The Pantheon of Animals

Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:

6a00d83453bcda69e2019aff999cad970d-350wiI’m waiting in line, embarrassed to be here by myself. I’ll be turning forty later this month, and here I am at the natural history museum, childless. The ticket lady is going to look at me funny. There is some kid behind me, four years old or so, speaking Swedish to his dad. He is wearing thick, round glasses made of blue plastic, and a colorful backpack with a cartoon image of a Cro Magnon on it. His progenitor is getting a lecture about how birds are, in truth, dinosaurs. The kid is beaming with pride at his own knowledge of this. To my right is a statue, which, as with all statues, I have taken some time to notice. But when I do, I am startled. It is Émmanuel Fremiet’s 1895 masterpiece, Orang-Outang Strangling a Savage of Borneo, a work of horrible violence, and a congealing of sundry, transparent anxieties of the fin-de-siècle European man. The Swedish boy is now on to the difference between mammoths and mastodons.

I’m next in line. I’m at the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy, the ground floor of a three-storey building also housing the Gallery of Paleontology, both of which are part of the vast complex of galleries, greenhouses, and gardens at the Paris Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, in the Jardin des Plantes on the Left Bank of the Seine. “Un billet,” I manage to say. “Plein tarif.” I shouldn’t really be here, I know. But it's the only place I really want to be, in this foreign, difficult city, at this puzzling stage of life. I am not a boy, but it is where I belong: among the many bones, whose collectors hoped to lay bare through them the very order of nature.

More here.