Sunday, April 5, 2009

Washington D.C. Trip, 2009-04-03

I had made tentative plans to go to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. this summer with my friend Tish. Now that I have a "real job" it looks like that wouldn't happen, so I decided to make the trip before starting my new job.

Since D.C. is a pretty good haul from the north-central Jersey boonies, I headed down on Thursday afternoon. I arrived just in time to go to "game night" with Tish and her brother Mark. We ended up playing a couple of hands of The Great Dalmuti. Afterwards, we got some pizza then headed back home where we sat around drinking wine and shooting the breeze until 3:30 AM.

Up way too early the next morning, Tish and I headed down to the Metro in the rain. That part of Maryland/Virginia reminded me a lot of a New Jersey landscape with more modern infrastructure: better and wider roads, no construction, etc. The other drivers on the road were just as bad as Jersey drivers though.

So we got to D.C. around ten-ish and headed over to the East Wing of the NGA. I hadn't been in D.C. since I was a teenager but I hadn't been in this area. I was impressed with the architecture in this part of town, for example the Department of Agriculture's North Building; the architecture exudes big-bloated bureaucracy and power.

Even though the East Wing of the NGA is dedicated to modern and abstract art, the best exhibit was the illuminated manuscripts. The artwork on some of those were incredible and I couldn't believe some of them were over 500 years old and still so brilliantly, well, illuminated!

Next to the illuminated manuscripts, the best part about the East Wing was the Multiverse light tunnel you traverse to get to the West Wing. Other than that, I was meh about the East Wing; I expected more...important works, or at least more works that I would recognize.

The West Wing holds more traditional, or should I say classical, pieces. I liked it better then the East Wing but still had the same thought; I expected to see more "famous" paintings. There were a few, of course; Da Vinci's Ginerva de' Benci, Napoleon in his study and a couple of Monets come to mind, but still, I expected more.

Don't bother eating at the cafe in the West Wing. The cafe was called "Cafe' Amsterdam" and I assume it was themed to go along with the Dutch Cityscapes exhibit. They had a nice blonde Belgian beer and the stew was good but the rest of the food was meh. Of course, because it was in a museum, the price was a bit much ($20 for the buffet).

Afterwards we walked around some more. I think we covered about 80% of the West Wing's exhibits. By that time, I was just tired of it all. Oh, the noisy high-schoolers who were on some sort of artsy scavenger hunt didn't help my mood either.

By this time the weather had turned beautiful, so we walked across the National Mall and made our way over to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. As we approached, it looked like there was a throng of people waiting to get in; think Ruby Tuesday's on a Friday night. Turns out most of the people were coming out of the museum although there were long lines to get in. The lines were due to everyone having to go through metal detectors to get in. I thought it was mostly security theater; after all, the other museums don't make you walk through metal detectors. Tish pointed out other museums don't have wingnuts running around saying that Picasso never existed.

I have to say I was pleased to see that the Holocaust Memorial Museum is not the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Museum; unless they were talking about specific incidents related to the Jews, the museum made it a point to mention that the Roma were also targeted for extermination.

I must say the museum is the quietest museum I've ever been in.
Sure, the lobby is loud and noisy, but once people got off the elevator on the top floor (you start on the fourth floor and work you way down) their mood suddenly changes and, if they say anything at all, it's in a low whisper.

There were some exhibits in the basement that were overlooked by most people unfortunately: a small display talking about the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the 1994 Rwandan genocide was mentioned in passing, a display about "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion" was interesting, and an elaborate exhibit on the Nazi's use propaganda was very good.

I highly recommend the Holocaust Memorial Museum if you're in the Washington, D.C. area.

Afterwards, we headed over to the Potomac basin to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. I don't understand the attraction myself. Then we headed to Reiter's bokstore which is an awesome bookstore; nothing but technical and professional books. If I lived in the area, I'd be there a lot just to peruse the math and computer books.

We finally got back home around 10 PM that night. It was a long day, but fun.