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But I really, really wanted to. Sir David Attenborough rocks.

Tina and I and, at conservative estimate, 75% of the population of Cambridge, MA, all squeezed into Sanders Theatre at Harvard on Sunday to see him awarded the Roger Tory Peterson medal (for, um, being an influential naturalist, I think), and more importantly, to hear him speak.

Some of you may at this point be saying "David Attenborough?" I have had a deeply reverential regard for David Attenborough for years and years and years. For one thing, all of his programs that used to play on PBS when I was in my teens had about the same effect on me that, say, Carl Sagan and "Cosmos" had on a lot of people I know. For another, I did a mean David Attenborough impression when I was in college, and even enjoyed a brief notoriety doing cartoons of myself as David Attenborough lampooning the "natural history" of Life on Campus, at least two of which, if I remember correctly, were actually published in the BMC newspaper at the time. (Go me.) So my relationship (if you will) with David Attenborough goes strangely beyond "fondness for" or "influence", and all the way into the murky realms of "identity".

Little does he know. Alas.

At any rate, it was thanks to Tina that I found out that he was coming to speak at Harvard, and was thus able to pounce on a pair of free general admission tickets.

While there are no bad seats in Sanders Theatre, unless you are behind one of the posts (and bearing in mind that all the seats are technically "bad" because of the awful things they do to your knees and back), it wound up that we got to watch what looked like a 4"-high blurry simulacrum of David Attenborough, although his distinctive, dulcet narrative tones came through loud and clear (I said at the outset, and I meant it, that I would pay to hear David Attenborough read the Tax Code). We had an excellent view of the multimedia screen, though.

The advantage of going to a live event such is this, of course, is the spontaneity. The speaker looks "just like himself", but more so because everything is unscripted. (raqs laughed at me when I tried to explain the squealy joy to be found in witnessing the Exalted Personage making some characteristic gesture that one has seen him make many times on TV, but I can't explain it in any other way except to say that it is somehow more real when you see him doing it outside the vaguely unreal confines of television.) In fact, one of the highlights of the event for me was: David Attenborough's shins. I kid you not. He came out in a nice enough grey suit, and sat on the stage during the introductory speeches in a familiar-from-TV listening pose (one arm crossed over chest, other arm resting on it and chin propped on hand), and whenever he crossed his legs, you could see that either his socks were too short, or else they were falling down, because each time we were treated to a distinct glimpse of The Great Naturalist's Shins.

His presentation itself was actually wonderful, fascinating, beautifully illustrated with a multimedia presentation that included slides and video clips, and hilarious. Built around his own lifelong obsession with Birds of Paradise, he gave a lecture about artistic interpretations of birds, and birds as artists. Particularly, elaborating on the fact that up through the 19th century, most of the Birds of Paradise were known only from skins that were brought back to Europe, which posed certain obvious problems for naturalists and artists who were trying to conjecture how the birds looked in real life, and how their extravagant plumes were actually used. And, of course, often getting it wrong. But the lecture was all the more compelling for the fact that it was only fairly recently that he had fulfilled his ambition to record on film for the first time ever the behaviors of these birds. And he shared the film. And lo, but some of those mating dances were hysterically funny. (Which is something I have always liked about Attenborough -- he is earnest, but he is also not without appreciation for some of the absurdities of what he observes, and of the situations in which he finds himself.)

If I'd thought there would have been a chance in hell of actually worming my way through the throngs to his side, I would have shelled out the $50 on the reception that followed -- but I know what these things are like, particularly in Cambridge, and the Very Important Personage is usually swamped by people. I would have liked to have shaken his hand, though, and been able to express, "Dude, you *rock*", or, you know, words to that effect. I'm not usually someone who particularly cares about encounters with celebrities, but there are some people who have so enriched my life that I feel as if I'd like simply to thank them, in a quiet but sincere way. And David Attenborough is one of those people.

I need to go and find out whether my library has any of his past programs for rental, so that I can revisit past glories and catch up on the new stuff.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 23rd, 2004 02:38 pm (UTC)
Do you still have any of these cartoons?
Mar. 23rd, 2004 03:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Somewhere amongst the as-yet-unpacked boxes. Because I tend to compulsively keep a record of EVERYTHING.
Mar. 23rd, 2004 03:16 pm (UTC)
You should have thrown the panties, screaming "Here's a mating ritual for you!!" ;)

I am in awe that you have actually seen the Great Naturalist's shins. Can I touch you? ;)

Mar. 23rd, 2004 03:38 pm (UTC)
Believe me, if I'd thought of a way to launch said panties from the second-row balcony with a chance in hell of their making it to the stage...
Mar. 24th, 2004 03:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, I am
...envious. How old is he now, anyway ?

Missing the panty throwing is akin to missing pinching Asimov's butt in the elevator. The mental image is good to savor, though.
Mar. 24th, 2004 03:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Yes, I am
I know, I know. But I've *had* my kiss from Asimov, in the cosmic scheme of things.

I'm not sure how old he is, actually. My estimate would be between 70-75. I'll look it up when I get home.
Mar. 24th, 2004 08:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Yes, I am
He's 78, apparently.
Jul. 12th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
Master Sleuthing
Ha! I just came across your journal when I randomly did a search for the word "Starbucket" on Google. I knew that you had to be somebody I went to college with, but I couldn't find the secret clue that gave away your identity. Until now.

As for who I am? We lived together, though not in Sin. I still have the drawings of certain German philosopher you gave me.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )