Friday, August 8, 2014

A Day in DC

My husband, Larry, and I are heading home to SC. As usual, though, we are spending the week in Annapolis, MD with our friend, Nancy. Larry also secured a new part-time job and made plans for his first work meeting with new colleagues. We also met old friends and colleagues now relocated in this area for dinner on "hump day". It has been a very busy week.

While he was at his work meeting at the Naval Research Laboratory, though, I asked him to drop me off at the New Carrollton Metro Station and headed into DC to wander around alone for the first time. I've been to our nation's capitol before, but never by myself. It was a fun little adventure.

My plan was to visit the Andrew Wyeth exhibit at the National Gallery. I'd seen a promotion for it on television the night before and I'd never seen his work in person. Once I arrived at the Smithsonian Metro Station, I exited onto The Mall. I am always in awe at how beautiful The Mall area is. The first thing I did on this beautiful, sunny day was to take yet another picture with my phone of the Washington Monument. The Monument is such a beautiful erectile into the blue sky. As I walked across the Mall towards the National Gallery, I passed several people taking photos of each other holding up their palms and posing as if holding the Monument in the palms of their hands. It was very cute to see them having fun with that illusion.

As I crossed Madison Drive NW at 12th Street, I once again took in where I was. I recently finished reading Citizen Washington by William Martin as well as the The Lincoln Letter by the same author. These two books as well as others authored by Martin forced me to look at and think about our nation's history with new eyes. I recently returned from a dream trip to the Celtic Isles, and was fascinated by their history. I have never been so drawn to our own. This year, maybe because I've finally reached the magic retirement age of sixty-five, I am thinking differently about history, especially that of my own family. History has suddenly taken on a new meaning for me. I am very drawn to learning more in a way that never intrigued me before.

As I walked towards the Gallery, I passed the beautiful Smithsonian Castle across the Mall from whence I had just come. I snapped the umpteenth picture of the place from which I retired. I still feel sentimental about it. I retired, as did Larry, from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, located in Cambridge, MA. But the Castle holds a special place in my heart. It was the best employer I ever had, and I am grateful for the opportunities it afforded me. I also love that all the Smithsonian museums are free to the public.

As I walked, I passed street posters of an IMAX butterfly migration film and an "African Voices" exhibit, both at the Museum of Natural History. I came to this building first, so I turned left "on a dime" and headed directly for the butterflies. I love butterflies. At the information booth inside, I discovered that the film was not for two hours. I was meeting Larry later, so I knew I couldn't see it. Disappointed, I walked through the Ocean room towards the Africa exhibit. I was especially intrigued by the Djenn√© mud builders of Mali. There were many photographs of these seemingly now famous builders, who travel the world and talk about their lives and their work. They discussed the horrible situation in Mali for their people now, and expressed the hope that "someone" would step up to help them.

Larry and I just had our SC house's exterior finished in stucco. So, I was interested in the art of building with mud. These men were quite fascinating. There was a short film of their interview, and the last line of one of the elder men went something like, "Follow your mentor. Everyone has a mentor in life. Follow that mentor and you will be happy." What a profound statement, I thought. And, I felt like he spoke directly to me. I spent some time thinking about who that mentor might be for me.

After admiring exhibit cases of beautiful metal work; tools both ancient and modern, and a lovely Somali hut, I left and entered the "Activity Room". I love to explore and investigate what educational activities various entities provide for children. I think I am truly a teacher at heart. Once I entered, the hostess greeted me, and told me it was mainly for children, but I was welcome to explore, touch and feel my way through the room. "Look through that microscope," she suggested. I did. It was of a sea shell, and was not very interesting. I picked up a magnifying glass to look at sparkly specks in rocks, opened a drawer or two, and quickly got bored. There was a large mirror with a dress-up corner, and a few children seemed to be enjoying themselves, so I decided to reserve judgement over the quality of the room and its entertainment/educational value. Maybe someday, I'll be able to bring my grandchild here and then see what (s)he thinks of it.

I found my way to the Butterfly Pavilion. I have always wanted to go to a butterfly zoo, and just never got there. Here was my chance. I paid for a senior ticket ($5.50), and investigated the Insect Zoo while I waited for the 11:30am entry time. The insects were interesting. I particularly like the ones who blend into the environment. It's a "Where's Waldo" for bugs. I really enjoy looking for them and feel a sense of success when I see them. The child in me was very happy.

