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.

The Phillips Collection

OK, while the best art museum in this town will remain the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection gets the prize for the best atmosphere of an art museum. While I especially felt under dressed here (though I usually do in this town), The Phillips Collection is comprised of two buildings, one a modern building and the other, an old house off of Dupont Circle. So, for part of your walk through the museum, you’re in a typical “museum” setting with perfect lighting and few windows. For the other part, you wander into the old Victorian house and feel like someone has let you wander their house, enjoying their art collection. It created a very intimate feeling to the museum which I enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Louvre but the small setting of feeling like I stepped into some one’s parlor to comment on their O’Keefe was a unique and special experience.

And then there is the painting that I went to see. I turned a corner and there it was, so much bigger than I expected. Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. It literally took my breath away and I had to sit on the bench in front of it and stare (around the two men who insisted on discussing the painting for what felt like eons directly in front of it). Renoir has always been my second favorite (not being a tortured enough artist for me to love as much as my Van Gogh). To see this painting, arguably not his best, but his best-known, work was a joy. It ranks up there with turning the corner to see Starry Night at MOMA or finding down in the basement Crows with Wheatfield in Amsterdam. I will admit, I thought it was smaller because of the film Amelie. The canvas in the movie is smaller that the painting actually is but I admit I also stared at the girl with the glass and smiled. The colors also blew me away. The flowers on the girl’s hat with the dog were so vivid and textured, I would have sworn they were just painted yesterday. Also, this painting has such movement. You expect to see the next moments at any second, as if you were watching a film instead of looking at a painting. I have said it before, but I’ll say it again, I wish I could see the world the way the Impressionists saw it. We all should be so lucky.

Family Times

When family comes to visit, I have time for nothing else. Last week was fairly quiet at work. I finished another box on Thursday and was out at Fullerton in Virginia all day on Friday. My parents and Ally got here on Saturday afternoon. I went with them to their hotel over in Georgetown. It was a very nice hotel – I was impressed. After they settled in, we walked down to Foggy Bottom to get them metro cards for the next two days. We’d made plans to meet Kathy and Scott on the waterfront from dinner so we were going to head to Georgetown. We took the bus over to Kennedy Center and walked down past Watergate and the waterfront into downtown Georgetown and the shopping district. I got a a great deal in H&M and we wondered the Shops at Georgetown (a mall) before we headed back to the waterfront. We ate at Tony and Joe’s, a seafood restaurant right on the docks – it was a beautiful night.

The next day we did the Smithsonian Zoo in the morning. Mom got to see her pandas. Her and Daddy went early so Mom actually got to see them moving. All I saw them doing was sleep – lol. The sea lions were the best to watch though and they had tons of a personal favorite, the golden lion tamerin. It got pretty crowded by the beginning of the afternoon so we headed out. We had planned to do the monuments this night but it started to pour just after we got off the metro at L’Enfant. So we headed back to Union Station so Dad could take pictures somewhere. 🙂

The next morning, Ally and I did the Holocaust Memorial Museum while Mom and Dad did the Air & Space Museum. It was my third time doing the Holocaust Museum and I got through it this time without crying once – I am making progress. After we met up with Mom and Dad, we went and ate at the Natural History Museum and then went and visited the new Jim Henson exhibit at the International Gallery. I am in love with this exhibit – it has some of Henson’s earliest artwork along with lots of video footage throughout. Not too mention, puppets of Kermit, the Fraggles, Bert and Ernie, Rowlf and more. I am totally going back several times. Its open until October so anyone coming down – you must go!

After that, we went back to the hotel for a bit before driving back down to eat dinner. We ate at an Italian restaurant at the Ronald Reagan building – I had this fabulous Primavera dish. Afterwards, we walked over to see the White House so Ally could see it before she left again. From there, we drove over to the Capitol building and Dad took pictures forever. Thankfully, there was a band playing on the Capitol Steps so I did some swing dancing on the lawn of the Capitol to entertain myself. We did a family picture too – our first since Ally could talk. It’s been awhile…Next was the Lincoln Memorial and we got to meet up with Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey here so that was great. We then walked down to the World War II memorial. This is very close to my favorite one – it was beautiful to see at night with all the lights in the water.

