Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bowled over at the Museum of the Bible

On Saturday I went down to DC to visit the just opened $500 million Museum of the Bible, privately owned by Hobby Lobby's owner, Steve Green, who had been in the news over incorrectly acquiring ancient artifacts.
But putting all this aside, because I had little interest in controversy today, I lined up, chatting with others in the queue; the family in front of me had come here from Florida and exuded a contagious aura of excitement.
 The building itself is impressive, brick and glass with 2 huge brass tablets, replicas of the Gutenberg Gates, which at first I thought were part of the wall, but then discovered they were the actual doors. Weighing over 12 tons, the words of Genesis are embossed in huge letters. The staff were all incredibly friendly and quickly ushered us through on our timed tickets to the foyer, where our exploration would begin.
I had about 30 minutes before I would embark on the Washington Revelations tour, so popped into an exhibition on the song, Amazing Grace, written by Englishman John Newton, and which is possibly performed about 10 million times a year.
 We learned of John Newton's tough life as a youth and also how he wrote hymns for his sermons after becoming ordained in later years. There's likely very few people that are unfamiliar with this song, so it was interesting to hear of its creation and creator.
Next door was another exhibition, this time of Gib Singleton's bronze sculptures, depicting 'Stations of the Cross'.
 Some were beautifully harrowing, their rough carving somehow lending additional emotion to the pieces. The room was very quiet with few of us inside, so we were able to get up close and personal to inspect the art.
I had to leave suddenly as I realized my time for the Washington Revelations tour had arrived. I dashed up the stairs where, along with about 25 other people, we were led into a dark room with a screen and an upright 'Flyboard' before each of us that we had to lean into and hold. The room darkened, our boards began vibrating and tilting, and we were off. I have no photos to show of this trip, I was enjoying the experience way too much to even think about taking pictures. We were taken on a flying tour of DC, skimming over rooftops and trees, suddenly diving down to speed along streets, twisting to squeeze between narrow columns and turning on our sides to swoop inside doorways. We visited many buildings and monuments, all of which I'd visited before, but not from this perspective. We were shown how they all had Biblical references and where we could find them, but I don't remember hardly any of the inscriptions, I had been concentrating on my flight, loving the aerial sensation, with the wind blowing against us and even water spray from a storm. I think the tour was about 15 minutes, but it finished way too soon, I wanted to repeat it a second, third and fourth time, it was the best 4D trip I'd been on. I found a video about the ride's creation, but no images.
 Feeling exuberant and light on my feet after my ride I wandered into the next doorway I came across and found myself in the Joshua Machine, a room where people could go into a booth and make a short recording on how the Bible has impacted them. Or you could create written messages on a huge table top touch screen, selecting background images and text for your own personal message which would then display on another screen. There was a soothing atmosphere in the room, a calmness which was nice to just experience, even without taking part in the recordings.
 As well as personal impact being explored, there were many references and displays on how the Bible had impacted fashion, books, paintings, songs, literature, architecture, science and even movies. A small theater was set up, showing short clips of movies including Ghostbuters, in which Dan Akroyd quoted Revelations 7:12, and "as it is in Heaven', being quoted in X Men United.
Beautiful clothing was on display and there was a wall with a t-shirt image on it. You stood in front of the wall so the shirt lined up with your body then chose the design you wanted to wear by pushing a button on the wall. I was unable to photograph that successfully, but didn't mind, the experiences in this museum were so different and interesting.
I sat at this table, which was a huge screen, on which a meal was being served and bowls passed around. Voices of the family could be heard, and I sat and listened to the discussions and prayers while watching the arms and plates move in front of me. This display was called 'Breaking Bread'.
A large beautiful painting caught my attention as I wandered around, and I found myself standing for quite some time, admiring the skill of the artist who had captured the steam from the horse's nostrils and the amazing lighting of a cold dawn, during which George Washington had stopped to pray for his country. The story of the scene is here, and it said on the wall next to the painting that the artist sketched the setting by the Schuylkill River and experienced the same winter's cold as seen in his painting.
A model of the Gutenberg press had been set up on the floor, a man in an apron creating prints for people to take home. Because of this press, the Bible, which had only only been accessible to those who could afford them, was now less expensive to print and reached a much wider audience.
