Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Washington D.C. Pics Of The Day--Day 1

Every vacation starts out differently. Some begin with drive and purpose and a definite agenda. "We have four days and twelve theme parks to conquer. Let's go!" Some slowly wind themselves up as the fatigue of the previous months' or years' labors gradually falls away, and a new refreshing enthusiasm grows, spreading its way up from the deepest remaining wells of energy you have stored hidden somewhere near your left baby toe. Some vacations meander, never reaching a higher plane than a lot of resting and remembering what sleep feels like, or maybe just flitting from thing to thing, without any compelling goal. Some vacations combine all of the above in varying proportions; enthusiasm, rest, focus and flitting--a jumble of everything that makes vacating worth the trouble, time and expense. That was our trip to Washington D.C.. We had six days of marvelous revel and repose, and even though we've just gotten home, we are already looking forward to our next exploration of the nation's capital.

"Didn't you get enough D.C. in six days?!" You may be asking yourself this very logical question. Short answer--no. It's not that our vacation was not sufficient unto itself, and that it wasn't time to come home when the week was up. It was time. A week was just right for soaking in everything we could absorb this time around. It's just that there's still so much more to see. We had to make decisions every day about all the things we would strike off our priority list, so that we could take the time to really enjoy those things we did choose to do. We've talked to a number of friends here at home since we've been back, and each one has asked, "Oh, did you get to see ______." Each person has had a different place to fill in that blank, and so many of those places were ones that we missed. We never made it to the National Zoo, or Arlington Cemetery, or the National Archives, for example. We still really want to go to those places, and many others.

Now some of the things we didn't see were unavoidable. Certain whole museums were closed for renovations, and others had closed sections which left enough of a hole in our experience that we are going to have to visit them again and finish the journey before we really feel fulfilled and complete about them. Of course, some of the places we did go I could return to a dozen of times and never feel like they'd lost their appeal. Paintings by Renoir, the Jefferson Memorial, and Spaceship One simply do not stop being amazing. Ever. If we go back to D.C. I will probably devote yet another whole day to the wonders of flight and another to the gems and minerals section of the Museum of Natural History. Can't be helped, even if it means that something else doesn't make it onto the list.

Still, I wish we'd made it to the National Archives this time around. Sad thing is, that was really nothing more than a completely STUPID blunder. We very much wanted to see the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, etc., but for some reason we had it stuck in our heads that those things would be in the American History Museum. Do not ask me how that notion got planted--I have no idea. We saw National Treasure just like everyone else, and that alone should have given us a slight clue! As it turned out, the Museum of American History was closed for renovations, and we spent the whole week mourning that we wouldn't get to go in, because we wanted to see those precious documents, when the whole time we were walking every day right by the building where they were actually housed. Did I already mention STUPID? Arrgh. We have to go back. That's all there is to it.

So anyway, now you know what we didn't see, but let's move on to what we did, okay? On the first day, we were still under the illusion that we had lots of time, so we were all about spontaneity. Ked and I set out from our hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and headed in the general direction of the White House, four blocks away. (Mind you, D.C. city blocks are like dog years--the count would be a lot higher if it were accurate. I swear those four blocks were more like ten in a normal city, where the size of the buildings isn't designed to show the grandeur of a great nation.) Before we had traversed more than three of those blocks, with the White House nothing but a still-distant idea, our first diversion presented itself. Not bad for skipping merrily out into the world without much of a plan. Follow the pictures below, and you can spend the rest of the day with us and see what we saw. (Oh, and I think I've finally figured out how to make it so you can click on the pictures to enlarge them. Let's try, shall we?... Did it work? Cool!!)

This is the Renwick Gallery, where we began our D.C. adventure. Why, you ask, did you start your exploration of the city there? Well, besides being on Pennsylvania Avenue, between our hotel and the White House, the building looked pretty, and a random security guard told us we should go check out the avant-garde "art jewelry" exhibit. So, we did. We can't show you the jewelry, which was fascinating and strange all at the same time, because it's not a permanent museum collection, but we can show you some of the other things we saw. Keep scrolling...

