Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Back in DC! (cont.)

A piece of the Berlin Wall. You can actually
touch it!
On my third day in the city, I slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Then, it was off to Newseum. I still can't believe it took me this long to visit a museum dedicated to the press and the First Amendment.

First of all, this place is HUGE. I spent pretty much the whole day there to see it all. You enter at the ground level, pick up your map, and proceed downstairs. There, you can watch a free orientation video, view the Berlin Wall gallery (They have actual pieces of the Berlin Wall on display that you can touch.), and explore a rotating exhibit. The exhibit on display when I visited was Today's FBI: Fighting Crime in the Age of Terror. In this exhibit, they had the actual cabin of the Unabomber, Dillinger's straw hat, and, perhaps most tragically, several of the phones recovered from the World Trade Center towers site. (Recovery workers reported that the phones rang for days after the crash as people searched for missing loved ones.)

After the orientation floor, it's recommended that you go all the way to the 6th floor and then work your way down. On the 6th floor, the Vietnam gallery was closed, but I still enjoyed the front pages exhibit and especially the open-air terrace, which features sweeping views of the city. (Now that the scaffolding is off the Capitol dome, you can get some wonderful views of it here!) A Pennsylvania Avenue timeline in this space also walks you through the growth of the area. On a pretty day, you could stay up here a while, taking in the views and the air.

On level five, you can view up to five short films on the origins of the American free press and rummage through an impressive news history gallery of front pages from throughout history. ("Hitler Dead" was one notable headline.) There were also tons of cool artifacts, including Thomas Paine's writing kit and trunk, Nellie Bly's satchel, and the dry erase board on which Tim Russet wrote "Florida! Florida! Florida!" during the Bush/Gore election coverage. Fascinating. Level four features a 9/11 gallery with coverage, a timeline, and the battered antenna from the top of one of the towers. In addition, a very moving film about a photographer who lost his life that day, and a video that tells his story, will remain with me for a long time. 
The 9/11 gallery at Newseum

Somewhere on the fourth level, my rumbling tummy demanded lunch. I popped out of the museum and crossed the street to The Capital Grille. The man next to me at the bar ordered a sparkling water, a salad, and some seared tuna. I blithely chose a giant cheeseburger with truffle Parmesan fries and a Coke. I ate every bite with absolutely no guilt, and it was FABULOUS! This place was pricey, but the food was delicious. And for Newseum, it's hard to beat the location. 

If you keep up with your entry ticket, you can come and go all day. So after lunch, I headed back inside to tackle the rest of Newseum. Level three features the Journalists Memorial, which pays tribute to those who have perished while doing their jobs, as well as an editorial cartoon exhibit and the Knight TV studio (where you can sometimes catch programs being filmed). Level two features an interactive ethics center, which was really cool (I apparently have very high ethical standards!), the museum shop, and spots where you can stand in front of a backdrop and practice being a reporter. 

Back on the ground level, the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery will remind you why people say, "A picture is worth a thousand words." It's the largest collection of Pulitzer-winning photographs on public display, and it is tremendous.

Amazing show at the Kennedy Center!
I was at Newseum about 30 minutes after it opened, and I stayed almost until it closed. It is an overwhelming place that will make you glad we have a free press and the four freedoms of the First Amendment. I am so glad I got the opportunity to tour it. 

Afterward, I went to the hotel for a break. When I got hungry again, I walked a few blocks from the hotel to have dinner at Boqueria, a Spanish tapas restaurant. I sipped a delicious white sangria, nibbling sautéed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, fried quail eggs and chorizo on toast, and churros with chocolate. Service was speedy and friendly, and the food was DELICIOUS!

The next day was my conference. I had a great day of learning and development, then I joined fellow conference participants for a dine around at Blue Duck Tavern. This place was very close to my hotel, and it was wonderful! I started with a glass of red wine, then enjoyed a quail with whipped ricotta and figs. We ordered a few different sides - onions, brussels sprouts, fries - and shared them amongst the table. Then, we all split two desserts - the Key lime pie and chocolate, pistachio and cherries. Food was incredibly tasty, and service was prompt, friendly, and knowledgeable about the menu. Prices are spendy here, but the experience merits it, I think.

Why, hello there, George!
After dinner, it was off to bed before another full day at the conference. Once the event was over that evening, I hustled off to freshen up at the hotel before another evening at the Kennedy Center. I had a ticket to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and I didn't want to be late! I'd read the book this show is based on last year, and I found the perspective of the narrator so original and interesting. I couldn't wait to see how the story had been adapted for the stage. I hurried to the Kennedy Center and grabbed a quick bite at the cafe there before settling into my seat.

The show was wonderful! Really good casting, amazing choreography, brilliant use of technology that both added to the show and made perfect sense for the story and characters. Adam Langdon was a revelation as Christopher Boone, and I loved Maria Elena Ramirez as Siobhan. Gene Gillette had some beautiful moments as Ed (Christopher's father), and the rest of the ensemble did wonderful things to distinguish the different characters they played and find the fun in the production. A fantastic adaptation!

Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art
It was back to bed after the show. I awoke late the next morning, and I took my time getting breakfast at the hotel. I had a late flight out of the city, so I had one more (mostly) full day to explore DC. I decided to spend it at the National Gallery of Art. one of the city's many free museums. Though I'd visited the museum's outdoor sculpture garden before, I'd never ventured inside.

There was so much to see! First, I went to the main floor, where I took in the beautiful rotunda and the garden courts on both the east and west side. Then, I explored the American galleries, followed by the 19th century French paintings (Monets for DAYS! Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassat). I saw all the tiny little dots on Seurat's Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy. I poked through the 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings, where I confronted a self portrait of a very unconvinced-looking Rembrandt. Lastly, I also walked through the 13th to 16th century Italian galleries on this floor.
The Reading Girl, by Pietro Magni.

Feeling hungry again by this time, I stopped for lunch at the Garden Cafe on the ground floor. Fortified with some salmon and kale salad, I examined the 19th and 20th century sculpture galleries with relish. (I love sculpture, and these galleries were divine! WHOLE ROOMS full of Degas and Rodin! An Amazon Preparing for Battle by Hebert, her face fierce. The Reading Girl by Pietro Magni that looked real enough to breathe.) I also spent time in galleries featuring medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque sculpture and decorative arts, as well as those from the 17th and 18th centuries.  Lastly, I took a quick tour of the American decorative arts and paintings.

By this time, I was pooped! I cooled my heels a bit in the sculpture garden outside, then took a cab back to the hotel to pack. Then, it was off to the airport and home to my own sweet family!

I so loved my time in DC! What a wonderful city!!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Back in DC!

Luncheon of the Boating Party
Earlier this month, I was headed back to Washington DC for a conference. I decided to show up a few days early (on my own dime) and explore a few corners of the city that I'd yet to visit. I took an  EARLY direct flight out, and before lunch, I was on the ground!

First, I checked into the Hyatt Place in Georgetown. I chose this hotel because it was recommended by the conference I was attending, and it was a quick walk to the conference activities. It's not exactly the most central location for tourists, but I found it to be an excellent property to stay in. Even though I was in town early (10:30 a.m. or so), they went ahead and checked me in, which was very nice of them. The property has also recently been renovated, and they serve a delicious, free hot breakfast every morning. Plus, they offer an indoor pool, gym, roof terrace, and on-site restaurant. Very nice!

A piece from The Kin Series
I dropped my bags, freshened up a bit, and looked around for something to eat. Luckily, the Hyatt Place in Georgetown is less than a block away from Bread and Chocolate, a delightful bakery and restaurant. I settled into an al fresco table, ordered the brunch (an entree, plus pastries, plus coffee and juice), and prepared myself for culinary happiness. The food didn't disappoint. A lovely spinach and goat cheese omelet accompanied by some of the best hash browns I've ever tasted. A beautiful basket of three pastries, strong coffee, tangy juice. A little bird kept hopping around my table, shooting me meaningful glances and waiting impatiently for me to "accidentally" drop some pastry. A wonderful way to begin my visit!

After a filling meal, I headed for The Phillips Collection. I'd wanted to visit this museum on my last trip to DC, but I'd missed it. It made for a wonderful morning of discovery! First of all, the collection is impressive, but completely do-able in a morning. I found my Zen in the Rothko room, admired Renoir's soft dream of colors in Luncheon of the Boating Party, tested the acoustics a bit in the music room, and absolutely fell in love with The Kin Series by Whitfield Lovell.  (This temporary exhibit pairs gorgeous drawings based on antique photographs of African Americans. Each drawing is presented with thoughtfully selected objects that speak to deeper meanings about the portraits.) After absorbing the art, I spent a few moments in the museum's back garden, where they display a couple of outdoor art pieces. (You can also order food at the museum cafe and eat it in the outdoor space.) It was a lovely, sunny day, and I turned my face upward in gratitude for a wonderful morning. (For a $12 admission fee, this was a wonderful place to explore. Recommended.)
Mary Pickford cocktail at District Commons

Then, I turned my steps toward Kramerbooks & Afterwords. I love a good bookstore, and I'd heard wonderful things about this one. It wasn't quite as big as I expected, but the space they do have is packed to the gills with treasures. They also have an on-site cafe/restaurant. I found all kinds of must-haves, including my reading for the plane ride back home! Afterward, it was back to the hotel for a rest.

When I ventured out that evening, I started at District Commons for a snack. Hubs and I ate at this restaurant (near the Kennedy Center) during our last trip to DC, and we'd loved it! I got a seat at the bar and indulged in a Mary Pickford cocktail with a fried oyster appetizer. Both were delicious! Sated, I made my way to the Kennedy Center. For my first night in town, I'd booked a ticket to Unelectable You, an improv comedy show based on the dreaded election season. The show is the result of a collaboration between Second City and Slate.com, and I was catching its last performance in town!
The Kennedy Center!

