The Saturday before Memorial Day, my parents and I journeyed to New York City. Instead of buying a smurf figurine at F A O Schwartz or gawking at the ferris wheel inside the Toys R Us on Times Square like I did during the last bus trip back in November 2008, I held a human brain.
You read me. There was a human brain. In my hand.
Granted, it had went through a process called polymer preservation, so it wasn't gooey and would not have satisfied a zombie's hunger - but it was real.
As were the rest of the over 200 human bodies and specimens that were displayed in Bodies...The Exhibition at the South Street Seaport. I didn't quite know what to expect when mom told me she'd found half-price tickets and wanted to go. She's a medical transcriptionist, so she gets paid to type about parts of the body I don't even know exist. My first non-Crayola colored pencils were thanks to an anatomy class she took when I was young. I've been meaning to study the human form in more depth to improve my drawing skills, so this was a rather intriguing introduction.
Not only was the exhibition filled with bones and organs encased in glass cases, there were complete bodies positioned with nothing but air in between them and my curious eyes. A few were posed in athletic positions such as shooting a basketball or sprinting to illustrate the many muscles that are used. Others were spliced in parts like the photo above (borrowed from their website; no photography was allowed), all accompanying thorough explanations of how the internal systems work. One body was even cut into thin cross-sections and spread apart several feet long, to show what an MRI machine sees. The pieces reminded me of rock geodes. I now have a bit more of an appreciation for the doctor that read the CT scan of my neck back in March, but am still not thrilled about the bill.
Another cadaver was an overweight woman, quartered to show how fat is stored. I'm not sure if it was because she was female, unlike so many of the other complete bodies, or because she had more skin than many of the others, but she gave me more pause than just strange fascination with the complexity of the human body. The outside of her hand was preserved so well it didn't look so different than mine - I could even see small hairs and the intricate lines weaving through the skin. I couldn't help but wonder about what kind of life she had lived and where her soul is now, if it has any inkling of the captivating educational tool its temporary vessel of tissues and bone has become.
And that thought begged the question, where does the exhibition get all of these bodies? Apparently, that's up for debate. According to a disclaimer posted before the entrance, the exhibit displays remains of Chinese residents received by the Chinese Bureau of Police, but "relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that they do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons." Any information they do know about identities, medical histories and causes of death are kept strictly confidential.
Everything about the exhibition was overwhelming, from the moral controversy to the powerful imagery to learning fun facts like there are about 100,000 miles of blood vessels in an adult’s body. Wow.
I can't say it affected my appetite, though. We came out of the exhibition, headed straight for a Wafels & Dinges truck, and ordered a Liege Wafel of Massive Deliciousness, topped with strawberries, bananas, Belgian chocolate fudge, walnuts and whipped cream. Am I ever thankful for my taste buds and the gustatory cortex of my brain that translates their signals!