Hello There Stranger

Life often gets in the way of our best intentions. I was doing so well on my goal of writing once a week on this blog and then work sent me off to Washington DC for three weeks and all of the sudden, I didn’t have a lot of extra time to write anymore. It’s funny; I forget what it’s like to live in a place where I might have friends or family to do things with after work or live in a place where there are places that don’t close at 5PM as I leave the library. Most of the time I don’t miss it – the places to go part anyway. I do miss the people I could meet up with for brunch or have a friend to go to the movies with after work.
I always love going to DC because it is, in a way, like going home. I interned at the Smithsonian Institute as a grad student and my cousins thankfully let me crash at their house for the summer in the Capitol Hill district. If I am ever lucky enough to live in DC again, I’d love to be back in that neighborhood – its old brick houses, parks and scattered businesses seem like they shouldn’t be within walking distance of some of the most powerful places in the United States. One of my favorites things to do after work during that summer was walk back to the house, through the Mall, up the Hill, past the Capitol building and the Library of Congress and back into the residential streets of the Hill. There was a little café I could stop at or a bookstore that looked more like a crammed house of books than a place of business.
I am a museumgoer by nature so DC is a bit of a Mecca for me. I love picking up tidbits and facts and storing them away like a squirrel for winter. Museums, especially the Smithsonian cohort, seem to thrive on the miscellaneous. Why on earth did anyone ever save the paint box one of the Roosevelt kids used while living in the White House? But they did and now it’s proudly on display at the American History Museum. It is times like that in that I think the America’s Attic nickname for the Smithsonian is entirely accurate.
But the museum I could happily live in, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler style, is the National Gallery. You can keep the modern side of things – the modern school and me will never get along – but let me dwell in the French Impressionist rooms or the Dutch rooms and I will be one happy woman. I have cheerfully sat and stared at Van Goghs and Mary Cassetts for hours at the National Gallery. Rushed after work to have only 15 minutes before the museum closed to gaze lovingly at Monet’s Japanese Bridge, a bridge I’ve stood on myself way back in high school. These paintings are old friends and ones I sadly did not get to spend a lot of time with this last trip. I need to put aside a day for the National Gallery in the future to get reacquainted.
Of course, I was there for work and that meant spending time at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Archives II, the behemoth NARA built in College Park, is overwhelming, cold and modern. Its reading room is lovely – huge and glass filled, giving a researcher a look out over a wood. It was easy to daydream in that room though and I found sitting with my back to the window helped my concentration. There was none of the romance of the archives at Archives II but I suppose it is a government repository; there is nothing less romantic than combing through the records of the Commerce Department.
I much preferred my time at Archives I, the downtown showcase building where one can make the pilgrimage to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Most of NARA’s military records still call Archives I home and while Theodore Roosevelt’s investigations of navy yards in 1898 might not have been riveting, the old research room with heavy wood paneling and large paned windows made me feel like I had stepped back in time for a moment and the lounging archivists at the desk should be harried looking clerks, pouring over ledgers and wearing frock coats instead of wearing jeans and hooked into their iPods.
Library of Congress’s manuscripts reading room at the Madison building reminded me of my elementary school library. I swear they had the same green carpeting. It was a room that could bustle quietly as microfilm readers scroll and archivists fetch and roll out four boxes for researchers at a time. The noise was never obtrusive; reminded me of comforting study halls in the spring when you were just starting to get the sense that the school year did have an ending. Up in the Prints and Photographs division, that feeling was even stronger as I sat at a larger table that looked transplanted from a public library and dug through photographs of the Roosevelt family on vacation or on safari or flipped through stereographs in filing cabinets, a stones throw away from an old-school card catalog.
Of all the places I researched at in DC, I loved LC the most. The materials here were the sort you pour over, wanting to read more (if you can decipher the writer’s hand well enough). These are the materials you become an archivist for; the handwritten letters and diaries, the ephemera that has no right to have made it from 1906 to 2012 and yet somehow managed it. A digital librarian I may be, and I love what my work can do for people around the world, but to my mind, there will always be something…something more…about holding and interacting with the actual item that the digital realm can never quite hope to replicate. I am a digital brat but a little piece of my heart will always be analog.
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Happy Fourth of July!

I hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th of July holiday. Mine started a bit early as we were let out of work on Thursday at lunch time. I took the opportunity to wander the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival on the Mall. I had fun wondering the tents with artisans from Bhutan but I really enjoyed the NASA tents. I got to speak with several astronauts and scientists about the International Space Station and NASA’s plan to get man back to the moon by 2020.

After I wandered, I keep walking to see some of the monuments as I hadn’t really done that yet since I got down here. I walked past the Washington Monument and on to the World War II Monument which I had not seen yet. It was beautifully done – very open and lots of water fountains and falls. The two sides represent the Atlantic and Pacific theaters with a separate pillar for each state and territory that sent men and women to fight during the war. A lot of the area was blocked off however I think this was because of the fourth of July – they launch the fireworks from the reflecting pool, only a short walk away from the monument. I continued on and walked through the Vietnam Memorial next. This memorial always makes me slightly uncomfortable but always in awe. There are always people taking rubbings and this time an entire family had come to place flowers under what I gathered was a son’s/uncle’s name. It’s a very emotional memorial to walk through.

I next hiked on to the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. This whole area was a bit of a mess – it was fenced off for the fireworks and also they are doing some sort of road work it looks like in front of the monument so it’s less than aesthetically pleasing currently. I climbed up all the stairs to the inside of the monument to see the statue of Lincoln and to read the Gettysburg Address on one wall, the other had his second inaugural speech on it. I also ducked into the exhibit under the monument (mostly to cool off to be honest) but it displayed quotes of Lincolns as well as video of the more momentous occasions that have happened on the steps of the Monument.

At this point, I could go no further so TJ’s monument gets put off for another day. I started my way back up Constitution and when looking for a metro station, I found the Corcoran Gallery which was on my list of museums to visit. This is the first museum I’ve had to pay for since I came. For me, it was worth it though. I liked this museum’s collections of American art a lot and I also liked the special exhibition of photography and film taken by several journalists in countries hit particularly hard with HIV/AIDS. It was thought-provoking exhibit. I also liked the Treasures of European Decorative Art and Sculpture rooms – including a completely transferred salon from 18th century Paris, The Salon Dore. I felt like I’d stepped back into Versailles for a moment. I made my way home after this.

On Friday, I took Kathy out to the Folklife Festival. We got caught in the parade since it starts late for a parade, at 11 AM. Once we got through one of the Mall’s security checkpoints, it wasn’t as crowded as we’d feared. We had fun exploring and I tried some Bhutanese cuisine (very tasty – I had momos, pork-filled dumplings with salsa) and we both downed Lime Fizzes (so good!). After that, we headed back home. We went and watched the fireworks at Kathy and Scott’s friend’s apartment building. His roof was the perfect place to watch – they were stunning though I like music with my fireworks, my only complaint. They should pipe a soundtrack through the city during the 4th of July fireworks, just a suggestion 😉

Yesterday, I didn’t do much. I got my phone fixed (yay) so I can do texting and get voicemail messages again. I watched a couple of movies and went grocery shopping. Today, I went and did the National Museum of Women in the Arts as it is free the first Sunday of every month. It’s a good thing too – I would have been angry if I’d paid for this museum. It was just not worth it to me. First of all, it felt like a highly disorganized museum, there seemed to be no natural flow to see everything by. Also, the lighting was not the best at times. I don’t mind when it means I can’t take a picture, but at times, the natural lighting combined with the chandeliers meant I couldn’t see the painting itself very well. This may be because, unlike many museums, this one had all the pictures with glass over them. However, I was glad for it when several unsupervised kids were reaching up and touching to see if they would get in trouble. Ugh – children in museums is fast becoming a pet peeve of mine. They always look bored and so they try to amuse themselves by annoying everyone around them. The only museum they seem to like, that I’ve noticed, is the NMNH which makes sense, dinosaur bones and rocks they can climb on are more kids’ styles.

Overall, I was also unimpressed with the NMWA’s collection in general. There were a few pieces I liked but most were uninteresting to me. I understand it is a small museum so they rotate what is on display a lot – maybe I caught a bad rotation? I am certainly glad I took advantage of the free Sunday to visit though. This week I probably won’t be doing too much. My family is in town this coming weekend so I need to do laundry and get things organized for that. I may try to sneak the Phillips Collection in on Thursday since it’s open late but if I get pressed for time as I have a report due this week, that may be moved again to a different week. Hope everyone has a great week!!