Wonderland in Bloom: Chihuly Sculptures at the New York Botanical Garden

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Two weekends ago, some friends took our family to the New York Botanical Garden to see the Dale Chihuly exhibition.

Chiluly’s name sounds like a portmanteau of a lily and a Chihuahua. The lily part seems appropriate for a man who sculpts flowers. I don’t know how to connect the Chihuahua part though.

Walking among his glass sculptures is like being in an enchanted world, where everything is uncannily close to what you know . . . but not. The giant lemon, chartreuse, and white bloom above, with its crazily twisting spirals and shells, looks simultaneously like an anemone dancing in the ocean currents; an ecosystem of corals, mollusks, and eels; or Medusa’s hair re-interpreted as a topiary or a joyfully vibrant dress-up party hat. In its excess of size and movement, there’s both beauty and a touch of the grotesque. As a flower, it looks just wild and untamed enough to be dangerous – the kind of bloom that might beckon an insect in before devouring it. (And that sentence sounds like Freud trying his hand at a romance novel. I already regret writing it.)

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Among the towering flora, I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland after she had shrunk to the size of a mouse. Even among the more “normal” sized sculptures, I half expected the flowers to insult me, the Mad Hatter to drag me to a tea party, and the Red Queen to stride in bellowing “Off with her head!” Maybe even a baby that turned into a pig.  (Fun fact: The word “portmanteau” was coined by Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, writer of the Alice books, and friend to the real Alice Liddell, who as far as I know did not actually babysit pigs.)

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Although we never encountered the White Rabbit and his pocket watch, we did spend many minutes observing the fuzzy honey bees, boisterous and laden with pollen.

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My kids and I were equally fascinated by super-sized koi fish, mouth agape, cruising for crumbs in the lotus pond. It reminded me of a baby plugged up with one of those see-through pacifiers.

 

My son gave the fish pieces of sandwich bread, which I am sure is not allowed. However, I am also sure someone has been feeding that monster more than just carp food. It looked one growth spurt away from starring in the next Godzilla sequel.

Someone definitely tried to feed it a cell phone. We saw groundskeepers dredging for it among the lotuses.

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Inside the greenhouse, the sculptures and their settings conjured up a paradisical jungle, with luminous white “belugas” (that looked like alien pods straight out of a horror movie), white and indigo flamingos, and perfectly constructed leaves, with the striations and variations in the glass mimicking a real leaf’s vein. Some leaves looked so like their real counterparts that only the informational placards called attention to them.

 

We left the Garden tired, content, and hungry, and our friends took us to SriPraPhai in Woodside, Queens for authentic Thai food. While everything was delicious, what I remember most is the dessert: salty, sweet, and warm sticky rice, served with a fresh cold mango in a swirl of coconut milk. It was the perfect combination of flavors, temperatures, and textures, and a fitting end to a day in Wonderland.

 

Image credit:Koi: http://www.japanshakuhachi.com

 

 

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