This painting beckoned me from across the room, it's ghostly staring figures intriguing me. Attributed to Henry Sanderson, there is little information about it on the internet, but it's a representation of the many baptisms that took place during the Second Great Awakening, a movement from the late 1700's to the early 1800's when Baptist and Methodist membership dramatically increased.
There were many stunning works of art in this museum, so that I was constantly tracking back and forth across the rooms whenever a vibrant color or a facial expression caught my eye. I'm sure that, because of this, I may have missed some exhibits or even possibly whole corners of rooms, as I was constantly being drawn from one section to another, as if on a treasure trail. Many of the walls were adorned with these huge tapestry style banners which told a story of the exhibit they were in, the wording thrown down by ceiling projectors. I stepped up to inspect one closely and was amazed to see that they weren't printed graphics on cardboard as I'd assumed, but were made of a heavy material on which the scenes had been stitched. An impressive detail and I wondered how many other visitors had picked up on this or had merely assumed they were reading digitally created murals as I originally had.
I quickly stopped to capture this scene, old books displayed with the reflections of the wall artwork surrounding them, and a mother listening to her daughter reading from one of the ancient publications.
 There was an exhibit which I'd been keen to visit, a large area laid out as a first century Jewish village, The World of Jesus of Nazareth. It reminded me of the themed casinos at Vegas but it still drew me in, curious to find out what would be around a 'stone' corner with the huge tree overhanging. The floor had been laid to look like paved stone, with stone walls lining the main walkway, small rooms set up into which you could wander.
 A table was covered with foods from that time, staff dressed in period costumes explaining the way of life. A small gathering room held 2 gentlemen who explained about the scrolls on a table and how they were written and how The Word was conveyed. A couple of craftsmen stood in a corner showing how the tools of the time were made and used. Baskets of olives were stacked by walls with mounds collected on the ground under the trees, vistas of the surrounding countryside behind them.
I was impressed at how carefully planned this exhibition was, especially it seemed, for photographers. This little scene had been set up so that it was easy to take a photo that appeared as though it had been taken directly from a viewpoint of a setting sun over the Sea of Galilee, rather than a painting on a wall with artificial rocks in front.
This huge room was filled with specialized Bibles, illuminated manuscripts, Dead Sea Scrolls and other scriptures, gospels and even tiny personal Bibles. This collection was so vast and jaw dropping that I was overwhelmed at being surrounded by so many incredible artifacts in one place, wondering how long it had taken to accumulate this collection, and whether it was actually all authentic.
While studying for my graphic design degree, there had been two elements of historical art that had left a deep impression on me, the creations of William Morris, and also, illuminated manuscripts, which were surrounding me here. To be able to get up so close to these manuscripts and inspect the artwork from hundreds of years ago was incredible. Unlike in an art gallery where you're watched very closely by security guards, here it was a much more personal experience. With the soft lighting and also because of the timed entries to the museum preventing overcrowding, I was able to lean in and study the books at leisure, with no inhibitions other than the pane of glass between us. And I realized that throughout the whole museum, it had been the same. The museum wanted the journey from room to room, from floor to floor, to be one of involvement and intimacy. There were even desks here set up so that visitors could use colored pens and have a go at tracing a manuscript themselves, copying the calligraphy lettering.
A small Gospel Book form the Byzantine Empire, written in Greek. The text was from the 11th century but the pictures were added to blank pages later in the 14th century.
I loved this sketch from the pages of an old German Bible. Everything on display here at the museum was laid out so photos could be taken.
