we could have eaten lunch at the nicest restaurants in the city. I was happy to cover it since Tim and Ayumi have been so generous to us, but I’m surprised I didn’t get a financing offer at the cash register. Sandwiches were good though.

The ocean tank was astonishing. You get teased with bubble windows and small windows as you walk along, offering a view of the sea bottom at least 30 feet below the rippling ceiling of the tank so massive you can’t see the opposite side. And suddenly you’re in the plexiglass tunnel and this aquatic world is all around you. You look up and a shark the size of a minivan slowly swims over you. Huge manta rays swim by, along with reef sharks, rays, skates, and other big fish. We were all entraced, and this time Joshua was captivated by the fish instead of the flooring. We slowly slowly made our way along until we popped out into the money shot- a huge theater with one massive plexiglass wall from floor to ceiling, with the whole teeming tank open before you and the seafloor speading out in front of you. It was like SCUBA diving. We sat right on the carpeting in front of the glass and just watched for at least fifteen minutes. 

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