Monday, June 22, 2009

DC with JP

Parker's class took a trip to DC this past year and I had asked him to wait and let me show him around. I love traveling with him and figured that having lived there for several years and visited a few times since then I would be able to show him things he would never see on a class trip. Here's the account in outline. Pretty tedious reading for anyone else I would think, but I wanted some record of the trip and this seemed a reasonable place for it.

Saturday June 13th. Boarded the train at 1:00, went straight to our roomette and settled in, exploring the 6 1/2 by 3 1/2 feet that would be home for the next 19 hours. Meals are included in the fare when you book a sleeper so before long we headed to the dining car. Parker has a real fondness for BBQ pork and enjoyed their pulled pork sandwich. I had their shrimp and grits, which was certainly edible but a reminder that train food is just a notch or two up from what is served on planes. It is a pleasant experience nonetheless if you have reasonable expectations.

Sunday the 14th. Arrived in DC very close to the scheduled 10:15, hauled our bags down the escalator to the Metro, fumbled for a minute with the farecard machine and plopped down for another, much shorter, train ride to the Woodley Park stop. There was a brief comic moment as we strolled across the Calvert Street bridge when I realized I didn't know where we were going; I know the area so well and had been so casual about getting to the Kalorama Guest House that I hadn't bothered to bring the address. Fortunately Mom was home and after a quick call we found that we were a few doors away. We settled into our wonderful room - almost a suite - showered, changed clothes, and by noon we were out to see the city.

We strolled down "U" Street through the Shaw neighborhood (once known as Black Broadway), right on First Street and down past S.O.M.E. and Isaiah House, over to North Capitol and down to the Capitol Building which I thought was a fitting place to start. My plan was to spend the first couple of days doing all the things we would have to do outside in case the weather turned ugly. So around the capitol and down the the length of The Mall past the Washington Monument, through the new WWII Memorial, past the reflecting pool and to the Lincoln Memorial. Then the Vietnam Memorial (for me the most moving monument in the city) and back the other direction to the White House, first to the South lawn, then around to the North side and Lafayette Park. According to Wikipedia, Lafayette Park "has been used as a racetrack, a graveyard, a zoo, a slave market, an encampment for soldiers during the War of 1812, and many political protests and celebrations." Concepcion Picciotto must surely hold some record for political protests here or anywhere else, as she continues her now 27 year long vigil in protest of U.S. policies. Then back up through Dupont Circle and back to our rooms for another shower. Another brief stroll through Adams Morgan for dinner at El Tamarindo Salvadoran restaurant.

Monday the 15th. We walked down Kalorama Road and Belmont past a number of embassies, including the very impressive Embassy of Oman, and onto the trail through Rock Creek Park. We followed this into Georgetown where we picked up the C&O Canal and walked to Thompson Boat Center to rent a couple of bikes. We took these out the towpath through Georgetown a bit when we decided it would be interesting to visit Roosevelt Island, an 88 acre refuge in the Potomac River. So across the Key Bridge, over to the island and around, stops for photos and a chat with another visitor who had seen a deer, then back across to the towpath where we rode West for a couple of miles.

Before long we decided the canal and towpath scenery wasn't changing much so we turned around and rode back through Georgetown and around to the Tidal Basin. We found a shady bench overlooking the basin with the Washington Monument in the background and ate the sandwiches we had brought along. We then strolled around the relaxing and quite beautiful FDR Memorial and then around to the Jefferson Memorial. (Interestingly, the water around the basin was very near the walkway, and Parker had asked what happens if the level rises. We found out when we left the FDR Memorial; the sidewalk is covered with water and you have to take another route a few yards higher up. A park service sign indicates they're looking for a permanent solution, and I couldn't help wondering how no one had foreseen this problem.) We climbed up and paid our homage to Jefferson, then resumed our ride around the basin, made a second visit to the Washington Monument and back to Thompson Boat Center via "M" Street.

