On being ... an experience

On being … an experience

By Ingrid Sapona

It’s funny, the things you remember and what makes an impression on you. I’ll never forget a school trip we took in third grade to the Ontario Science Centre. It was a big deal for a lot of reasons, including the fact that the Science Centre was some new-fangled museum that was getting rave reviews and it was a long trip (about two hours each way) to a foreign country. (I went to school outside Buffalo and the Science Centre was outside Toronto.)

By far the most memorable thing to me about the Science Centre was a demonstration that involved a big silver ball that looked like something from a sci-fi movie. (I now know it was a Van de Graaf generator.) The demonstration was about static electricity. At the end of the presentation the scientist asked a girl to come up and put her hand on the ball. When she did, her long hair stood straight out! Naturally, we all wanted to touch the ball to see if our hair would do the same, which, of course, it did. To this day, every time I get a static electric shock (which happens quite regularly to me, despite my recent addition of a humidifier), I think of that demonstration.

Though it was a wonderful field trip, it had a definite down-side: after that, going to a museum and seeing something sitting in a display case just didn’t cut it. Since then, every time I go to an exhibit, I pay attention to whether they’ve done anything to make it interesting. “Interactive” and “hands on” seem to be the buzz words used to describe what museums are trying to be, but so often that translates into little more than pushing a button or flipping a switch that starts a video or illuminates a display. My experience at the Science Centre was so much richer than that -- yet, for the longest time, I couldn’t explain exactly why.

Well, this week I think I finally realized why that field trip stands out for me for all these years. It has to do with the fact that when I put my hand on that Van de Graaf generator I experienced – first hand – what had just been explained to us about static electricity. In other words, that experience made the information come alive in ways a mere description couldn’t.

This past weekend I participated in something billed: the “Intense Icewine Weekend”, at one of the loveliest wineries in Ontario. I was there to write about it for a magazine. The marketing materials explained that we’d learn about how icewine is made, taste how the winery’s chef (one of the best known in the region) incorporates icewine into various dishes and how it matches with different foods. (Oh, and we’d be drinking lots of icewine!)

During the orientation our host said that in creating the weekend, it was their intention to have us “experience” the winery. Since I was “on assignment”, I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes at what sounded like meaningless marketing speak. But, as the weekend unfolded, I began to understand what they meant by that.

The weekend started with the winemaker explaining the process and science of making icewine – everything from the sugar content required by regulation before the frozen grapes qualify for picking, to the pressing and blending process. Then, to give us a sense of what it’s like to pick in sub-zero temperatures, we were all given a pair of shears and we headed into the vineyard for a lesson on vine pruning. We were then each assigned vines to prune and we went at it, despite the -12C temperature.

Later in the weekend we went to the (unheated) pressing house to get up close and personal with the picking and pressing equipment. While there we got the chance to taste unfermented, recently pressed icewine juice, as well as icewine juice at various stages of fermentation.

The food side of the weekend was equally interesting. During the multi-course lunches and dinners the chef explained what we were eating and the different cooking techniques involved. And, to help reinforce what we were learning, throughout the weekend we engaged in fun competitions (with prizes that included – you guess it – icewine).

The weekend was wonderful -- and so much more than I expected. Driving home I was thinking about why. I had gone expecting to drink some icewine and eat some delicious food -- and I certainly did both. But, the weekend was so special because, in fact, they had succeeded in what they set out to do: have us experience the winery and all that goes into making icewine.

So, though it’s been nearly 40 years since that hair-raisingly memorable experience at the Science Centre, this weekend reminded me that you don’t have to be a kid to experience the wonder of having information come alive.

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


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