My wife and I are from Southern California. I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by a wealth of beauty; from the shoreline of my native Long Beach, to the snow capped San Bernardinos; the rolling hills of Los Angeles, to the quite coves of Cabrillo beach. Even though I now live in Washington State (also stunningly beautiful) I will never get over my love affair with the Golden State.
In late November of 2006, we went to visit the newly remodeled Griffith Park Observatory. The Observatory was built in the 1930s in order to teach Angelinos about the wonders of the heavens. Through its lovely Art Deco interiors exhibits explaining the wonders of science to laymen can be found. Over the decades the building began to succumb to neglect (being free to the public and free from funds) until it was refurbished starting in 2002 through a voter approved bond measure.
The building was spruced up and a vast hall was excavated from underneath the building to showcase more exhibits and a theater named for actor/philanthropist Leonard Nimoy.
Through the storied halls I was mesmerized by the sheer opulence and exuberance of the architecture. I enjoy Art Deco and California is a hotbed of Deco design. From the murals in the main hall (with a Foucault pendulum) to the lightning cages of the 30s—and many new exhibits on the moon’s influence and the progression of the Zodiac across the skies of earth; I was thoroughly enchanted- and I even relearned some things I had forgotten.
The planetarium show itself was one of the most engaging and moving experiences of my life. As a student of Astronomy, I was always disappointed by the lack of stars visible above our city lights. Many a night I would get out of bed to look up—and see nothing but a few measly stars. Only later in life did I actually get to see the glory of the Milky Way spilling out in an infinite arch above my head…and here at the planetarium they captured the magic almost perfectly.
The show also contained a very sophisticated actor driven narration with references to Aristarchus and the fading light of the Library of Alexandria. (I could feel the wind being knocked out of me, tying in the image of Hypatia being flayed of her skin, the Christians torching the fragile papyrus scrolls, and the pillar of smoke rising across the bay to enshroud the city’s mighty lighthouse; diminishing the light of reason for 2000 years.)
From the terraces around the building the entire Los Angeles basin can be seen. On clear days the skyscrapers of Long Beach are visible and the Palos Verdes peninsula, as well as the Hollywood sign shining bright white in the sun.
It is difficult for me to understand people who are of the opinion that Southern California is somehow fake, or devoid of culture or history. Just recently a friend of mine here in Washington said that “it could all fall into the sea” as though the sea were big enough to swallow so much variety, so much vitality.
In this land of beauteous waking dreams, of solid etherealism; of sublime dissonance and pious artifice—true life is lived. I was lucky to be born there.
I have been also been lucky enough to see two separate chunks of the lovely gray lady holding court around the earth. I would assume that of the seven Billion humans on the planet only a tiny fraction has had the opportunity to see a lunar rock first hand…I have seen two.
The sample at Griffith Park was returned by Apollo 14, from the Fra Mauro highlands in the Sea of Rains.
The second moon rock I have seen is from the Seattle Museum of Flight. It was returned by Apollo 12, from the Ocean of Storms, near the Surveyor site.
How amazing is that!?
Albert Einstein and me sitting on a bench…my wife says that that is his “ectoplasmic” spirit orbiting my head…