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Date: 2012-12-10 03:02
Subject: What about science?
Security: Public
Music:Chuck McCann and Billy Barty, "One Little Spark"
(This post delayed in part by internet slower than molasses every January except Boston 1919. At least it's free.)

Today, I think, was bittersweet. There was nothing ambiguous about the morning: after being woken up at inexplicable o'clock by the hotel phone suddenly ringing off the hook (after it had already gotten on our murder-the-bugler list by blinking all night, brightly and redly, with a nonexistent message, finally leading derspatchel to box it in with trade paperbacks in an effort to make the room dark enough for sleep), we slept late and took a taxi to Disney's Animal Kingdom, where we rode Expedition Everest three times in a row. I made a point of taking my camera with me, so I may try to post pictures when we get back and the internet is no longer as slow as simile, but it is both a very good coaster and a beautiful example of storytelling, its queue being the base camp of a fictitious tour company with a Yeti museum on the premises. There are flyers for lectures by the museum curator pasted over with postcards and advertisements (I am sad that Flying Yak Air Transport does not, to the best of my understanding, exist), views of the company offices crowded with a mix of documents and technologies accumulated over decades of tea storage and outfitting climbers, and it fascinates me how seamlessly the museum blends what looked to me like genuine artifacts from Nepal (masks, statues, prayer flags, stamps) with the details of a lost expedition I am quite sure never went up Everest in 1982. Tenzing Norgay is thanked in the acknowledgements on the wall. That might not be a joke. I have no idea. We wandered into the dinosaur section afterward for a badly needed hit of salt and protein and the pair of rides that looked most interesting (Dinosaur and Primeval Whirl, which we're pretty sure was the same design as the spinning teacups we rode in October with rushthatspeaks at the Big E, only with more time travel and cranky scientist motifs. It was part of a deliberately cheesy dino midway. We weren't quite expecting that). There were spoonbills running around pecking up crumbs instead of pigeons.

And then we took the bus to Epcot. This is where I do not want to start ranting or reciting the history of Disney World, because I'm too tired for one and I'm not qualified for the other, but the fact remains that the last time I visited what was then the EPCOT Center, when I was eight years old and fell out of a palm tree onto a deck chair by the hotel pool, the attractions I remembered most vividly were almost all in Future World: Horizons, Journey into Imagination, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Spaceship Earth. I remembered Mexico in the World Showcase, because I was very proud of my ability to order dinner off the menu in Spanish; I demonstrated to the waiter that I could count up to thirty and he listened to me very patiently even when I remembered too late that veinte y diez does not exist, at least not in base ten. Of the boat ride through the country's history, the opening sections with Mayan and Aztec myth and history stuck with me most. I remembered Norway, because of the ride with the three-headed troll. I remembered Japan, because it was the first place I ever had teppanyaki. But I loved the three futures of Horizons; I wanted that Deep Range-like world of kelp farms and seals and children learning the rules of deep-sea diving as naturally as I'd learned to cross a street. I can remember the precise smell of the volcanic diorama in the Universe of Energy, swampy and saurian. (It was the perfect smell for fossil fuels. Later I figured I was being suggestible and it was just the hydraulics, but then Rob informed me the designers put careful thought into the sulfurous smells of a Cretaceous swamp and my eight-year-old, deck-chair-winded self felt justified.) I had vivid memories of Leonardo da Vinci, pentagonal and triangular wheels losing out to the round model in a vaguely Babylonian court, some disastrous attempts at early flight and a spectacular early twentieth century traffic jam in the World of Motion. Spaceship Earth got "Tomorrow's Child" stuck in my head for years (conflated somehow with Pamela F. Service's Tomorrow's Magic, which I must have read shortly afterward) and the burning of the Library of Alexandria scared me. And there is still a stuffed Figment sitting on the end of Rob's bed in Somerville, which tells you how I felt about Journey into Imagination. I almost took him with me on this trip. When my mother was sorting and re-filing boxes of photographs last month, I found one of me standing outside the pavilion with a red-bearded Dreamfinder and a puppet Figment on his arm. I remembered the proto-steampunk, the towering mystery stories and the horror-show organ and Edgar Allan Poe (Figment valiantly holds the covers of a book of monsters closed), the words that look like their connotations or their sounds and Figment in his little yellow sweater at the end, surrounded by possibilities of himself. A dream can be a dream-come-true / With just that spark in me and you.