The next morning, the family took off for Atlantic City, Ally shoved into the backseat (luckily, I managed to get my stuff on the route home – not much leg room because of it though – sorry!). I got to meet Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey for lunch yesterday luckily. I had them meet me at the food court at the NMAI – the best food court of the Smithsonian which they loved so I was glad we got to eat together then 🙂

The rest of this week is shaping up. I’m back at Fullerton on Friday. The new Batman movie comes out this weekend and I’m off to Gettysburg of all places on Sunday. First time back since I graduated so it’s going to be weird but good. I’m excited for some Rita’s and dinner at LD’s again though 🙂

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!!

Week in Review

OK, a few big things to report. Work continues smoothly – nothing new to report there. We went to an Intern Ice Cream Social yesterday (free ice cream – I am there). That was fun and plus, we got out of work early. It was in the National Portrait Gallery so after we were done, I started that museum. I got most of the Portrait Gallery done. I will have to go back and finish the American Art side of the museum. I really enjoyed the portrait gallery. I saw a great exhibit on Katherine Hepburn, saw the Presidents’ portraits (which jived well with my White House tour this afternoon. I also enjoyed a poster portrait exhibit they have at the moment. Who knew a cutout of Captain Jack Sparrow could be considered good enough for the National Portrait Gallery?!

Today, I left work early to go to my White House Tour. I got a bit turned around and ended up running a block to be on time. They checked my name off the list and I went through security. A few things – one, it’s a self-guided tour which was a bit disappointing. Two, you don’t see that much these days. Three rooms on the map are no longer open for viewing, two are open door only and so you just peek in. The President gets jipped in the library department though. My first act as presidnet would be to convert the East Room ( the biggest room in the house) to my library. I was jealous of his garden and his views. From the Blue Room, he is lined up with the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument is just to the side. Those are some of the rooms you get to walk through – the East, Red, Blue, Green and the State Dining Room. There were guards in each room who, I was surprised to find, were very knowledgeable about the rooms. You walk out the cross halls and then you’re done. However, you get to exit out the Front door of the White House so I felt important. I liked seeing all the portraits in the house after just going to the Portrait Gallery the night before. However, the White House has the best portrait of JFK (the one you think of, with his arms crossed and looking down). And it was interesting to note, the most prominent first lady portrait was of Hillary Clinton in the downstairs hallway. It was fun to see and I’m glad I did it but it isn’t something you need to feel bad about missing if you visit.

Afterwards, I went to see Wall-E – who is my soulmate. FYI. 😉

Visiting TJ’s crib and my weekend last week

Last weekend, I ventured out of DC on a road trip of sorts with two of my fellow interns. We went down to Charlottesville to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s homestead and to see the campus of the University of Virginia, TJ’s brainchild in his later years. First off, we took the scenic route to get there. We were so involved in looking out for southern fast food joints that we need to try, we missed our first exit. No big though, after a stop so Matt and I could try our first Chik-fil-A sandwiches (which was delicious but I am not a sweet tea fan), we went the long way to Charlottesville. It was a picture perfect day. After being complete tourists and stopping at a “scenic view” stop on the highway for our first good look at the Blue Ridge Mountains, we arrived at Monticello. We got our tickets for the house tour and then took the bus up to the house. First off, TJ knew how to pick a spot. He had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and more land than he knew what to do with. We started out with the Plantation walking tour. Bob, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the daily life on the plantation in Jefferson’s time. He mainly discussed the lives of the slaves on the plantation and focused a lot on the Hemings family. I did like that they were very upfront on the fact that Jefferson definitely fathered at least one, if not all of Sally Hemings’ children. DNA cannot lie of course. But that wasn’t the focus of the tour, it was a walk down Mulberry Row and where the nailery and joinery would have been located. I liked the storytelling aspect of the tour but Bob was a bit long winded.

After the tour, we headed down to the graveyard and saw Jefferson’s grave. Very different from the tomb of the Washingtons. It was sort of a mini-Washington monument. After taking our pictures of the headstone, we walked back up the hill and wondered about for awhile. I love the look of the house. Jefferson was an amateur architect and designed Monticello himself. All his travel in Europe meant he tried a lot of things at Monticello that hadn’t been seen in the States yet at the time. The all-weather tunnel running under the house, the design on vents from the cellar into the house as a sort of pre-electricity air conditioning system. We chilled in the garden for a bit and then went to get in line for our house tour.

