June 15, 2010
Extraordinary Istanbul! You don't cease to surprise me.
Yesterday my husband and I decided to visit the Istanbul Modern Museum. We had gone expecting to discover the emerging turkish art market and which artists were valued by the curators of the museum. Lacking linguistic prouesse (see the previous entry "Talking Turkish in Boston"), we walked in, and learnt that the museum was showing a visiting exhibition by a German entitled "Body Worlds".
The exhibit began with a controversial sign: "If you care to skip this section, enter room 2". Intrigued, we rushed into the concealed area (without looking for any further information) to find the first chapter of the exhibition: the conception of humans, with a series of embryos, true to size, at each stage of the pregnancy. My husband and I were puzzled. I asked him: "how does the artist make it look so real?" We read the poems all along the way, about youth and aging. I was busy telling him: "I was just talking to you about aging and sports and look at this exhibit!"
That morning, at breakfast, I had asked him : "When do you think we will stop exercising? At what age do you think we will run out of energy or stamina?"
My maternal grandparents had set a good example for me. My grandmother used to actively attend aerobics classes till a decade ago, and she is now in her 80s. Perhaps she stopped because the aerobics fad diminished with the new century, replaced by spinning, yoga and pilates. My grandfather was a tennis player, hiker and skier till the late age of seventy five or so. He always sported a good set of abdominals and showed off his muscular biceps.
My parents' walk daily and almost religiously. In France, they walk along the Cote d'Azur, enjoying hidden promenades and pathways as they gaze at the beautiful Mediterranean. In Dubai, they circumvent Safa park with the many city dwellers, afectionados of the soft padded course.
My maternal aunts and uncles have always been role models for me: polo players, fencers, yogis, runners and kite surfers. When will they drop mallet, dumbells, heavy kite and yoga mat? I say yoga mat last because one can live to be 100 years old and still practice yoga.
At the Istanbul Modern Museum, we stood in front of an equestrian "sculpture", only that the rider and his horse where skinless, hairless, all their guts and muscles and bones out. I t wasn't a gory site, nor a sinister one. As we were told it was art we looked upon it with the reverence of any object that makes it to the sacred museum. The explanations around the exhibit were poetic, lyrical, philisophical and sometimes even sermon like: "Don't smoke or sit in the sun, it accelerates aging". It was a celebration of life and living in the healthiest way possible. We walked around the human structures and I was amazed at how realistic all this art felt. Back at the hotel, I looked into the exhibit further. I felt deep inside that something wasn't quite right. That is when I found out that we had not been to an art exhibit after all. We had viewed the strange "Body Worlds" exhibit made famous by the controversial Gunter vonHagen and the science of plastination. The website for "Body Worlds" explains the process well:
"A process at the interface of the medical discipline of anatomy and modern polymer chemistry, Plastination makes it possible to preserve individual tissues and organs that have been removed from the body of the deceased as well as the entire body itself..........
My husband returned to find me pale and was shocked to hear that we had spent a good hour of our morning with corpses! We had rushed into the first room and hadn't seen the first explanatory pannel which would have explained the whole exhibit to us!
Despite our shock, the exhibition turned out to be an interesting one for us. In light of our earlier conversation about exercising and health, it seems we came full circle and we were reminded of what we already know. That we should all invest in sports for the long term. I swim laps diligently - if I accumulated swimming miles through pregnancies, I think I will do it through old age. Granted I practice yoga in a hot room and haven't seen anyone above the age of 60 at our club in Dubai, but I could practice another form of yoga in 20 years. I also play golf and get mocked for playing a "geriatric's game".
Golf is in my blood: it skipped a generation with my father, but his cousins and siblings play it, and so do my children. At least I will have a sport I can play in my retirement. And to top it all, I am passionate about pilates: 5 years now! I have discovered a sport and philosophy that goes beyond the expected core strength building. While grasping the anatomical vocabulary, I have discovered the maintenance of the health of the sacred spine. I am learning to build a stronger body from the inside for my older days. The "Body Worlds" exhibit, in all its strangeness, was an apt encouragement and a reminder for all of us that our bodies are sacred and that we must maintain them.