After returning our bikes we walked to Metro Center where we took the train to Brookland and walked up to the largest Catholic church in the Americas. After an hour or so strolling through the basilica we were very hungry and very thirsty and headed over to Colonel Brooks Tavern, a Brookland/Catholic U. institution for at least thirty years and a great stop for a beer and a burger (or a root beer and a burger if you're 13). Now fat and happy we walked up to the old Brookland Hardware just to see what hardware stores were once like. Sadly, there aren't many like this one around anymore, with hardly room to walk through the isles and stuff stacked from floor to ceiling. I caught a glimpse of the cellar through an open door and wondered if the main store is like this what in the world do they keep down there. Anyway, we made our way back to the Metro stop and caught the train back to Dupont Circle. We got off and walked up Connecticut Av past the Washington Hilton, site of John Hinckley's 1981 failed assasination attempt, then on up the hill to our rooms. Whew!

Tuesday the 16th. More beautiful weather, sunny skies and relatively cool. We stopped for sandwich ingredients at the Metro K Market and strolled down 17th Street toward the Mall. We took a quick tour through the Museum of American History and then headed over to the Holocaust Museum, where we spent an intense two and a half hours. I'm not sure what to say about this experience except that I had been through it soon after it opened in 1993, I think, and it has stuck with me ever since. I expect it to be with Parker for a long, long time. You have to wonder what goes through the mind of someone like James Von Brunn.

We were a little subdued (stunned?) leaving there and strolled across the Mall, re-visited the Museum of American History, and then made our way through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (where I was reminded once again of my age when I found that Parker had never seen and thus could not identify a typewriter eraser), and up to two of our favorite museums in DC, which share a gorgeous building between 7th and 9th and "F" and "G" NW - the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. One thing I remembered from a previous visit to the American Art Museum was Edward Hopper's People in the Sun and I wanted to show it to Parker. I'm not sure what it is about this piece except that it reminds me of an image I've seen of a group of witnesses to an atomic test, sitting in deck chairs with goggles waiting for the show. Anyway, it was not on exhibit in the main galleries, which led to our serendipitous discovery of the Luce Foundation Center where it was "stored" along with hundreds of other marvels.

After a wonderful couple of hours there we walked over to Chinatown, caught the train to Woodley Park, strolled (dragged?) across the Calvert Street bridge and down 18th to Meskerem to introduce Parker to Ethiopian cuisine. We ordered their Meskerem Messob, "a dazzling array of beef, chicken, and lamb with vegetarian dishes." Parker was a trooper as always and said he enjoyed it, though I couldn't help noticing that his appetite was satisfied rather quickly. Burgers or pizza tomorrow night I was thinking. We walked around the corner to the Metro K to get JP a Haagen Dazs bar, then home to collapse.

Wednesday the 17th. National Gallery West to East. What a gorgeous space, with the Calders hanging in the East Building and the breathtaking architecture throughout. I tried doing a little art history instruction going through the collection chronologically, though this proved impractical for a couple of reasons. For one thing there is just too much to go through at anything less than a trot. And after an hour or so of this it became apparent that Parker really prefers modern art, so we sort of moved on to the things he seemed to enjoy most, saving the art history for a later date.

From the National Gallery we moved to the Museum of the American Indian. We were struck by the architecture and landscaping as we approached the building, and the collection itself was just marvelous, describing and illustrating the history and culture of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. A persistent theme throughout was the struggle of Native Americans to maintain their identity within the predominant Western culture, trying to preserve their languages and traditions against all odds. Parker especially enjoyed the cafeteria, which is unlike any museum cafe I had ever seen, offering foods by region prepared using the methods and favored ingredients of native Americans.

Next stop, the Air and Space Museum. This is great fun to walk through, looking at all the planes and rockets and such, though honestly to me anyway after the headiness of some of the other museums it seemed a bit like Disneyland. Anyway, we enjoyed a leisurely a walk through and headed back up to Chinatown to see about something for supper.

After last night's Ethiopian though, Parker really wanted something domestic, so we took the train home and went to Millie and Al's for Pizza and beer (and lemonade). I told the bartender that twenty years ago they made a mean pizza and he assured me this was still the case. He was right, it turned out, and Parker thoroughly enjoyed it. It didn't hurt that they had simultaneous games between the Nationals and the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Marlins, and that not only were the Sox winning but the Nationals were beating the Yankees. Very fun.