My last stop was at the top of the museum, where there were no exhibits as yet but people could take in the views over the city. I pushed open a door to a large room called The Gathering Room, surprised to find that I was the only person in there. Enormous chandeliers hung sparkling along the ceiling with welcome messages on large screens at each end of the room. I wandered around the empty circular tables ringed with chairs and took a photo directly below one of the huge lights before leaving. Leaving the museum left me with a profound impression of amazement. From top to bottom, the whole experience had been a polished and informative journey. Each room had obviously been designed thoughtfully and tastefully, with the decor in some of the rooms as impressive as the treasures they held. There is still space on the upper floors promising new future exhibits so I shall definitely be returning. I had spent 4 hours in here with no sense of the time that had passed. I hadn't initially been looking forward to visiting this museum, thinking it would be a tedious and solemn day spent trudging through the floors glancing at religious tomes and rushing through monotonous exhibits , but instead it had been engaging and informative, vibrant and alluring, a museum for all walks of life to come and understand the Bible with no overbearing messages or invitations to believe in God. I'm looking forward to my next visit and especially to another flight over DC's monuments.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kota Kat Still Reigns Supreme

Seven weeks ago, my world slammed to a halt, when sitting next to Kota Kat Supreme on the sofa, I noticed a small brown lump on his nose.
Thinking the worst, because he is a fair skinned cat who has spent a good deal of time sunning himself outside, along with regular patrols around the grounds, I made an appointment for the next day. He had also started sneezing explosively. The vet agreed it looked suspicious and so the next step would be to see a specialist, meaning a trip to Leesburg, an hour away. For all of these doctor appointments, I've had to dose Kota with a sedative. Although the most loving and attentive of companions at home, he has a very pronounced Jekyll and Hyde personality, the worst side displayed in full glory at the vets, regardless of how minor the trip may be. The staff started off entering the exam room armed with huge leather gloves and towels, greeted by ear splitting howls and hisses, until they realized that he was really all mouth and no trousers, and very rarely showed his manicured claws, (a task I undertake at home, an experience accompanied with many lamentations, but with rewards of kisses, cuddles and treats, it's immediately forgotten on release). Soon the doctors learned that Kota really wasn't the formidable beast he liked them to think he was, and they also learned that taking his temperature the old fashioned way was part of the exam that should be left to the very end, (excuse the pun), if attempted at all.
The appointment at Leesburg was traumatic. We went to have a consultation and an MRI, which would reveal results that I didn't want to hear. After chatting to the doctor, Kota had 3 X-rays. These would reveal if the cancer had spread to his abdomen, meaning an MRI would be needless if  the cancer was present. He came back into the room with Kota and informed me that my bestest buddy had advanced heart disease, so the MRI couldn't be done; the general anesthesia needed would almost certainly be fatal. He went on to explain that for Kota's cancer to be eliminated would mean a 10-15 day episode of daily chemotherapy, each visit requiring a GA, and this would possible give him a maximum life extension of 10-12 months. My world bottomed out and I could barely take it all in. But after some careful thinking, it seemed best to let nature take its course and let Kota spend his last days in peace at home without any further pain and trauma caused by numerous vet visits, which really wouldn't give him much additional time.
The next few weeks were dreadful and harrowing. I spent much of the time crying and struggling to accept that Kota wouldn't be around much longer. He had stopped many of his usual routines, spending most of his time on his bed in front of the heater and sleeping. He no longer slept on his pillow on my bed, meaning I now had to leave him in the living room each night and then tentatively enter the next morning, my stomach in knots, wondering how he was. He no longer sat on the bathroom window ledge, washing himself while I was in the shower. He no longer sat by the bathroom sink, rinsing his mouth while I brushed my teeth. He no longer sat next to me while I ate, begging for tit-bits, with his eyes crossing as he stared at every forkful traveling to my mouth, his head sometimes tilting completely over to one side, an action he knew I adored and which would result in an immediate mouthful of something tasty. We'd no longer go for hikes around the meadows, he could only walk a few steps and then lay down, his distended abdomen causing discomfort as it filled with fluid.
The one health issue that wasn't too much of a problem during this period was his nose. The cancer initially seemed to cause him some pain, he would avoid touching it to anything, and so all meals were served off a 'table', made from a pile of books with a layer of wrapping paper for a tablecloth. This was evidently much appreciated as he could now sit at his table and just lean over to grab mouthfuls, with me standing by to shove any food that he'd inadvertently nudged to the furthest away part of the dish, back to within easy reach. The brown scab on his nose was after a few days knocked off, presumably by a paw, but this seemed to be a relief. I dabbed some prescription steroid cream on it and it grew back again, but this time with no ill effects. A week later, this one too disappeared and a third scab started to grow, although much more slowly and with a smaller one to the side of it. But again, his nose gave him no problem at all, and his sneezing fits had stopped.
