A High-Tech, Low-Tech Jewel In The Valley Of The Sun

Peggy and I took the scenic route home from Sky Harbor airport a couple of weeks ago. We had just dropped her daughter off after a fantastic weekend visit. We shunned the Interstate in favor of a route that took us smack dab through the center of Phoenix. We drove west along Washington Street  and dodged a few of their new Trolleys (land transports). The last time we visited this area the trolley was a construction war zone. Back then, we came to tour the Kachina boat factory. Yep, you heard right, a boat factory in the middle of the driest, hottest, desert town in the west. To my surprise we passed  Kachina again, only this time there is only one lonely boat gracing the storage lot. The last time the lot overflowed with thirty-six foot long cigarette boats all dolled up in fancy flames and colorful zig-zag stripes. All of them looked like they were going a hundred miles an hour just standing there.

A little further along, we passed the Arizona Science Center decked out with a huge sign “Da Vinci the Genius.”


One would think that an organization called  “Arizona Science Center” would be steeped in state of the art technology. They are. Well, except for some minor details. I bought tickets online, that is high-tech. I chose to print the tickets at home, over sending them by mail, or a pick-up. The tickets didn’t print. Nor was there a single place in their website for doing such a high-tech deed. I called and asked them how to print the tickets. They never told me, they just said “bring your confirmation number and we will take care of it when you get here.” Low tech.

This morning bright and early, Peggy and I took the scenic route back to Phoenix and miraculously found the parking garage without the GPS. The Arizona Science Center is an impressive and modern building sporting very angular lines and vast expanses of glass. As we approached the glass entrance I did not spot a door handle from twenty feet. Curious, I thought, will the door open by itself? Nope. I found the door handle remarkable well hidden in plain sight blending into the building as an architectural feature.

My first impression of the atrium was twofold: they used enough concrete in this building to classify it as a bomb shelter, and second the sound of screaming happy school kids overwhelmed my hearing aids and hurt my ears. Rather low tech, I thought to have such a place with so much noise. I wonder if they would welcome a suggestion to sound proof.

We found the woman who told me she would take care of the tickets, and she did. They appeared from a slot in the counter, high-tech. “Da Vinci is on the third level,” she said. I thought it strange she called it a level and not a floor, but dismissed it. Peggy and I asked for directions to the loo out loud and in unison, and ran for it. Once relieved, we assessed the lobby and located the elevator.

The elevator had two rows of buttons labeled  B1, B2, 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B. I took a chance and hit three. A short ride later the door opened to show us an arrow pointing at Da Vinci. Thank God we followed it. Because of the layout there are many angular corridors opening into spaces with exhibits. Peering into these places as we passed, I saw levels inside. Okay, that mystery was solved.

At the Da Vinci exhibit, we showed our tickets and stepped through the portal. The first sign I began reading had a numbered signal on it. I nudged Peg and showed her the sign. It meant there were electronic messages at each stop along the route through the show. I back tracked out to the portal desk to get the earphone gadgets. ” Where do we get the earphones?” “You pay for them on level 3A and pick them up here,” said the attendant. “Where is that” was my response. At that moment another attendant stepped in to save me, “I’ll walk you to it.” “Thank God.”

The attendant walked us down the corridor we just came through and then to a stairway. He led us up the stairway to level 3A where a young man was hanging from a rope giving a demonstration of rappelling down a concrete cliff. Our attendant cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted over the din of noisy kids to serve us with head phones, kind of low tech, don’t you think? He rappelled down to level 3A, and unharnessed himself to come to the register. “We’d like two headphones,” I said. “That will be ten dollars please.” I handed him a one hundred-dollar bill, and said, “I’m sorry, but you have to deal with this bill or I have to give you a credit card.”  He took the bill, held it up to the light and pumped the amount into the register to make change. “I’m so sorry, he said, it charged you tax it will be $10.74.” To be a smart ass, I asked him which taxing body was asking for the money. He gave me a dumb stare, and made the change. At this point he punched the ticket button and we stood and waited for the tickets to print. We stood and stood for what seemed like minutes, low tech. He began to get nervous and made disparaging remarks about the slowness of the computer. “You know, you guys are not showing me much science here today. For an organization with Science Center in its name your science is not very impressive.” The printer saved him from having to answer. He handed me the stubs and the guide took us back to the exhibit. The ticket taker gave us the headphones with instructions on how to use them.

We spent the next four and a half hours wandering through the show which featured models, some life-size, some miniature of Da Vinci’s inventions in the areas of flight, instruments of war, construction, equipment, hydraulics and sea-diving, and musical instruments. They showed us replicas of log books with his sketches and mirror writing (backwards), and his drawings of the human form, inside and out. He was famous for dissecting cadavers stolen from the graveyard. His drawings of human innards are very detailed. I know, I see charts like Da Vinci’s in my doctor’s office all the time.

Da Vinci: The Genius

Da Vinci: The Genius (Photo credit: visitmanchester)

Finally we toured and admired his painting and sculpture. The finale was a high-tech exhibit on the Mona Lisa, and the search for her eyebrows and eyelashes. Recently, a scientist used a special digital camera with 1500 dpi capability to photograph the painting with sunlight, candlelight,halogen, infra-red light, and a few I wasn’t aware existed, high-tech. He enlarged features of the painting to twenty-five times to look at her eyes, lips, and nose. There they were on the wall, eyes that were easily three feet across. Somehow this guy concluded that she did have eyelashes and eyebrows when Da Vinci painted her, but the paint he used melted into the varnish he used to coat the final work. I would challenge the guy if he were there, because I could not see the evidence he claims irrefutably proved that she had eyelashes and brows. No Way did I buy into that.

At the end we finally sat down in front of a video showing Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper and relaxed.

My conclusion at the end of this exhibit is that Da Vinci did not sleep. He was too busy inventing, painting, sculpting, building, and keeping detailed logs to find time to sleep. Seriously, the man was a genius. I saw in his models inventions being used today. Some of them like the cranes he designed for use in constructing the domes on Rome’s churches we see on the top of new skyscrapers today. Another is the high-capacity gun. Certainly, we do not want to ban a weapon invented by a master like Da Vinci, would we?

I had fun today.


2 Responses

  1. I would love to go there, you made me feel like I was wandering with y’all…
    I used to live in Phoenix, miss it some days….
    Thanks Grumpa Joe! this was great
    Take Care…

    • Thank you so much for the gracious comment.

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