Thursday June 18th. Our first stop was the Hirshhorn, a collection housed like so many of the Smitsonian collections in a structure that is a work of art itself. My personal favorite here was the "Strange Bodies" exhibit which included Ron Mueck's "Big Man," which I found fascinating. Parker on the other hand absolutely hated this piece, proving that there is no accounting for taste. After that we visited the Postal Museum, which far surpassed our expectations. Much of what you learn at these museums is momentous and some is merely interesting trivia. Falling into the latter category is the fact that Charles Lindbergh's nickname "Lucky Lindy" came from his two succesful bailouts from Postal Service aircraft in the early days of Air Mail.

Getting hungry we walked up to Zorbas near Dupont Circle for a supper of Souvlaki and Yero. After our meal we walked back down to the Circle where there was a street musician playing acoustic guitar and singing his heart out. We sat for a couple of minutes and realized he was actually good. Really good. I told Parker I've heard a lot of street musicians who I wish had an off switch, but this guy had talent as well as spirit. His version of Sympathy for the Devil was better than the Stones. Locomotive Breath was better than Jethro Tull. And all on acoustic guitar. We stayed for over an hour, tipping enough that as we left I told him I was going to go broke listening to him. We both enjoyed this immensely and Parker absolutely loved it.

Friday the 19th. Our first stop of the day was the Washington Historical Society housed in an old Carnegie Library. The collection was focused on the history of African Americans in DC, though there was also an exhibit commemorating the Lincoln bicentennial. Maybe the most interesting thing there was a huge (maybe 20 by 20) satellite image of the District that we walked around on for quite a while trying to locate various landmarks.

We then made our way to the National Building Museum, probably my personal favorite after the Museum of American Art. The building is very unassuming (ugly?) on the outside but magnificent inside. We joined a tour that was just about to start and learned a great deal form lovely older lady serving as docent. The building was originally constructed to house the Pension Bureau, and its grandeur is no doubt attributable to the fact that pensions after the Civil War accounted for one third of the federal budget - to me a staggering figure. Anyway, an agency responsible for adminstering a program that size would, I guess, justify generous accommodations. Over the next century or so the building was occupied by various agencies, most recently the General Accounting Office, I think. Our tour guide showed us photos with office cubicles covering the floor of the of the great hall; the beautiful old fountain in the center of the hall had been covered by boards. At some point (1970s I think) the GAO needed more room and wanted to raze this magnificent old structure in order to make room for something newer and larger. A group of preservationists and architects managed to save it, however, and it was restored to it's former glory. We finished our formal tour and lingered another hour or so, enjoying coffee and juice and scones in the cafe, and just soaking it in.

From the Building Museum we made our way around to the Koshland Science Museum where payed $8.00 to get in. This was the only museum we paid to get into the entire trip and it turned out to be the only dud.

From there we took the green line out to Nationals Park and I got a picture of JP wearing his Red Sox cap in from of the big Nationals sign. They were playing the Blue Jays that night but we were tired and decided against spending the money to watch the worst team in major league baseball (despite their earlier defeat of the Yankees). Good thing too since the game went 13 innings until about 11:00pm. We took the train back up to "U" Street so Parker could experience the famous Ben's Chili Bowl. He seemd to enjoy his chili dog, and my small bowl of chili was pretty yummy. We strolled back up toward Adams Morgan past Meridian Hill (aka Malcolm X) Park to the Potter's House book store. From there we stopped at a CVS so I could get a sewing kit to repair my rapidly deteriorating backpack. Then on around to Idle Time Books, an old and in my mind marvelous used book store where Parker read books on music and I sewed up my backpack. Home, shower, back to Metro K for groceries and back home. Pooped.

Saturday the 20th. Capitol Building tour. Through the tunnel to the Library of Congress. Mad search for a souvenir for Neil. Huff puff. Hop on train.

Sunday 21 June 2009. Home.

1 comment:

  1. Richard, I had never heard of Ron Mueck before your mention of him, and when I clicked on the link, I think I literally gasped at the realism and the expression of "Big Man" (and not because he and I have similar body shapes!) I immediately spent about half an hour online looking at his other works. I have always been fascinated by realism in painting, but his may be some of the most amazing sculpture I've seen. Sounds like you and JP had a fantastic time!