Thursday, October 6, 2022

One dozen destinations #10: The Exploratorium

     I'm on vacation, which means ... well, you've grasped the point by now. Adjoining San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts, which we visited yesterday, is the Exploratorium, and it makes sense to peek around there next.

     Next door is the Exploratorium, a huge, clangorous hall filled with scientific exhibits, puzzlers and optical illusions, like the classic skewed rooms where the objects on the left seem much smaller than at the right, due to the design of the walls and floor. I stood, arms folded, scowling, the boys enormous, seeming to tower over me, heads scraping the ceiling. 
     No need draw attention to the symbolism here. The children magnified, the parent dwindling. Sometimes I will see some other parent kowtowing to their kids — it’s easier to notice in others — and worry parents nowadays are too accommodating. We need more of the toughness of the past, more Great Santini, less Carole King.* 
     But that passes, and looking at my own flailing attempts, I’d say they got plenty of sternness and plenty of indulgence, hopefully not in too confusing and random a blend. 
     The Exploratorium folks tried to inject a sense of menace to keep the kiddies on their toes—a grand piano, suspended directly overhead by wires. One of the more arresting exhibits was a drinking fountain set into a toilet bowl.
     “The water in this drinking fountain is perfectly clean,” a sign read. “And the toilet has never been used. So why do people often hesitate before taking a drink?” 
     Kent took a drink. So did I. Edie couldn’t, Ross wouldn’t. The sign delivered the lesson, as if it were necessary. 
     “Strong emotional associations with objects or people can make it difficult to act rationally around them.” 
     Ya think?

* A reference to a passage early in the book where I discuss parental style:, concluding: 
I try to respect my boys, but you do your kids no favors by continually buckling before their will.  Sometimes they’re wrong, and need to know it.  There is a song, a sweet lullaby by Carole King called “Child of Mine” that contains the line, “You don’t need direction, you know which way to go,” that always makes me wince: I consider it the nadir of squishy, free-form, over-indulgent bad parenting.  Kids need direction, big time. They don’t know which way to go, and if they aren’t to turn into feral animals you had better show them. Demanding that your children stand up every five hours on road trips is not too great of an imposition on their personal freedom, even if you have to threaten bodily harm to get them to do it.  


  1. Visited the Exploratorium in May of '96, and to be honest, I don't remember a whole lot about the joint, even though my wife and I attended a large private party there, with plenty of food and booze and access to the whole megillah after hours.

    Yeah, the place is pretty cool, but we'd just arrived after a 14-hour ordeal that included weather delays in Detroit and mechanical delays in Houston. As a result, we arrived pretty fried.

    But, hey, it could have been so much worse. Two days later came the ValuJet cargo hold fire and subsequent crash, in the Florida Everglades,

  2. I love the toilet drinking fountain.
    But what are the elephants at the Hermes store holding in their trunks & why were their tusks cut off for the sculpture?

    1. Hmm, looks like seashells, perhaps, and I assume the tusks are cut so they can't impale anybody.

  3. The exploratorium is fantastic. So many interesting things. Our favorite was the echo chair or whatever they call it. You sit in a chair and someone else sits in the same type of chair 50-100 feet away and you talk normally and they can hear you and vice versa. People just walking around can't hear you. And before you ask, there were no electronics involved.

    1. It's called a whispering gallery. According to Wikipedia, a whispering gallery is most simply constructed in the form of a circular wall and allows whispered communication from any part of the internal side of the circumference to any other part. The sound is carried by waves, known as whispering-gallery waves, that travel around the circumference by clinging to the walls, an effect that was discovered in the whispering gallery of St Paul's Cathedral in London (A heads-up: The Museum of Science and Industry has had one since 1938).

    2. Thanks Grizz 65. I had never seen it before--guess I don't remember it from the Museum of Science and Industry. I was truly fascinated by it.


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