Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Smithsonian---All of Them!

 There are actually 19 museums/centers/zoos/gardens connected with the Smithsonian now. The original building is a visitor center with a concession stand and directions to all the other attractions.

My advice: schedule two days for the Smithsonian. One cannot do justice to that many free exhibits in one day. More advice: don't try to stay with someone and look at everything together--nobody in the world has that many similar interests. We did well to stay in the same museum, and even though we started exploring with a senior, we soon all went our separate ways, texting each other to meet at the fountain, main arch, gift shop or taxidermied whale, whatever the case might have been. That way we were free to meander to our hearts content.

Spirit of Saint Louis

It was raining, so we didn't brave the outside gardens. Instead we opted for the Air and Space Museum--Turtle wanted to see the "Spirit of St. Louis". Of course there are many more exhibits--both World Wars and the importance of the airplane in them are featured; the Wright Brothers have an entire room. There is a large jet cockpit for children to clamber into, and space stuff all over. Two floors full of stuff to look at and letters to read.

 We visited the American History Museum where we saw the flag that flew over Ft McHenry and inspired the Star Spangled Banner; (It was huge (30x34 feet) and would have been even bigger (30x42) if its owners hadn't spent the best part of one hundred years handing out little snippets of stripes and chunks of a star for souvenirs. Yes. Really. Ah well)

South-American Aqua-marine

the Natural History Museum which has a lovely collection of gems, including the Hope diamond;

Hope Diamond
Marie Antoinette's Earrings

and the Natural Gallery of Art, where I could have stayed all day.  It seemed like every room I walked into contained at least one painting I've seen many times before in a book--a literature book--or in a slide show about great art.  There were paintings by El Greco, Copley, Monet, Manet, Vermeer, Hals, Van Gogh, Renoir--Amazing. Of course I took pictures...and they are not good at all, due to lighting issues inside, so I went to the web site and found them all.  National Gallery of Art

Pierre Auguste Renoir

Self Portrait-Rembrandt van Rijn

Georges Seurat

Frans Hals

Mary Cassatt

El Greco
Vincent van Gogh

Jan Vermeer

Vista from a Grotto-1630's-David Teniers

John Singleton Copley

What's missing, of course, is the background decor and the proper understanding of the size of the sculptures and  photos. Many of the old paintings were large enough to take up an entire wall. So here's the most valuable  lesson I've learned: go to the web sites ahead of time and study about the museums. There is information on every museum including which metro stop is closest. That's what I call a good source of information. Smithsonian Link and one I should have used before my trip to DC. This picture sums up my chagrin over it.

Edouard Manet

Monday, May 30, 2016


On Memorial day, it's only fitting that I talk about Arlington National Cemetery. I had always envisioned it in the suburbs, but there it was in Downtown DC. just across the Potomac River. From atop the hill at Arlington, I could see the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial.Well, that's stretching it a bit, because the day was drizzling rain and a mist lay over the mall, but I could see parts of them. I also saw a building that looked uncommonly like the Pentagon. It was all so close--certainly within walking range, and if you are going to properly see Arlington, you are going to have to walk. The land is hilly and the paths curve, following the natural contours of the land. After entering the magnificent gated entrance, as you climb up the street within, you are immediately overwhelmed by the rows of white tombstones carved and decorated very simply with crosses, or an occasional star of David.

 More than 300,000 veterans are buried in this quiet place and the sidewalks and streets were crowded with people, yet even with all the visitors it seemed quiet.  We attended the "changing of the guard" at the tomb of the unknown soldier and watched as a family--a young mother and her children-- placed a wreath in another solemn ceremony. There were about two hundred people watching. Nobody made a noise. The silence felt like sympathy and solidarity.

 On our way to the top of the hill, we passed old tombstones, graves from those who were buried shortly after the land was acquired--bought from the son of Robert E. Lee, whose wife was a grandchild to George Washington. (The famous names in the history of these places!)

 At the top of the hill was a lovely, old home, not marble or granite, but lovely nonetheless. Behind it was a flower garden and an ancient tree. Both had seen times of joy under cool, misty skies like this one, and times of fear and panic. Just before the civil war, Robert E. Lee sent word from Virginia and his family fled to join him there before the Union soldiers could take over the hill--the vantage point overlooking the city, and a very likely target.

When I visited Arlington, in early May, white peonies were blooming in the garden, and irises--yellow as sunshine, purple as the night. It seemed very much like a garden for children, and for long-skirted ladies with baskets hooked over their arms. A place of tranquility, of rest. No panic today, as if the soldiers sleeping all over the green lawns had bought this safety for the house on the hill.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Other Wars; Other Warriors: Korea and Vietnam

 The Vietnam Memorial

  I remember when the Vietnam memorial was being built--A long v-shaped wall of black polished stone with names and names:  those who had perished in the conflict. There it was, just like I had seen it in countless pictures, with, occasionally, a newly placed bouquet of flowers, and children making a pencil rubbing of what I supposed was their own family name.

Since the original wall was dedicated two statues have been added:  One of three solders, standing and looking at the names on the wall, and one of three women soldiers tending to the wounds of an injured comrade.

The Korean Conflict

For me, one of the most moving of the memorials in DC was the one depicting the Korean War. Not because I have any family connection or any thing like that. No. It was seeing all the Korean tourists there. They seemed to make up over half of those who were visiting that day. It seemed to me that quietly they paid an unspoken tribute. They read the plaques in silence, looked into the pool, and posed for pictures in front of the 19 huge statues of soldiers who wearily plod through a terraced field to arrive at a tree-shaded arbor. Beside the soldiers runs another black, polished wall, like the one at the Vietnam memorial, but this one has no names--just faces.  They look out at you as you pass, so full of hope and life and duty, and valor and weariness, fear and resolution.  They seem to mingle with the reflections of those walking by and join in their lives, so to speak, as well they might. For there are many who live and walk the earth who owe their lives to those faces in the wall. The reflecting wall also reflects the nineteen soldier statues, turning them into thirty eight with their parallel images, which is an ironic way of symbolizing the 38th parallel.

I don't speak Korean, but I wondered what the visitors were saying and thinking. Perhaps they understand better what was achieved in their country by that hurried coalition of peacekeeping countries who fought alongside them to attain the border--an uneasy front against invaders. While we sometimes call it a war of truces or a half won war, they still feel gratitude for the fact they have had years of freedom, albeit in the shadow of their neighbor to the north, one of the harshest totalitarian states in the world today.