here and there

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It Should Happen Down at the Zoo


“Where’s Rick Steves when you need him” asks Bronwyn Eyre, a columnist with the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on her recent trip to Drumheller’s Royal Tyrell Museum and Zoo.   Although she was armed with the “standard issue floor guide”, she found them unsuitable as well as some of the lights in the displays did not work. Then she got “half –lost” looking for the “museum’s rarest exhibit, Lords of land” and found this exhibit most ‘disorientating “ as needed “snappy – readily accessible details” instead of “bill-board –inscribed pensees by Charles Darwin. On through a tunnel past” coiling water”, which she felt needed some explanation and on to a dark room with a “transparent floor ‘to observe “fake sea life”. However, “loud muffed voice-feed” drowned out her voice and “interactive TV monitors” were not helpful.

Similarly at Calgary Zoo, lack of information on the animals, especially their habitat, adjustment to the zoo,” etc” was lacking in her opinion. Although she did see telephone type guides, she found these “notoriously confusing” and they ‘were picked- up by kids, at any rate - only to be promptly hung up again.”   Again, the writer longed for a “Rick Steves-like children’s guides” at the zoo.

As a former Regina resident, I quickly dismissed Bronwyn’s comments as another disgruntled Saskatooner, thinking, “here they go again!” Then I thought “wait a minute, I’m a Calgarian now”, but her article stayed in my mind as I tried to figure out exactly what her point was!

Yes, travel guides have their place while travelling; however I find them more a distraction. It’s not to say I don’t do the research on the culture and life style of a country, a long with health issues, personal security and currency for one’s safety and enjoyment of the country.  Yes, I spend hours familiarising myself with a country before visiting but to be slave to a guidebook takes away from responding to one’s surrounding, the people and the moment! That is the true experience of travel!

Some of my disappointing moments were seeing the Mona Lisa and the Taj Mahal for the first time, not because they were not beautiful but there was a sense of knowing that took away the sense of discovery. Coming upon the beautiful red and white marble Hindu temple in New Delhi was sheer joy and most exciting!

More exciting to me is speaking to locals in any country to discover local eateries, markets, wineries or landmarks.

Furthermore, in the writer’s opinion, Rick Steves guidebooks are so much better written that she found her self reading parts out loud so others with poorly written guidebooks could also benefit from her book.  To illustrate her point, she referred to Steves guidebook on Madonna and Child by Giotto in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, Rick wrote, “the real triumph is Mary” as behind her robe she had a “real live body- her knees and breast are especially prominent.”  By prominent or drawing attention, does this meaning that since Mary’s knees and breast were huge, it is a real live body!!  Two other thoughts come to mind, does one really need a guide book to recognise that a painting or statue is in proportion.  Furthermore, do others really enjoy hearing other’s reading out loud from their guidebook?  Certainly she did not like loud muffled voices in the Museum.  On another point she assumes everyone around her understands English and lacks knowledge!  Art students spend many hours familiarising them self with the art.

But I digress!  After establishing her credibility as a world traveller and user of travel guides especially Rick Steves, she describes her frustration in her visits which should have been such a learning experience.  She suggests that due to this lack of information at the museum and the zoo for her 5 year old son, the highlight of both places was the playroom! 
In reading her article, I wondered how much of her frustration was transferred to her young son and hinder his learning experience.  

She suggests the need for “Rick Steves- like children’s guides” to make it a true learning experience.  However, freedom to play in the play zone without adult input, any travel guidebook or telephone guide information should suggest to this Mom that when her 5 year old was allowed to respond to his surrounding  freely in the play zone, this was a true learning experience for him.  For her 5 year old son, this was not an evaluation of the museum or the zoo shortcoming as she may have seen them, but a true experience of learning through play.  

The Picture is of a 3 year old who is responding in terror to the “real live body” statue without the aid of a Rick Steves guidebooks.
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