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Alex: Auckland Museum

September 7, 2011

With most of my compatriots off gallivanting for spring break and me stuck here in Auckland, I was looking for things to do. A friend of mine Ida, the Norwegian girl whom I met on the tramp to Piha, suggested going to the Auckland Museum as it’s free for residents of Auckland. So we went together one afternoon last week.

We met around two o’clock in the afternoon, knowing that the museum closes at five, and figuring three hours would be plenty of time to explore. I think poor Ida didn’t know what exactly what she was getting herself into by inviting the likes of me to a museum. Museums are sort of my thing. I am a historian, after all, so museums fall quite squarely in my wheelhouse.

So we entered the museum and walked immediately into the pacific artifacts section, which occupies most of the first of three floors. I was not aware of just how well my study of pacific art and anthropology had prepared me for the experience of a pacific museum. As it turns out, it prepared me quite well, and because the only thing I love more than learning new things is explaining them to other people, I proceeded to give Ida the nickel tour. I’m sure she got sick of me quite quickly, but she seemed a good sport about indulging me.

So after the large Pacific history section, we entered something…else. I’m not sure how to describe it, and I feel that any title or name for this exhibit would not adequately explain it. It was, ostensibly, an exhibit of the English portion of New Zealand history, and while my Maori professor may cringe to hear me say it, I think it has a valid place. The English may be colonizers, but they did bring their own history to New Zealand. But that is not the weird bit. This exhibit slowly went from being about the English in New Zealand to being what appeared to be simply a dumping ground for old things. There was a collection of antique chairs, for example, and I use the term “collection” loosely. There were six chairs, and two of them looked like ordinary old chairs. The chair exhibit became our running joke for the remainder of the day. Any time we saw a chair, we would point out that it too should be part of the chair exhibit.

The second floor was dedicated to natural history, and seemed largely focused toward children, so we didn’t spend much time there. Ida and I compared large-grazing-animal stories near an exhibit of some sort of yak.

So we moved to the third floor, which held the various war exhibits. One would assume that I, as a military historian, would be excited for war exhibits, but one would not necessarily be correct in that assumption. There is a period of about a hundred and fifty years of military history that holds absolutely no interest for me. That being the period from about the beginning of the 19th century, up through the middle of the 20th. This is the period in which technology is advanced enough to have long-since outstripped skill in importance on the battlefield, but the technology is not yet complex or variable enough to hold my attention. This is the area in which all of New Zealand military history takes place. So we passed through the Boer War exhibit, a war that I as an American always forget about, and moved through the first and second world wars. We spent some time in the holocaust exhibit which was somber at best, and by this time we were both fairly well burned out. But there was one section to go, one section I had been looking forward to all day. There was still the armory.

We walked into the armory, and my eyes lit up like a child’s. My weary feet no longer ached and my slowly growing hunger disappeared entirely, as did my compatriot. She had gone to sit down, but it honestly took me a full minute or two to notice. There was nothing terribly fascinating in the armory, nothing I hadn’t seen before, but it was gorgeous and enthralling nonetheless. That’s not entirely true, there were things I hadn’t seen before, but I didn’t notice them at the time. When I noticed Ida sitting, she rejoined me and I made my lap of the exhibit as fast as my fluttering heart would allow. But as I was lingering on the sword wall, Ida made the mistake of asking which was my favorite. Before I could stop myself, what should have been a simple answer became a five minute lecture on the various uses and merits of each. Let me tell you, the best way to impress a girl is to lecture her about things she clearly has no interest in.

So we headed off out of the museum, and back toward our respective apartments. We discussed sports, running, and our Chucks. We parted amicably. But this was not the end of my museum adventure.

I returned to the museum the next morning. I skipped straight to the armory, where I lingered and took pictures for a solid hour at least. There were percussion cap revolver rifles that I had never seen before, a spring-loaded polearm which was new to me, and a few machine guns that had been made in New Zealand. None of this I had noticed before.

That was my museum adventure. An adventure in two parts. I didn’t learn much about history, but I learned quite a bit about how to visit museums with others without boring them to tears.

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