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D-Ray and I went to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where I took way too many pictures and learned a whole bunch about whaling and also stumped the museum employees.

ME: Do you have any sword mats?
ME: Sword mat? Named for the wooden, vaguely sword-like implement used to weave them?
ME: Yup!
MUSEUM PEOPLE: [exchange confused glances]
ME: Moby Dick, Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker?
MUSEUM PEOPLE: Did you check the Herman Melville exhibit?
ME: Yup!
MUSEUM PEOPLE: Yeahhh, we have no clue. Try the research library?

For the record, Google doesn't know what a sword-mat looks like either. According to the museum people (who, by the way, were super polite and friendly and helpful and generally awesome in every aspect) there is an event at the yearly Moby Dick reading marathon* called "Stump the Scholar" which they think I will be able to win with my question of "what is a sword mat?"

So, yeah. Those were my museum adventures. Back to reading!

In Chapter 55: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales, Ishmael complains that no one knows how to draw a whale.

pg. 281-282: Look at that popular work "Goldsmith's Animated Nature." In the abridged London edition of 1807, there are places of an alleged "whale" and a "narwhale." I do not wish to seem inelegant, but this unsightly whale looks much like an amputated sow; and, as for the narwhale, one glimpse at it is enough to amaze one, that in this nineteenth century such a hippogriff could be palmed for genuine upon any intelligent public of schoolboys.

Should you have a terrible picture of a whale on hand, Ishmael has a word of advice.

pg. 282: Before showing that picture to any Nantucketer, you had best provide for your summary retreat from Nantucket.

True fact.

Chapter 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes covers the pictures of whales that don't make Ishmael want to puke.

pg. 285: Some of the Sperm Whale drawings in J. Ross Browne are pretty correct in contour; but they are wretchedly engraved. This is not his fault though.

Ishmael, the generous art critic.

In particular, he likes some French engravings based on paintings by Garnery:

[The picture is an engraving of a whale hunt at sea. A boat full of rowing men with one harpooneer at the front is attacking a whale in a perpendicular fashion. There is a sailing ship in the background.]

pg. 285: Serious fault might be found with the anatomical details of this whale, but let that pass; since for the life of me, I could not draw so good a one.

Ishmael the art critic is not only generous but also modest.

In Chapter 57: Of whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars, we are still talking about pictures of whales. It would be quicker and far less annoying to read the Wikipedia article on scrimshaw.

Chapter 58: Brit in which Ishmael explains what "brit" is. Turns out that's what they called krill back in the day. The Pequod sails through a whole patch of it, and some Right Whales show up to eat it. This does not result in a whale hunt, because the Pequod is a Sperm Whale Only operation.

Chapter 59: The Squid has a stupid title that spoils any surprise that might be had.

Anyway, the Pequod is done sailing through brit when Daggoo spots a big white hunk o' something out to see. Assuming it's Moby Dick, he sings out, boats are lowered, and errbody readies the harpoons. When they reach the big white thingamajig, they find this:

pg. 295: A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing cream-color, lay floating on the water, innumerable long arms radiating from its centre, and curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas, as if blindly to clutch at any hapless object within reach. No perceptible face or front did it have; no conceivable token of either sensation or instinct; but undulated there on the billows an unearthly, formless, chance-like apparition of life.

Spoiler alert: it's not Moby Dick.

Starbuck promptly freaks out, because a giant squid is an apparition foretelling DOOM and BAD THINGS. Apparently Starbuck has been ignoring all of the other portents of foulness aboard the Pequod.


As a reward for reading this far, I give you a photo of me dicking around in a museum.

[The picture depicts the writer of this rant standing in a room that is modeled after the bunks on real whaling ships. It is very dark and cramped and small and the mattresses on the beds are very thin. The writer shudders to think of poor Queequeg lying in a bed that can barely fit a 5'4" person, though the writer himself finds the bed surprisingly comfortable.]

In conclusion, the New Bedford Whaling Museum is really super cool and you should totally visit it if you get the chance.

*Yes, there is such a thing. It's in January. I've got a bit of a wait ahead of me.

Other adventures in Moby Dick include:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fourteen
Part Fifteen
Part Sixteen
Part Seventeen
Part Eighteen
Part Nineteen
Part Twenty
Part Twenty-One
Part Twenty-Two (You Are Here)
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ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)

February 2012

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