Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Maya on Exhibit

Though the Museum of Science has been closed off-and-on due to the blizzard conditions (the fourth in four weeks... not bitter... not at all), it has a climatologically-distinct exhibit currently on view. If, amid these swirls of snow and whiplashes of cold air, you have found yourself dreaming of the Yucatan, then you are in luck.

I guess what I'm saying is that if you are interested in utterly immersing yourself in a time and place as far away from the Northeast in 2015, then you'd be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity than the Maya's classical period. And if it can make you forget about this snowy Boston February, even for a little while, then why not?

There are better reasons, though, than forgetting the weather. Remembering and understanding that the Americas were once dominated by non-Europeans is important, and equally so, that civilizations native to this continent were complex, advanced, and sophisticated beyond what our grade school (even high school) textbooks intimated is, too. This is an enlightening, engaging experience that challenges commonly held assumptions and patterns of belief regarding the rich heritage of this nation and the others with whom we share the continent.

For example, it is largely understood that Mayans were one of the few civilizations to have developed the concept of the zero. But, did you ever ask - did they use the zero the same way we do with our Arabic numerals? The answer will surprise you. Using a zero in a number with Mayan numerals has an exponential effect that is not proportionate to the mathematical system we use of tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. I am not enough of a mathematician to say this with authority, but I would have to conclude, then, that this challenges the idea of math as some sort of universal language - at the very least to the point that we may say it has "regional dialects." Brain-rattling, right?

There is, however, a lot of math that is lost on me. History and mythology, on the other hand, are languages I understand a bit more readily. That said, the special exhibit itself seems more geared towards a younger crowd, so if you have kids, they will get quite a bit out of it. There are stations where you can print a Mayan name or bookmark in hieroglyphs, create architecture, decipher a wall painting, etc. Though informative and interactive, it seemed a bit shorter than previous exhibits that used the same space. 

The real star of the show was the planetarium presentation. (The omni show, like others that have been featured, will likely arrive on Netflix at some point, and was not remastered for a curved IMAX screen - human beings and straight lines were quite susceptible to distortion.) Tales of the Maya Skies, however, was a fantastic, original presentation that was well worth the price of admission. Something that it did particularly well was its representation of mythology overlaid onto Mayan architecture. For example, in one segment it explained how Mayan step pyramids were constructed so that the shadow of the pyramid's zigzagged corner would be cast on the large stone "railing" beside its central staircase. As the sun went down, this zigzag would shift, waffle, and wave. Because the base of the staircase's railing was a giant carved serpent's head, this created the appearance of the serpent slithering down the pyramid, literally descending from the heavens. (You can see the reality of this process on YouTube here; the planetarium shows more of a "mind's-eye" experience of it.) It was a fascinating and welcome take on how architecture can be modeled on mythology and used to create a magical, meaningful experience of it.

As far as special exhibits go, I would highly recommend this one. One of the joys of living in Boston is the way in which our museums go to great lengths to inform and educate us. Particularly in history and culture, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Science have created fantastic opportunities like these. It is very nice to see that tradition continue. Kudos to the Museum of Science for creating not just a fully immersive Mayan environment to explore, but also the excellent Tales of the Maya Skies. Stop in while you still can!

Til next time!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Really Good Deal

This is not the world's biggest secret, but it is good information to know (especially if your back is aching from all of the shoveling that the past three weeks have required): When a parking ban is declared by the mayor in Boston, parking garages throw open their bay doors to residents. And this is the best part -- it is for a reduced rate.

The best accommodation that I have encountered in the past few years is the parking at the Landmark Center in Fenway [Brookline Street]. For a mere $5 a day, you can avoid an extended shovel-out session for each storm. I avoided this past storm for a three day stay at the Landmark, saving almost $100 off the regular rate! All you have to do is show proof of residence. To find restricted streets and reduced-rate parking, head over to the city's page.

Having been on both sides of the dilemma, I would certainly recommend cracking out the wallet rather than the shovel -- especially with this winter's brutal storms.

Til next time!

Monday, February 9, 2015

So. Much. Snow.

At this point, I think it is something like day 17 of Snowmageddon. I am not completely sure; I just know that it has been snowing, and it has been snowing for a long, long time. And at this point, I don't even know what the full local impact is. Buses are delayed, trains are not running, some cars will be unrecoverable until May, and many two lane roads have been halved, causing large (but not uncomfortable) delays due to the typically patient New England turn-taking approach to sharing one lane on a two way road. Har har.

In a few weeks, we will hear from the various news outlets that this surge of storms cost X amount of dollars, Y number of hours of overtime, and Z amount in lost profit for local businesses.

It's that Z that is the most troubling, I think. We all know someone with a tie to a local business, and we have probably all seen the various ups and downs of its ownership. If you are lucky enough to work from home or have a snow day, it might be worth it, then, to boot up, parka up, scarf up -- whatever it takes -- to brave the great outdoors for a block or two. Get a cuppa from a nearby coffee shop. Have a pastry from a close-by bakery. Grab a slice from the local pizza joint. You'll probably enjoy a little bit of fresh air, anyways. It hasn't been easy being so cooped up!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying move mountains; if walking outside in this weather is reasonably safe, comfortable, and seems genuinely pleasant, then go for it! And remember, common sense and directives from the mayor and governor supersede any recommendation that I might make.

If you are stuck inside, then try to make the most of it. Start up that Netflix, enjoy whichever locally-sourced treat you may have picked up, and spend some time resting your feet on the couch (you work hard!). If you're feeling a bit inspired, make some art, read a new book, or call a family member you haven't spoken to in a while. Or, if time has gotten away from you in the post-Christmas season, catch up on some cleaning.

Just because it's Snowmageddon outside doesn't mean it has be a lost day inside.

But don't forget about those things you may have left out. ;)

Til next time!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Good Coffee... at Home!

Heads up to all interested parties: Trader Joe's on Memorial Drive in Cambridge is selling off these amazing three-packs of coffee beans for only $4.99! If you are a person of refined coffee tastes - but not quite a coffee snob - this is perhaps a good use of that five dollar bill you just found crumpled up in your laundry. It sure makes for some nice coffee at a great price, anyways, and why wouldn't you want that in the midst of our third major snow storm in as many weeks?

Til next time!