Oh So Quiet

There was a big surprise at the show last night!

At MIT once a year they have a special sneak preview of a movie that hasn’t yet been released, with the director visiting to do a Q&A right after the film. And it’s always free! So much awesome!

This year it was Michel Gondry with Thorn in the Heart and I was pretty excited. The theater is almost directly beneath my work office, so I hung around after work, periodically taking the elevator down to check to see how much a line was forming outside the theater. For some reason, the turnout was much smaller than it was in 2008, when Michel Gondry came for Be Kind Rewind and the line to get the tickets ran all the way down the long hall. I had no problem getting Jon in and getting a good seat. Turns out it was an exceptionallygood seat. The front row was wide open and I moved to sit there, until I noticed a hastily-torn sheet of notebook paper taped to the aisle seat with “RESERVED” scrawled across it in ballpoint pen.

Ok, the front row was reserved. Let’s just take the second row.

It crossed my mind that the front row seats might be reserved for Michel Gondry himself, but I didn’t know what friends he might have brought with him.

Jon and hung out while we waited for the theater to fill up and then…a group of people who just looked *different* from everybody else all finally filed into take the reserved seats. They looked um, European. I was intrigued by how they mostly dressed like hipsters, but they still looked *different*. They looked the way that Boston hipsters wished they could look but can never achieve.

And one of them was Bjork. I was shocked and there was no question whatsoever, no speculation, no “could that be Bjork?”. It was a positive identification and I can just imagine what kind of expression crossed my face and for a few seconds I was so surprised I was shaking. I didn’t even need to whisper anything to Jon, I just turned and stared at him and he made a look at me and I knew that he saw her, too. She took the seat directly in front of me.

For the first part of the movie I was so surprised that I was sitting behind Bjork that I was distracted from the movie. But there’s only so much time you can sit directly behind Bjork in a dark movie theater before you become acclimatized and it’s just a part of life. Occasionally I couldn’t read the subtitles because Bjork’s head was in the way and this seemed like a perfectly commonplace reality and even a bit of a bother.

You know how people say that when you meet a celebrity, you can’t think of anything clever to say until 3o minutes after the encounter has passed? Well, I had nearly two hours to sit in the dark and think of something clever to say or do. And after careful deliberation, I reasoned that the best I could was try not to stare (she kept turning around during Michel’s Q&A and every time she did this I tried to avert my eyes to prove I wasn’t staring) and don’t be a jerk and take pictures of her and don’t talk to her because there is nothing about me that could possibly be of interest to her.

Then it was time for Q&A with Michel Gondry! Bjork’s presence had distracted me too much already from the one I came to see. He came onstage and before he said anything else, he pointed to a large cockroach on the floor.

Gondry 1

He said “Zer ees a reely beeg cocque-roche on ze fleur.”, and everyone starting laughing. Yet nobody did anything about the cockroach.

He answered a few questions, and the cockroach circled Michel in an odd fashion. It never stopped walking around, yet always seemed to gravitate towards him. As he answered questions from the audience, his eyes never stopped darting towards the cockroach until he finally squatted and pointed out that the cockroach had been following him for a good 15 minutes.

Gondry 2


The above is a picture of Michel Gondry, pointing to a cockroach that had been harassing him for 15 minutes, with the back of Bjork’s head in the foreground. This is the most surreal Picture of the Day I’ve ever taken.

Somebody behind me tapped my shoulder. It was this girl and she whispered to me “Hi, I noticed you have a camera…” and my first thought was that she was going to tell me that photography was not allowed and she would force me to delete my pictures or something. But what she asked me was if I would take a picture with her and Bjork.

I kind of resented this, but nodded that I would. Jon asked me what she wanted and I whispered “She wants me to take a picture of her with Bjork”. jon whispered back “Bullshit.”

That summed it up well, I thought.

At the end of the Q&A (Michel was delightful) the girl behind me leaped over the seat and landed next to me in my row, then asked Bjork for a picture. Bjork shook her head, smiled and said “No.” Her reaction was disappointingly mild. The end.

Because that girl had ruined it by asking, it seemed no longer appropriate to snap any pictures of Bjork from the front. I didn’t feel like getting my shirt ripped open, anyway.

Missing Planets and Faithful Plutinos

When we have some time to kill, we work on our ongoing Community Solar System Project. The Museum of Science holds the 11-foot diameter sun and the solar system is represented on a 1-to-400 million scale in both size and distance. Mercury and Venus are close enough on the scale to be housed within the museum, but the other planets span out all the way to West Newton. Since the website and the project both seem to be from 1998, they include Pluto as a planet, though there’s a little plaque on it now reminding anyone who happens by that the model is out of date and so Pluto is no longer included.

We decided to visit and photograph each planet with our own Eyeball of Size comparison, probably at least 10 years too late.

Here we are at Pluto on December 6th, some 10 miles away from the Sun at the Riverside T stop in West Newton:

Planet 1

And this icy barren globe is even smaller than the pupil of the Eyeball of Size Comparison:

Planet 2

So that was a few weeks ago. We were busy and not in a terrible rush, so only two days ago, on New Year’s Day, did we decide to pick up the project and go to Neptune. We had planned to visit them in reverse order from the sun, culminating in a visit to the Planeterium.

Neptune, the 1998 website said, was located at the Square One Mall in Saugus. So imagine our dismay when we arrived there and found no planets whatsoever. Also no planetesimals, no Plutinos, no planetoids, no trans-Neptunian objects of any kind. Not even a planemo.

Desperate and frustrated, I called the Museum of Science to ask where Neptune was. They took me very seriously and transferred me to the Planetarium, where a kind lady who must have been bored and had nothing to do offered to call me back once she got the dirt on the whereabouts of the ice and gas giants. She also agreed that the website was too old and maybe they should update it. In about 5 minutes she called back to tell me that Neptune had been vandalized and was no longer available. Neither is Saturn. Uranus, she said, might still be around but she couldn’t reach anyone there so maybe I should try to call there on a non-holiday.

So we’d driven all the way out to Saugus to find Neptune and I couldn’t bring myself to leave empty-handed. We were the correct distance from the sun, scale-wise, so we did our best to create a stand-in for Neptune.

Planet 3

Then we photographed it in the spot where we thought Neptune once stood, though our choice of site makes it appear as if Neptune was sucked into a black hole.

Planet 4

Then we had better luck the following day. Uranus was at the library in Jamaica Plain, not as a far of a drive. The librarian told us it was in the basement, in the auditorium- though she said that they no longer referred to the planet as “Uranus” because the pronunciation leads to embarrassment. Instead we’re supposed to call it “Urectum”.

We headed down there and there was a librarian there with a woman who looked like the secretary from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. They said to us “Are you here for the storytelling?” I just fired out my reflex response without assessing the situation and said “No, we’re here to see the planet (being unable to say “we’re here to see Uranus” without discomfort)”. They didn’t know what we were talking about until I pointed at it in the back of the room and explained what the project was. We took our pictures with The Eyeball.

Planet 5 Planet 6

Note how much larger it is than Pluto.

The librarian and storyteller were talking to us as we did our work, telling us about how they booked this storyteller as a special event but nobody was there, and the storyteller had been waiting for nearly two hours for people to show up. She asked if we would like to hear some stories and how could we possibly say no?

Planet 7


“Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude. “

I really enjoyed her Persian folk tale and when it was time to leave, I told her it was a wonderful surprise to have her down there on the way to see Urectum.

So that’s all we got so far. Saturn is next, but it’s also one of the “Unavailable” planets. I’m thinking I might just have to make a scale model myself and then photograph it at the proper distance from the sun…that was somewhere in Cambridge, I think.