I took him twice to have his belly drained, each time having to sedate him before we went, and he also had a sedative shot upon arrival, since a GA was out of the question. The fluid was causing a lot of discomfort and this was visible on Kota's face. I had been getting to work very early, usually by 5:30am, so I could leave work early, and then complete any rush jobs from home. I'd be home by 2 and would promptly open the doors so Kota could be outside. He loved to sit on his pillow placed on a chair, eyes closed, and just sniff the breezes, his nose jutting upwards, so every aroma was captured. I would sit next to him as he hated it if I left him alone and went indoors. We would still take daily hikes, but now with me carrying him, so he was perched over my shoulder purring like a tractor, as we made our way across the fields, down to the pond, through the woods, often ending up at his favorite steps where we would sit a while, sometimes watching the dusk fall and the stars begin to twinkle. I would stretch out on my stomach so he could lay on my back, his paws resting on my shoulders. When his little body was swollen it was nearly impossible for him to roll outside, something him and Rosie Lee loved to do as soon as they went outside. He was also unable to wash himself properly so I would help him daily with a soft face cloth soaked in warm water and then gently rub him down with a micro fleece towel afterwards. He purred throughout the routine.
Throughout this ordeal little Rosie Lee's gentle character has shined. She has rarely shown jealousy at Kota's extra attention, instead, sits by him or washes him and waits patiently with a big greeting when we return from our daily hike. They have both been receiving the tastiest of meals. I've been buying the more expensive brands and trying to find those lower in sodium. Treats have become more frequent, especially the little individual foil packs with a morsel of salmon, tuna or chicken inside. Rosie Lee doesn't enjoy any human foods so she always has the cat treats whereas Kota has had mouthfuls of peanut butter, cheese, liverwurst or ham, often with his meds hidden inside.
And so the weeks passed, each morning with me thinking Kota would be leaving me in a couple of days. But he was not giving up, his appetite never waned and he would purr whenever I got close. It broke my heart to see him struggling to get about, just taking a few steps and then having to lay down and rest. The fluid build up was really debilitating. Once he had been drained, the next 3 or 4 days would be wonderful, he would walk more, and even trot a bit in his excitement. He would want to sit on my lap and even jump up on to the bathroom counter. I decided we'd have to fight some more for this little chap, and so made an appointment with a cardiac specialist in Leesburg. Kota wouldn't be able to have surgery, we knew that, but surely something could be done to improve his remaining days.
We were greeted warmly at reception and Kota promptly began his caterwauling. I had refrained from giving him a sedative on this visit since he would only be having an exam and an ultrasound, no nasty needles this time. He took full advantage of this fact and let everyone in the building know he was present. The doctor needed to listen to his heart but was unable to hear anything with his yowling, so carried Kota to the window. The racket stopped as Kota took an immediate interest in outside and I was informed that his heart rate was extremely low. The ultrasound results were also bad,his heart was very enlarged with a fatty build up, a genetic fault, not dietary; the doctor actually said Kota looked exceptionally good for his age and despite his poor health. So we were given bottles of pills with more prescriptions to be filled in a couple of days. He did get a dreaded shot of medicine at the end of the consultation, but at least his temperature wasn't taken. We set off for home, having been told that Kota's life expectancy was 5-6 months at best. But hopefully, they will now be weeks without pain and discomfort.
The past few days have shown a marked improvement in Kota's condition. The fluid has been slowly draining from his body thanks to the Lasix, and even though we've stopped the Prednisone, his appetite or attitude haven't diminished. His nose scab has dropped off again, but still his nose isn't giving him any issues. Because of the cold weather that has suddenly arrived, our time outside has diminished, but he looks more peaceful when sleeping, and he's back on my lap whenever I'm on the sofa. His face has lost the harrowed, worn out look and he acts happier. So for now our little world has regained some normality, Kota's doctors have given him back his life for a little while longer, albeit a slower version, but at least one without so much discomfort. This little guy has made a massive impression on my life and deserves the best care available, he's family. I'm elated to see those blue eyes looking up at me without any pain, I couldn't ask for anything more, our mission has been accomplished, and this little boy with a huge personality will shine for a while longer yet.