Thursday, December 27, 2012

Te Papa, The Lamb Cam, and Factorial Bells

Dec. 28, 2012

We had a few days just hanging out at the hotel in Wellington, as the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Evan blew through – apparently he followed us south from Auckland.  Temperatures dropped 30 degrees (F) overnight, the wind howled, and the rain went from light to heavy to fog, and back again.  So we took short trips to the supermarket and relaxed indoors.

Today was overcast, but the wind has stopped, the temp has warmed up, and the rain has stopped.  So we took the wharfside walk to Te Papa, the national museum – watching a few sting rays swimming back and forth in the shallow area by the quays.  We suspect they were looking for a nosh, but I was happy to see they didn’t try to eat the sea stars along the way.  Or the giant sea urchin sculpture that acts as a retaining wall.

Richard headed out to Cuba Street to enjoy a little urban time, while I went to Te Papa – and spent two hours on one floor, that’s how interesting the place is!  I was on the level that focuses on changes in the land due to people coming to New Zealand, beginning with the Maori and then the Europeans – imported plants and animals, logging, slash and burn farming, all that.  Plus examples of important rocks (jade and columnar basalt being featured), kauri trees, giant stumps, and of course sheep.  Lots of sheep.  I think my favorite was the sheep cam – a video camera filming sheeps’ points of view.  Really.  There was the “Bossy Dog” sequence, with sheep running in all directions as the dogs try to herd them along.  Then “Lost Lamb” where the mama sheep goes running around baaa-ing, until she finds her little baby lamb sitting placidly waiting for mama.  “Look At Me” featured one sheep who just stared at the camera (which may have been on a real sheep, or a mechanical sheep, or a person in a sheepskin – I’m not sure, the exhibit didn’t explain how the filming was done).  It really was one of the funnier exhibits I’ve ever seen in a museum – and one of the more creative ways of showing the life of a sheep!  I really enjoyed the Lamb Cam, as it was dubbed.

There was also the skeleton of a famous race horse (it was creepy, and I don’t remember the horse’s name, I was so creeped out by it), examples of invasive species (including the innocuous rabbits, and the deer which are now farmed), and amazing Maori fishhooks made out of everything from bone and shell to scrap metal.  All decorative, of course, because Maori implements and devices are works of art, not just functional objects.

I’ll need another day or so at Te Papa, since there are two more levels I haven’t even started.  Plus all the fun interactive exhibits, like a room full of boxes and luggage and the viewer gets to pretend they’re a Customs agent, and search out all the potentially invasive hitchhiking creatures – tarantulas in the bananas or pineapples, moths in clothing, bats in boxes, all kinds of creepy crawlies.

We had lunch at a lovely café by the wharf, with two traditional waka (canoes) at one end, and what I think is a marae (Maori meeting house) at the other end.  We had the traditional fish and chips.  They had a great Maori drawing for children to color, so of course I took one and colored it, then turned it in for their contest.  No idea what one wins.  (And I put my own email address instead of my parent’s, LOL.)

Then a walk back to our hotel, though I stopped off at St. Paul’s church, an old timber church built in 1866.  According to their signage, this is one of the world’s best examples of a timber church – and I have to say, the interior looks something like a ship, with gorgeous wood beams and supports as well as ceiling and walls, and lovely stained glass windows.  It was a very pretty and peaceful church – and then a group of bell ringers began the bell ringing ritual.  There were five people in the bell tower, each with a rope that attached to one of the five different bells – and each bell is a different size, and thus has a different tone.  One of the men explained to me that they do a sequence of pulling the ropes that results in 120 different combinations of bells without repetition – leaving out that some of these were actually permutations, meaning the combination might be the same but different sequencing.  (Remember factorials in math class?  That weird equation that uses an exclamation mark?  So that it looks like you’d say the number with enthusiasm?  That one.  So, five different bells would be 5! = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 = 120 different combinations and permutations.  Cool, huh?  I really like factorials, if only because 5! looks like you’d say FIVE!!!!!  Cracks me up every time.  Okay, math digression over.)  Anyway, it was really interesting to see the five people (all middle-aged or above) ringing the bells, taking turns being the person calling the sequence and the timing, and when to end.  Plus seeing the bells up in the belltower, swinging back and forth, and ringing out in that wonderful clear tone that only bells can produce.  Just a very lovely afternoon.

We’ll see what the evening brings!

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