Last night I attended First Fridays, a monthly event at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. A fusion of science and culture, the evening featured DJ’s, discussions and live bands, not to mention booze and tasty vittles.
First stop, the African Mammal Hall, where we ate dinner in front of the antelope display while listening to The Phatal DJ and DJ Kutmah spin in front of the elephants. Definitely a different experience than the cafeteria meals in the basement I was forced to endure on school trips to the Museum of Natural History in NYC!
Next we headed up to the "Darwin's Evolution" discussion with Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent and the forthcoming Crow Planet. She explored the life of Darwin using little known-letters, diaries and notebooks. Cute and peppy, she clearly has a love for Darwin and his birds...so much so that she told us a story about her husband feeling like there were three people in their marriage: Haupt, her husband and the Father of Evolution.
We had mainly come to First Fridays to see Plants and Animals, the Montreal band that would be playing later in the evening (check out the cool pics below from photographer Sal Rodriguez). The Darwin chat was a bonus. Having no idea what to expect from the event, I didn’t know if Haupt would have an audience. Therefore, it was very cool to walk into the Hall (there were more animals, but I don’t remember from which continent or time period), and see a packed room. Not only were all the seats filled, but people were lounging on the floors, drinking wine, totally digging the Darwin chat.
Couple of things Haupt shared which I found especially interesting:
- Darwin’s notes were full of self-deprecating humor. According to Haupt, “Like Charlotte Bronte making fun of herself.” I’ve heard Darwin compared to many things, but never Ms. Bronte...
- It’s a myth that Darwin was the official naturalist for The Beagle, the ship upon which he sailed to the Galápagos Islands. He was actually invited along as a companion by Captain Robert FitzRoy, who was quite depressed. Being a Captain was lonely business, and the previous captain had shot himself, so FitzRoy thought it best to take along someone to keep him company.
- Darwin was Fitzroy’s fourth choice for the journey (hmmm, I can’t imagine why his first three choices turned him down...2 years on a boat with a melancholy leader...fun!). But according to Haupt, both Darwin and FitzRoy loved Jane Austen, so the Captain couldn’t have been too disappointed.
- The original voyage was supposed to last two years, but lasted almost five. Darwin spent most of his time on land exploring. He actually only spent about 18 months on the boat, which was probably a good thing, given that he suffered from perpetual seasickness.
- Darwin was originally studying to be a clergyman, and started off as a creationist.
We snuck out of the Haupt chat a bit early to head downstairs to find a good spot to hear the band. The sound in the hall was a little muddy, but overall we loved the show. Was great to hear them in such an intimate venue, though petite folk like myself beware: get in early so you can get a spot near the front or else you won’t be able to see anything.
When we emerged back out into the main lobby, the line for the bar snaked all the way around the dinosaur skeleton and people were already waiting to get in for the next band, The Little Ones We ducked into the Gem Hall for a look at the sparkling, shiny crystals and geodes. I’ve always been fascinated by rocks (did I mention I have a sand collection?), so I would have been into the exhibit no matter what, but wandering amidst the gemstones late at night with the sounds of a DJ floating was pretty friggin’ cool. In general, being in a museum at night always gives me a teeny illicit thrill because of reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler a gazillion times as a kid.
We called it a night at about 9:30pm, but clearly, others were just getting started. So often we bemoan the lack of culture in Los Angeles. First Fridays proved that there are unique cool things to do in LA – you just have to be willing to share your evening with a dinosaur or two.