Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Lonely Road -- Monterey Aquarium

I have a new series of blog posts that I'm calling "The Lonely Road", basically a "story from the road" that involves only me. I made the visit/trip with no one else, and wanted to discover something on my own. Often, these are the memories I hold dearest, for various reasons. I'm not (completely) sure why, but I tend to work best in solitude, and I hope through these series of posts that maybe some of these reasons will come through. Moreover, we shouldn't be afraid to try something new, and alone. I think people feel more comfortable with others trying something new... I say get over the discomfort. Go, discover something for yourself. You'll learn a great deal about yourself, your independence, your self-reliance. These trips undoubtedly have made me a better, happier person. I hope you will discover the same.


The Monterey Aquarium is an obvious stop on the West Coast. There's Big Sur to the south, San Francisco not very far to the north, and a veritable cornucopia of national parks a few hours east. This aquarium, one of my favorites in America, is reason alone to visit California.

Mom and I were visiting California on our annual trip, but she wanted to go shopping all afternoon. This may have been code for "Stay away from me for a while", which (to be fair) is an entirely understandable position once in a while ... maybe frequently. I saw this as an opportunity to visit the aquarium -- my second time. Maybe it was my mood, my penchant for pondering the big questions in melodramatic and cliched surroundings, or my lack of "alone time" in recent days...but the aquarium really was a revelation.

I found myself losing senses -- the world would be muted at various points, as I saw a fish floating effortlessly in his liquid cage. The comforting light and dark oscillations of the light hitting the waves in the water were mesmerizing. I can't even remember long portions of the visit. I guess I was so deep in thought I missed the "penguin" section and either skipped or blacked out while looking at the sharks.

Part of the magic of this aquarium -- and really, any quality aquarium -- is the ambiance. Have you ever noticed the music in the background? Quiet synthesizers, maybe some celesta, maybe a gamelan. The instruments are quiet -- never dissonant or fortissimo. The soundtrack unmistakably reminds one of water, and the comforting sounds it makes (or that are associated with it). The whish of a small wave reaching shore, a buoy ringing occasionally, the creaking of boats and docks swaying. I'm reminded of all of this when I'm listening to aquarium music. Whoever is responsible for this atmospheric approach -- job well done.

I have talked about my favorite room in the Monterey Aquarium before. Nonetheless, it deserves a reminder. There is a room you walk into in which the music is a little bit louder. Reminds me of the terrific soundtrack from Solaris, by Cliff Martinez. Little melody, just calming. My involuntary reaction was to look upward, only to see a room in which a giant school of fish swims in a circle over you...again and again and again. One wonders if the fish somehow hate this, or are driven to do this in some way. Whatever the case, it is completely hypnotic. I stared at those fish for over a half hour. Sadly, I took very few photos, no video, and any snapshot I took was staggeringly insufficient to capture this scene. It is, without question, the best that any aquarium has to offer anywhere.

And as I quietly moved from room to room, almost afraid to make a sound or to startle a fish, the sounds of quiet strings drowning out any of the nonsensical din, I lost sight of the sea horses, the jellyfish, and the Nemo fan club. All I can remember is this tremendous sense of calm. In a world of cacophony, this is a true reservoir of peace and quiet.