In the duty free area of London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 in January, I spied a ‘buy one get one half price’ offer in a bookstore. In addition to a gritty novel about policing in Glasgow in 1973 by Alan Parks, I bought Dan Brown’s ‘Origin’. I guess like most people, well, most people who don’t consider themselves above such wild speculation, I had read his Da Vinci Code many years ago. I admit to being one of the most gullible people in the world and was drawn, hook, line and bloody sinker into his wonderful tale of codes, conspiracies and religion. I remember even making notes somewhere on my laptop for future reference! I never knew how much was from his creative mind, how much was simply regurgitating well-worn conspiracy theories or just ‘fake news’. Did it matter? Not in the slightest, such is the power of a good book, a story well told.
I ploughed my way through ‘Bloody January’, marvelling at the ability of the main character, a policeman, to continue to operate despite drinking copious quantities of alcohol and taking recreational drugs, read Paula Hawkins’ latest on my Kindle and started ‘Origin’. In my view the mark of a good writer is to engage you from the first page; you don’t want to be wondering, having read three chapters of a book, if you are going to enjoy it. ‘Origin’ is essentially a tale about a futurist announcing a breakthrough in establishing not only where we have come from but, maybe more importantly, where we are going. Sounds the basis for a typical Dan Brown novel, doesn’t it? Absolutely! Great, pacey, well-researched read with a little pinch of drama and a huge dose of make-believe.
And why have I mentioned this? Well, a day after finishing it I visited a new museum here in Rio de Janeiro, the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã) which opened a year ago down on the waterfront. On the little leaflet showing the layout of the museum, it headlines “Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going?” Spooky huh!
My generation have seen a step-change in museums and galleries around the world, not only in how they display their treasures but also in their architecture. Take for example Bilbao, a dusty run-down port in Northern Spain!
The Guggenheim in Bilbao was built in 1997 and is a striking, modern museum by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Next to the museum is a large Scotty-type dog; when I say large I’m talking 40 metres tall. I went in 2004 and frankly, apart from an exhibit of large steel plates at odd angles, I remember nothing ……. apart from the amazing building itself ….. and the dog! Dan Brown’s novel starts here.
So now we have buildings meant to house artifacts and exhibits which in themselves become the reason to visit. I remember the MOMA in New York, only for the spiralling ramp that takes you up to the different levels; maybe modern art is not my thing? Here in Rio the actual building that houses this Museu do Amanhã is in itself a striking piece of architecture.
From a distance, from up close, and from inside it continually surprises one with its space, its details, its light.
Inside I’m immediately brought back to Brown’s novel when we are given a smart card with which one can interact with IRIS, a computer-generated information system ……. just as guests to his futurist’s presentation in Bilbao were given.
Most people believe the scientific consensus that we evolved slowly from primates over millions of years. Except maybe the Americans surveyed in a Gallop poll, 42% of whom believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. Maybe they are the ones who voted for the current president? Or the Ultra-Orthodox Jews in north London who want to teach children that the world is only 6000 years old, despite evidence to the fact that the Aboriginal people populated Australia 60,000 years ago.
Even Pope Francis tries to bring Catholic thinking into the C21st: “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with some magic wand. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they could reach their fulfillment. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the idea of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings to evolve.”
One of the rooms in the museum, walled by mirrors, was full of 25cm square columns, covered with photographs of people, of cities, of nature, of agriculture, of religion, of riots, of warfare, of …… well, it went on and one, these closely packed columns about us …….. so much so that it became claustrophobic to be in this room …. and maybe that was the message ….. that the world will become too crowded, is over populated?
Looking ‘up’ the down-ramp
From the first floor level there is a beautiful downwards ramp, with lights, hidden in the underside of the handrail, reflected in the polished surface. Outside, the building’s soaring wings are reflected in shallow pools of water. I am sure they looked wonderful in the architect’s model but in reality, to look wonderful the pools need to be kept clean. An army of chaps spends all day scrubbing their bottoms!
And you know how in every museum, every gallery, every mansion or palace you visit, there’s always a shop you have to go through to get to the exit? Well, it wasn’t until we had left we realised we hadn’t been through the merchandising bit. It was back at the entrance!
I never really think about where I am going, in a futuristic sense. Who knows what’s in store ……. and I have certainly come to accept that having a fulfilling and interesting life relies more on your ability to be flexible to change than your ability to lay down great grandiose plans! And I have no better idea having read Dan Brown’s novel or having visited the Museum of Tomorrow!! Maybe I’ll know …… tomorrow? Providing of course I can get through today!
Of course as you reach middle age and beyond, there is an unspoken desire to believe in something other than nothing! More scribbles for the new year to come.
Richard 24th February 2018 (Written in Rio, posted in the UK)
PS Mind you, if you’re Elon Musk, you might think a trip to Mars in your Telsa Roadster is the way to go?
Musk’s Telstar leaving earth’s orbit in mid-February, on its way to Mars ….. or somewhere, complete with dummy driver!