"Shiver me timbers! It's like a High Museum for the fishies. Aaarrghh!"
Those were the words that nobody used to describe Atlanta's newest and possibly greatest cultural attraction, the $200 million, 8-million gallon, 1,600-parking space Georgia Aquarium.
The place where nobody said those words was last Saturday's media day, a chance for esteemed members of the local, national and international press and me to check out the aquarium before the general public soils it.
My verdict: All of the hype is true. The Georgia Aquarium is impressive. Though I remain skeptical of the necessity and long-term viability of a giant celebration of sea life in the middle of a landlocked city with no sea or river culture to speak of (does tubing in Helen count?), it's nevertheless difficult to be anything but joyful and awed when you're petting a stingray or standing eye-to-eye with a Beluga whale. And I don't even like caviar!
Also pretty effing amazing is the 23-by-61-foot viewing window in the Ocean Voyager gallery. Through it, you can see schools of bright yellow trevally jacks, enormous grouper, a guitarfish and the aquarium's two whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest fish species in the world. Unless you frequently scuba dive off the coast of Taiwan, chances are this is the only place you'll ever see one.
Other attractions include the aquarium gift shop, stocked to the ceiling with stuffed Deepo dolls. Deepo is the aquarium's Home Depot-orange fish mascot.
After a short cocktail reception, everyone was corralled (in a dolphin-safe manner, of course) into the Oceans Ballroom at 1 p.m. for a presentation by Home Depot co-founder and aquarium benefactor Bernie Marcus. Marcus told us that the aquarium was a great big thank you to the city and to the customers of Home Depot who made him a successful businessman. I would have settled for a Home Depot gift card, but an aquarium's cool, too.
Marcus was joined on stage by corporate and civic dignitaries without whom, Marcus said, the aquarium would not have been possible. Introducing the mayor, Marcus thanked her for speeding up the city's notoriously slow permitting process. Introducing the CEO of Coca-Cola, he thanked him for the millions of gallons of Dasani that fill the aquarium's tanks. Actually, he thanked him for the land that the aquarium sits on. It's Coke's.
When Marcus thanked the head of AirTran for his company's financial contribution to the aquarium, he pointed out that AirTran didn't really contribute the money for the sake of education or to help the community. Instead, Marcus said, in a weird burst of candor, AirTran did it for the purpose of advertising and marketing the airline. The man sitting next to me wondered aloud whether Marcus actually meant that sentence in reverse order.
From there, we headed downstairs, past the shiny busts of Bernie Marcus and his wife Billi, for a photo-op ribbon cutting, after which lunch was served. I had the salmon. It tasted fresh.
Why no Discotheque?: In accordance with my legal obligations as a semi-hip but mainstream thirtysomething white guy with some disposable income, I attended U2's sold-out concert at Philips Arena on Friday night.
I purchased my tickets via U2's fan club. Membership benefits include pre-sale tickets, exclusive CDs and a "firstname.lastname@example.org" e-mail address that, if you actually use it, announces to the entire world what a dork you are. Though the seats (Sec 306) would have sucked for just about any other show, for U2 they were perfect. It's far back and high up where you can best enjoy the stunning light show. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
One of U2's gifts is its ability to wrap serious political and spiritual themes inside delicious pop hooks that make them easier to swallow. Who else but U2 could get a Red State audience to cheer to, much less sing along to, a lectury song like "Bullet the Blue Sky," complete with Bono miming Abu Ghraib prisoner poses? I suspect that part of U2's success at selling progressive political lyrics to conservative audiences is that quite often, people don't listen to all the words. That would explain all the couples who cuddled during "With or Without You."
Musically, the highlight for me was "Miss Sarajevo," a song the group originally recorded with Brian Eno and Luciano Pavarotti under the name Passengers. It's U2's most poetic and moving political song and Bono sang it beautifully, even the operatic high note that Pavarotti sang on the record.
What else?: Yes, other stuff happened last week. On Thursday around 6:30 p.m., those of you who were unlucky enough to be driving south on Peachtree had your commute delayed by a parade of the World Famous Radio City Rockettes marching into the Fox Theatre. The parade was the symbolic beginning of the Rockettes' two-week stand at the Fox, where they'll perform the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The Rockettes were accompanied in the parade by a dancing Santa and members of the United States Marine Corps, there to protect the Rockettes from violent Islamic extremist dance troupes, and as part of Toys for Tots.
On Saturday, I stopped by southwest Atlanta's B-Complex for the Just B art show. The show included great music by DJ John Otte (as a Brian Eno obsessive, I must give John a shout-out for playing a track from one of my favorite CDs, Eno and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts), a performance of "I Saw Spalding Gray" by Jessica Marshall, fire-dancing (B-Complex always has fire-dancing; it beats brie), and some amazing pencil sketches by Heidi Rolla. All in all, a fine week.
For more about Andisheh's weekend outings, visit Scene & Herd at andy2000.org.
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