Aquariums I Have Known

Along the brim of Lake Michigan, a seemingly infinite number of security guards patrol the area on Segway motorized scooters. Perhaps it just looks like they’re omnipresent because of all the reflective surfaces around Millennium Park. It seems that whatever angle I look into the gleaming mirrored “Cloud Gate” sculpture, or “the Bean,” as it’s known locally, one of them zips into view. I walk off in the direction of the lake, past a dozen cheerleaders in blue tracksuits who are practicing a routine on the grass.

“Pump, pump it up! We got to pump, pump, pump, pump, pump, pump, pump it up,” they bark, punching the air with their upbeat pompoms.

Why or what they need to pump up is unclear, but I enjoy their inflated enthusiasm and grin at several security guards as they zip past.

It’s 90-something degrees, without a cloud in the sky. With the Bean, the tangled steel tentacles of the Frank Gehry-designed amphitheatre and the slithering silver of the BP Bridge, everything is reflective and the heat feels like it is amplified.

“Hot!” I protest eloquently to a succession of zipping patrol people as I trek south along the lake to visit the Shedd Aquarium, looking for fish from my part of the world.

The first aquarium I ever visited was Mallaig’s Marine World in the West Highlands. Marine World had had most of its fish donated by local fishermen and boasted approximately the same décor and fish-meets-petrol odour as the twin rigger prawn trawlers that the aquarium’s specimens had been landed by. I remember the aquarium had turbots, limpets and a handy print out with translations of all tank and pool inhabitants’ names in Italian. Although I spent the whole summer in the fishing port, I never met a single Italian tourist. To this day I can still point out rombo chiodato and patella. Marine World was pretty exciting when you’d never seen an aquarium before. The Shedd is on an entirely different scale.

I am distracted from my recollections of Italian icthyology by a scuba diver feeding a rescued turtle with a “buoyancy problem,” one of 32,600 creatures that live in the Shedd’s swishy digs. The diver is speaking through a mic as she swims, informing a rapt audience of fascinating facts about her charges.

“Hchhhh… rescued… chhhhh…. speedboat. Buoyan-chhhh problem,” she informs us as she flippers slow motion through cables and excited amphibians.

We all turn to look at the hapless turtle. She does indeed have a noticeable buoyancy problem. As she swims happily about the circular tank, headbutting the diver in an effort to speed up the feeding process, her butt remains a good foot closer to the surface than her voracious wee mouth. I am too entertained by the turtle to seek out the fish of my homeland and remain glued to the glass until I have to leave for my next booking.

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