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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Flamenco dancing corpses

may have been among the cast of characters in Elle's dreams last night. Spicy food and a fever can do that to you.

We spent the day in Tampa yesterday visiting the Bodies exhibit at MOSI and then sat in on the dinner show at the Columbia Restaurant.

The Bodies exhibit was fascinating and surreal, mostly because it was nearly impossible to comprehend that these were actual cadavers. We planned to swap off with Elle if the displays proved too gruesome, but she did fine, disbelieving her sisters' answers when she asked if these were real. It was difficult, for all of us, to get past the feeling that these were just mannequins.

Different rooms focused on different systems. Full bodies were set up in various action poses throughout the rooms. No stanchions or other crowd control was used, so you were able to observe them close-up from any side. Parts were highlighted in cases. One area, just off the section on the reproductive systems -- one section my bashful girls studiously avoided looking at -- required a disclaimer as being particularly controversial. Inside a small collection of fetuses, ranging from 10 days to 16 weeks were on display. I heard a few inane comments like, "It's so sad! To think these babies died!" Yeah, I know, how about the other uncountable lives just outside the door arranged for your viewing pleasure, lady?

We were most impressed with displays detailing the musculature of the hands and feet, which is incredibly complex, and one body, completely stripped of every bit of flesh, bone, and organs, that demonstrated the entire circulatory system. Without any supporting structure, you could make out the entire shape of the person, even the distinctly Asian facial features, just by the complex filigree network of arteries and veins, right down to the tiniest capillaries. The work involved in that last one was unfathomable. In fact, I would have to say that the one shortcoming of the exhibit was its lack of information about the processes used in creating the displays. One brief list of the six or so steps was all the attention given. It would have been interesting to see an accompanying exhibit detailing the preservation techniques used. At the end of the exhibit, after the room that had bodies sliced and diced like MRI images, there was a counter with preserved organs available to handle. Sarabelle and I held a brain and heart in our hands, again, unable to accept that these were indeed actual organs. All body fluids having been extracted and replaced with silicone left the organs feeling strangely hard and rubbery, dense, yet pliable, like a model. I whispered a quiet, "Sorry," to the previous owner of the brain, in case there was anything left of their consciousness in that gray matter, and was thankful for the industrial-sized jug of hand sanitizer on the counter.

The exhibit drew a large crowd. We waited about 30 minutes to purchase tickets and then another 30 before our timed admission came up. Many in attendance were medical students and professionals, the rest curious gawkers like ourselves. The whole thing had a bit of a freak show feel to it. P. T. Barnum would have been proud. We discussed the morality of mutilating dead people. Is it acceptable in the interests of science? Is this display a truly scientific endeavor? We felt sad for those persons on display, that no one had bothered to come forward and claim their bodies after death. Where were their families? Why hadn't they come for them?

After taking a tour of some of Tampa's more colorful neighborhoods, the campus of USF, Jorge's alma mater, the campus of the University of Tampa, Hyde Park, and Davis Islands, we ended up in Ybor City for dinner at the Columbia. I had a marvelous hunk of dolphin grilled in citrus juice, garlic, and onions, with sides of rice, yucca, and plantains, and topped it all off with a slice of dulce de leche cheesecake, while the girls and Jorge stuck with beef and flan, in spite of the artery clogging evidence we had observed earlier. The girls had decided while still at at MOSI that they would be having the ropa vieja, inspired, disgustingly enough, by the similarity of the dish in appearance to one of the displays. Poor Elle, who had been feeling a little ill Friday, spiking a night time fever, had a minor relapse during the dinner show. With her weakly curled in my lap, I was most fortunately unable to join the troupe when they invited me up on stage for dance lessons. Ole!

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