With the blessed exception of Maelstrom at the Norway pavilion, which preserves its trolls and its oil rig and the one-eyed mask of the "spirit of Norway" which is obviously Odin, none of these attractions exist as I remember them. We started with Spaceship Earth and while this time around it delighted me to notice that the animatronic Greeks are talking about wisdom and there is Pompeiian cursive on the Roman wall (and the burning classical books smell exactly the same), the play-out where the touchscreens on the backs of the seats insisted on presenting us with cartoon face-pasted versions of our futures left us both nonplussed. The re-revamped Journey into Imagination at least had the sense not to throw out the tableau of Figments at the end, but the story has been reconfigured from an earworm ode to creativity in all its manifestations (Water dances where visions begin—science reveals the life within) to an annoyingly familiar opposition in which stuffy professor Eric Idle learns not to take a scientific tack with imagination, but let an animated Figment zip around his laboratory wrecking all his experiments and exhibits until he remembers how to imagine for himself. The Dreamfinder is gone. So is Horizons, and the World of Motion. We didn't go through Universe of Energy, but I am told contemporary actors have been inserted into the prehistoric story. I think we bottomed out with Mexico: the ride remains essentially intact in that all the dioramas and puppets and calaveras are still in place, and with the exception of the odd beach towel and margarita glass they look very little altered to me, but the screens that once narrated el Río de Tiempo now show Donald Duck bouncing around Mexico being kind of a dick while the other two Caballeros try to keep up with him. Maelstrom and its option of watching a short film about Norway did a little to restore our spirits, but I know I was actively upset until we got to dinner. "It's like a science museum where they've taken out the science," I said to Rob. History, future—replaced by weirdly insubstantial attempts at hipness. All I could think was that the previous generation's ideas about the future had become embarrassing to the next, but that is a different thing than horrifically racist or technically incorrect. There is no reason the history should have been taken out of Mexico. There is no reason Journey into Imagination should not still praise and encourage curiosity and speculation about the natural world.

The good part of this story is that after the three-headed troll threw us out of miniature Norway, we kept walking around the World Showcase until we got to the Japanese pavilion and dinner at Teppan Edo is still fantastic. We were walk-ins, we had a table inside ten minutes, and then we had a lot of udon and a lot of table-griddled chicken, steak, and scallops and a lot of Japanese mayonnaise, which I don't remember from when I was eight, but it went (as we have learned from DooWee & Rice) with absolutely everything, zucchini included. The chef had wonderful patter and this time I was old enough to order several glasses of plum wine. We rode Spaceship Earth one last time, completely trolling the introductory stage of the ride where it takes your picture to use in the cartoon future forecast later on, and embarked on a quest to find our way to Downtown Disney and the site of the Adventurers Club. Monorail was involved. So were buses, which was less amusing. I took a picture of mournful Rob with the shrubbery-shrouded remains of the goddess Babylonia behind him and then we wandered up and down the strip with our pound of variously flavored jelly beans until I found somewhere that would sell me hot chocolate (Ghirardelli, which also gave us free peppermint bark) and we went home. On our way to the taxi stand, or at least the theory that a taxi stand had to be somewhere around the parking lot we were making for, we passed a woman telling a story; she was talking as we approached about candles being lit, six . . . seven . . . eight . . . "If she's doing Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins," I started, just as the storyteller boomed in the voice of Ashmedai in the haunted synagogue at the top of the hill, "Now, Hershel, do you know who I am?" I may have punched the air. I got in the line about Queen Esther just before she did. Somehow that also improved my night.

I don't want the Epcot experience I had when I was eight. For starters, I hated the black-light stamp on the back of my hand and spent the entire day trying to scrub it off my skin and off the matte-vinyl hand of Kirsten, the only doll I've ever been given that I really cared about; I carried her everywhere that trip. I also don't need to fall out of any more trees and I liked that none of the dark rides this afternoon scared me. But I would have liked just as much if Spaceship Earth and Journey into Imagination had not been so drastically changed from their original versions, or if at least they had been updated in some way that trusted their audiences would find invention and exploration as exciting as cartoon robots or an upside-down house. We rode Living with the Land (ex-Listen to the Land) between Spaceship Earth and Imagination and the greenhouses in the second half are terrific. I never see cotton growing in the wild. A pumpkin trellis is a very entertaining thing. It doesn't hurt anyone.
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