It was a hoot! I can't IMAGINE how many times they've had to re-concept sketches as the election cycle has progressed. They also had moment where they brought Slate.com editors on stage for brief conversation, on which they'd then base the next sketch. But the absolute highlight of the show was near the end, when they brought an unsuspecting audience member onstage to turn them into a viable alternative to Clinton or Trump. Cole was so game and such a good sport about it all that I was rolling in the aisle! Fun!

After the show, it was back to the hotel, where I slept like a rock!

Blueberry buckwheat pancakes at The Market Lunch
The next morning was Sunday. I'd heard high praise for DC's Eastern Market, so I hopped in a cab and went to check it out. I'm so glad I did! I started with a short stack of blueberry buckwheat pancakes at The Market Lunch. Delicious! I sat at the long counter aside a group of tourists from Scotland. We talked all about DC and New York City (which was where they were headed next). Then, it was off to explore! Eastern Market is similar to Chelsea Market in NYC, but smaller. The indoor portion of the market is just one medium-sized hall, with purveyors of flowers, fruits and veggies, meats, seafoods and other grocery items. Outside the building, long rows of tents house other merchants, selling everything from produce to coffee to crafts to art. I had such fun browsing! I loved rooting through old political buttons at one booth and laughing over funny handmade greeting cards at the next! I even found a vendor that sold beautiful matted, framed vintage postage stamps! (I bought several of these to give as gifts. Such an inventive idea!) It was an absolutely gorgeous morning, so I took my time, enjoyed the weather, and found some fun souvenirs.
A beautiful day for the market!

After having my fill of the market, I headed towards the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. This museum is free, and they have a bag check, so I entered, checked my purchases, and went to the spot where tours begin. There, I was asked to select a booklet. The booklet is formatted like an identification card, and it tells the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust. My person was Celia Petranker. She was a Polish girl, the youngest of three daughters.

You explore the Holocaust Museum chronologically, in floors. The first floor tells you about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, their propaganda and political tactics. You learn about the slow but relentless way the Nazis stripped Jews of their citizenship and rights. Next, you learn about the relocation of Jews to ghettos and German aggression. Then, finally, you learn about Hitler's "Final Solution" and the industrialization of murder.

As you can likely guess, young Celia didn't survive the Holocaust. She was put to work cleaning Gestapo headquarters in Stanislav, Poland. From the window of the building, she could see other Jews being held in the courtyard, crying for help. One day, unable to bear their suffering, she tossed them her lunch of bread and cheese through the window. A German officer saw her. She was detained, beaten, and eventually executed. She was 17 years old.

You have to be ready for the emotional weight of this place. It will break your heart and suck the air out of your lungs. Graphic photography and video tells the story of the Holocaust and will haunt you after you leave. The faces of those that perished stare out at you from walls of photos and interpretive videos. Their shoes are piled in a mass near the end of the museum tour. The pile of shoes seems endless, but it's only a tiny, tiny fraction that represents a horrifying whole.

It took me a while to get through this museum. And it was tough. But it was both important and meaningful, and I'm glad I went.

Afterward, I was drained. I decided to stop at Founding Farmers, not far from my hotel, for a quick bite and to collect myself. I had the delicious ham and peas mac and cheese, and I savored every bite! (Wonderfully creamy!) I sat at the bar, and I chatted with two other single ladies who were visiting DC. After a good meal and rollicking conversation, it was back to the hotel for a break!

That evening, I had tickets to Sense and Sensibility at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. I had LOVED their production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead when hubs and I had visited last year. I was intrigued to see what they'd do with the Austen classic. What I discovered was a new adapted script, wildly inventive staging, and a completely fresh and modern take on an old favorite!

A must-see!!
Most of the set pieces are on casters, allowing furniture, windows, doorways, tables and the like to roll in and about both in between and during scenes. This stroke of genius makes an Austen production, which can be a bit talky and slow, feel fluid and paced. The cast is a mere 10 performers, but several play multiple roles, adding to the kinetic energy of the piece. And then, the performers are a HOOT! As Elinor Dashwood, Maggie McDowell is the heart of the show, with her patience and restraint. Erin Weaver is wonderfully warm as Marianne, and Caroline Clay attacked her role as Mrs. Jennings with visible relish. Jamie Smithson, who played both Edward Ferrars and his rapscallion brother, was by turns earnest and gleefully mad. (At one point, he called me out in the audience. I responded, and he bounded to my seat for a little improv with obvious delight. Just as quickly, he was back on stage, enjoying the hell out of it all. So. Much. FUN!)

Also - theatre patrons have the opportunity to tour the Folger's current exhibit - Will and Jane - prior to shows and during intermission. There are some fascinating items on display in this collection, which examines parallels between Shakespeare and Austen.

After what turned out to be the best show I saw on my trip, it was off to bed!

More to come . . .