Tourists come to New York to see the world in miniature — people from every country, ethnic food galore, diversity with a capital D. In my neighborhood alone, there are 167 languages spoken. (That would be the Jackson Heights section of Queens.)
But the world is about to get even smaller, thanks to Gulliver's Gate, a mind-boggling scale model of the world set to open in May in Times Square. Up-to-the-second technology meets what feels like a very old-fashioned pastime — the fun of a dollhouse or model train. So even as you gawk at buildings the size of luggage, people the size of paper clips and hats the size of cake crumbs, the musty mashes up against the modern age and a photo of your face is projected onto the crashing water of Niagara Falls.
Take a couple of steps around New York and then a few feet later you're in Paris, with a stopover in Rome. Then it's on to Beijing, Buenos Aires, Stonehenge and Angkor Wat. Can the Pyramids be far behind?
Of course not. They're right across from Red Square. And all along the way, jokes and juxtapositions await anyone who looks a little more closely. Who's crossing London's Abbey Road? Four mini mop-topped musicians. And look over there, below sea level. A yellow submarine!
"And all the while, things are happening," said Gulliver's marketing director, Jason Hackett, as he toured me around the world, still being assembled. "Lights and bells — constant motion — it's an amazing symphony of interaction." Cars honk and trains toot above the hum of ambient sound recorded in whatever country you're looking at. If you want to become a citizen of this world, you can have an itsy-bitsy 3-D print of yourself placed in one of 15 crowd scenes — for instance, in front of the Louvre.
The day I visited, two sculptors were busy carving a mountain for Guangzhou, China, while boxes of parsley-sized trees were being unloaded into Europe. South America had been held up at customs; all the overseas countries have actually been made overseas. And Melanie Jelacic, a model-maker, was working on the airport.
"We want it to look very modern," said Jelacic, who previously created window displays at stores including Macy's and Tiffany. The Gulliver airport is hyper-realistic. That means that in the shops, you can see — if you squint — candy, cosmetics, souvenirs, even a rack of neck pillows. "Each pillow is so tiny, smaller than a sequin," said Jelacic. And then there are the Gulliver's Gate mugs. "They're smaller than an ant. They're like the back end of an ant. A lot of the times, if you drop them on the floor, they just disappear. I've dropped chairs, which are a little easier to find, but I also dropped a tray of vases that just rolled onto the floor, and I lost them."
Inside the airport, there will be mini people sleeping in chairs, recharging their phones and, of course, racing to catch their planes. To add to the real feel, the model-makers even built an art deco abandoned terminal, surrounded by a pockmarked roadway and dead grass. Meantime, the "in use" tarmac will be buzzing with luggage trucks and littered with tire rubber from the planes, which will be constantly taking off and landing.
Even after the exhibit opens, Jelacic and crew will be adding, tweaking and fixing, perhaps forever. Because if there's one thing humans like even more than mini models, it's seeing other people working.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids" and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.