Nothing about this museum makes sense, including its name.
It’s called a museum, but it feels more like a portal to another dimension. A reality similar to our own, but with details off kilter here and there. The question that kept running through our heads during the hours we spent inside: Is this real?
And not just the aesthetic of the museum itself, which was strange enough — dimly lit, rickety in parts, esoteric and bizarre. But each exhibit, presented as fact, and often narrated in some foreign language overlaid with English, or explained by backlit plaques in otherwise near darkness, was steeped in otherworldliness. Everything seemed to balance delicately on the line between fact and fiction. It was as if we’d wandered into a parallel version of our world, such that while we were within the walls of the museum, every bizarre thing we saw and read and heard was true, even if logic and sense demanded otherwise.
The feeling in the museum was dreamlike, as of being caught or frozen in an unknown time. It evoked a distinct unease, but with it a sense of wonder. Everything was eerily quiet, other than the distant sounds of muffled opera music from a nearby exhibit, or the murmuring of other museum guests. At one point an old borzoi wandered through, ignoring us when we tried to call to it.
Is this real?
Upstairs, at the effective end of the museum, is a tea room offering cookies and tea, with hot water poured from an ornate silver jug. And up a short flight of stairs beyond that, you’ve entered yet another world: a Moroccan-style courtyard filled with the soft cooing of doves and the gentle bubbling of a low fountain, overgrown with lush curling ferns and spring blooms and vines, rustling in the soft breeze. Beautiful many-stringed instruments perch on cushioned benches, and wooden stools line the courtyard’s shaded outer edges.
Sipping our tea as doves fluttered over us and white awnings snapped in the wind, I overheard a girl say to her friend, “Is any of this real? Are we going to wake up in a minute, asleep in the car, where we’ve been this whole time?”
I truly feel as though, for the few hours we spent inside the museum’s walls, we were transported to a pocket of reality other than our own. I believe that everything presented therein, whether it is “true” or not in our reality, was factual within those walls. Some say the museum is a hoax, or a fiction, or an extensive art installation. But in the moment, with nothing to convince us otherwise, those histories and lives and theories were true. We accepted them as fact. And so, in a way, they do exist in our world: as a story, an idea, or a dream, maybe — but they are real.