I got in line for the butterflies and took out my phone to get ready for pictures, as I was instructed to do by the hostesses. Upon entering, we were first ushered into a prep room. There we were instructed to watch where we walked because butterflies will be on the floor. We also had to make sure we checked our clothing in the anti-room before leaving to confirm we had not picked up a winged hitchhiker.

Inside, the room was warm and humid. Misters were turned on intermittently, and the fragrance of all the beautiful and colorful flowers was just gorgeous. The main attraction did not disappoint. Winged beauties flitted all around. The big blue ones were attracted to the color turquoise and had just hatched that morning. They were very energetic and numerous. Their wing span was two to three inches on a side, and their color was beautiful. The pattern of their wings when folded, though, was more brown with lots of design. They were very pretty. There were also large white butterflies that had just hatched that morning, and they had their own special beauty. The butterflies came in many shapes, sizes and colors. It was spectacular. One beauty landed on my finger as I held up my camera. I just stayed still and looked at it, feeling its little legs gripping my finger.

Feeling the butterfly's little legs reminded me of the time a Tiger Swallowtail hatched in my house long ago. I told the hostess about the story and she confirmed many details. It was really fun to relay my story, which prompted me to write my first unpublished childrens' book. I stayed for about thirty minutes and was ready to move on. It was the best part of my day though.

I moved onto the National Gallery and the Wyeth exhibit. I got a map from the information booth and found my way to the opposite end of the long building. What a beautiful space! The building is old and ornate with huge, marble staircases and columns everywhere. There were lots of garden spaces with fountains and flowers as I walked, and one large rotunda with a huge, beautiful dome ceiling. Once in the Wyeth exhibit, I realized how many rooms were allocated to it. It was quite vast and lovely. The main event of this exhibit for me was, "Wind from the Sea".

Nancy asked me to search for a painting of his with a lovely window with flowing gossamer curtains and a comfortable-looking sleeping dog. It wasn't there. Windows are Wyeth's "thing". Apparently, he was obsessed with them. I also enjoyed his paintings of houses he enjoyed. They were old, scarred and frayed for the most part: old farm houses of friends. His work reminded me of that of my friend Marie Craig. She is a photographer, who spent some time years ago photographing aspects of old, historic houses.

After leaving the Wyeth paintings, I decided to explore Degas and Cassatt. I love Mary Cassatt, and really enjoyed how the curators did side-by-side painting comparisons of each artist. After that, I ventured into van Gogh with Renoir, Matisse, and all those guys. It was a really fun morning. I got hungry and my legs and feet were very tired and sore, so I wandered back to the National Gallery Sculpture Garden to the Pavilion for lunch.

I grabbed a delicious Southwestern cobb salad and a very nice Sangria, then sat under an umbrella at a table outside with a view of the National Archive building. As I sat and ate, I reviewed my pictures and tried to connect with Larry to see how his day was progressing and when we should meet. I didn't know if I should continue across the street or head back to the Metro. He assured me, I could continue on as a tourist for a while, and he'd entertain himself. I went to the Archives after lunch.

After seeing the movie, National Treasure, where a secret code was purported to be invisibly written in lemon juice on the back of the Declaration of Independence, I realized I'd never seen the great documents in person. After exploring the first floor exhibits displaying and explaining all the freedom articles: slavery, womens' rights, immigration, etc. I headed up one flight to the very dimly lit rotunda where The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights were displayed. Before I say anything about them, though, I just want to remark how wandering through the freedom exhibit made me so sad my eyes welled up with tears. I felt so sad walking around because even though these documents declared freedom, that freedom did not come without a great cost to many human lives. I will never get over how cruel we humans have been and still are to one another. Will we ever progress beyond our seeming innate cruelty? I remain hopeful, but cannot think too much about it because I think the answer is probably, NO.

Once upstairs, I was taken aback by how dim the lighting was. There were signs explaining this darkness, and once I viewed our famous documents, I realized why firsthand. The ink was almost unreadable on the original documents. Over many years, they had been displayed in full light and that light over time destroyed the ink. I am so happy copies were made, because the originals are unreadable. I did see John Adams' signature quite clearly, though, and it made me think of Paul Giamatti's portrayal of the great man.

My trip was inspirational, even though I felt saddened by some of it. All in all, the butterflies lifted my spirit and the sun brightened my entire day. Who could ask for more?

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