A few years ago, I had an internship at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot. I also spent many a lunch hour out on the Mall amongst the tourists and the monuments. But eventually, my lunch became more interesting than the memorials, and the tourists with cameras were more annoying than the pigeons. It’s a shame, really, because they (the monuments, not the pigeons) really are pretty cool. I know it would be more interesting to have pictures of a trip to Australia or Bermuda, but in case you haven’t picked up a newspaper lately, we’re in the middle of a recession. So I opted for a “staycation” this year. I took the day off work yesterday, grabbed my camera and my socks to wear under my sandals, and rode the train into DC for a touristy diversion.
In the interests of being as touristy as possible, I started with the Mall. We have the Washington Monument:
This isn’t the original Washington Monument, you know. There’s one in Baltimore—not quite as tall, but designed by the same architect—that was erected several decades earlier than this one. You may be able to see a line in the picture where the color of the blocks changes; that’s where construction was stopped for about thirty years during the turmoil of the Civil War and ensuing national financial woes.
Then we have the War memorials: first, World War II and then Vietnam.
Both are beautiful monuments, but I dislike the World War II memorial, because it seems like it’s more of a celebration of victory than a reminder of the tragedies that wars cause. There’s something about walking along an endless wall of thousands of names, each name attached to a family that suffered a loss because of a war. It is both simple and profound—there’s no sound of water to drown out your thoughts, no quotes to read that suggest the necessity for the destruction of war, no statues that celebrate the involvement of troops from all states and on two fronts. Just a list of names, your thoughts, and glimpses of your somber reflection juxtaposed against all those names, begging you to never let something like this happen again. Revisiting the memorials through the eyes of a tourist helped me remember that.
Now, on to happier thoughts, shall we? How about…Dinosaurs!
These orchids are from the Botanical Gardens, a new find for me. It’s right next to the Capitol Building, and has plants from many different climates from all over the world. If flowers (or ecological imperialism) are your thing, you should totally check it out.
And finally, Art!
Can you guess what this is? It’s one of my favorites, tucked into a back corner of the National Gallery of Art. Here’s another hint:
It’s Seascape at Port-en-Bassin, Normandy, and, like Seurat’s more famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, is an example of pointillism, which I find fascinating. It makes me want to pick up a paintbrush and start experimenting. Maybe I, too, will define an iconic artistic movement. Or not. Baby steps, people.
That wraps up my whirlwind tourist experience. There’s only so much you can cram into one day. Twelve hours wandering around the Mall with a camera around my neck left me feeling more cultured. And more sunburnt. If I were truly a granny, I would have remembered the sunscreen, right? Maybe there’s hope for me yet.