Jul. 9th, 2012 01:23 pm
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I went to Washington, DC, over the weekend with a bunch of people. Despite an ill-advised half hour of getting lost in the 105-degree weather, it was a fun trip. The ostensible reason was to see the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian. We all agreed that it was too small of an exhibit, and lacked depth and analysis, but was a good first foray of video games into an art museum.

As part of the exhibit, they had a few games set up on projection screens that you could try out. These included Pac-Man, Myst (which is USELESS in a five-minute demo), Secret of Monkey Island, Flower--and Super Mario Brothers, for the NES.

There was unsurprisingly a long line for Mario. Since I finished going through the exhibit before the others, I decided to wait in the line, cause why not. Waiting for my turn at the controller was my childhood.
- I remember what every single block is in the first few worlds. I know where all the secret portals are, where you can jump on the top of the screen, where the fire flowers are, where the invincibility star is... Everything. I have to add a caveat to this--we never owned an NES. The only time I ever got to play on one was at the family gatherings every summer. One of my cousins had one, and we'd take turns (the ten of us) playing. Which means I can't have spent more than an hour or two ever actually playing the game, and the last time I played it was 1990. And still. Every question-mark block.

- Almost everyone in the line was a kid, ranging from maybe seven to eleven or twelve. None of these people existed when this game was a thing. Though I'm sure they know Mario from modern Nintendo products (I heard one kid running after his mother in the exhibit yelling, "Where's my DS? I need my DSSSSS!!!!"), they wouldn't have nostalgia for it. Which shows that, even in a world of games with way more sophisticated graphics, Super Mario Bros. is still a damn good game. Good enough to draw the longest line.

- As I was watching the kids play, I was shocked. Cause they ran right past everything! They didn't hit any blocks, or kill any enemies! They seemed intent on getting through each level with as few points as possible. I've never seen someone play Mario without at least attempting to find a mushroom. But then I realized--this is part of why it's such a good game. These kids don't know anything about it; they don't know how they're "supposed" to play it. So they're running through the levels. But if they had more time on it, they'd explore the levels, find all the little hidden things and warp zones and coin caches. I also realized I'd always played it in a crowd of children, so of course we were obsessed with points. It was competitive--who could get the highest score (and set off the fireworks at the end). And you'd be watching other people hit the secret blocks--not to mention having my brother yelling at me to go down that pipe, what are you doing. (Mostly, actually, he'd yell, "DIE! DIE! DIE!" since house rules were your turn was over when your Mario bit it.)

In any case, I'm now very nostalgic about childhood video games, though I never spent a substantial time on them. When my grandmother got my brother an SNES (against parents' orders), I spent much more time watching than ever playing. Cause it was his machine, technically, and we only had one TV. So I think my entire experience with video games can be summed up by trying to get a turn at the controller.


Aug. 12th, 2011 07:33 pm
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Went to the Pompeii exhibit at Times Square this afternoon. Unlike the Harry Potter exhibit, which is currently in the same space, the Pompeii exhibit is not filled with screaming teenyboppers. The exhibit is in three sections--the first is a lot of frescoes and statuary and a few everyday objects, like weights and measures and fish hooks. There was an amusing little alcove with a big THIS AREA CONTAINS ADULT CONTENT sign that had a fresco of a pygmy threesome on a papyrus boat in the Nile and some oil lamps with naughty carvings on type--one with a running phallus (the sign? "This was probably meant as a joke." Really???).

Then they take you through a rather hokey short film recreation of the eruption, accurate as far as my knowledge goes, with rumbling bass and flashing lights and fans. (You could hear this, looping over and over every five minutes, throughout the exhibit.) From there you go into the centerpiece of the exhibit: a room filled with reproductions of the plaster casts made of the victims. Some with startling detail of face and clothing. It was very moving to see these figures, especially since many were clearly covering their mouths with their clothes to try to keep from suffocating. Perhaps the most moving is of a dog that was left chained up and climbed up the mounting levels of ash until its chain prevented it from climbing higher. Many many dogs have died in the last 2000 years, but the contortions of this one are still heartwrenching.

Then you go into another space where they have a lot more everyday objects from Pompeii--carbonized food (including a loaf with the name of the baker and his status as a freedman printed in the bottom), kitchen goods, jewelry, etc.

This exhibit was not worth the $35 ($26 for the nominal ticket, then $9 in amorphous "fees"). The divisions between the spaces in the exhibit are in some places, I'm not kidding, a hanging sheet. The cheapness of the surroundings make the real stuff look fake, and a lot of it is reproduction anyway. If you're a classics buff, it might be worth it, but I didn't get a whole lot out of it. If I want to connect with Pompeii, I have to go there. A few artifacts in warehouse space don't really do it for me.

(I did correct someone, though, that I overheard speculating that Pompeii was named for the general Pompey. I just can't help myself sometimes.)
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On Friday I went to the Tenement Museum, on the Lower East Side. As suspected, it is not air conditioned, but they do lend you little fans that say, "I am a fan of the Tenement Museum."

The museum is a tenement building built in 1874 and shut down in the 1930s. The museum acquired the building in the eighties (the apartments had been empty for fifty years, but the shops on the first floor stayed open, which is I guess why the owner could keep the rest of the building). They restored the apartments to represent different time periods. You can only go into the museum on a tour. Each tour is about an hour, and you have to book in advance since they can't take many people and they sell out. On each tour, you hear about specific families that lived there. The museum has done a lot of research through public records and contacting descendants of tenants to be as accurate as possible.

The Tenement Museum is also very interested in the immigrant experience up to the present, and offers ESL classes (though the LES is no longer an immigrant mecca--too expensive). They also encourage people on the tour to talk about their own or their families' experiences.

My impressions )

For New Yorkers/visitors to New York, I would definitely recommend the Tenement Museum, as a way to get a tangible look into the lives of working class immigrants. It's all too easy to only get an impression of New York's past by looking at the houses of families like the Roosevelts or Morgans. This gives a window into what life was like for everybody else.

Also, in one of the apartments, they had a recording of a woman who had grown up in that apartment in the Great Depression, and they recreated it exactly as she recalled. She even donated some of her mother's belongings to the museum. You could really see what life was like in the space. She also recalled it with a great deal of affection, despite how hard life then was, which left the tour on a very hopeful note.


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