You know how when you visit a friend who lives in an iconic city and you naturally want to see all the tourist-y things there. And your dear friend dutifully takes you from place to place and feigns interest. Only you discover that, despite living so close to this landmark or that attraction, she herself is visiting it for the first time with you. Because it’s, well, full of tourists. And so ubiquitously in the background of daily life that it’s become bland and commonplace. Well, that’s me. I live in DC metro, and yet I have never been to the Lincoln Memorial or the top of the Washington Monument. I haven’t been to the Reflecting Pool or the Pentagon, The Kennedy Center or the National Archives, and almost none of the museums. The few times I have been to the White House or Capitol Hill, it was in protest (though I was still taking pictures; I’m not a very good protestor: I don’t chant or sing, and I hate portable toilets and when people are rude to each other). The only thing I do visit with regular frequency is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History…because science is awesome, and I have treasured memories of visiting it as a child and realizing then that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Because I can visit these things whenever I want to, I never do. So, I have also had my fair share of opportunities to be a bad and unenthusiastic hostess. My first visit to the National Gallery of Art was a few years ago with my cousin from Indiana. He was enraptured; I was hung over, having spent the previous evening at a Halloween masquerade ball that had gone into the early morning. Hours before meeting him there (late), I’d woken up at my friend’s house still partially costumed and could just manage to pull jeans over my torn fishnet stockings. I spent the rest of the day trying not to let the Picassos make me dizzy. Such was also the case this summer (though in far less spectacular fashion) when my younger stepbrother and his travelin’ buddy, who make their livings in Hong Kong, made their way along the eastern coast of the US and pit stopped in DC. (Disclaimer: This actually happened in June. How long do photos languish on YOUR camera’s memory card? Contemplating renaming this post “Bad blogger”…)
I met up with them one soggy weekday afternoon at the National Mall. The Reflecting Pool had been drained (hopefully to be cleaned) and stank like a bog, and I had unsuitably worn flats and kept stepping in muddy puddles. We had a lovely lunch at the National Gallery of Art (upon my recommendation; I have rather poignant memories of their piping hot espresso and ice-cold gelato quelling my pounding head and objecting digestive system the last time I was there). But, following a trip to the International Spy Museum (which is a great museum, really. It’s just I don’t find a silver sports car with machine guns mounted to the hood terribly interesting. Sorry.), my ankles and calves were beginning to ache and the perpetual dampness of the day was starting to get to me. We ended up in the National Portrait Gallery. And, as it would happen, I wouldn’t see a single portrait. Leaving the youngins to their own devices, I made my way through the double doors directly behind the information desk at the entrance, ignoring exhibits to my right and left, and found myself in an inner atrium area. It was a courtyard that had clearly once been outside, and the façades of the old buildings (the building that houses the National Portrait Gallery is one of the oldest in Washington, “begun in 1836 to house the US Patent Office”) looked just beautiful beside the modern structures used to enclose the courtyard. The contrast between the two, I’m sure, has some fancy architectural term attached to it, but I don’t know what that is. Anyways, I kicked off my offending, waterlogged shoes and spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the marble benches listening to the trickling of the water in the stone fountains and snapping pictures (that museum security can’t object to!) while the two boys were left to tramp around the museum alone. Ah well. Between the three of us, I think I must have had the best view; so, I thought I’d share those photos with you now. They make me long for my own elegant, calming oasis, steeped in history, and near my home, that I could go to when I needed to unwind or reflect. But, in the tragically white trash suburban wasteland in which I live, I don’t foresee such a thing happening anytime soon.
This one was taken whilst lying on my back. There were so many trees in the courtyard; the glass roof let in so much natural light (you know, when it’s not unrelentingly dreary outside!). I’m also noticing at this moment that, in unintentionally keeping with the theme of the day, almost all my photos, the majority of which were taken inside, are also grey…
These were taken of the lighted walkway in the National Gallery of Art that connects the West and East buildings.
And of a silver tree in the Sculpture Garden outside the National Gallery of Art, where one can also listen to jazz on Friday evenings in the summer. The last concert is on August 31st, and, as luck would have it, I have no work or classes that day since Baltimore’s annual tradition of street racing falls on that date.