I don't know why I fell in love with this painting immediately, but I did. It's called "The Flight Into Egypt" and George Hitchcock painted it in 1892. I think it's the color that grabbed me.

We thought this piece was absolutely fascinating. It's nothing but threads of glass holding up other threads of glass, and light playing through them all. It was beautiful up close and personal.

Since we're in glass mode, how about this bit of work? I may not understand this completely, but I can't help but be impressed with its scope--and also with its sparkle. I wonder how they manage to keep this thing clean and intact all at the same time.

A very nice man that we met in front of "The Flight Into Egypt" provided us with some of the rare evidence we have that Ked and I were actually in Washington at the same time. He also gave us some Smithsonian suggestions that sent us out the door and onto our next quest for culture and inspiration.

Speaking of doors--how many places in the world can you go and find specimens like this one tucked into little nondescript alleys? We found this gem on the way to a food court, if you can believe it. Even if you can't, actually.

There are three things we have decided are ubiquitous in our nation's capital. One you see there behind Ked. You can't go a block, or at most two, without stumbling upon a row of columns. Doric, Corinthian, or newspaper, this city has 'em all in abundance.

The second item of ubiquity is the bubbling of fountains, like the one you see here on the White House lawn. I'm telling you, they were everywhere. Maybe it's a symbolic thing: hope springs eternal, or rivers of life, or something equally overflowing with cheer. I'm thinking, however, that some landscape designers got together and decided to plant the subliminal message that Washington needs to clean up its act. Works for me.

The final ubiquitous element was what you see before you (no, not me, although I tried). There are more statues in D.C. than eighth-graders, and that's saying a lot. Okay, okay, there were really more eighth-graders, but I hope the hyperbole hasn't weakened my point. There are statues there for anything and everybody. I half expected to turn a corner and see a statue of my dentist. They could do worse for statue fodder. I have a very nice dentist.

Can you believe how perfect this magnolia blossom is? I really wish I hadn't managed to get my sunglasses inserted into this shot. It's a bummer spoiling perfection. You'll be nice and ignore that part, right? Oh, and it is a magnolia, isn't it? (The flower may be perfect, but my knowledge of botany is not.)

The kind man who took our picture sent us on to the Freer Gallery, where we found all sorts of Asian art, collected by Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer. The piece above is a Vietnamese jar from the 15th century. Lovely, isn't it?

These are extremely old canteens, although when you see them in person you realize they are far too large to see much actual use in that capacity. Not really something you want to take camping. You never know, though, maybe 13th century Syrians and Iraqis got really, really thirsty on their camping trips. Parts of that region are pretty arid... The brass canteen is quite interesting. The design is Islamic, but the silver inlay includes many images, including Christian ones. The Virgin and Child, scenes from the life of Christ, and even a few saints and knights make an appearance among the geometric patterns, animals and calligraphy. The ceramic canteen looked equally impressive, but if you think the brass one was heavy, just imagine toting that ceramic number full of your favorite summer beverage. The plaque mentioned that it was unlikely the ceramic one was ever used.

Don't you want to rub that tall bottle and see if Barbara Eden comes whisping out? It was made for Sultan al-Malik al-Mujahid Saif al-Din, in 14th century Syria. (Try saying that five times fast, or even one time slowly.) These are absolutely gorgeous glass works, and it's amazing that they have survived in such good condition all these centuries. I bet Jeannie's involved!

The sign said that this is a panel from a mithrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca, so Muslims know what direction to face when they pray. It's from the early 14th century, so no doubt it's very valuable, but I just think it's pretty.

While we're looking at pretty things, here's the courtyard in the Freer Gallery. Oh look, there's another fountain and some columns. Wow, it's a two-fer!

The castle behind me is, of all things, the equivalent of a Smithsonian information booth. It really is the information center. It's a little more sophisticated than that, and there's an awful lot of information to dispense, but still, a castle? Not very American, really, but I guess they're trying to impress people. Pretty good job, if that's their goal.

Well, that was our first day. We finished it off with some stellar Indian food and a relaxing evening in our hotel. It was an awfully nice first outing, and all the better for being such an impromptu kind of jaunt. Thanks for coming along with us. Hope you enjoyed the pictures. More to come...