We were in New York earlier this month to pick up two awards that our book, The Whole Spiel, had won. As we walked down 44th Street on our way to the awards party, we stopped in Dubai, Thailand, and the Panama Canal. Whaaat? We’ve gotten lost before, but never this farblondjet . . .
We weren’t really lost. We had just stopped to visit a brand new exhibition, “Gulliver’s Gate,” which features miniature models of the world’s most famous cities, buildings and sites.
“We have miniatures that represent some of the world’s greatest treasures, and as you go through you get this really unique experience of seeing the world in a way you’ve never seen it before,” said Michael Langer, co-founder, in an interview in USA Today.
He’s not kidding. We have never looked down on St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the world’s tallest twin structures. You have to strain your neck to look up at these sights. Here they were knee-high.
In Gulliver’s Gate, a 3-year-old could scale the Swiss Alps or swim across the tiny English Channel.
We appreciate the effort and expertise that went into creating this miniature world. Teams of architects, model builders, electricians and engineers from around the world worked for more than a year designing and building the models – assembling the buildings and lighting them. They made the mini trains and ski lifts run, the boats float down tiny rivers, and the cars drive along the inches long Champs-Elysees.
We chatted with an Argentine architect who had spent the past year at his workplace in Buenos Aires creating a creating a miniature Central America with 40 co-workers. The models came to New York in shipping containers; the architect was now on site in the Times Square exhibit to assemble his region of the world.
As we watched a model maker put the finishing touches of paint on a tiny canoe, we remembered playing with Polly Pocket dolls – their teeny tiny bunk beds and their wee little ponies. It was fun for awhile, but imagine doing that for more than a year.
As we wandered from India to Japan to Egypt we came across Israel. From the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, the Jewish State, which is relatively small in real life, occupied half of the back room. Why did Israel get such a prime piece of Gulliver’s Gate real estate?
It turns out that the mastermind behind this project is an Israeli – Eiran Gazit. After spending 14 years in the military, he opened Mini Israel Park, a 1:25 scale model of the Promised Land, outside Tel Aviv in 2003. We read in the Times of Israel that Gazit loved building model airplanes as a child and had hundreds of them. Guess his mother encouraged his creativity – and it led to his life’s passion.
In 2005, Gazit moved from Jerusalem to the Berkshires in Massachusetts and opened a bed and breakfast with his wife, Michele. But evidently he wasn’t content with just baking mini blueberry muffins. The man obsessed with tiny architecture had another idea. We imagine that one morning he turned to his wife and asked, “Honey, is it okay with you if I build some more miniatures?”
We suspect that she didn’t say, “You’re meshugenah,” because $40 million dollars, 50,000 square feet and many years later, Gulliver’s Gate has opened. Obviously, the exhibits don’t include everything, and the landmarks are not situated like they are in real life. It was disorienting to stand next to the Brooklyn Bridge and see Central Park around the corner. But the exhibit is meant to entertain and amaze, not to teach geography.
The exhibit is 1:87 scale, which means a 6-foot-tall person would be less than an inch tall – and there are about 100,000 teeny, tiny people in Gulliver’s Gate. We spotted many of them but missed the miniature Beatles walking across tiny Abbey Road and the pianist on a balcony in the model of Italy’s Cinque Terre.
If we had wanted to, we could have become part of this crazy mini world. Visitors can pay to step inside a 3-D body scanner and have a model made of themselves. Then, you can add your mini-me to the exhibit. “Be sure to look for us. We’re standing by the canal behind the sheep in the rice paddy.”
We passed on that. Why would we let a stranger take our 3-D measurements? That’s just embarrassing!
In a New York Times interview, Eiran Gazit explained that he wanted to create a utopian world – an airport with no terrorists, roads with no car accidents, cities with no crime. We agree. After all, if you get to create your own world, why not make it a happy one?
GULLIVER’S GATE, at 216 W. 44th Street in Manhattan, is open daily from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. https://gulliversgate.com/