Monday, April 27, 2009


Yesterday TiaS and I visited the Field Museum to see the exhibit Sacred Waters: India’s Great Kumbha Mela Pilgrimage, by Chicago-based photographer Jean-Marc Giboux.

Of course we got sidetracked on the way to the exhibit.

First, I had to see Sue.

She is the largest, most complete, bestest, best-preserved T-Rex dinosaur in the world. She's been at the Field for years, but I had yet to see her.

And she was discovered by a high school dropout named Sue Hendrickson.

"Where is Sue?" I asked the docent.

She pointed to the not-that-impressive but very complete dinosaur skeleton behind me.

I turned around and looked at the thing, which had a large head and was 13 feet high at the hips and 42 feet long.

"THAT'S Sue???" I asked, incredulous. "But she's so small."

I'd seen bigger dinosaurs at O'Hare airport.

But those were giant, plant-eating Brontosauruses that were probably made of plastic.

"That's her," said the docent.

After taking some time to study Sue's teeth and tiny useless arms and discuss the many ways she could kill us ("One swing of her tail could take out most of the people in this room"), TiaS and I began to weave our way through the stuffed mammals - the taxidermy of which makes both of us uneasy.

As we passed lemurs and deer and leopards and monkeys with giant noses that become red and engorged when they get excited ("What crime do you have to commit to come back as one of those?"), we wondered how the animals were killed, and how the taxidermists were able maneuver them into position. Some of them were quite lifelike. My favorite was a feline scratching its chin with a hind leg. The lemurs, by the way, are not as cute as they appear on TV.

* * *

After detouring through ancient Tibetan Buddhas and a house of jade and Taoist icons and some cases of antique Asian jewelry, we made our way to the Kumba Mela exhibit - which was located in the Pacific part of the museum, in the middle of Maori land (I couldn't help but think of Harvey Keitel in "The Piano," while TiaS's thoughts turned to "Whale Rider.")

The photos were beautiful, but not plentiful. Quality over quantity. Some 70 million Hindu pilgrims attend the Kumbha Mela, a mass Hindu pilgrimage that takes place four times every twelve years and rotates among four sacred locations. There are camps for each sect, which march in formation. There is sharing of food, nudity, body markings and - most important - ritual bathing in the sacred river.

We discussed the Godless American version - Burning Man - and how going to either one would be a huge, headache-inducing challenge.

It was agreed that seeing the photos in such a lovely setting would be more than enough right now.


  1. thanks for pointing that out to me on my blog Cara! You are so right...I just wasn't thinking...get SO excited when I read about my home-boy His Holiness! xo

  2. I'll be at the Kumbh Mela on 2/12/2010 which is Mahashivaratri -- can't wait because I'll be coming from Kolkata and Kali Ma's temple....a very auspicious trip....