Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Georgie and Greg go to Washington: Georgie's comments, part 1

This year Greg and I are going on a real get-away vacation, as opposed to a tear-out-the-upstairs -hall-carpeting sort of "vacation." We both need a break. We're spending 6 days in Washington DC. to do all the Smithsonian Museums. DC is expensive, they say, but the national museums at least are FREE.
Okay, we went and are back, and here's part of our report. Greg, the faster typist, is giving the play-by-play, so I'll do color; interleaved, as it were.
I hate airplanes, but as cold, noisy, nervous-making procedures go, it was a decent flight. I was amused to note that Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport has a section labeled "Recombobulation Area" where you can put your shoes back on and return all the stuff to your pockets after having been discombobulated by the check-in.

There's something unreal about flying, for me. I couldn't quite believe we reached the East Coast in about the time it takes us to drive to Madison! As the plane banked for descent, it was a sort of shock to see the real, actual Jefferson memorial and Washington monument below us.

The hotel was pleasant and comfortable, and pretty quiet, given that it was sandwiched between two student resident halls. The elevators, however, recognized us as con-going fans, and behaved accordingly. The Washington Post was provided free at the included hotel breakfast. Do you realize that Mark Trail and Blondie are still published?! They must have included these ancient chestnuts so the late Senator Byrd would have something familiar to read with his coffee.
Greg tried the biscuit and sausage gravy at the breakfast buffet and found it disgusting.

Free tip: if you put your hotel key card in your purse and send it through the scanner at the Capitol, it won't work any more.

The old Smithsonian Red Castle had an interesting display of former Sec. of State and ambassador Madelein Albright's decorative pins. Collected over a lifetime, she began using them as symbolic signals of her position and general state of mind after the Hussein -supporting Iraqi press castigated her as a "consummate serpent." At her next meeting, she wore a jeweled snake pin proudly. After that, the U.S. press corps and politicos craned to see her lapel for an inside policy message. Fortunately, she's a broad-shouldered woman of substantial bosom, because some of those pins were really sizable! It was fun to see the assortment of animals, symbols and oddities, and imagine what message she might have sent with them.

I liked the Natural History Museum, even though there are others more au courant. I'm a big fan of the Burgess Shale collection: very early - and extremely weird - small ocean creatures of the early Devonian, most of whom left no extant progeny. They look like the assemblage of a 3 year old child given tinker toys: too many legs, impracticably attached; a tripartite axis, and so on. There were little models as well. I was thrilled.
Do you realize the ancient, currently living coelacanth fish has a tail, 5 fins and 2 fleshy vertical lobe (almost leg) fins?

The Freer gallery had great bronzes, like the heroic guardians of the 4 directions, each shown energetically stomping really cool demons with yellow glass eyes. And an elephant/lion chimaera, and a Hindu god with his breechcloth painted in a fine red floral chintz pattern.(All about the 14th c.) My favorite drawing was an exquisite brush painting of Bodhiharma (he brought Buddhism from India to China) in subtle flowing grays and striking blacks.

The Air/Space Museum was great. The German B2 rocket was there: iconic prototype of the Hugo award. The Wrights' first flier was reproduced, mostly canvas and bicycle wire and chain gearing. The lunar lander is impressive in photos, but close up looks like something you could build yourself in your backyard, if you had an old 1960s furnace to start with. That's the insight I took from this: the aeronautic history of 3/4ths of the 20th century was kluged by inspired amateurs.

There was a poignant, naive little silent film romance from 1910 that tried to imagined what an air war could be. It was meant to be cautionary, but they were innocents in those days...

The American History museum seemed merely a popular presentation of popular culture, but I was impressed at the vast size of the original star spangled banner, - done in light weight wool with cotton stars. The collection of First Ladies' inaugural gowns was interesting. Grace Coolidge was evidently a lot hotter than I suspected, to judge from her black and metallic bronze flapper style gown. Frances Harding was another fashionable sophisticate. I found I liked the gowns of a number of ladies whose politics I didn't care for, proving that aesthetic taste isn't interchangeable with political or social principles. I guess.

The Spy museum was worth the money and fun.

DC is a sizable city, but it looms small because there are no skyscrapers in the government neighborhood: vast buildings seem to go on for blocks, but not up. It is not big on public signage, you are supposed to be a local who knows where things are and what to look for. If the voters ever managed to elect an entire congress of newcomers, as some wish could happen, I am convinced that nothing would get done for at least four years, because the out-of-towners would take that long to catch on. And when they did, they'd be insiders by then, anyway.

Watching the populace reminded me of a theory I have that cities with a convenient public transport system have less obesity. It might be due to the fact that we were based in a college neighborhood with a younger population, but we went other places too, and even the more mature folks weren't especially overweight. As opposed to Milwaukee...

I think if you can walk 4 blocks to a Metro station, you are more likely to walk more often to more places, setting down a useful habit of exercise. In Milwaukee, most people don't go anywhere they can't drive right up to.

Or maybe something else is operating. But the people certainly like to eat, here. Still, the only McDonalds we saw was in the Air/Space museum food court...

Of course, the makeup of the population changed on the weekend, as Tea Party tax protesters showed up from all over the country. You can't tell much about a movement's
principles just from their signs, but I have to say I think there is more to "Tyranny" than not being given your way... And when someone says "I want my country back", I long to ask them, "What do you plan to do with it? Will you share it with me? Even when I disagree with you?" I had the chance, but I don't do confrontational politics at breakfast with nice people, it gives me indigestion all day.

Cities have their own signature pace. New Orleans (before Katrina) was a relaxed saunter. In New York City, people hustle along as though driven by some great urgency, whether inner or outer. In DC, people didn't hurry, but moved briskly and purposefully, as though they had something important to do... presently.

Anyway, next time, if you are interested, I'll tell you about the Capitol tour, the National Conservatory, the splendid Jefferson building of the Library of Congress, the National Gallery, the Washington Opera, and finding our way out (way out) to Cirque du Soleil's new touring production OVO.

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Tags: georgie, washington

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