Sunday, January 1, 2012

Three exhibits at American History

I use a page at the Smithsonian website to keep me informed of when exhibits are closing, and every so often, I'll discover that a show is closing very soon that I haven't seen posted before.  Whether this is because I don't check the page every day and miss postings from time to time, or because the museums decide to close things without much notice, it's always a bit disconcerting to find out that something's leaving in just a few days, and I have to fit in a trip pronto.

This happened recently with three exhibits at the American History Museum, and I set out to see them all in one lunch hour.  This worked because two of the exhibits were fairly small and the other was something I'd seen before.  Not my favorite way to see things, but at least I didn't miss them entirely.  All three of these exhibits are closing on January 8, 2012.

Robots on the Road: Stanley
The vehicle pictured here can navigate for itself, without any human intervention whatsoever.  It isn't remote controlled by a remote person - it's not controlled at all.  It's a Volkswagen Touareg that was modified for participation in the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005.  This contest took place in the desert near Las Vegas.  The purpose was to test the feasibility of automatic driving.  Although we're not quite ready to give the controls over to robots,  I've seen commercials for cars that can parallel park themselves, so perhaps the days of truly "smart" cars are not so far away.

HIV and AIDS Thirty Years Ago

Yet another exhibit at the American History Museum about HIV/AIDS, and again, no reference to the other items on display.  At this point, the other exhibits may well have been taken down, but I'm still shaking my head over the lack of coordination here.  Surely, anyone interested in one of these displays would be interested in all of them?  Why make it so difficult for visitors to find things?

This exhibit highlights the early years of the AIDS crisis, 1981-1987.  There was not only prejudice against gay people during that time; there was also a lack of interest or concern about the fact that so many people were dying.  Of course, that all changed when HIV/AIDS started to make its way into the straight population.  Just as with the other exhibits I've seen lately, it brings at all back: the fear, the horrible treatment of gay people, the religious bigotry.  Things are far from perfect today, but they're so much better than they used to be.

Bon Appetit! Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian

Have no fear; Julia's kitchen is not closing permanently.  It will only be off view temporarily while the west wing of the Museum's first floor is renovated.  It's a tremendously popular exhibit - any time I walk past, there are always people watching the video that plays continuously, peering in to see the kitchen itself, or comparing her cookbook collection with their own.

It's not possible to overstate Julia's influence on 20th century American cooking - if you have your choice of fresh mushrooms at the grocery store - thank her.

I'll be eager to see what the new and improved 1st floor west wing looks like when it reopens in late summer 2012, in time, one hopes for Julia's 100th birthday on August 15th.

Verdict: All of these are well worth seeing before they close next Sunday - you can even do them all at once!

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