This past weekend, my sib, my niece and I spent most of one day roaming around the International Spy Museum. It was a blast.
We visited a 50th anniversary of James Bond exhibit, checked out the various deadly items of spycraft and read exhibits about well-known spies. You also have the option of crawling through a duct just like a real spy (I tried that, since I’ve always seen it in movies and wondered what it was like) and to play a spy.
At the beginning of your tour, you can pick the spy that you want to be (mine was a 33-year-old German astronomer visiting London on business) and you’ll get questions that you answer at different electronic boards in the museum. I liked the spy gadgets; there was one display showing how eavesdropping bugs have evolved over the years, a tiny camera with a lens that fitted into a coat button, an Enigma machine and one-shot guns concealed inside ordinary objects such as rings and lipstick holders.
It was a surprise to find out that some well-known names were involved in the spy world. Julia Child was one; Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich were others.
One of the Spy Museum’s employees sat at a desk and I watched him “interrogate” two young girls about 10 or so. There was a lot of giggling as he punched through their statements: “You’ve graduated from MIT and you’re 17? Really?”
When my turn came to be interrogated, my impish side came out and I decided to mess with him, just a little. I speak some German and I’ve spoken with enough native Germans to be able to imitate a decent accent. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: (in German accent) Hallo, I am (spy name). Guten Tag! How are you today?
Him: Please sit. (I sit down in the chair in front of the desk.) So, what brings you here?
Me: I am — how do you say — zuh astronomer? I am visiting.
Him: Are you here on business or pleasure?
Me: Ja, I am here on business. I visit wiss ozzer astronomers, zuh Royal Society?
Him: How long will you be here?
Me: Four days. (That’s according to the mission briefing I got before the tour.)
Him: And how long have you been an astronomer?
Me: (thinking fast) 12 years.
Him: So, you’d know something about astronomy, yes?
Me: I would say so, ja.
Him: Can you tell me how long it takes for the sun to reach the earth? (At this point, I’m clueless. I don’t have the foggiest idea about the right answer. But I bluff.)
Me: Hmm…24 hours.
Him: 24 hours. Are you sure it takes that long?
Me: (in normal American accent, grinning) Okay, you got me, I’m busted. (Laughter from him, me and spectators.) But I had you going, didn’t I? Thinking I was actually German?
Him: (grinning) That was pretty good. (More laughter from everybody.)
After the tour, I wandered around the store, where you can pick up nifty spy gadgets and other fun stuff. I saw one book and decided it had to go home with me, so I bought it. The book is called How To Spot A Liar: Why People Don’t Tell The Truth…And How You Can Catch Them by Gregory Hartley and Maryann Karinch. It’s fascinating — all about human behavior, the types of lies people tell, why they tell them and what body language reveals about them. Gregory Hartley is an expert military interrogator; both he and Maryann Karinch are also experts in body language. It’s my to-read book over Thanksgiving.
We wrapped up the day by seeing the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Equally fascinating stuff there — I loved the intricate beadwork, the waterfalls around the building and an object called a time ball. It’s a small, brown ball of hemp rope and colorful beads are woven into it to mark the passage of time and important personal events.
What I also liked about NMAI is the way they covered important historical events. There were signs describing the Native American viewpoint and the government viewpoint, so you could easily understand how conflicts arose.
I highly recommend both museums. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!