Friday, July 21, 2017

Pattiwagon Takes DC: Part 1

Tap, tap. Is this thing still on? It’s been a minute, loyal Pattiwagoneers. I hope you’ve found your way back here, and I hope you’ll stay a bit because this post is going to be epic (and drawn out into multiple posts). Why epic? Because I just returned from the magical fairy dreamland that is Washington, DC. And, still awash in the glow of our nation’s capital, I want to tell you all about it. (Correction: I wrote this right when I returned, let it sit for a few weeks as I am wont to do, but I’m back in DC for a long weekend to enjoy the sites, sounds, smells, and of course, the citizen(s). So, yeah, I figured now would be a good time to publish, awash anew in that glow.)

The Background:
Mike and Denise Dickens are long-time friends of my parents, and they were going to be traveling to Iceland and London for a month this summer. Knowing that I have the summers off and a healthy supply of wanderlust, they asked me to housesit for them. It was a symbiotic proposal, but I really feel like the bigger beneficiary. Although, I did keep their plants alive (for the most part) and house kept (for the most part).

Here I am, posing outside the house in my last moments before leaving. Awash.

This first post is going to focus on the museums I visited. Subsequent posts will be on food/drink and other activities. So consider me your DC museum tour guide for the next thousand words or so. (Yikes. Feel free to skip around.)

Museums Visited: 14 (12 of which were free)

Before I get into my list, I need to express how grateful I am to live in a country that supports these institutions. [Pattiwagon ‘bout to get political.] We are currently living under an administration that ostensibly denies the existence of climate change and feels very dicey on evolution. The National Museum of Natural History stands out as a particularly bright spot in this, our current political and educational sojourn to the Dark Ages. According to the Smithsonian, climate change and evolution are not up for debate. I am thankful that children (and adults) who may not be hearing that on the reg have a place to go for free, legitimate science education.

I was refreshing to see that the government-funded museums are not controlled by the impulses of a capricious president, but rather, the research performed by measured scientists. As far as government goes, I am much more Leslie Knope than Ron Swanson, and the Smithsonian Institution really speaks to the reasons why.  

So, without further ado, my museum list…

Newseum ($25): Always a winner, unfortunately we went two days before David Fahrenthold’s most famous notebook went on display. Next time.

Building Museum ($10): Following a recommendation for toddler activities in DC, Laurel and I took Henry here during nephew’s first DC trip. They have a miniature children’s museum here that encourages…building? Really, it was a giant playroom packed with toys. Henry loved it. In addition to housing the Building Zone, as it is called, the museum had exhibits on Frank Lloyd Wright and Architecture of the Asylum that I’ll save for next time. Maybe more so the FLW than the AotA though.   

National Air and Space Museum: Hadn’t been since elementary school. Very cool, but very overrun with middle schoolers. Of course I enjoyed the IMAX on life on the International Space Station. 

National Museum of Natural History: See above. I’m definitely more of an art museum girl (see below), but I’m really glad I went. And I saw a great IMAX on national parks. 

Hirshorn: Modern art museum with several unorthodox works by Yoko Ono currently on display. I hung two wishes on the Wish Tree, one personal wish and one political wish. You might be able figure out the latter. Periodically, the wishes are "harvested" and sent to Ono's Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland.

National Gallery of Art: Typical, overwhelming art museum spanning centuries. I downloaded the audio guide on my phone and was perfectly satisfied to spend the morning here. They are hosting a Vermeer exhibit in the fall with twelve of his forty paintings on display. Who's up for return? 

National Gallery of Art East Wing: Modern art – LOVED! Favorite parts were the Alexander Calder mobiles and the Byron Kim Synecdoche. Most memorable, however, would have to be this. Uh heh. 

Sackler Gallery: Asian art – liked it. Best exhibit was on Turquoise Mountain, a project that promotes artisans in Old Kabul, Afghanistan. They have rebuilt the city and are reviving the art industry with some amazing work in design. 

National Museum of African Art: Attached to the Sackler, great exhibit on the role of water in art. As an aforementioned (On the blog. Many years ago. No hard feelings if you don’t remember.) lover of all things water and all things art, this obviously spoke to me.

National Museum of African American History and Culture: If you haven’t heard, this may be the hottest museum in the country (world?) right now. Presold tickets are sold out months in advance, so in order to go, one must reserve day-of tickets online at 6:30AM. I woke up five times at 6:29AM in order to reserve, and on the fifth try, I finally lucked out. WORTH IT. I know that I may have a proclivity for the hyperbole, but I cannot overstate how wonderful this museum is. I started on the upper floors with exhibits that celebrate African Americans in sport and culture. I really enjoyed it, but what I came away with was, in two words, white appropriation. However, that was definitely a product of my white guilt and not something on which the museum curators focused. It truly was a celebration. I felt like this quote summed it up nicely: 

The bottom three floors guided me through the history of African Americans, beginning with slave trade and ending present day. The exhibits were numerous, and one thing I noted was how many of the artifacts had been given as gifts by the original owners. Really shows how committed those involved with the museum are to the educational mission. One of the coolest parts of the museum was the serenity room at the end of the museum. The indoor waterfall serves as a soothing presence after all the pain of history. As soon as I walked in, I saw the Sam Cook lyric, “A change is gonna come” on the wall, and tears sprung from my eyes. Hope springs eternal.

Postal Museum – I would not have visited this museum had Ellen not been visiting and wanting to scratch her philately itch. I’m so glad we went. Lots of exhibits and lots of stamps (who knew?!) to look at which were surprisingly interesting, but my favorite part was the kiosk in which we got to design our own stamps.

My surprise at the interest level of the Postal Museum immortalized in a stamp 

National Museum of American History – Honestly, not a lot to say here. First Lady exhibit was fine, but it felt very outdated. While I appreciate the “culture” that the First Ladies brought (and bring) to the White House, it feels a bit anti-feminist to go gaga over their china patterns and gowns. Perhaps a few more exhibits on their non-hostess-related contributions could create a better balance. Abigail Adams, where you at?

National Museum of the American Indian – Ellen and I went here, and full disclosure, I slept (sitting straight up on a bench, mind you) through the intro video. (I don’t know if my issues of sleeping through movies shown in public are well documented on this blog, but they should be.) The rest of the museum was interesting, but we both thought it was a little glossy with regards to the white man’s exploitation of American Indians. Granted, American Indians are much more than their mistreatment, so probably another case of white guilt.

United States Botanic Garden – Lots of winding paths through areas with plants from all climates, both indoors and out. Beautiful visit on a beautiful day.

National Portrait Gallery – Breezed through here one afternoon. Lots of portraits. Something about cat art before the age of the internet. I went to a lot of museums. May have been a bit delirious.

Perhaps you are feeling the same way if you made it down this far, so congratulations! Even though I visited all of these, in some ways, I feel like I just scratched the surface with regards to the cultural and educational opportunities in DC. So, next visit. I see a trend. 

Epic DC post #2 will cover many of my non-museum activities, so keep your eyes peeled for that. And, welcome back to the Pattiwagon!