Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Scenes from a World's Fair:

The New York World's Fair of 1964 was colossal. Acres of pavilions. Treasures from all over. The Queens Art Museum -- the former New York City pavilion from that Fair and the 1939 Fair before it -- has a plaster cast of Michelangelo's Pietà, as a kind of reminder that Fair director Robert Moses somehow got the Vatican to loan the real thing. There isn't much left.

One such relic is the Unisphere -- the skeleton of a colossal, stainless steel globe, with topographic maps of the continents bolted on, dedicated to "Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe." Around it, suspended by wires, are three hoops, one showing the orbit of the first communications satellite. Those were big news, back then. It's still quite intact, though it looks like it hasn't been cleaned in a while. Walking around it, you get a gut feel for some geographic facts that I haven't gotten much any other way. Like the sheer size of the Pacific Ocean -- nearly a hemisphere of water and not much else. If you look at the Unisphere from that side under slate-grey skies, the thing looks disturbingly hollow.

Nearby, crumbling like the feet of Shelley's Ozymandias, is the wreck of the New York State pavilion. This was once a fanciful structure, with a cheery "tent of tomorrow" in bright advanced plastics covering a map of New York State, and platforms suspended on concrete pillars bearing cafés and an observation deck. It's all fenced off now. The roof of the tent is gone, leaving only the supporting wires; the exhibit space within is bare dirt. There were once two glass elevators traveling up and down the pillars. One can still be seen, suspended in midair between the ground and the now-bare platforms, with nowhere left to go.

One last relic of the '64 Fair is inside the Queens Art Museum itself -- the hangar-sized panorama of the City of New York. Sometimes it is updated, sometimes it isn't. The World Trade Center towers can still be seen. Upstairs, until June 5th, is an exhibit documenting Muslims who have vanished from sight, snapped up in various ways by U.S. authorities. Maher Arar, extraodinarily rendered to torture in Syria. Gerald David, deported to Pakistan on a secret flight out of the country. Michele Swensen, detained on charges of nebulous connections to al-Qaeda which were three times dismissed by American judges -- while his American-born kids vanished into foster care. It's worth seeing, perhaps as a reminder of another kind of faded glory.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic post

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic post indeed since you got the names mixed up. Michele Swensen is the MOTHER of the children. Ashraf Al-Jailani is the man who was held by American courts. If this info is direct from another source, consider their information untenable.

11:08 PM  

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