This was the best part of the day for me. If I ever design a house, I want Monticello. First off, his library was an extension of his “study” which led into his bedroom with a very cool alcove bed that was a running theme in the house. Best use of space was Jefferson’s goal for the entire house so he came up or brought back from Europe all these “space saving” elements. Like, in his bedroom, his bed is between his study and the room but his closet is above his bed, accessible only by a ladder. A lot of his doors folded into the walls so they didn’t take up space in the room. He had a fabulous “tea room” that I would have gladly lived in and the guest bedroom had another alcove bed for best use of space. Overall, I loved the house tour. Our tour guide (who’s name I have sadly forgotten) was amazing – telling all the great stories but not being over-tedious. After the tour, we walked back down to our car (all down hill) and headed back towards Charlottesville to find food.

We found the main downtown district which is chock full of used bookstores – great and bad at the same time. I escaped with only one book so I was impressed with myself. After a quick dinner, we hopped on the free trolley and rode over to UVA. It is a good thing I never came to look at this campus, I would have had to come to a school that is huge but has the most beautiful campus I have ever seen. Seriously, I would live on it now. We got caught in a storm however so we cut our tour of campus short and headed back toward the car. Once back, the rain had stopped so we took a driving tour of campus instead. We found the stadium to take pictures as well. Heading back to Washington, we were treated to a fabulous sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Breaking what I am sure was quite a few laws, we pulled over to take picture which I think are my best yet this summer. It was a great trip though, full of lots of fun. I really enjoyed seeing the house at Monticello and UVA.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, I did a mini-museum marathon. I started at the Freer Gallery (Asian art with Whistler thrown in for good measure), the Sackler Gallery (more Asian art) and the Hirshorn Museum (Modern art). All three are lesser knowns in the Smithsonian family. I really enjoyed the Hirshorn actually which surprised me – I am not much of a modern art fan but they have a fabulous exhibit right now, temporary, on cinema art which was very interesting to walk through and take all the different films in and what they are trying to convey. After the museums, I walked through the Castle (now a visitor’s center) and paid my respects to Smithson’s tomb before I headed over to the National Botanical Gardens. I had done the outside gardens earlier in the week but the Conservatory closed too early for me to go after work. I liked this a lot – the big greenhouses host different areas of the world – jungle, desert, forest, endangered species. In the jungle greenhouse, they have a canopy walk which was a lot of fun to go through with the mist going off every few minutes, making you think you’re actually in the jungle (for about a second, but hey, atmosphere is everything). That was pretty much my Sunday. Next post, this week and my weekend plans…

The Imaginary Invalid and I

I am super behind on posting to the blog – I know. So we need to rewind a bit to last Thursday and my first venture into DC’s Theater scene. I had planned on seeing Julius Caesar with a fellow intern but the half price tickets that you can get an hour before the show only work if the show isn’t sold out before hand. We were directed to the Company’s other theater were Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid was playing that evening and tickets were still available. Sometimes being a student has more to it than lots of loans. With our student discount, we got box seats for 25 bucks. First time in a box for me – luckily, we ended up having the box to ourselves so we moved down a bit and lost the obstructed view we’d had in our original seats.

The play, of course, was genius. I do so love Moliere’s wit in his writing and all his asides he gives to his characters. The casting was great for this particular play. Rene Auberjonois was Argan, the Imaginary Invalid. You might know him as Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or from the original MASH movie as Father McCauley. However, the woman playing his maid Toinette was by far the funniest of them all. Her asides were brilliant – half in the action and half only to the audience which is what an aside should be (if I’m remembering B.Haze correctly). The whole production was so enjoyable and funny! Being in a box, and looking out over the audience, I felt every time I laughed, the whole auditorium could hear me! The play was making fun of doctors mostly and how they make money of gullible folks and those prone to hypochondria. I recommended it to my cousins when I got home. Both being doctors, I thought they’d get the joke more than me.

PS – I survived my first cab ride solo on my way home from the play. It was too late to walk from Union Station so I took a cab. It was six blocks…but hey, I survived it 😉